Since 2015, Rashon Burno has been the top assistant coach for Arizona State men’s basketball. In that role, he’s working for Sun Devil head coach Bobby Hurley, a longtime friend of Burno’s and the son of legendary high school basketball coach Bob Hurley Sr.
Burno played for Hurley Sr. for four years at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, New Jersey. From there, it was on to DePaul before entering the financial world for a few years.
In 2007, Burno got the itch to coach and began his career on the sidelines. Prior to ASU, he worked at Florida, Manhattan, Towson and Marmion Academy in Chicago.
We caught up with Burno recently for a rundown on his coaching career, what it was like playing for a legend, why he missed the chance to play Kobe Bryant as a senior in high school and much more. Get ready to learn a ton about the Sun Devil staff member.
Let’s get started.
The Spun: When things started shutting down because of coronavirus and they canceled the Pac-12 Tournament, what was that like for you guys?
Rashon Burno: For us, it was unbelievable because we had a bye the first round. We’re watching Washington vs. Arizona and then after the game, we go back to have dinner and the Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell thing hits. That immediately raised great concern because we knew if the NBA does anything, we’re next to follow. It was a domino effect. The next morning, we got up to go to a 10 a.m. shootaround and the Pac-12 officials met us down in our lobby and said hold off. Twenty or thirty minutes later, we’re having breakfast and they announced that everything has been canceled.
The Spun: What was going through the team’s mind at that point? Because obviously you guys had gotten hot at the end of the year and were on your way to another NCAA Tournament berth. How did the kids take it and how did you guys as a staff handle it?
RB: Well, there was no blueprint on how to handle it. That made it difficult. Your heart gets torn out for the seniors–Rob Edwards, Mickey Mitchell–who worked hard all year to get back to the dance and have it taken away with no explanation. Because at that point, the world still was moving but the sports landscape was all shut down. There was a lot of confusion. At first, there were some people saying ‘Oh, they’ll just postpone the NCAA Tournament’ for a week or two. So there was still optimism. But the kids were just hurt that they couldn’t compete for the Pac-12 title.
The Spun: Clearly because of COVID-19 you guys have not been able to have a normal offseason. What have you done to keep in contact with your team and what have the players been doing?
RB: It’s really based on calls, FaceTime calls. You really can’t do anything because all of the facilities are shut down. Guys are probably getting their work outside, as far as strictly conditioning. But as far as organized workouts, we’re shut down. So it’s been very difficult to keep these guys in shape, keep these guys mentally healthy. It’s been really a challenging time for us.
The Spun: What has it been like recruiting during this? Because when this hit, you were trying to fill out the 2020 class. Now, there’s grad transfers happening, people hitting the transfer portal left and right. The summer schedule for AAU is completely changed or shut down. How do you go about recruiting?
RB: It’s really difficult because you’re jumping around, from 2020 to 2021 to 2022. But you’re also, with the way the world of college athletics is, you also have to continue to recruit your current roster. It’s been difficult. But you’ve got to be organized in your approach, because every day is a long day. Every day looks the same. What I try to do is just be as organized as humanly possible. I have goals that I want to meet, in regards to calls to AAU coaches, guys we’re currently recruiting but more importantly our current roster. I just try to have goals set and try to match them every day.
— Sun Devil MBB (@SunDevilHoops) May 6, 2020
The Spun: The class that you guys have coming in, you’ve drawn a lot of praise for it. The big fish, of course, is five-star guard Josh Christopher. His recruitment was fascinating because even though you have his older brother on your roster, it seemed like the conventional opinion was that he was going to Michigan. Then, he stunned everybody and picked Arizona State. What was that recruitment like for you, being in the mix for such a high-profile kid?
RB: It was fun, just because the family is exceptional. They’re really down-to-earth people, about the right stuff. It was fun, but it was also difficult, because you try not to read the press clippings and pay attention to everyone’s opinion, but we also know that we’re at Arizona State and Josh Christopher is a different breed. Kids like Josh typically don’t come to Arizona State. So it was a challenge. It was fun. But we knew what the family was about so we just tried to block out the noise and focus on recruiting the kid and being true to the program. We had a little bit of an advantage because Josh was so involved with his brother. They’re best friends. We communicated a ton because of his brother. He was at a lot of games. So, we knew what they were saying vs. what the public was saying.
