New men's basketball coach ready for season

Posted by Kristin Travagline

The Skidmore basketball team begins its season on Nov. 17 with new head coach, Joe Burke. Burke's previous experiences as a coach have gradually led him to this position at Skidmore.

When Burke graduated from college he was unsure about what profession he wanted to pursue, but knew that he wanted to remain involved in athletics. "I always had the coach in me, I just wasn't sure what level I could get to," Burke said.

Burke grew up with an older brother and three younger sisters, who all participated in athletics. He played three sports in high school and went on to play two sports in college.

After graduating college, Burke returned to his high school and received his first assistant coaching job. "Every day going to work was so exciting. People always talk about doing what you love to do and every day I loved going into work," he said.

Even though Burke knew that coaching would not be an easy profession, he understood that it was the correct career path for him. After two years as an assistant coach at his high school, Burke received an opportunity to work as a head coach at Philadelphia University. Burke remained at Philadelphia University for another two years.

He then worked at Cornell University for four years where he continued to develop his coaching skills.

"I firmly believe in balance. I think kids can have a great athletic and academic experience. Being at an institution like that really enabled me to learn that you can play basketball in college and be very good at it and you can also be a great student at a great school," Burke said.

Burke's career path then led him to the Navy basketball program where he worked for six years. "Just being around those kids and around that institution helped me develop some leadership skills that I couldn't have gotten anywhere else," he said. The Navy job was also a good opportunity for Burke's growing family.

Finally, three months ago, Burke was offered the position as Skidmore's head basketball coach. "I fell in love with the place. In the 24 hours I was here I was just captivated by the people, the players and the administration. And based upon what I had done, especially during the last 10 years at Navy and Cornell, it was just a great fit," Burke said.

Burke is optimistic about the team's upcoming season. "I have a great group of players. I love their ability, but more importantly, I love their character," the new coach said. "Sometimes in athletics, kids go to school just to be basketball players. In my opinion I always want to surround myself with kids that want to do both."

During their pre-season training, the team already began to bond. "Our relationships have progressed, meaning myself with the players, faster than I even thought it would. That's a tribute to the kids and their flexibility. I give them a lot of credit. I feel like we've come a long way in a short period of time," Burke said.

Burke stressed how the team meets on a regular basis to discuss topics other than basketball including academic and social concerns. "There are so many things that we talk about besides basketball and I think that's how relationships grow. If we have issues we have to reach out to one another and try and solve these problems together," he said.

In terms of bonding, the entire basketball team attended the girls' field hockey playoff game in the first round of the Liberty League tournament. They also helped referee a Hoop Mountain basketball camp, which runs in the college's athletic center.

"So far this year, the team has worked diligently getting into shape for our first game and has made great strides in working together under the slightly new system. This group has the potential to do some great things this year if we work at it and everyone on the team gets along with one another making for good chemistry when playing together," team captain Jeff Altimar '11 said.

Despite these strides, Burke emphasized the work that still needs to be done in order to have a successful season.

"With any coaching transition, it's never easy. They have a lot of adjusting to do, as do I. Although we've only been together for three months now, since I got the job, I want the three months to feel like three years. What I'm worried about right now is the chemistry and us coming together as a group and understanding what we both want out of this program," Burke said.

Burke said that he also hopes the team's skills will improve with every practice. "We're not where we need to be, I feel like we're progressing, but if we come to practice or games every day and we work extremely hard we'll get better every day. And in the end we'll be the best team we can be at the end of the year," Burke said.

Altimar expressed similar sentiments. "Coach has made sure to keep us humble and has reinforced that in order to accomplish what we want, we have to work hard every day to get better," he said.

The team has been practicing since Oct. 15 and is anxious to begin its season. "I'm excited about the season. I'm hoping the student body gets excited as well because I think athletics is a huge part of the campus spirit and can add so much to an institution," Burke said.

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