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High school basketball: Flowery Branch boys coach Jay Burney imparting lessons on current program after prolific career in Alabama
Jay Burney
Flowery Branch boys basketball coach Jay Burney watches drills on Dec. 1 in Flowery Branch. Photo by Robert Alfonso Jr.

Jay Burney has always been around basketball. 

He has been around is so long now, the veteran hoops coach does not know when the passion will stop.

“I have always had a passion to still coach and be around the game,” said Burney, who is entering his 30th season of coaching. “At 53 years old, I still have a passion for what I do.”

His passion does not look like it will fade any time soon.

Now in his third season as the Flowery Branch High boys’ basketball coach, Burney is still calling out instructions and teaching on the hardwood. 

His attention to detail is exceptional.

On Saturday, the Falcons advanced to the Lanierland Tournament with a 65-34 win over Johnson High in the play-in game. 

Up next, Flowery Branch (6-2) hosts Chestatee at 8 p.m. on Friday.

Burney knows a few things about building a basketball program. 

The Alabama native was hired in 2019, replacing former Falcons coach Chezley Watson. 

Burney came with more than 20 years of coaching experience between the college and high school. 

Burney was an assistant at Wallace State College in Hanceville, Alabama, in 1994, before becoming a head coach at Darton College in Albany.

The rigors of raising a family as a college coach weighed on this basketball lifer. 

This is when Burney took the high school boys job at Lee High in Huntsville, Alabama.

It was the beginning of his legendary coaching career in the Rocket City, winning eight area championships and earning 11 state playoff appearances. 

That included two of his teams finishing as state runner-ups in the Alabama High School Association state basketball finals.

When he took to coaching high school basketball in Alabama, Burney reached out to many coaches whom he respected for the way they built their programs. 

His biggest struggle had little to do with coaching. 

He needed to understand how college players and high school players were different. 

Burney talked to his mentor Paul Brown, who coached at Birmingham Southern, along with his college coach Ed Bryant, a Gainesville native.

“That’s part of coaching, you have to have that passion to learn,” Burney said. “It is the biggest thing I have told these guys (Flowery Branch players) when I lose that passion, I will get out of it. Right now, I still have it.”

Burney left Alabama, not because he was tired of coaching. 

He had a chance to retire.

After 26 years, of teaching and coaching high school, he could have hung it up for good. 

However, he didn’t want to touch his retirement just yet. 

So, when the Falcons’ job came open, Burney still had the burning desire to coach. 

He accepted the position with the possibility of being able to double dip in retirement.

He and his wife are now both retired from the educational system in Alabama. 

They continue to work in the Hall County Schools system. 

Four of the five members of the family moved to Northeast Georgia. 

Their oldest son, Jaden, was a swimmer in college when they moved. 

Upon arrival in Flowery Branch, Burney had the opportunity to coach his middle son, Judson, and youngest son, Jack, now a junior for the Falcons.

“Financially, it made a lot of sense for us to do this,” he said. “I wanted to be in a school system where I could feel comfortable with them being in a good educational system.”

Burney knew the transition in coaching high school was an adjustment. Coaching his sons was a transition that continues to develop.

“I am probably harder on him (Jack) than I need to be because he is my kid,” Burney said. “He has to hear that part of it. It weighs on him to do things better and play perfect. Sometimes, I do put some undo pressure on him.”

Being on the sideline has afforded him the opportunity to live out his passion. 

It would be hard for Burney to find something that was not sports related to do once retirement age comes in Georgia.

He has thought about life away from the hardwood. 

Just after retiring from coaching in Alabama, Burney thought about going back into the business field and selling sporting goods.

“I just didn’t want to give coaching up,” he said. “When I get my 10 years here (in Georgia), I will be about 61 and time for Social Security, if I need it or want it. My wife, Sandy, said, “I don’t know if you’ll ever give (coaching) up.”

“I don’t know, we will figure it out in seven or eight years.”