Over the last half-century, just three men have been able to claim the title of the leading scorer in the history of the Northwestern men's basketball program.
Back in the era when freshmen weren't eligible to compete on the varsity team, Jim Burns surpassed Joe Ruklick late in his senior season of 1966-67. Burns completed his three-year varsity career with 1,368 points in 70 games played. The total out-distanced Ruklick's mark of 1,315 points which took him 66 games to amass from 1957-59.
Both Burns and Ruklick were prolific scorers prior to the advent of the 3-point line. The pair scored in different ways as Ruklick was a 6-foot-9 center who did most of his work in the post, while Burns was a 6-foot-4 guard. Ruklick earned All-America honors as a junior in 1958, while Burns earned the accolade following his senior year.
Each of them averaged over 17 points per game in each of their three seasons in a Northwestern uniform. To this day, Ruklick is still NU's career leader in scoring average at an impressive norm of 19.9 points per game, just ahead of Dale Kelly (1968-70) who averaged 19.8 points per contest. Burns ranks third in Wildcat history with a career average of 19.5 points per game.
Ruklick's top single-game effort came in the final game of his junior year when on March 8, 1958 he posted a then-school-record 40 points, making 17 of 26 field goal attempts in an 88-72 win over Illinois. Burns notched a personal-best 38 points in the penultimate game of his junior year on March 5, 1966 in a 105-92 shootout loss at Michigan. Ironically, though, he wasn't the game's high scorer as Cazzie Russell set a Michigan record that still stands with 48 points in the contest.
Nine years after Burns earned the top spot on NU's career scoring list, 6-foot guard and Zion, Ill., native Billy McKinney made the mark his own. In the final home game of his junior year during the 1975-76 season, McKinney tied Burns with 20 points against top-ranked Indiana. He would post the record-breaking points on March 6 at Michigan when he netted the first basket of the game 33 seconds in the contest, though the Wildcats would go on to drop a close 80-77 decision to the 11th-ranked Wolverines.
McKinney would go on to tack on another 516 points as a senior during his four-year career to comfortably be in first place. He got his revenge on the Wolverines and his nemesis, All-American guard Rickey Green, on Jan. 29, 1977 when he scored 29 points to lead the 'Cats to a 99-87 upset win over second-ranked Michigan.
The highest-scoring game of his career came during his sophomore campaign when he posted 37 points Dec. 4, 1974 at No. 13 Notre Dame, connecting on 17 of 23 field goal attempts. However, just like Burns, he wasn't even the high scorer in the contest as the Fighting Irish's Adrian Dantley posted 44 points in the game, including 32 in the first half.
In the 35 years since McKinney completed his collegiate eligibility, no one seriously threatened his mark. Only Evan Eschmeyer (1996-99) came within 100 points of the record as he finished with 1,805 points with his 112 games played being 10 more than McKinney played in his prolific career.
That brings us to the present.
John Shurna stepped into the Northwestern starting lineup right away as a freshman during the 2008-09 campaign. The Glen Ellyn native averaged a modest 7.3 points per game in his first season. Though he only showed glimpses of the 3-point shooter that he would become (he hit just 26 that year), it was a shot against Ohio State on Feb. 18 that served as his highlight that season. In a tie game, Shurna took a feed from Michael Thompson and launched a deep triple from the right wing that found nothing but net with 3.3 seconds remaining to give Northwestern a 72-69 victory.
The game-winner would prove to be a harbinger of things to come. It didn't take long to realize that Shurna would take his game to another level. After scoring 25 points in a semifinal win over No. 23 Notre Dame in the semifinal round of the Chicago Invitational Challenge, Shurna scored 23 the following night against previously unbeaten Iowa State to lead the Wildcats to the tournament title. Due in large part to his efforts, NU started the season 10-1 and earned its first Associated Press national ranking in 41 years.
Big Ten foes had little answer for Shurna as well as he topped 20 points in a conference game eight times during the season while posting 19 on two other occasions. Shurna led the Big Ten in total points scored in conference play, though the league's scoring champion is considered the individual who boasts the top scoring average. A 31-point effort in the Big Ten finale at Indiana left him with an average of 20.111 points per game. Evan Turner of Ohio State, who appeared in two fewer games, averaged 20.125 points to be considered the conference's scoring champ, preventing Shurna from becoming the first NU player to earn the title since Ray Ragelis in 1951. With merely one more point, Shurna would have earned the accolade.
Nonetheless, Shurna's 619 total points in 2009-10 bested the Northwestern single-season record of 585 by Eschmeyer in 1997-98. For his efforts, Sporting News named Shurna the nation's Most Improved Player.
Through the nonconference portion of his junior year, Shurna was playing as well as anyone in the nation. He scored at least 20 points in eight of the team's first nine games, including a 31-point effort in the season-opener at Northern Illinois in which he scored 25 points in the second half. Shurna was closing in a triple-double against Mount St. Mary's in the final game before the start of Big Ten play Dec. 23 when he went down with a severe high ankle sprain. The injury limited him throughout conference play, though he came close to regaining form late in the season as three straight 20-point games late in the season helped Northwestern advance to the NIT quarterfinal round as the Wildcats recorded a school-record 20 wins for the second consecutive season.
Now fully healthy as a senior, Shurna has once again fully displayed his scoring prowess. In just the second game of the year, he scored a career-high 37 points in a comeback victory over LSU. Against Eastern Illinois, Shurna tied Craig Moore's school record by knocking down nine 3-pointers en route to a 32-point game. As recently as this past week, he tallied 30 points at Purdue - including 21 over the final eight minutes of play - and followed it up with 29 at No. 18 Indiana.
And so heading into this Sunday's home game against Minnesota, Shurna sits just 16 points shy of McKinney's record that has spanned six U.S. presidencies.
In addition to knowing how to put the ball in the basket, another common thread between Ruklick, Burns and McKinney is the postgraduate success that they have each gone on to enjoy.
A charter member of the Northwestern Athletics Hall of Fame in 1984, Ruklick's brief stint in the NBA was most made famous for the fact that he assisted on Wilt Chamberlain's basket that gave him 100 points when the duo were teammates on the Philadelphia Warriors. He then went on to work for the National Merit Scholarship Corp., and has worked as a freelance journalist as well as for the Chicago Defender newspaper.
Burns had a brief professional basketball career, playing for the Chicago Bulls as well as the Dallas Chaparrals of the ABA. He would earn his law degree from NU and served as a U.S. Attorney and ran for both lieutenant governor of Illinois as well as governor. He is currently the Illinois Secretary of State Inspector General.
As for McKinney, he has enjoyed a distinguished NBA career on a variety of levels. He played seven seasons for Kansas City, Utah, Denver, San Diego and Chicago before moving on to front office positions with Chicago, Minnesota, Detroit and Seattle. He also served as an NBA broadcaster and is currently the Director of Scouting for the Milwaukee Bucks. Every year since his graduation, Northwestern has given the Billy McKinney Award to a graduating NU male senior student-athlete in any sport based on leadership and constant effort.
Not a bad lineage to follow if you're John Shurna.