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The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

More than a scorer: SFSU guard sizes up to make most of opportunity

SFSU guard Tyjean Burrell sized up his situation and is making the most of his opportunity
Ryosuke Kojima
First-year transfer junior, Tyjean Burrell, goes for a tough shot during the men’s basketball game against Westmont College at SFSU’s main gym on Nov. 18, 2023. (Ryosuke Kojima/Golden Gate Xpress)

When you ask any of his coaches and teammates, current or past, to describe Tyjean Burrell’s game, they all take a breath and share the same thoughts, “He’s a bucket.”

High School Hall of Famer Tyjean Burrell has an incredible knack for scoring the basketball with ease. The junior transfer has helped lead the San Francisco State University basketball team to a 4-1 start and their first season-opening victory since 2019.

This is a moment the Sacramento native has been working toward since he started his basketball journey in sixth grade.

First-year transfer junior, Tyjean Burrell, attempts a shot during the men’s basketball game against Westmont College at SFSU’s main gym on Nov. 18, 2023. (Ryosuke Kojima/Golden Gate Xpress)

“Honestly, I grew up in an environment that probably wasn’t the best,” Burrell said. “I grew up with people who played at the park and used to be stars around the neighborhood. You’ve got dreams and aspirations, and I’m pretty sure they had the same dreams and aspirations, but what are you going to do to separate yourself? I just looked at basketball as an opportunity to change my life.”

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Burrell noticed how dedicated he was to the game of basketball in middle school. He was inspired by players he watched growing up who were known for spending countless hours in the gym, including Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and Jamal Crawford.

“As soon as I found out that you can see progress from the amount of work you put in, that’s when I really started falling in love with basketball,” Burrell said.

That work ethic carried over to the next level and allowed Burrell to make an impact early.

While playing on the varsity team as a freshman and sophomore at Division III Center High School in Antelope, California, he earned All-Conference honors and led the team to a playoff appearance.

Burrell started to realize his potential and wanted a bigger platform to maximize himself both academically and athletically.

“With the goals and aspirations I have, a lot of people in my environment don’t understand what it takes to get there and what you need to be around to get to those certain levels,” Burrell said. “For me, I had a lot of growing to do in my game before I could reach that level.”

Burrell made the jump to Division II high school basketball and transferred to Antelope High School. He attended a few practices during the spring of 2017, met with coaches and noticed the difference in the level of competition.

“I’m around players that are going to play collegiate basketball,” Burrell said. “Some of these guys can actually be pros. I looked at the challenge and the situation, along with the coaches, and realized I’m able to showcase my game and also learn a lot and compete against these players.”

Burrell gained more than a reputation as a cold-blooded scorer during his stint at Antelope. He grew a relationship that goes deeper than basketball with — at the time — assistant coach Dustin Thompson.

Thompson noticed how talented a player Burrell was and his high-level character.

“As a person I just absolutely love him,” said Thompson. “He and I got to Antelope at the same time so we kind of got to know the program together. I can’t play at his level but I still love the game and we’d do drills together, we’d shoot a lot, so I got to spend a lot of time getting to know him as a person. He’s a class act, he’s kind, he’s understanding and he’s really insightful. I’ve learned a ton from him just in observations he’s made and the suggestions that he’s given me on how I can get better as a coach. They don’t make many like him.”

Thompson also added how the two are still in touch and share family updates.

“I’ll always appreciate Coach Thompson,” Burrell said. “He helped me get in the gym early in the mornings before school. I was able to continue to grow my work ethic, especially with him. He always gave me positive feedback and stuff I could work on.”

First-year transfer junior, Tyjean Burrell, poses for a portrait at SFSU’s main gym on Nov. 18, 2023. (Ryosuke Kojima /Golden Gate Xpres)

Burrell was in the zone during his senior year of high school. He was one of the top 50 scorers in California after averaging 23.7 points per game and was 8 points away from breaking the Antelope all-time scoring record — a record he presumably would have broken if he didn’t miss three games due to the loss of his grandfather, who died from Alzheimer’s.

Burrell described the loss of his grandfather as one of the biggest challenges he faced in his career and heard about his passing the night of a game. He decided to play that night and found comfort in the strength displayed by his mother.

“I really just prayed that day,” Burrell said. “I wrote his name on my shoes and had a pretty solid game and we won. Besides that, I went through a lot of emotions. My grandpa was somebody who was important to me, but if my mom could handle it and knew he was in a better place, then I was feeling good and wanted to play hard for him. I know he’s looking down on me proudly.”

Burrell finished his high school career with the highest scoring average in Antelope history. He was then inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, which he didn’t believe initially after hearing the news from one of his coaches.

