While much of the attention of late has been on the University of West Florida football program, another UWF squad has been quietly making some history of its own.
Last week head coach Jeff Burkhamer and the team worked on different offenses and defenses in preparation for the next two games – both on the road. The Argos played at Union on Saturday, and at Christian Brothers on Monday night, winning both.
Burkhamer came to UWF in 2015, taking over a team that had won only seven games the previous season.
“The first year was just changing culture; we had to change work ethics, we had to change really everything in the program,” said Burkhamer.
UWF won seven games once again in Burkhamer’s inaugural season; but the seeds were being planted.
“[The players] fought hard, there were only a couple of games we really weren’t competitive in, but we weren’t quite good enough to win those close games,” Burkhamer said. “Our second season, we won a bunch of close games. We played five overtime games [and] won our last three. We played a bunch of close games and found ways to win those games and really, that’s the difference.”
In 2016-17, West Florida went 20-8, the program’s first 20-win season since 1997-98, but just missed a berth in the NCAA Division-2 national tournament. Currently, the Argos are ranked 15th in the NCAA Division-2 poll at 16-1 overall, and 8-1 in the Gulf South Conference.
“We had a bunch of returning players and they were hungry after coming off a 20-win year and not making the NCAA tournament really by one possession,” said Burkhamer. “They worked really hard this summer, and now we’ve taken the next step to open up with a great year so far.”
A recent article about the team in the Pensacola News Journal was headlined “Choosing Grit and Grind over Glamor Stats.” Burkhamer says that essentially means everyone on the squad contributes.
“We do a lot of the tough things and we have a lot of guys that have different roles on our team that play them well,” Burkhamer said. “We have four or five guys averaging double figures [in scoring]; it’s not the same guy every night. It’s different guys depending on matchups or how they’re being played, or just certain guys hot that evening.”
Jeff Burkhamer is a second-generation basketball coach. His father Ed is a legend in boys’ high school ball in Ohio, and that’s where Jeff inherited his love for the game.
“I went scouting with him, I went to all the games, and from the time I was in junior high I knew that I wanted to coach college basketball,” said Burkhamer. I was fortunate enough to get into it right after I finished playing.”
From Burkhamer’s first recruiting class to the present, he and his staff look for athleticism in a prospective Argonaut. The recruiting strategy has changed a bit since that first season, when the theme was “come help us build it.” Now, says Burkhamer, it’s “take us to the next level.”
“Establish us as one of the best Division-2 programs in the country; let’s be a GSC contender every year,” Burkhamer says. “And then all the athletic success we’ve had throughout our program with all of [UWF’s] teams, and we want to be one of those teams.”
You can follow Argonaut basketball – and all other UWF sports as well – by visiting www.goargos.com.