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Leadership. Charisma. Passion. Energy. Expertise. These are just a few words to describe Beth Burns, who for the last 20 years has dedicated herself to the sport of basketball as a collegiate head coach.
The winningest coach in SDSU women's basketball history, Beth Burns enters her 21st season as a collegiate head coach and her 16th overall at the helm of the Aztecs.
Since returning for her second stint on Montezuma Mesa in 2005, Burns has taken the program to new heights, including a trip to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen, three NCAA tournament appearances (2009, 2010, 2012) and two conference regular-season (2009, 2012) and tournament titles (2010, 2012).
This past season, she directed the Aztecs to both the outright Mountain West regular-season (12-2) and tournament titles. The team made its third trip to the NCAAs in the past four years and its 25 total victories not only tied for second in program history, but also are SDSU's most in 18 years. As a result, Burns captured her second MW Coach-of-the-Year honor.
Individually in 2011-12, junior guard Courtney Clements became the first Aztec to earn honorable mention All-America honors by both the Associated Press and the WBCA and was tabbed the Mountain West Player of the Year after leading the conference in scoring (17.4 ppg.). She was joined on the all-league first team by point guard Chelsea Hopkins, who was the MW tournament MVP and ranked eighth in the country in assists (6.5/g). Each of SDSU's other three starters, Malia Nahinu (third team), Kiyana Stamps (HM) and Kalena Tutt (all-defensive), also received postseason acclaim from the conference.
Two years ago, the Aztecs had three players tabbed for all-league honors, including four-time pick Paris Johnson and Mountain West Newcomer of the Year Clements. SDSU advanced to the title game of all three of its non-conference tournaments and recorded at least 12 victories for the fifth consecutive season.
In 2009-10, Burns helped the Aztecs advance to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen for the first time since the field expanded to 64 teams. SDSU notched victories over a pair of top 25 foes in No. 10 West Virginia and defeated No. 17 Texas on the Longhorns' home floor. The 11th-seeded Aztecs were the lowest seed to advance to the Round of 16 in 2010 and lowest overall since 2007.
San Diego State earned an automatic bid to the 2010 NCAAs after a dramatic overtime victory over Utah at the Mountain West Conference championships in Las Vegas, Nev. The Aztecs, playing in their third straight MWC title game, overcame an eight-point deficit by going on a 22-4 run in the final nine minutes, including overtime, to secure the championship.
As a team, SDSU ended the campaign with a 23-11 overall record and garnered a No. 20 national ranking in the final ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, a program first since the poll started in 1986.
Individually, senior guard Jené Morris was named an honorable mention All-American, MWC Defensive Player of the Year and first-team all-league selection for the second year in a row, before becoming the first-ever Aztec selected in the WNBA Draft. Morris was the 11th overall pick in the first round by the Indiana Fever and also played for the WNBA's Tulsa Shock.
In addition, senior point guard Quenese Davis capped her career by being named the MWC tournament MVP and was also a third-team all-league pick, while then junior center Paris Johnson earned second-team all-MWC accolades.
Following the season, Burns was rewarded with a five-year contract extension running through 2014-15.
In 2008-09, San Diego State posted its first 20-win campaign in 12 years, finishing 24-8 overall and 13-3 in conference action. The Aztecs won a share of the Mountain West regular season title, advanced to the MWC tournament championship game for the second consecutive year and garnered SDSU's first NCAA bid since 1997.
The list of accomplishments for Burns' 2008-09 squad continued with a perfect regular season home record of 14-0, highlighted by the Aztecs' stunning victory over fourth-ranked and previously unbeaten Texas to claim the San Diego Surf `N Slam title in late December. The win over the Longhorns was San Diego State's first against a ranked team since 1994.
Big wins over established programs followed during conference play, including a sweep of New Mexico, the Aztecs' first victory at BYU in 14 years and ending Utah's 25-game MWC win streak.
SDSU served as perfect hosts to the NCAA first and second rounds at Cox Arena, knocking off DePaul, 76-70, for its first postseason victory in 15 seasons, before falling to eventual Final Four participant Stanford.
