ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Alford credits athletic trainer Burney for mending his Lobos
He hasn’t called a play.
He hasn’t taken part in any film sessions or game planning.
He hasn’t hit a jumper, blocked a shot or taken a charge.
But without him, Steve Alford doesn’t think the No. 19 New Mexico Lobos are sitting so pretty at 16-2 overall and atop the Mountain West standings at 3-0.
Nate Burney, the UNM basketball team’s 29-year-old athletic trainer, has been a big reason why not one Lobo player has missed a game due to injury through 18 often physical, grind-’em-out games. Not one game.
Until Saturday’s 72-45 win over Fresno State, no Lobo had missed a game due to illness (Demetrius Walker was still suited up Saturday and available to play if needed, but did not after falling sick prior to the game).
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“I’ve been at this thing for 22 years, and Nate Burney … he’s as good as I’ve ever seen in this profession,” coach Alford said. “Nate is a huge key to what we do.”
Injuries and illness happen. But a player’s recovery time is often in the hands of the team’s training staff.
Burney’s latest assist came in Boise, Idaho, late Tuesday and throughout Wednesday. He and Dr. Chris McGrew gave constant treatment to sophomore Hugh Greenwood, who had been throwing up, not eating or sleeping for about 24 hours and had missed the team’s pregame shoot-around.
With bags under his eyes, Greenwood was nursed back to enough health to hit the game-tying basket to force overtime with under a minute remaining in regulation. He then scored five of his 15 points in overtime to lead the Lobos past Boise State 79-74 in front of 10,420 screaming Broncos fans.
“They stayed up all hours of the night keeping an eye on me,” Greenwood, who had received an IV to replenish fluids before the game, said after the victory over Boise State. “Credit to them, credit to coach for trusting me enough to play me and credit to my teammates (for) constantly patting me on the back.”
Burney, a Topeka, Kan., native and new father, has been with UNM for six years, working with the men’s soccer team for the first two and with the Lobos basketball team since.
Whether it be spearheading the rehab of Alex Kirk since the 7-footer’s August 2011 back surgery, getting Kendall Williams on the court after an ankle sprain at New Mexico State, working with Chad Adams after a hyperextended knee last week against UNLV or helping Greenwood in Boise, Burney has had the magic touch with the Lobos this season.
“It starts off with their confidence in me. These guys trust me,” Burney said. “I’m here 24/7 for these guys. Anything. Injuries are obviously the most common things, but if they’re having personal problems, if they’re sick, anything. I’m here for them.”
After Adams hyperextended his knee Jan. 9 vs. UNLV, Burney and the UNM senior had 16 various treatment sessions in the next 2 1/2 days before the Saturday midday Fresno State game in which Adams played 14 minutes. By Wednesday in Boise, one week after the injury, Adams was healthy enough to play a season-high 34 minutes.
At New Mexico State on Dec. 19, Williams crumbled to the floor, emphatically grabbing his sprained ankle early in the first half. With a little treatment near the team bench, and some motivational words from Burney, Williams returned to score a game-high 24 points in the rivalry win.
“Sometimes it has a little to do with what I do to them, and a little to do sometimes with what I tell them,” Burney said. “When Kendall sprained his ankle, I told him that the last time someone sprained their ankle at New Mexico State, they came back and hit six 3-pointers.”
That former Lobo was Phillip McDonald. He scored 27 points and hit, not six, but five 3-pointers after spraining his ankle early in UNM’s Nov. 17, 2009, win in Las Cruces.
“When I told him that,” Burney recalls, “Kendall was like ‘OK.’ And then he went out and did work.”
Maybe Burney’s biggest impact this season started before last season even tipped off.
Shortly after Kirk’s August 2011 back surgery, Burney took over the rehab process for the 7-footer from Los Alamos.
The process focused on returning Kirk to better health than he was in even before a herniated disc derailed his freshman campaign.
It has been exhaustive, tedious at times, and often about much more than just Kirk’s back.
“A lot of times with athletic injuries, it doesn’t stem from the site of pain,” Burney said.
Kirk now works tirelessly on flexibility and conditioning and never misses an opportunity to heap praise on Burney for his efforts.
“He’s kept my head up,” Kirk said Nov. 5 after scoring 16 points and grabbing eight rebounds in an exhibition win over New Mexico Highlands, 594 days after his previous game experience.
“He kept me working. He keeps my body improving, makes sure I’m eating right, makes sure I stay away from the Dr Pepper. … I’ve got to thank him a lot for working with me.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal