Next step: Former Hancock basketball standout now Division I coach in N. Arizona

Photos courtesy of Northern Arizona Athletics Hancock native Shane Burcar cheers on his team during a game last season with Northern Arizona. Burcar is now the interim head coach of the Lumberjacks after one season as an assistant.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — As an eighth-grader growing up in Hancock, Shane Burcar had to make a decision. Was he going to continue play travel hockey or play basketball?

He chose basketball and it became his passion. It eventually became his livelihood as he transitioned from being a player to a successful basketball coach on the high school level.

Several weeks ago, it also became a dream come true as the 46-year-old was named the interim head coach for the Northern Arizona University (NAU) men’s basketball team in Flagstaff, Ariz. The NAU Lumberjacks are a NCAA Division I program that competes in the Big Sky Conference.

“I remember telling my high school basketball coach, Doug Heinonen, that one day I would be a Division I coach, and here I am nearly 30 years later taking over,” said Burcar, who graduated from Hancock in 1991. “If you believe in something, be a dreamer and go get it.”

Burcar had been the assistant coach at NAU for the 2018-19 season. He will be replacing NAU’s Jack Murphy, who in early June left for an associate coaching spot at the University of Arizona.

Burcar has his work cut out for himself. He was told by NAU that he will be the interim head coach for the upcoming 2019-20 season after which the school will conduct a “national” search.

Obviously, Burcar would be a strong candidate for the position if the Lumberjacks have a good season. He said he has already met with the returning players and has set a goal – to make it to the NCAA Division 1 basketball tournament. The Lumberjacks made their last appearance there in 2000, where they lost in the first round to St. John’s University.

He is inheriting a team that went 10-21 overall last year and 5-27 overall a year before that. With that in mind, some would say that a trip to March Madness should be goal No. 4 or 5.

How about just posting a winning season for starters?

Not Burcar. He thinks big and encourages his players to do the same.

“My mindset is that we are going to compete on the court every single night,” he said. “My players will never go into a game thinking they are going to lose or that they are overmatched. It’s all about the culture and the mindset, and that same vision is what I will bring to NAU.

“I want to fill our roster with competitive people who want to be great people on the court and off the court.”

Burcar moved to Arizona from the U.P. as a 23-year-old. He said he needed a change of scenery.

He began his coaching career under the tutelage of Arizona basketball coaching legend Tom Bennett in the early 2000s at Gilbert High School. After a stint on the junior college level, he got his first head coaching job in 2005 with the Westwood Warriors in Mesa, Arizona.

In his first year there, he led the team to a winning season after many losing seasons.

A year later, he took over as the head coach of Mesa High School and compiled a 237-103 record over the course of 12 seasons. He won seven region championships and even a state title in 2016.

“While winning the game was a big deal, my greatest memory was that fact that there were more than 10,000 Mesa fans in purple and gold (school colors) in the stadium that night,” Burcar said.

His coaching heroes are 1980s Olympic hockey coach, Herb Brooks, and Green Bay Packers legendary leader Vince Lombardi.

“I study them constantly,” he said.

He is also grateful for all the coaches, mentors and teachers he had while growing up here in the Keweenaw.

“From my little league coach to my high school football coach, I was surrounded by people who were genuine. They were serious and intense, but at the same time, they cared for you,” he said. “The were great role models.”

Burcar, who is married with four children, still makes it back to his hometown at least once a year. His parents still live in the area. His cousin Joe Burcar is the head coach of the Finlandia men’s hockey team.

“I will be back in a few weeks,” he said. “I typically come home for a week in July.”