Individually, Burns helped Morris, the MWC Defensive Player of the Year, become Aztec basketball's first honorable mention All-American since 1994. Morris, along with then sophomore Paris Johnson, also became the first SDSU players to be chosen first-team all-MWC in the league history. The duo and Davis accounted for three of the five spots on the conference's all-defensive squad.
For her efforts, Burns was named Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year, marking the fourth such honor of her career at San Diego State.
In 2007-08, Burns led the Aztecs to within an eyelash of the NCAA tournament. The sixth seed in the Mountain West Conference tournament, SDSU defeated No. 3 Wyoming (66-54) and No. 2 TCU (82-80) before falling, 62-59, in the championship game.
San Diego State went 18-13 overall and 7-9 in MWC play to finish in a tie for fifth with Brigham Young. The Aztecs' seven league wins and fifth-place showing was their best-ever in the history of the MWC. Burns helped SDSU lead the league in assists per game (15.71), steals per game (12.61) and turnover margin (+5.81), and rank second with 4.35 blocks per game.
Burns coached three players to all-conference selections, as then sophomore Morris earned second-team accolades, while then freshmen Allison Duffy and Paris Johnson each received honorable mention honors. Morris and Duffy also became the first two Aztecs to ever be selected to the MWC all-tournament team.
Off the court, seven players were honored at the department's annual scholar-athlete awards banquet, which recognizes student-athletes with at least a 3.0 cumulative or 3.2 semester GPA.
The previous season, Burns led the Aztecs to their most wins since 2000-01, finishing as the 11th-most improved team in NCAA Division I and recording the biggest turnaround in back-to-back seasons in Mountain West Conference history. Burns helped point guard Quenese Davis lead the league and rank first nationally among freshmen in assists per game, while center Desiree Johnson was first in the MWC in blocked shots per game for the second year in a row.
Burns has also helped the program find success in both the classroom and on the recruiting trail. In the spring of 2007, 10 players were recognized at the department's annual scholar-athlete awards banquet. Among the 10 were Shanna Demus, who received the school's Academic Initiative Medal for her persistent commitment toward meeting her academic goals, and Kate Eveland, who became a member of the elite Phi Beta Kappa honor society and would later graduate magna cum laude.
On the recruiting trail, Burns and her staff signed two San Diego Union-Tribune section players of the year, including two-time winner, Paris Johnson.
In 2005-06, Burns' first year back was a tough one, as the Aztecs entered the campaign with just six of 15 players with previous Division I experience. Injuries, youth and a lack of depth were key issues, while SDSU played 15 of its 27 games against teams advancing to the postseason, including 12 in league play alone.
Senior Michelle Strawberry earned conference honorable mention honors and then junior Desiree Johnson led the league in blocked shots. Three Aztecs were named to the Mountain West Conference all-academic squad, with two also garnering MWC scholar-athlete accolades.
Since returning to SDSU, Burns has resumed an active role in the campus and local community. In the summer of 2008, she was honored with the YWCA's Tribute to Women and Industry (TWIN) award for her outstanding achievements, leadership and contributions to her profession. Burns also was tabbed a Girls Scout "Cool Person of the Year", has previously served as SDSU's honorary Homecoming chair and this past spring picked up a honorary membership to the Phi Kappa Phi honor society.
From 1989-97, Burns took the Aztecs full circle, going from 7-23 her first year to 23-7 in her final campaign. Along the way, she compiled a 151-83 record and a 64.5 winning percentage.
Burns' impact was almost instantaneous. The Aztecs doubled their win total from her first to her second season and ushered in the school's move to the Western Athletic Conference with a 14-14 record.
A year later in 1991-92, SDSU won five of its first six outings and went on to post an 18-11 overall record, tallying its first victory at a conference tournament in four seasons.
The team used that momentum heading into a 1992-93 campaign which ended in the Aztecs' first trip to the NCAA tournament in eight years.
