More than 70 Gonzaga basketball alums attended the last game at “The Kennel” in 2004, a GU win over Santa Clara. Frank Burgess, who scored a school-record 2,196 points from 1959-’61 at the Spokane Coliseum and in opponents’ gyms across the country, was on hand for the Martin Centre send-off.
“We had quite a turnout and after the game we had a big social for them,” Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth said. “To a man, every one of them wanted to get to Frank, wanted to talk to Frank, shake his hand and have pictures taken with him.
“And that included the other guy that had his number retired. John (Stockton) understood the history and lineage and what Frank meant to the program.”
Burgess, who led the nation in scoring at 32.4 points per game in 1961 and went on to become a U.S. district judge, died Friday after battling cancer. He was 75.
“It’s such a tremendous loss,” U.S. District Chief Judge Robert Lasnik told the News Tribune of Tacoma.
Burgess, a native of Eudora, Ark., came to Gonzaga from the Air Force. Gonzaga’s program was transitioning to Division I, and the 6-foot-1 guard earned national attention while averaging 23.2 points per game in his first season, 28.9 points in 1960 and 32.4 in 1961. Those represent three of the top five single-season scoring averages in GU history.
Burgess needed 31 points in his final game against Idaho to win the scoring title in 1961, but he wouldn’t stray from the team concept. After being chewed out at halftime by coach Hank Anderson, Burgess finished with 37 points.
“I’m convinced that if they’d had a 3-point line in those days, Frank would have averaged 40 or 50 points a game,” Charlie Jordan, a teammate of Burgess, told The Spokesman-Review in 2005 when Burgess’ No. 44 was retired, joining Stockton’s No. 12 in the rafters at the McCarthey Athletic Center. “He could drive it, too, but so many of his shots were from the outside and he was just a tremendous shooter.”
Burgess scored at least 40 points seven times, and his 52-point effort against UC Davis in 1961 remains a school record. He made several All-American teams and was drafted in the third round by the Los Angeles Lakers.
Burgess opted to play for the Hawaii Chiefs of the American Basketball League. After two years, he decided to move on with his life. He graduated near the top of his class from Gonzaga Law School. He worked as a prosecutor for the city of Tacoma and then entered private practice.
In 1981, Burgess was appointed a U.S. magistrate judge. In 1994, he was appointed a federal judge by President Bill Clinton.
Burgess was diagnosed with cancer last year but continued working as much as his health allowed. His condition deteriorated over the past month.
“These last 12 years or so, he involved himself so much more with our program,” said Roth, who talked by phone with Burgess at least once a month. “He came over to games when he could, and when we started playing the Battle in Seattle, that was a great opportunity to get him into the locker room to meet the players, and he wouldn’t just talk basketball with them, he’d talk about life.
“What he did after he was done playing was so special. There aren’t a lot of guys appointed by a president to be a judge. And giving back – until he got sick, he worked every Wednesday for Habitat for Humanity. He’d get in his jeans, strap on the tool belt and out he went.
“He was a special, special man.”