Notre Dame men's basketball needs Markus Burton to get to the point. Literally.

SOUTH BEND — His is a college basketball script that had to be scrapped from what it was originally supposed to say.

Or was it?

For Notre Dame men’s basketball freshman guard Markus Burton, this is the way it’s always been – busting down basketball barriers real or perceived to take his game to places few expected, and faster than expected.

Like he did in high school, when few saw Burton becoming the all-time leading scorer in Penn High School and Northern Indiana Conference boys’ history (2,273 career points). Like he did his senior season, when he stared down the entire state to average 30.3 ppg. and became the first Indiana Mr. Basketball from the South Bend area since 1978.

Markus Burton (3) talks to reporters during Media Day Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, at the Purcell Pavilion.
Markus Burton (3) talks to reporters during Media Day Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, at the Purcell Pavilion.

Like he also did that special final season, when many ticketed Burton as a minor mid-major prospect. Instead, Burton’s work — and work ethic — earned him a scholarship to Notre Dame.

In a perfect college basketball world, the 5-foot-11, 166-pound Burton would spend his first season watching and learning the game. He’d play a reserve role. He’d get stronger, get older and get better. He’d gain some more weight (he’s already added 14 pounds since June) and gain a perspective on how to be a college guard.

Nothing is perfect about the world of college basketball, so Burton doesn’t get the luxury to wait his turn. Not after a coaching change left Notre Dame without a true point guard or guards with any Atlantic Coast Conference experience. From the minute he stepped on campus only hours after his high school playing career officially ended, Burton became a main guy.

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Scan the Irish roster this season, and you see a lot of guards. Seven of the 11 players are guards, but only one is a true point guard. Instead of watching, waiting and learning, Burton could become the first freshman point guard to start the season opener for Notre Dame since 2001 when another Indiana Mr. Basketball — Chris Thomas — did it.

Only three true freshmen since Thomas — Torin Francis in 2002, Robby Carmody in 2018 and J.J. Starling in 2022 — were starters in their first collegiate games. Burton might join that club.

Ready or not, Burton’s going to play. Maybe start.

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“The adjustment’s been really fun, living on my own, living in the dorm, meeting new people from around the country,” said the Mishawaka native. “The basketball aspect has been good. It was hard at first, because it was so new.”

Hard, and, honestly, overwhelming. Burton spent the final week of what passed for his summer “vacation” in Indianapolis as a member of the Indiana Senior All-Stars. He scored 26 points with six rebounds in an exhibition game victory on the night of June 10 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. By the afternoon of June 11, he was on campus. He had gone from a hotel room to his dorm room.

College life came at Burton fast. He stood his ground and took the charge.

“It was hard,” he said. “I didn’t get any time to spend with my family or friends, but when I realized I got weekends off to go back home, it was fun.”

Learning the college life

Basketball also was a challenge, but Burton and his new teammates were all swimming in the same Micah Shrewsberry pool. That was new to Burton, but it was new to everyone – what the head coach wanted, demanded, needed to see daily. Practices were sometimes frustrating in learning the nuances of Shrewsberry’s system. It took Burton a good month-plus to figure it out.

“I feel like the last week of practice in the summer, that’s when I adjusted,” Burton said. “I’ve got the hang of it.”

Markus Burton goes up for a shot during practice Tuesday, July 18, 2023, in Rolfs Athletics Hall at Notre Dame.
Markus Burton goes up for a shot during practice Tuesday, July 18, 2023, in Rolfs Athletics Hall at Notre Dame.

That’s when more of Burton’s natural ability and instincts surfaced. He showed he could handle the ball against pressure. He showed he could make the right play. He showed he could get to the rim as easily as he did last winter. He settled down and settled in, to the point where he believes he’s even more confident than he was as a prep senior. His decision-making is better. He's better.

Still, it’s an adjustment going from the NIC to the ACC.

“In high school, you really didn’t have a lot of shot blockers or big, tall guys around the rim,” he said. “Now they’re bigger, stronger, faster people and they go the same speed as you.

“It’s a little different. Once you get used to it, you kind of know.”

Burton’s teammates saw the transformation of someone who didn’t know how to be a good college guard but someone who’s on his way to being a good college guard. Maybe elite. There are going to be setbacks along with step-backs. But Burton has shown something.

“Markus, he’s awesome,” said Irish sophomore power forward Kebba Njie. “Some of the things that he does with the ball are phenomenal. He just brings that something to the table. He has a competitive edge. He won’t ever back down.

“I love that about him.”

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Shrewsberry had an offseason choice to mine the transfer portal for a proven, veteran point guard. Someone who could give the Irish a little security blanket and ball security at the game’s most critical position. He decided not to add one, opening the door for Burton and offering an early vote of confidence for someone he’d never coached or recruited.

As Notre Dame heads into the next phase of preseason Sunday with a “secret” scrimmage (ssssshhhh!) at Xavier, it may well be Burton with the ball in his hands.

“We’ve got to play somebody else so he can get a different look,” Shrewsberry said. “You can get sucked into having success versus the thing that you see every single day. He knows how to attack us in different ways. You’ve got to be able to do it against other people.”

Still ...

“Markus does some special things for us,” Shrewsberry said.

Burton may play well Sunday against the Musketeers. He may struggle against the size and speed and experience of the Musketeers. Either way, he’ll come out of it better next week, next month, next year. That’s the point.

“I can get on him and he’ll be OK; I can comfort him and love him and he’ll be OK,” Shrewsberry said. “He just wants to get better every single day.”

Better to the point where his name has gone from being in pencil to being in pen in the starting lineup? Perhaps.

“That’s not a question for me; that’s a question for Coach Shrewsberry,” Burton said with a smile. “I’m going to do everything that I’m supposed to do and work hard so I can start.”

That’s a good start.

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on X (formerly Twitter): @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Notre Dame men's basketball 2023-24 roster preview