Growing up in the Duncan Projects and Marion Projects of Jersey City made Tyheem Burno tough from a young age.
Matching up against brother Tyquan and other older players on the courts of the Boys & Girls Club at an early age helped shape the attitude Burno brings whenever he takes the floor.
“I’ve lived in the projects all of my life. It gave me a lot of toughness,” he said. “Every time I played basketball, I played with grown men. They’d push me, scratch me and we didn’t call fouls.”
This upbringing has molded Burno as a basketball player. For the past three years, his physical, lockdown defense and developing point guard skills have helped bring a trio of Hudson County Tournament championships to Hudson Catholic.
Last season Burno led the Hawks in assists (5.9 per game), steals (2.8 per game) and averaged 8.6 points per contest to earn First Team All-HCIAL honors for the second straight year for a Hudson Catholic squad that has now won five consecutive HCT titles.
“He sets the tone on the defensive end for our program,” head coach Nick Mariniello said. “That’s his trademark and he’s very, very proud that he’s one of the better defenders in the state. Where most kids view success as scoring, he is motivated by stopping the best player on the other team.”
Burno’s defense earned him playing time as a freshman. As a sophomore, he was named the HCIAL’s Defensive Player of the Year and had a game-winning block at the buzzer in the HCT final against Marist.
But beyond his athleticism, Burno’s defensive prowess is a testament to his physicality and, at times, intimidating nature.
“I recognized that I need to just treat everybody like I treat them in the projects and play ball,” Burno said. “I try to be the bully on the court. Everybody I play against, I got to intimidate them and get inside their head.”
“It’s all attitude. It’s physical toughness, it’s mental toughness and it’s the competitive nature that he has in him,” Mariniello said. “He wants to be a lockdown defender. He’s being recruited right now by schools because he brings that to the game every time he plays. That hard-nosed toughness and physicality that most kids don’t possess.”
Burno holds offers from Wagner, Iona and Robert Morris, but basketball might not be his sport in college. Last fall, Burno decided to play football for the first time since he was in the fifth grade.
When Burno first came out looking to join the team, head coach Lou Zampella was skeptical since Burno had considered such a move in the past. It didn’t take long for Zampella to learn that Burno was serious this time.
“A lot of kids will say ‘I’m going to play, I want to play,’ and I say OK, whatever,” Zampella said. “When he showed up, I said, ‘stop’ and he said he’s serious. Then, I realized, ‘wow, this kid is really serious and wants to do it.’ He stayed after practice every day with our receivers coach to learn routes. I realized he was really into it.”
Despite his lack of experience, Burno made his presence felt at wide receiver and defensive back for the Hawks, which went 10-2 and reached the Non-Public, Group 2 final.
Zampella believes Burno is further along as a receiver, but he envisions a player with the talent to play college football on either side of the ball.
“I think eventually, the more he plays, he can be as good if not better as a football player and play maybe at a higher level if that’s what he wants to do,” Zampella said. “Without a doubt, he’s a Division I scholarship football player. For him, it’s just a matter of getting game experience.”
Burno has not decided what sport he will play in college, nor does he have a timetable for committing. Whenever he does sign a college scholarship, it will be a milestone for him after growing up in some of the worst parts of Jersey City.
“It’s going to be an emotional moment because I’ll be only the second one in my family to go on to college. The other being my uncle, Rashon Burno,” he said. “I’m playing to get myself out of here.”