Isaiah Burke has found his voice.
The fifth-year senior shooting guard is no longer shy about airing his opinions to teammates within the Morgan State men’s basketball program. But Burke insisted that his comments, which might be interpreted as criticism, are rooted in an urgency to succeed.
“I’ve been here for so long, and I haven’t won anything,” he said. “It’s my last year. So I’m not here to BS. I’m here and trying to win.”
Malik Miller, another fifth-year senior shooting guard, said he doesn’t take offense to some pushback from his 6-foot-1, 180-pound teammate.
“He just gets on everybody about what everybody needs to do, and I like that,” Miller said. “He’s really that strong voice that this team needs.”
His voice isn’t the only thing Burke has raised this season. Through the Bears’ 3-5 start, he leads the offense in scoring at 17.0 points per game and ranks third in assists at 2.8 and sixth in steals at 1.1.
The points and assists are already career highs for Burke, which coach Kevin Broadus is appreciative of. But he said Burke has the potential to be a dominant all-around player.
“His production is through the roof,” Broadus said Tuesday night after Burke amassed 20 points, six assists, three rebounds and two steals in a 123-59 romp over Virginia-Lynchburg at Hill Field House. “We need him to keep producing, but we need him to produce on the other end of the court. He’s scoring the basketball, he’s making the right plays, and he’s making the right passes. But he has to be that defender, which I know he can be.”
Basketball may be Burke’s passion, but he also dabbled in baseball, football, tennis and even skateboarding while growing up in Bowie. He credited his parents — Steven, a former running back at Maryland in 1983, and Laveta, a former cheerleader with the Terps and the NBA’s Washington franchise — with introducing him to sports.
“I had no choice,” he said with a laugh. “I had to play.”
After a standout career at Bowie High, Burke chose Morgan State over Austin Peay, Bowie State, George Mason and Hampton because of his relationship with then-coach Todd Bozeman, who lived near his family’s home. In 18 games as a freshman in 2018-19, Burke came off the bench to average 9.3 points and 1.3 rebounds.
But that season was Burke’s last with Bozeman, who was not retained by the university. Burke said he considered transferring, but after hearing from former AAU teammates Ricky Lindo Jr. and Makhi and Makhel Mitchell about Broadus, who was an assistant coach at Maryland, Burke remained.
That decision paid off when Burke started 23 of 30 games as a sophomore in 2019-20 and averaged 7.9 points and 2.7 rebounds. But near the end of the season, he began feeling some discomfort in his foot and later learned that he had been playing on a broken bone.
After undergoing surgery in the offseason, Burke sought to return for his junior year in 2020-21, but sat out the season due to recurring pain in the foot. As disappointing as that was, Burke said he tried to stay composed.
“I was big on trusting in the process,” he said. “I was trusting in myself and believing in myself and keeping God first. I knew what I was capable of.”
Burke returned last winter, but backed up backcourt starters Sherwyn Devonish-Prince and Seven Woods. He compiled 8.6 points, 2.0 assists, 1.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals and capped his campaign with 13 points in an 80-77 win against South Carolina State in the MEAC Tournament quarterfinals and 14 points, five assists and four rebounds in a 72-63 loss to Norfolk State in the semifinals.
Instead of using those performances as a springboard, Burke acknowledged that he began to question whether he wanted to continue playing.
“It messed with me mentally,” he recalled. “I started asking, ‘Am I playing for myself or am I playing for someone else?’ So I had to really sit down and talk with my people and just really think about my decision in terms of life rather than just basketball.”
Miller said he had faith that Burke would return for a fifth and final campaign.
“He just put a chip on his shoulder and worked hard every day to prove what he was capable of and how good he could be,” Miller said. “So I think for him, he just took it as a good thing, took it as motivation, and didn’t let it hold him back.”
Burke has flourished so far, racking up at least 10 points in all eight starts and scoring a career-high 30 in an 81-80 overtime setback at Loyola Marymount (California) on Nov. 23. He said he thinks the adversity he faced has contributed to his emergence.
“Everything that I did go through, it definitely prepared me as a man for the real world,” he said. “I’m not going to regret anything that happened because if it didn’t happen, I may not have had this much motivation to go hard today or tomorrow.”
Broadus said Burke is “a totally different player” from the 2020-21 version of himself and has come a long way in earning the coach’s confidence.
“He talks more, he does more, he’s grown up,” Broadus said. “He’s been in the program for my four years here, and he’s everything you want from a player, to get better from year to year. He’s growing up and being a leader.”
Burke is on pace to graduate in May with a bachelor’s in multimedia platform productions and has launched a musical career under his rapper name of “Burkes.” But for now, his top priority is helping Morgan State capture its first MEAC Tournament crown since 2010, and he refuses to think of another scenario.
“I desire to get this ring, I have to get it,” he said. “There’s no other option.”
Morgan State at Bowling Green
Saturday, 2 p.m.