Summer 2024

D.J. Burns thanks God as N.C. State makes improbable Sweet 16 run in NCAA Tournament

After a busy weekend of comebacks, upsets, overtimes, blowouts, and everything in between, 16 teams remain standing in the men’s college basketball NCAA Tournament. The most unlikely of those squads still playing for a national title is No. 11 seed N.C. State (the only double-digit seed remaining), led by star forward D.J. Burns Jr.

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At 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, Burns’ presence on a basketball court is hard to miss. Even less so once the ball is in play. He poured in 24 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out four assists while tying for the team-high with 42 minutes played in the Wolfpack’s 79-73 overtime victory against Oakland on Saturday in the Round of 32.

N.C. State’s March run has been nearly unthinkable. After the Wolfpack’s final regular-season game on March 9, an 81-73 loss at Pittsburgh, the team was 17-14, had dropped four straight, and needed a miraculous run to the ACC Tournament title just to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. That’s exactly what they got.

As the No. 10 seed in the conference tournament, N.C. State ousted the five other ACC programs with national championships in five days to capture the ACC Tournament title. First it was Louisville, then Syracuse, then Duke (the No. 4 seed in N.C. State’s South Region) and Virginia. An 84-76 win against North Carolina (the No. 1 seed in the West Region) on March 16 secured the program’s first ACC Tournament title since 1987 and a well-earned spot in the Big Dance.

Burns was the tournament MVP, averaging 15.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists during the five-day marathon. His massive frame combined with quick feet, a soft touch, and an eye for assists made him nearly unguardable.

With his team’s ACC Tournament run, N.C. State became just the second team to win five games in five days to win its conference tournament, joining the 2011 UConn Huskies, who went on to win the national championship. What’s more, the Wolfpack’s run this season is reminiscent of the program’s run in 1983, when it improbably swept through the ACC Tournament and then the NCAA Tournament to win the national championship.

Burns hopes history will repeat itself in 2024. So far, so good. An 80-67 win against Texas Tech in the first round set up the matchup with Oakland, who advanced past Kentucky. Following the win against Oakland, Burns said in his postgame press conference that he and his teammates thrive when others doubt them.

“They didn’t really believe in us. They probably still don’t but that doesn’t matter to us,” he said. “We’re just going to stay together. If you’re supporting us, thank you. If not, that’s what it is.”

For Burns, he pays little attention to the outside noise. He’s concerned with giving glory and praise to the One who ordains all things.

Burns, a 23-year-old native of Rock Hill, South Carolina, began his career at Tennessee and redshirted in his one season in Knoxville. He then transferred to Winthrop University in Rock Hill, where he spent three seasons, saw his first NCAA Tournament action (2021) and was the 2022 Big South Player of the Year.

In May 2022, Burns decided to spend his final two years of eligibility at N.C. State. His post presence has now helped the Wolfpack to two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, and his expressive personality has made him a fan-favorite and left an indelible mark on the program.

Burns knows each twist and turn in his story has been a gift from God.

“God really blessed me with the opportunity to be able to showcase my talent more often,” Burns said before the team’s NCAA Tournament appearance last season when discussing his decision to transfer to N.C. State. “So it’s a blessing.”

Burns — who lists his priorities as “Bible. Books. Ball.” in his X bio — is now getting nationwide attention. It’s an opportunity to not only showcase his abilities on the basketball court and personality off of it, but the God worthy of all honor. In March 2022, Burns posted on X, “Glory be to God. Through him it is always possible to overcome obstacles.”

On Instagram, Burns lists Proverbs 14:29 in his bio. The Bible verse reads, “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.”

Burns and his Wolfpack teammates will seek to continue their unforgettable run on Friday against No. 2-seed Marquette in Dallas. The game is set to tip off at 7:09 p.m. ET.

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