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Hall of heroes calls Burington
Monroes 1965 state championship boys basketball team went undefeated. Players on the team include Tom Mitchell (22), Keith Burington (44), Dave Holling (42), Bob Buchholtz (20) and Jim Dearth (34). Burington will be inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Associatin Hall of Fame this weekend in Madison, joining former Cheesemaker Bob Anderegg.
MONROE - A strong Browntown big man became intrigued with Monroe's basketball tradition after watching Chicago Carver star Cazzie Russell dazzle hoops fans in a duel with Monroe almost a half century ago.

Keith Burington, a six-feet, two-inch forward wanted to make an impact like Russell, who went on to lead Carver to the Illinois state championship basketball game. Russell went on to lead Michigan to three Big Ten Conference titles and two Final Four appearances as well as a 12-year NBA career including a championship with the New York Knicks in 1970.

In the cheese state, Burington tried to follow Russell's path. He helped lead Monroe to an unbeaten season and the single-class state championship in 1965. Monroe was ranked No. 1 in the state from the start of the season to the finish.

Now Burington, who lives in Sheboygan, will return to southern Wisconsin for his induction into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame as a player Saturday at Madison's Marriott Hotel. In the past two years, Burington is the second Monroe High School player to be inducted into the WBCA Hall of Fame, joining Bob Anderegg, who was inducted last year.

"I honestly was in shock," Burington said of his Hall of Fame nomination. "It's the capper. It's the ultimate honor any athlete can receive regardless of the sport. I still know and understand without the teammates I had, I would not be in the Hall of Fame."

Tom Mitchell, who teamed with Burington to lead Monroe and later played college basketball with him at the University of Wisconsin, knew Burington was a special talent.

"We had heard about this big kid from Browntown," Mitchell said. "He was an all-around player. Keith was the best player and scorer. It's hard to stop a kid that is 6-2, strong and can shoot a jump shot. He had all the skills."

Burington grew up on a dairy farm before moving to Browntown and admits his first love was baseball. He grew to his adult height by eighth grade and envisioned a chance of playing basketball. Burington developed his strength by working four summer jobs, including farming, carrying eggs, mowing lawns and delivering the newspaper.

After losing in the sectional finals in his sophomore and junior years, Burington and his teammates vowed to make a state run. Under the tutelage of Monroe coach Lee Mitchell, who also is a WBCA Hall of Famer, it all came together in 1965.

"I think at the beginning of the season our only goal was to make it to the state tournament," he said. "As far as I'm concerned we looked at the regular season as preseason for the state tournament. We played every game like a tournament game - do or die."

Burington credits Lee Mitchell for deflecting some of the pressures of being ranked No. 1 in the state.

"Playing for coach Mitchell was the highlight of my career," Burington said. "He was the kind of coach who didn't have to say anything. You could look in his eyes and know what he wanted."

Mitchell also was known for having his teams run a full-court press the entire game to wear down opposing guards and create turnovers.

"He was ahead of his time," Burington said.

Burington was a first team all-state selection as a senior after becoming the state and Badger Conference leading scorer, while also leading the conference in rebounding and free throw percentage.

In addition to those accolades, Burington was named to the coaches' magazine All-American team. Monroe won three Badger Conference titles in Burington's prep career, including outright titles in 1964 and 1965.

He still considers the unbeaten season and winning a state championship in 1965 as his greatest accomplishment.

"I remember the feeling of running out on the floor," Burington said of the state tournament. "Those feelings are almost indescribable. Winning the state championship was the crowning glory. It sunk in when I took my jersey off for the last time."

Burington and Tom Mitchell went on to play college basketball at Wisconsin. Freshmen were not eligible to play basketball at the time for the Badgers.

Before his sophomore year at Wisconsin, Burington suffered a serious skull fracture after an on-campus accident and it forced him to miss a month of the season.

"The season was basically a loss," he said. "I could have red-shirted. I didn't even think about it because my goal was to graduate in four years."

He received limited playing time as a junior and became a starter his senior year with the Badgers. The Badgers had one of the toughest schedules and Wisconsin beat three of the nation's top 10 teams.

After graduating from Wisconsin, Burington played basketball in the National Amateur Basketball Association, which was a semi-professional league that featured former college players.

The NABA team Burington played for won state and Midwest NABA titles. He was named All-Wisconsin NABA and All-Midwest first team as well as MVP of the Midwest Tournament.

"I always enjoyed playing against outstanding basketball players," Burington said. "That opportunity gave me a chance to play against some of the most outstanding ball players I ever played against. The pressure wasn't as great. You just played for the enjoyment."

Burington's induction into the WBCA Hall of Fame will add to the storied basketball tradition.

"I didn't even know that a players Hall of Fame was available," he said. "I was both very humbled and honored. I feel it is as much a team honor as it is an individual honor."