These players quit basketball during the COVID pandemic. We asked them why

One of the unforeseen consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is that several standout basketball players had to find jobs away from the game.

Without the NCAA tournament, many players on the fringe of a potential NBA deal were not able to improve their draft stock. Afterward, many college players who would have previously pursued a professional path overseas were unable to do so due to travel restrictions.

Similarly, the NBA’s G League had fewer roster spots available than they had in previous years because their bubble location only 17 teams reported to the bubble location in Florida.

HoopsHype caught up with two former NCAA standouts, Anfernee McLemore and Dachon Burke, who were among the many who quit basketball and get a real job after school.

McLemore played four seasons of high-major college basketball at Auburn, where he led the SEC in blocks per game (2.1) as a sophomore and enjoyed a trip to the Final Four as a junior.

Burke, meanwhile, was a fantastic college player who had experience playing at a mid-major (Robert Morris) then at a high-major (Nebraska). The 6-foot-4 wing led his conference in steals, defensive win shares and box plus-minus when he was a sophomore before averaging more than 12.0 points per game in the Big Ten.

Both were on the radar for NBA scouts and evaluators and both expected to turn pro after college. They, however, instead pursued alternative routes to earn money during a time so drastically impacted by a pandemic.

After college, McLemore took on work as an internal portfolio manager for Regions Bank in Birmingham, Alabama. Burke opened a clothing store in Nebraska while keeping his options open to potentially play basketball at the professional level.

Here is what McLemore and Burke told HoopsHype about their first year away from the game – and why they made the decision that they did.

Please note this interview was minorly edited in its transcript for clarity.

Main Image: Coley Cleary / USA TODAY Sports Media Group

Dachon Burke: I graduated from Nebraska. I had a year left of basketball eligibility. But COVID-19 made me look at life a little differently. My store was something that I wanted to do after my basketball career. But I suddenly had so much free time that I didn’t want to just be in the gym. Like, I love basketball but I feel like I’m more than just a basketball player. I feel like I’m a CEO. I wanted to get things going. I met with some people down here and I was a sponge to their knowledge and then I decided I wanted to do this. I had resources from playing basketball out here. It was just a good move.

Anfernee McLemore: As soon as I was officially not an NCAA basketball player anymore, one of the first things that I wanted to do that I couldn’t do while I was in school was go into business for myself. But I didn’t have very much money so the first thing I did was I got a job as an internal portfolio manager for Regions Bank. I was building a business on the side. One of the decisions that led me to walk away from basketball wasn’t to get a 9-5, though. I’ve always had fairly big aspirations and I knew that I needed a stable income before I could solely pursue becoming an entrepreneur. People assume I stepped away from basketball to pursue a career in the financial field. But it was actually just the ability to have a stable income while working on something that I could freely be passionate about.

AM: When I broke my leg as a sophomore, that opened my eyes to life outside basketball. I learned I couldn’t always rely on basketball. It was devastating. My only identity was as a basketball player. I thought I wouldn’t be able to play again. That made me focus on what else that I liked to do as a person if I couldn’t play basketball. That was the start of it all.

DB: I feel like I was born into it. My mother has always worked in fashion. She does pop-up shops and boutiques in New Jersey. Her friends are always asking her questions. My older brother (@hey.quanny of @weirdenims) made these stacked jeans and put them on his Instagram story and people started hitting him up. He started exploding. People like Fivio Foreign were hitting him up. That gave me a boost of confidence. What was stopping me?

AM: My son was definitely at the front of my mind from the moment I thought about it as well. At the end of the season, he was just four or five months old. The prospect of having him and my fiancé come with me overseas or not have a stable income if I didn’t get on a team overseas or within an NBA system played a factor in me stepping away from basketball to pursue something a bit more stable just in case I couldn’t get on a team.

DB: When I got older, I stopped and I thought about my own creativity. Anyone who knows me knows that while I always played basketball, I was always into fashion as well. During middle school and high school, I was always best dressed. If I was in the league, I’d be the most fly in the league. I’d have Rick Owens making me pieces. I’ve always loved all of the old Prada and Vetements and BAPE and FTP. I love throwbacks because you’re not going to see people wearing the same thing. I don’t like seeing people wear the same stuff I have. I have an old LRG hoodie from Kanye West from the mid-2000s. But eventually, I got a manufacturer so my stuff could have better quality.

DB: COVID-19 made me wake up and be more appreciative of my family. I had a routine with basketball and it was the fast lane. COVID-19 really slowed things down. It made me a lot more appreciative of my family and my peers. My mother got COVID and pneumonia. Life just felt like a roller coaster ride. I just had to get myself together mentally and physically. I feel like my clothing store was a gift in disguise. Some people don’t know their worth. I know my worth and it just didn’t feel like the best time for me mentally or physically [to turn pro].

