Courtesy of NIU Athletics
Entering his first season as head coach of NIU’s men’s basketball program, Rashon Burno seeks to establish a competitive culture.
“We’re just going to try to establish a culture of being a competitive program on and off the court,” Burno said. “We’re going to challenge teams in the MAC. My expectation is for us to go out and compete every night that we put that jersey on.”
Burno was hired as the 29th head coach of the men’s basketball team on March 6, replacing longtime head coach Mark Montgomery. Burno comes to NIU from Arizona State University, where he spent five of the past six seasons as associate head coach to Bobby Hurley.
Growing up in Jersey City, New Jersey, Burno found his passion for playing basketball at an early age.
“I got into (basketball) because of my older brothers,” Burno said. “It’s something that I gravitated towards. I’ve been playing it my whole life.”
In his youth, Burno was a fan of the New York Knicks, having an admiration for hall-of-fame center Patrick Ewing and point guard Rod Strickland.
Burno began his playing career under the former Hurley’s father and Basketball Hall of Fame head coach Bob Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony’s High School. In his junior and senior years, Burno was a member of teams that won back-to-back high school national championships in 1996 and 1997.
Under Hurley Sr., Burno began forming the core foundations of his career, having described his time working with the senior Hurley as a “dream come true.”
“Bob Sr. gave me the discipline, the knowledge in the game of basketball and of life,” Burno said. “He was a hero to a lot of people in Jersey City on and off the court. It was one of the great pleasures of my life to work alongside him.”
After graduation, Burno headed to the Midwest to play college basketball at DePaul University under Pat Kennedy. During his four seasons as a DePaul Blue Devil, Burno played in 120 games and recorded a career total of 621 points, 328 rebounds and made 66.8% of free throws.
Burno also contributed to a squad that competed in the 2000 NCAA’s Men’s Basketball Tournament. DePaul ultimately lost to the University of Kansas in the tournament’s first round in an 81-77 loss in overtime.
Once his playing career had reached its conclusion, Burno spent a few years away from basketball before joining Marmion Academy, an all-boys military school in Aurora, as the varsity head coach in 2007. He would spend four years at Marmion before accepting jobs from Towson University and Manhattan College in the span of two years. Burno eventually made his way to the University of Florida as an assistant coach in 2012.
While in Gainesville, Burno worked under head coach Billy Donovan, the current head coach for the Chicago Bulls. Following Donovan’s departure for the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015, Burno left shortly after to accept an assistant position with the University of Nebraska. After a stint that lasted under two months, Burno resigned to accept a similar position with Hurley’s staff at Arizona State.
In his six seasons in Tempe, Burno helped coach the Sun Devils to two NCAA Tournament appearances in 2018 and 2019. Nearly doing so again in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the season to a halt.
Before taking the reins at NIU, Burno was well aware of the possibilities NIU had to offer him.
“I always knew of the school,” Burno said. “With Bobby Hurley (Jr.) coming from Buffalo, we were talking about good opportunities to try to get in and be a first-time head coach. I knew the Mid-American Conference was a very competitive league and had a tradition of having really good coaches.”
When NIU finally came calling, Burno saw an instant attraction to the institution and its values.
“For me, it was all about community and being able to lean on others to help raise not just basketball players, but well-rounded people,” Burno said. “(President Freeman) really believes that, and it’s a mantra of the university. That’s something that I truly believe in. It’s been a pillar of my life. I wanted to align with some people who mirror that. Going through the process of speaking to Sean Frazier, Courtney Vinson, and President Freeman, those were the things that stuck out. That really excited me about the opportunity.”
Burno knew that he would get his shot at a head coaching gig; it was just a matter of when the time would come.
“I knew I wanted to be a head coach,” Burno said. “I didn’t know when that opportunity would present itself. I knew that if I stayed on the track and I continued to try to learn and evolve that eventually, I would get an opportunity.”
As he leads a college program for the first time in his career, Burno described the coaching philosophy he brings to DeKalb as a simple one.
“I’m a very demanding coach, but I also give a lot of freedom,” Burno said. “I give my guys the ability to play with freedom but also require these guys to be unbelievably disciplined in their craft. We’ll play a fun style of ball and be super aggressive (on both sides).”
Going forward, Burno wants the NIU fanbase to take notice of the team’s potential and come out to show their support for the Huskies.
“We’ve got a great group of young men who are going to compete at a high level,” Burno said. “We really need (the community’s) support. We’re only gonna be as good as the people that come into the stands. We got to make the Convocation Center one of the toughest places to play in the MAC.”
Burno will see his first head coaching action when the Huskies take on the University of St. Francis Fighting Saints in a home exhibition game on Saturday, Oct. 30, at the NIU Convocation Center.