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Putnam City coach A.D. Burtschi's formula for success starts with family

JENNI CARLSON COMMENTARY — Within the two dozen or so bullet points Putnam City boys basketball coach A.D. Burtschi builds his team around a theme emerges — it all comes back to family.
by Jenni Carlson Published: March 6, 2013

He would spend hours shooting at the hoop nailed to the garage, the bouncing of his rubber basketball leaving the yard without any grass.

Lots of times, his mom had to come to the door and call him inside for the night.

“Archie Dean,” she would say, “you get in here right now.”

Even as a kid, Burtschi quickly realized that he wanted to be around basketball for the rest of his life. Nearly 50 years later, he marvels that he gets to make a living coaching the game he loves so much.

“It's always run through my blood,” he said.

He's still as passionate about it today as he was when he first started playing, a fact that his players know well. Doesn't matter if they're marquee players like the Henry brothers (C.J. and Xavier), Keith Clark, Marques Hayden or Bryatt Vann or if they're benchwarmers whose names rarely made the box scores. Burtschi demands much from all of them, doling out a gruff brand of tough love.

If he is talking, players must look at him. If he stops practice, they must stand up straight and put their hands behind their backs.

“It really deals with respect,” senior center Orlando Goldsmith said.

Thing is, it goes both ways.

Burtschi is the first to put his arm around a kid who needs encouragement. And if a kid from a hard-scrabble home needs a little more than that — a ride to practice or a couple bucks for a much-needed meal — Burtschi quietly provides.

“He has our back,” senior forward RichMarr Smith said.

That's how it goes when you're family.

Even though Burtschi is a strict and stern father figure — “I don't want to give you the impression that it's a big love fest around here,” he said. “It ain't” — his players respond. They play hard, they often overachieve, and once they've graduated, they come back and visit.

Any time Putnam City alum Xavier Henry comes to town with his New Orleans Hornets teammates for a game against the Thunder, for example, you can bet he'll make a stop at the high school.

“These kids that come through here understand the tradition, the pride we have in our program,” Burtschi said. “They want to be Pirates. They understand what being a Pirate's all about.”

It's spelled out on that simple but lengthy list tacked on the wall above the locker room urinal.

“You're a Pirate When ... ” is its title.

Every bullet point carries an important message, but the first one is first for a reason.

You don't care if you are the one who sets the screen, the one who is making the pass or the one who makes the game-winning shot because fulfilling your role is most important.

Any player is welcome to join the Pirate Family, but that's a decision they have to make for themselves. Burtschi knows from experience how important family is, and after three decades of success at Putnam City, it's obvious that he isn't the only one who has bought in.

“At the end of the day, if you can support each other, care about each other, love each other,” Burtschi said, “you can get through anything.”

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at, follow her at or view her personality page at