AM: COVID-19 absolutely played a part in my decision. Even though I had an okay year my senior season, we didn’t have a postseason. That’s where lots of people can improve their draft stock to get on the radar for some scouts. So just without having that opportunity, and with the limited opportunity to travel, there was a lot of uncertainty. Actually, the job that I got after I left Auburn, I’d been in contact with them throughout the season. I knew if I stepped away from basketball, I would have had this opportunity in place.

AM: It was a matter of a coin flip. I’ve always been very passionate about basketball. I’ve put in a lot of work to perfect my craft. It wasn’t an easy decision to say I didn’t want to do it anymore. It was a matter of taking into account everything that was going on as far as the status of the world. I had to look at myself and say I wasn’t going to be a basketball player anymore. That was the hardest part. It was a 50-50 decision. I was probably a day away from signing with an agent. [Laughs] I was really close.

DB: It was probably 65-35. I could say that. I had an agency. I had offers overseas from a team in France and another team in Greece. I was considering playing in the G League. If it weren’t for COVID-19, I probably would have still been playing basketball. I would have, honestly. But was it worth me getting stuck in another country with a lockdown? What if something happened to my family and I was stuck over there? Nobody knows what the world is going to come to. I love basketball. I still work out. But I had to take a break, mentally. Since then, I felt like I’ve been at peace.

AM: During the season, I had a feel for how well we were doing as a team. Throughout the season, the agent that I was talking to was telling me about how teams were feeling about me – what could I do better and how could I improve my stock? By the end of the season, without a postseason, it just wasn’t a strong guarantee. I was undersized for my position but a lot of teams said that they liked my defense – especially against guys who were five inches taller than I am. Overall, the feedback was mostly positive. Our team was winning. With my situation, I could have at least signed with a team overseas. I don’t think that would have been an issue. I had a Zoom interview with the Utah Jazz before I had made any decisions so I was heavily considering all the options. If I signed with the agent I was considering, I definitely would have gone through with it. I was really close. But I knew if I wanted to be bigger than just the basketball player that I was at Auburn, I would have to pursue a different path.

DB: I gained a ton of knowledge on how to get an LLC, insurance, how to market myself, how to carry myself and being a businessman. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I just had to put as much work as I did in basketball into my brand. I also thought it was smart to keep my store in Nebraska. I’m from New Jersey and there are a lot of stores out there. But if you come out here, there are a lot more opportunities because there aren’t as many stores. Everyone here has been showing love. The men’s basketball team comes shopping, we laugh, we chop it up. Some football players and some volleyball players come through, too. There are always new faces and new stories.

AM: I learned a lot of these concepts through school. I got my bachelor’s and I was halfway through my master’s. Most of the things I talk about in the channel are just about the mistakes that I made in college or the mistakes the people on my team made. A lot of the things that I wish we learned about personal finance aren’t taught. You get yourself in trouble with credit card debt or student loans. I learned a lot from making mistakes and being stupid.

AM: The biggest challenge was hindsight and looking at what could have been. I put in a lot of hard work into the game. I like to say I was fairly decent when I was playing. [Laughs] It’s kind of hard to look back and think about what would have happened if I chose the basketball route. I know that a million things could have happened but you choose to think about the best-case scenario. Sometimes, you just wonder what could have been. You just look back and wonder about it because of all the hard work you put in and all of the time you put in. What could have happened? I think about getting on a professional team and as a child who wants to be a basketball player, it’s a dream come true. As an adult, I know why I made the decision. But the kid in me always wonders what would have happened if I tried. But at the end of the day, you have to look at the decision you did make. I don’t have any regrets about it.

DB: It’s been challenging. When I was playing basketball, you would wake up and you would go to the gym. You work out. You have your routine. This is more like a puzzle. Every day is still a big jigsaw puzzle. I’m learning different things. I’m learning the to-do’s and what not to do from a business standpoint. It taught me patience. I never had patience before. I wanted everything to happen overnight. But I needed a license and permits. So it taught me to be grateful and to be humble. Things would happen in due time. Patience is better than rushing. It was hard. I had to do everything myself.

DB: All of my peers are still in the gym. They are just working out. There are a lot of players out here. They were pissed because there isn’t too much going on. They don’t want to stop chasing their dreams. Nobody wants to give up on basketball. It’s okay to take a pause sometimes to try something else out in life. If that doesn’t work out, you can always resume. Most guys are scared to make that jump. They don’t know how to or what to go to instead. They could try investing in stocks or Bitcoin. I tell them to invest, invest, invest. There are so many ways to use your name and your brand.