“Man, those guys are instilled in the school forever,” Burrell said. “So just being able to know that I’m going to be remembered in my school was pretty special.”

Many Division ll colleges showed interest during the recruitment process but surprisingly, none of them were willing to provide an offer. Burrell then decided to take the junior college route and stay close to home at Yuba Community College and College of the Sequoias the following season.

Burrell wanted more. He was worried about getting lost in the shuffle at the junior college level and wanted a shot to play for a four-year university. He sat down and made a plan with head coach Dallas Jensen to redshirt heading into 2023 and trusted he’d soon receive that opportunity.

“I learned a lot to improve my game so much,” Burrell said. “I stayed in the gym crazy, probably was the most I’ve ever been in my life at that point, and got ready for my actual sophomore year, and had a really good year personally, got recruited by a lot of schools, while the team also had a good season too.”

SFSU was among those schools. Head coach Vince Inglima mentioned how Burrell was on the team’s radar during his redshirt season and after his performance last year at College of the Sequoias. Inglima felt he embodied the principles and ideals of SFSU basketball.

“He’s hungry,” Inglima said. “He works tremendously hard, he practices hard, and he’s getting in extra work in the gym constantly. Coming in, watching film, asking questions, and he’s got a great attitude.”

Burrell’s SFSU visit was quite the experience. He didn’t think it would go well due to a hail storm and gray skies covering the campus. Following a meeting with Inglima and participating in an open gym session that he characterized as highly competitive, Burrell started to recognize the potential that awaited him.

First-year transfer junior, Tyjean Burrell, boxing out for the rebound during the men’s basketball game against Westmont College at the school gymnasium on campus in San Francisco, Calif. on Nov. 18, 2023. (Ryosuke Kojima/Golden Gate Xpress)

“I liked Coach Inglima’s plan,” Burrell said. “They want to win. It’s a good program, I see myself being able to showcase my game and the coaches want me to get better and achieve my goals, which is to play professional basketball. I just thought it was a great situation for me.”

It also helped knowing he’d be playing alongside a familiar face in SFSU forward Jailen Daniel-Dalton. Coincidentally, both of their junior college head coaches were brothers.

Daniel-Dalton and Burrell kept tabs on each other and currently share the court. It didn’t take long for Daniel-Dalton to take notice of his obsessive work ethic.

“He’s a gym rat,” Daniel-Dalton said. “He’d be in there at like 6 a.m. sending me streaks [videos] of him saying ‘just finished a workout’ and I’m just waking up.”

Burrell is emphatic about taking full advantage of the opportunity ahead and wants to build a bond with his teammates that’ll carry over into next year.

“Honestly, I’m trying to get straight to it,” Burrell said. “ I wanted to come here and make an impact. Be a leader, kind of show guys how to win and help set a standard at the school because they haven’t won for a little bit. Also, share what I’ve learned from my college experiences. Being successful in Junior College I feel like I can help our team now and in the future as well by passing on my knowledge.”

Junior Guard Alex Gilat has already recognized Burrell’s impact as a vocal leader.

“On multiple occasions, he’s brought us up on a day where the energy might feel a bit low,” Gilat said. “The college athlete grind is real so players might show up tired and he’s the one making it known we need to change it and pick things up.”

Gilat also expressed how he feels Burrell fits right into SFSU’s hard-working culture and once everyone settles into their role, the team will be able to succeed.

Outside of achieving his personal goals of becoming an All-Conference level player at the NCAA Division II level, Burrell wants to be more than just a scorer for the team. He’s focused on doing the little things that impact winning and helping the team reach its full potential this season.

“I feel like everything that I’ve gone through in my life and all the nos, all the yeses happen for a reason, for me to learn some type of message,” Burrell said. “I think just enjoying my process and going day by day and trying to be the best version of me is going to lead me ultimately to what I want to do.”

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About the Contributors
Victor Harris Jr
Victor Harris Jr, Podcast Editor
Victor Harris Jr (he/him) is a reporter for Golden Gate Xpress. Raised in Fairfield, California, he is a transfer student from Solano Community College, majoring in Journalism with a minor in Management. During his free time, you can find him watching sports, bowling, gaming, or working on his sports podcast, More Trophies.
Ryosuke Kojima
Ryosuke Kojima, Photographer
Ryosuke Kojima (he/him) is a photographer for the Golden Gate Xpress and Xpress Magazine, majoring in photojournalism and minoring in sociology. Growing up in southern California and Japan, Ryo is an avid fan of various sports, the outdoors, backpacking, film photography, and more. In his free time, you can catch him hanging out with friends, skating, shooting film, or on the golf course.

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    AleshaDec 5, 2023 at 7:28 am

    Outstanding article!