La Velle E. Neal III
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From one former Gopher to another, Archie Clark once told Willie Burton to play basketball as long as possible.

"Keep going until you can't go no more," Clark told him.

The 1980s star, Burton, has not forgotten the message from the 1960s star, Clark. He mentioned this conversation a week ago as he talked about his latest achievement: Trying on Uncle Drew's life to see how it fit.

Uncle Drew was a character played by NBA star Kyrie Irving in a Pepsi Max commercial that was eventually turned into screenplay involving Irving and a handful of former NBAers who played elderly hoopers who teamed up to enter the famed Rucker Classic in New York and schooled their much younger opponents.

Burton is not really a senior citizen. But he is 54 and is still hooping. He recently lost 35 pounds to get back to his NBA playing weight of around 220. He always liked working out but has watched his diet more carefully, cutting out fast food, watching his portions, drinking smoothies and watching the times that he ate. And the weight came off.

"I wanted to challenge myself to see if my body would kick back in," he said.

As for his game? Burton was the ninth overall pick of the 1990 draft by the Heat. He played eight seasons in the NBA, averaging 10.3 points over 316 games. He averaged 15.3 points in 1994-95 while with Philadelphia. He also played two seasons in Europe. Burton is not reliving the prime of his career but, in recent months, has cultivated a gymnasium full of believers at a local Life Time Fitness center.

"The funny part was, at first, no one wanted me on their team," the 6-8 Burton said, "which I was OK with. No big deal. Just hung out. I'm not that young. I don't have an ego where I need to be the first pick. That was at the beginning."

Then he finally got in a game.

"We play on two courts," he said. "One is for the good players. the other court is where the OK players were at. So I started a game on the other side and played with the players who were considered lower-grade players."

Burton's team started winning games, ended up on the court with the better players and beat them as well. No one knew who he was. All they knew was that the old man was dropping buckets all over them.

"After the first game, they were like, 'Don't leave him open,' " Burton said. "Then after the second game, they were like, 'You must have played Division I.' After the third game, I walked off the floor and gave them my name and they said, 'I knew it! You had to play somewhere.' "

A friend took a picture of Burton on the court last month — wearing Miami Heat gear — and sent it to him. Burton then posted it on his Twitter account, adding: "dropped two pants sizes and have my NBA body back."

Keep an eye out for Burton around town. He's spent much of his post-career life in his native Detroit, connecting with young people through a mentoring program he established in 2011 called Educating Stars of Tomorrow. Last year he launched Excel U, which is an expansion of his mentoring program. Burton's impact on the community led to him being listed as a possible candidate for lieutenant governor of Michigan under Tudor Dixon's ticket.

But for the next few years, Burton is going to be in town working on his Ph.D. in sports exercise and psychology at the U while attending as many Gophers games as he can. He also will be working with the St. Paul school district. He's already connected with St. Paul superintendent Joe Gothard. And he is establishing Excel U in the Twin Cities, working with former soccer star Tony Sanneh.

"My hope here is to soon approach the Capitol," Burton said, "and start building relationships with elected officials in the state of Minnesota."

But there will be times when he's not studying, mentoring or networking. And that's when you can find Burton at the gym, looking for a game.

Here's some advice: Pick him first.