Self-made Max Burchill earning meaningful minutes for USD basketball

Sioux Falls Lincoln grad overcomes expectations and tradgedy to contribute to Coyote team.

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Max Burchill of Sioux Falls is making meaningful contributions to the University of South Dakota basketball team.
Contributed / USD Athletic Department

VERMILLION — If Max Burchill’s experience as a Division I basketball player had stopped after one season — and even if all he did that one year was practice hard and beef-up the team’s grade-point average – it would have been something he could have been proud of the rest of his life.

Instead, he’s kept the dream rolling. Now in his third year at the University of South Dakota, this 6-foot-4 Sioux Falls Lincoln grad is a valued member of the Coyotes who gets minutes when the outcome of games are still in doubt. There have been tough days in that time, as well as genuine heartbreak that had nothing to do with basketball, but the more he advances in the program the more clearly you can see that he works his way through his challenges.

At least two things for sure had to happen for Burchill to get from where he was to where he is:

  1. He had to have an uncommon level of commitment in figuring out what he could do to help the team.
  2. He had to love what he was doing enough to not worry about any extenuating circumstances.

If he could keep going to practice, keep putting on a uniform and keep being a Coyote, this was going to be worth his effort and attention.
“I love the guys — this is just a great group of guys — and the coaches care about us, so this has been really fun,” Burchill said. “When you’re a player fighting for minutes you have to take a step back and look at what your team has and what they might need off the bench. I think I’ve done a good job of understanding what roles we might need, then trying to fulfill those roles.”

The coaching staff can confirm this. Shortly after being hired, assistant coach Pat Eberhart had what in hindsight was a very telling conversation with Burchill about his future in the program.


“I’ve been working with Max since the day I got here,” Eberhart said. “We sat down and talked about his goals before we ever got to the court. One of Max’s major goals — and I remember it very clearly — is that he said ‘Coach, I want to play meaningful minutes.’”

The next part of the conversation had to do with how that could be accomplished.

“We developed a list of things going into summer workouts that, if he could do, he was going to earn meaningful minutes,” Eberhart said. “It’s been awesome because he has achieved all those things we talked about. He keeps those things in mind every single day he walks on the floor and it’s paid off for him.”

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Max Burchill (right) talks to Jeremiah Coleman during a recent basketball game at the University of South Dakota.
Contributed / USD Athletic Department

His first two years he appeared in a total of 10 of his team’s 66 games. This year — he’s still a sophomore because of the COVID year — he’s appeared in every game.

His ability in practice to defend and rebound from the small forward spot got him a shot. Then he made himself useful.

“I didn’t know how much better these guys were going to be than I was,” Burchill said. “I spent those first two years just learning, just soaking it all in as best I could. I just tried to keep getting better at understanding it and getting better at delivering it.”

If not for a phone call from USD assistant Casey Kasperbauer, Burchill’s time as a basketball player would likely have ended in high school. He led the Patriots his senior year in most significant statistical categories but he spent much of his time during the summers playing baseball. He got some interest from small schools but was intending to join his baseball-playing brother Nolan at the University of Minnesota — and play no sports at all — when Kasperbauer called.

“He told me nothing was going to be guaranteed — it was mostly just a spot on the team,” Burchill said. “When I talked to my parents about it, they told me if I was going to USD I should be fully committed to it. You know, it was ‘If you’re going to do it, you’re going to give it everything you have.’”


His father, Tom, and mother, Paula, both from Pierre, were both USD graduates. Max and his brothers had grown up going to sporting events at USD with Tom, a familiar face at Coyote sporting events over the years who had played tennis and basketball at the school.

So parts of this idea made sense, even though the phone call caught him by surprise. After talking with Kasperbauer, he said he’d think about it. Ten minutes later he called back and told the assistant he was coming to USD.

“I knew they weren’t recruiting me to average 15 points and put up 15 shots a game,” Burchill said. “I understood to some extent what I was getting into. They told me they could see me playing some at the 3 and the 4 down the line. I was just going to have to play good defense and be the toughest guy on the court. Rebound, pass the ball — do all the things nobody really wants to do.”

A few weeks after spring break of his freshman year, his mother, Paula Adams-Burchill, a Sanford Health family medicine physician, fell and hit her head at their home. She went to bed that night seemingly OK but was unresponsive the next morning. She never emerged from a coma that ultimately took her life in April of 2021. She was 57.

“My mom really cared about people,” Max said. “That caring really went into her profession but it applied outside the office, too. I think that really rubbed off on me with my teammates. Whenever one of my friends or a family friend got hurt or something like that they would come over to the house and they’d tell her what happened and she’d tell them what their next steps should be. I always thought that was pretty cool that she was willing and able to help anybody who came her way.”

These days Max will think back to the 12 years of post-high school studying his mom endured and decide working hard at basketball is something he should be plenty capable of doing. Toughness comes in many forms.

“Max is just an awesome kid,” Eberhart said. “Sometimes walk-ons will come into your program and you’re just not sure how it will work out. But you can’t measure your players by the stars they had next to their name in their recruiting reports. Sometimes you have to measure it by their will to want to be a success and their will to win. Max is entirely self-made in that way. He works at it every single day.”

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