AM: Most of the guys I know continued to play basketball. They’re all very much basketball players. It’s been amazing watching Isaac Okoro. He’s always a text away. The year I saw him at Auburn, I knew he was special because he had a work ethic like I’d never seen before. From the moment I saw him, I knew he was special because he could defend anyone on the floor – even point guards and centers. He had a passion for the game that drove him. It’s amazing to watch his success.

AM: If I could have told myself something coming out of high school, it would be to not let what other people think of you become a deciding factor into what you want to do with your life. As a basketball player, one of the things that would come to my mind if I walked away from the game was if people thought I was a failure. My whole perceived identity was as a basketball player. So it nagged at me, if I decided to put the ball down, people would think I was a failed basketball player who couldn’t make it when in actuality I was just making a conscious decision to pursue something that was just as meaningful to me in my life. So I would say that if you think your life has a direction, follow that direction and don’t let what other people think of you have any sort of impact on where you want to go.

DB: There are so many things in this world to learn. Knowledge is the most powerful tool out there. It’s like my brain flipped over. It transformed into something else. I like it. Now, when I resume basketball, I’ll just know how to handle myself in a business manner instead of just playing.

DB: I have my own line of clothes called DBurche Archives. I make one-of-one pieces like jeans or hand-sewn vintage shirts. I also have high-end vintage streetwear. My stuff is about 25% of the store and the other 75% are brands like Supreme, Palace or even old Harley Davidson or Von Dutch. I call it “worldwide garments” and I put in a lot of time and energy into those searches.

AM: My focus isn’t on basketball anymore. I’m working for myself now. I actually left my first 9-5 to focus on my YouTube channel. But I’m not an irresponsible person. I made sure to set myself up before I did that. I had 1,000 subscribers and I was doing it on the side from the moment I left Auburn. I couldn’t do it at Auburn because of the old NCAA policy on name, image and likeness. Now, I have more than 30,000 subscribers. These days, I’ll record a video and respond to comments. I try to interact with the people who are following my page and who are supporting me. Since I have my one-year-old son with me, it’s a very fluid environment where I don’t really have a fluid schedule. I react to things as they happen. I’ll record a video and I’ll edit it for the next week and I’ll post it and then I’ll repeat the process.

AM: The way any YouTuber makes money is through ad space. You’ll see ads in front of a video. That pays the creator. The reason why I pursued this is that I always had the dream to inspire people. I felt I had a good platform to inspire people while I was in college playing basketball, especially with a young audience. But I knew that the ball would stop bouncing one day, which is why I pushed heavily towards getting my degree in finance. Once I had the degree and once I stepped away from basketball, I had the perfect formula to use my degree and my platform to inspire people when it comes to personal finance. If I could inspire one person to not make the financial mistakes that I made in college or as a young adult, the entire channel was a success. That’s one of the qualitative goals. I want to help and inspire as many people as possible.

DB: I just want my brand to be different. I keep my account private on Instagram. I don’t want people to just look at my stuff for free. You have to follow me to look at my stuff. You have to actually follow me on Instagram. That keeps my store mysterious. Our theme and our aesthetic has code names painted on the walls. People like exclusivity and things nobody can get. Also, I eventually want to put up a store in New Jersey and another in California. In due time, my brand is going to progress. It’s been moving. It’s underground but it’s moving. I’ve been meeting a lot of people. Everything is tied together. Everything is still art – whether it’s putting on a jersey or selling clothes, you’re making people happy. Everybody has their own swag.

AM: I still play all of the time. I still have fun. I wish I could play with a lot of the guys that I played with while in school. I go to the park and I go to gyms all of the time. It’s always going to be a hobby for me even when I’m 50 years old. My fiancé is an elementary school teacher and the school offered me a chance to coach their team. I really considered it. That may be something I’ll do on the side as a hobby. But I still have so much love for and knowledge of the game.

DB: I think that having my store will make me miss basketball and appreciate it more. I’m going to go one hundred times harder. I averaged eighteen points per game as a sophomore and then I put up twelve points per game in the Big Ten. I can still play professionally. I know that I’m still young. So even if I do a couple of years in fashion, I still think I can get back into basketball.

Author’s Note: After conducting this interview, Burke has since signed with Sigal Prishtina in Kosovo to play in the Balkan International Basketball League. He had 33 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in his first game with the club on Oct. 9.

McLemore recently took on wore as a pricing analyst at Ram Tool Construction Supply Co. He also offers financial advice on his TikTok (which has more than 550,000 followers) and his YouTube page (which has more than 31,000 subscribers).

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