The Spun: When did you guys know that you had him? Did he let you know ahead of time or was it more of a feeling you had as a staff that he was coming there?
RB: It was more of a feeling. But I’ve been doing this long enough to know that something can turn at the last moment. I’ve been on the other side of the coin where you think you’re getting a kid and then something happens. But it goes back to you having to trust the family and trust the process. They’ve always been a family of faith and a close-knit family. I was always skeptical of distance and how it would work. That was just me trying to be positive in recruiting Josh. But I think we got a good feeling probably Sunday in just some of the conversations and at 8:24 (p.m. Pacific time on Monday night), that’s when we knew what was really going on.
The Spun: You mentioned about getting a kid like Josh at Arizona State and ASU not being known for bringing in major basketball recruits. When Bobby took over and you joined him, what was his message or blueprint for making Arizona State a destination?
RB: Initially, like anything else, it’s a process. We weren’t going to hit home runs initially because of the past history. It’s really tough taking over for someone who has been let go, because you’re really battling that stigma of a fired coach and staff. So that took some time. But we knew with our style of play and how fiery and competitive Coach is, that it was just a matter of time before we turned the corner. We also focused in on long-term growth and trying to get guys better, because we knew we weren’t going to get a Josh Christopher in our second, third or fourth year. It was going to take some time, so it’s all about having a plan and sticking to it.
The Spun: Looking ahead to next year and beyond, what have you been stressing as a staff and as a program in order to take that next step on the court? To go from being a team that’s just in the tournament to a team that can maybe win the Pac-12 or make the second weekend of the Dance.
RB: Well, I think we just have to continue to get better. Control the noise, because Josh and Marcus Bagley are going to bring a lot of attention. Control the noise and stay focused on getting better day in and day out. I think that’s going to be important. The more you win with high-profile players, the more likely other guys are going to be more willing to come to Arizona State. There’s no gimmick that you can try to do other than win. Winning cures all illnesses, and more importantly, people want to be a part of that winning process, especially West Coast kids.
Congrats to Arizona State assistant coach Rashon Burno on being named one of 50 impactful high major assistant coaches in Men’s NCAA Division One Basketball – @CoachBurno11
— Silver Waves Media (@SilverWaveMedia) April 28, 2020
The Spun: You played for Bob Hurley Sr. for your years at St. Anthony and now you’re working for his son at ASU. What is it like playing for one and working for the other? Are there similarities? Are their styles different?
RB: Oh, it’s totally different. Coach Hurley Sr. is more of a hands-on, controlled coach; because of the high school environment you have to pretty much structure the day so you’re in total control of the players. Jersey City was really, really tough when I was growing up and there were many different avenues you could go down that wouldn’t lead to success. So Coach Hurley [at St. Anthony] had to wear a different hat than Coach [Bobby] Hurley here. Most of these kids are self-motivated. They understand what’s at stake. They’re in college and a little more mature and the atmosphere is a lot different. Coach [Bobby] Hurley’s playing background in the NBA has given him more of a player’s perspective, so he’s much more player-friendly than Coach Hurley Sr. was when I was in high school (laughing).
The Spun: Is the intensity the same, at least in terms of practice and maybe working the officials sometimes?
RB: Yeah, that stuff is similar, in regards to accountability, expectations and just sheer competitiveness. They’re very, very similar from that standpoint. Coach [Bobby] Hurley has the NBA background, so his perspective is geared more towards doing what’s best for the individual players. Because he understands at this level that players make plays and you’ve got to have your guys in the right frame of mind to go out and perform. In high school, there is no 20-hour rule, so you can have four-hour practices every day. From a competitive standpoint, they’re very, very similar. They just have different methods to get to the same end result–and that’s winning.
The Spun: One of the major topics that has come up lately from your time at St. Anthony (1993-97) is the game against Kobe Bryant and Lower Merion in 1995. You and Anthony Perry were the two best players and you were both suspended for that game, yet your teammates went out and beat Kobe on the road without you. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard what happened from your guys’ perspective. What can you share about what happened and why you and Anthony weren’t able to play? Also, what was it like watching your teammates get that win without you?
