By Erik Elken
CORVALLIS, Ore. — They are hard to miss on the basketball court. Oregon State junior Joe Burton’s blue shoes clash with the traditional Beaver colors of black and orange.
But they are far from a fashion statement.
“Every time I look down for free throws and look up at the basket, I always think about I’m Native American,” Burton said.
Burton comes to Corvallis from the Soboba Indian Reservation, located about an hour east of Los Angeles, where violence, drugs and alcoholism were easy temptations.
“I’m thankful for making it out of the reservation, even making it to 18,” Burton said.
“He had so many opportunities to do the wrong thing, and to not make it, and he pushed all those aside just for the love of the game,” teammate and childhood friend Roberto Nelson said.
Burton became the first Native American to receive a Pac-10 scholarship when he signed with Oregon State.
Head Coach Craig Robinson had never been to a reservation until he recruited him.
“I was unaware of the Native American plight,” Robinson said. “I was astounded by the poverty.”
Burton shows his Native American heritage proudly by wearing his turquoise Nike N-7 basketball shoes, which are part of Nike’s N-7 initiative.