SDSU advanced to the 1993 NCAAs with the help of early season victories over the likes of UCLA, USC, St. John's, Oregon State, Georgia and Villanova. The Aztecs also tied for second in the final WAC regular-season standings, which at the time, was the program's best-ever conference finish.
Burns' teams would go on to dominate the Western Athletic Conference from 1994-97, capturing a pair of tournament championships and three regular-season titles. The 1993-94 team set a school record for victories with 26, while the 1994-95 squad was a perfect 14-0 in league play.
The Aztecs continued their success the following two years by going 20-8 in 1995-96, including a perfect 13-0 at home, and 23-7 in 1996-97, leading the nation in scoring defense (52.0 ppg.).
In all, Burns led SDSU to four, 20-plus win seasons and four NCAA tournament appearances (1993, 1994, 1995, 1997).
Burns coached 13 first team all-conference picks in her time at SDSU, including a pair of WAC players of the year in Kieishsha Garnes (1991) and Christina Murguia (1995). Guard Falisha Wright became just the second Aztec women's basketball player to be named an All-American, earning honorable mention accolades in 1993 and 1994. She finished her four-year career as the school's all-time assists leader and, along with Garnes, has been inducted into the Aztec Hall of Fame.
The postseason honors were not just limited to her players, as Burns was a three-time WAC coach of the year (1994, 1995, 1997) and was the district coach of the year in 1995. SDSU also had seven conference all-academic selections, headlined by three-time winner Olivia DiCamilli.
Burns departed SDSU in 1997 to take the head women's basketball position at Ohio State, where she first started her collegiate coaching career.
In five seasons with the Buckeyes, Burns notched an 82-65 overall record, highlighted by a WNIT title in 2001 and a trip to the NCAA tournament in 1999.
Two OSU players earned first team all-Big Ten honors and LaToya Turner was named conference freshman of the year in 2000. The Buckeyes also excelled in the classroom as 14 players received Big Ten all-academic accolades.
Burns was an active part of the Columbus community, establishing the Beth Burns Bucks for Breast Cancer Research fund at the OSU/James Cancer Hospital, and putting together an annual fundraiser, OSU Bounce for Bucks, for cancer research.
Off the court, the Chatham, N.J., native joined some of the game's elite coaches, Ceal Barry (Colorado), the late Kay Yow (North Carolina State) and Pat Summitt (Tennessee), as a member of the USA Basketball Olympic team selection committee from 1997-2000.
Burns returned to San Diego from Ohio in 2001, as the owner and operator of her own fitness and basketball instruction business, BBHoops, before serving as the strength and conditioning coach for the women's basketball program at Stanford in 2004-05. The Cardinal finished the regular season ranked first in the nation, advanced to the Elite Eight and won the Pac-10 regular season and championship titles.
Burns' collegiate coaching career began at Ohio State as a graduate assistant from 1979-81, under current Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer. She then spent two seasons as an assistant coach at East Carolina (1981-83), helping the Lady Pirates to a No. 17 national ranking, before moving to Colorado (1983-88), where the Buffaloes made their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance in 1987-88.
Prior to taking her first head coaching job, Burns was an assistant coach at North Carolina State when the Wolfpack advanced to the Sweet 16 in 1989.
She has a bachelor's degree in health and physical education from Ohio Wesleyan University (1979), where she was the school's all-time leading rebounder and garnered the most outstanding female student-athlete award as a senior. In 1984, her first year of eligibility, she was inducted into the Battling Bishops' athletic hall of fame.
Burns is currently in her second year as the secretary of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Board of Directors' Executive Committee. She previously served as a Division I at-large representative on the organization's 23-member board the last two years and was a committee member for the Jostens-Berenson Lifetime Achievement Award, which was given to the late Kay Yow in 2008-09. Burns has also been a part of the voting panel for the WBCA/USA Today Coaches Top 25 national weekly poll.
Burns has a master's degree in physical education from Ohio State (1981) and is a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. This past summer, she signed a new five-year contract to keep her at SDSU through the 2016-17 campaign.
The Beth Burns File
Head Coaching Background:
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Beth Burns' Head Coach Career Highlights