RB: It was tough. When you’re in the moment, you’re pissed. Because as high schoolers, it’s always someone else’s fault. But I’ll tell the story. Myself and Anthony Perry, I’ve gotten a ton of calls once it became known that we missed that game.
There was a snowstorm on Wednesday and school was closed, but we still practiced. The following day, I called the school to make sure there was school. I called and the same answering service that was up on Wednesday was there for Thursday. So I didn’t go to school, I didn’t know AP didn’t go to school and we both showed up to practice. Coach Hurley knows everything–he’s like Big Brother. But we didn’t know we missed school until we got to practice. And at this point, I’m not going to self-incriminate myself to Coach Hurley, so we just got dressed and practiced. I had a good practice.
We play Friday. We get on the bus Friday, we go to Arby’s to have our pregame meal and we drive down to Pennsylvania. No one knows what Coach Hurley is going to do. So we’re in the locker room about to get dressed and compete against Kobe. Well, Coach Hurley goes ‘You two aren’t f—–g playing,’ pointing at me and Anthony. What? Everyone was at the game. There were alumni there–I think Roshown McLeod rode down with us. We had beaten Kobe the year before at our place. I think we were still No. 1 in the country, if my memory serves me correctly. I’m looking at AP like ‘He’s loosing his mind. Why are we being punished?’ Coach Hurley looks at us and says ‘You didn’t go to class on Thursday.’
I said we called and to this day, I will always stand by my story that they never changed the voice message saying school would be closed because of the snowstorm. But that part never got brought up in the story of why we missed class.
That first play though 🤔.
— Hoopmixtape.com (@Hoopmixtape) May 14, 2020
The Spun: Wow! We knew the story why you didn’t play–violating a team rule–but didn’t know the whole background.
RB: To me, this is why Coach Hurley is held in such high regards and is my guide in regards to trying to be a father and a man and live the right way. He wouldn’t compromise his integrity to win a game. You had Anthony Perry who was a McDonald’s All-American and the best player in the state for like three years and you had myself, and you don’t care that we’re playing against Kobe Bryant. He told us we weren’t playing and he went out and won, which made it more painful. Because it empowered him even more to bust our chops (laughs).
But he was a man of principle and I was better for it because it taught me a valuable lesson. You don’t compromise for anything. You have to stand for something and hold guys accountable. Even though we made an honest mistake, he didn’t care. There were team rules and he was going to conduct his program.
The Spun: Looking at your background, you played for Bob Hurley in high school and then Pat Kennedy in college. You worked as a coach under Kennedy, Billy Donovan, Steve Masiello and Bobby Hurley. What things did you take from each of them throughout your career?
RB: I think Coach Hurley, as I mentioned before, accountability and discipline in your craft. As great as he is, people don’t realize how much time and effort that he puts in. He worked a full-time job but this guy was a connoisseur of information. Even as I got into coaching, I would drive to Iowa to see him at a coaching clinic. Just his passion for the game and desire to get better is something that I took with me.
Then, with Coach Kennedy, I learned the understanding of people and how relationships will help or hurt you in this business. That was what I took from him.
With Coach Donovan, it was that a lot goes into winning besides Xs and Os. Understanding the mentality of these kids and the mental aspect of the game is just as important as any offensive playbook and defensive strategy that you may have.
I would sat with Mas, kind of like Coach [Bobby] Hurley here, just sheer competitive fire. Mas probably doesn’t get enough credit for his work ethic and his basketball acumen. He’s a really, really good coach. I think he does a good job of mastering what he knows and trying to figure out what he doesn’t.
Coach Hurley here, it’s a combination of competitive fire and sheer will to win. He wills his team to win. That’s the beauty of working for him and seeing his passion and that’s the beauty of being his friend for all these years. Just seeing his maturation as a coach and how passionate he is about his student-athletes is something I’m hoping I can take with me.
Thank you to Luke Cervino for setting up this Q&A.
You can read more of our interviews with current athletes and sports media stars here.