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'I want my rebound back!'

True story of a Michigan basketball player making his only appearance of the year—and hitting a shot at the buzzer against Ohio State.
Jan 21, 2014

By Dr. Jim Burns

I want my rebound back! The stat line reads: one field goal, two free throws, zero rebounds.

Zero? Yes, with the stroke of a pen, an official scorer robbed me of my one and only rebound in

the Big Ten. Fifty-five years later, I simply want my rebound back. But before making my case,

let me share with you the drama of my first field goal in competitive play.

Age nine. A cold elementary gym in Ohio. My first-ever game on an actual gym floor with

baskets at both ends of the court. Someone passed me the ball near midcourt. Big mistake.

All the other players were in front of me—but none behind me defending the other goal.

The choice seemed obvious. I remember the roar of the crowd—which turned out to be two

coaches and my mother screaming “No, no, no”—as I put on a dazzling display of dribbling

toward the wrong basket. Nothing but net. Yes, I scored my first-ever goal for the other team.

Wrong-way Burns was born.

Fast-forward ten years. St. John’s Arena, Columbus, Ohio. The 1959 Michigan-Ohio State

game. I was glued to my usual spot on the Michigan bench. Two teammates and I were

accustomed to having the best seats in the house, none of the three of us having seen a single

second of court time yet. And the season was drawing to a close. But the others didn’t know I

had an ace in a hole for this game in Columbus.

With several hours of free time that afternoon, I had called a girl I dated in high school. She

was a freshman at Ohio State and met me on campus for a short visit. Apprised of my playing-

time plight (zero), she hatched a plan right on the spot. She and her two roommates back at

Mack Hall would do a rain dance to break the drought of no playing time for Wrong-way Burns.

I was appreciative of the kind gesture, but, well, thoroughly skeptical about magical potions and

rain dances.

The Ohio State freshman team—featuring Jerry Lucas, Mel Noel, and John Havlicek—put on

quite a show in the preliminary game that night at St. John’s Arena. Yes, they would go on to

power the Buckeyes to the national championship the following year. But this was this year,

and the two varsity squads now took the floor, no one but me being aware of the rain-dance

hex hanging over the heads of the other Wolverine guards.

I took little notice when our starting point guard, Terry Miller, already nursing a sore leg,

had to leave the game in the first half. Yes, one down, three to go to get me into the game—if

you have that sort of mind. As the second half progressed and another guard fouled out, well,

I began to be a believer. The two other guards, Dale Kingsbury and Rich Robins, didn’t know

they were marked men. Rain dances are subtle but deadly. Dale also fouled out. And when

Rich Robins twisted an ankle with four minutes left in the game, I finally got the call. The

referee had to remind me to take off my warm-up pants before play could resume.

I did middling well—if you don’t count the air ball I put up for my first shot. But I did pick up

an assist and cashed in a pair of free throws to break into the scoring column. But, alas, no field

goal or rebound to round out my stat sheet. The game wound down to the final ten seconds.

George Lee, our power forward who went on to an NBA career as both a player and coach, let

loose with a final shot for Michigan from mid-court.

I remember the ball bouncing high off the rim and arcing back toward the foul line. I was

hardly a leaper but dashed to the foul line and soared upward between two Ohio State players

to nab the rebound. I spun around and launched a shot right at the buzzer. Nothing but net.

Wrong-way Burns had put the ball in the right basket this time.

Over the ensuing years, I resisted telling others that I “hit a buzzer-beater against Ohio

State.” That would be deceiving. We lost the game by double-digits, and my basket made no

difference in the outcome. Except to me. When I recently related the story in modest tones to

neighbors over breakfast, well, they went to the internet to check out my claim of even playing

for Michigan. I hardly looked the part. But when they presented me with my stat sheet for the

year—one field goal, two free throws, and zero rebounds—well, I was crushed. I couldn’t have

scored the field goal without nabbing the rebound. Fifty-five years later, I want my rebound

back. Please.

James F. Burns is a professor emeritus at the University of Florida. He married the Ohio State coed who did the rain dance.



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