Ex-TA Star Isn’t Just A Shooter
Posted: January 22, 2013
HARRISONBURG — Kirby Burkholder had a fine career at Turner Ashby High School. She did everything for the Knights — she scored, rebounded, passed, blocked and defended — and helped them to four district titles, one regional championship, three state final fours, a state runner-up finish and a 102-8 record during her four years on the team.
And yet, it wasn’t clear just how Burkholder’s game, as dominating as it was in high school, would transition to the Division I level at James Madison. Not quick enough to play guard and not big enough to play forward, Burkholder didn’t have a position.
“It was very hard for me to translate what she was doing in high school into college,” JMU coach Kenny Brooks said. “Because she was at the front of the press, and she was getting a lot of steals, and she would get a layup, and that was much pretty much it. I never saw her shoot a 3. I never really saw her handle the ball.”
It wasn’t just Brooks who didn’t know what to do with Burkholder.
“I didn’t really know, either,” she said.
Still, Brooks offered Burkholder a scholarship — Richmond, Hartford, North Carolina-Asheville and Wofford, notably, also recruited her — based on what he saw at his on-campus camp, her performance on the AAU circuit and her basketball IQ, and hoped for the best.
That was three years ago, and everything — after a rough start in which Burkholder battled shin splints and limited playing time as a freshman (7.5 minutes per game) — has worked out.
Some time into Burkholder’s freshman year, Brooks discovered she had a knack for the 3-pointer; now, he says, he’s “manufactured” a gunner. Burkholder, a junior, is shooting 37.8 percent (48-of-127) from 3-point range, which ranks 58th in Division I and fifth in the Colonial Athletic Association. She is one of the top guards in the conference and a focal point of opposing defenses.
But something unexpected happened this season. Burkholder’s high school game — the one that Brooks admitted he never thought would totally work in college — is reemerging.
“Even when we got her, some might say that the other kid that we signed in the same class, Debbie Smith, was a higher-rated kid at the same position,” Brooks said. “But Kirby’s work ethic, her determination and her drive, it was just unsurpassed. I don’t know if I’ve had anybody who’s improved as much as she’s improved in the course of her career or anybody who wants it as much as she wants it.”
Smith transferred to North Carolina A&T after last season, and Burkholder has bounced back from a start to her career that she described as “very tough.” She switched back and forth between guard and forward, never mastering either.
“I was yelling at her because she couldn’t guard the guards; I was yelling at her because she couldn’t guard the post,” Brooks said.
During her senior year at TA, Burkholder averaged 16.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.6 steals, 3.8 assists and 1.2 blocks a game. She also shot 56.7 percent (148-of-261) from the floor and finished as Turner Ashby’s career scoring leader with 1,653 points.
For JMU, the 6-foot guard is averaging 14.6 points a game and shooting 40.1 percent (79-of-197) from the floor — and, this season, Burkholder is becoming more like the all-around player she was at Turner Ashby.
On offense, Burkholder’s development means creating her shot more instead of having to be run off a screen (or several) to get an open shot. She is getting her shot off quicker, and with people guarding her at close range. Burkholder also is scoring inside the 3-point line, getting a number of stickbacks to help what has been an offensively challenged low-post for JMU this season.
Burkholder said she wanted to move beyond just being a shooter.
“I didn’t like it,” the 21-year-old said. “It was just kind of a step-by-step process. … At first, it was just being a set shooter, but it was important to me — I wanted to have more than that.”
A major component of her more diverse offensive success underneath the basket is her emergence as a rebounder. Burkholder leads the team, averaging eight per game, which has helped compensate for the loss of 6-2 forward Nikki Newman, who broke a foot in the ninth game of the year and is likely out for the season.
The Dukes (10-7 overall, 4-1 in the CAA) are out-rebounding opponents 43-38.
Brooks described Burkholder as “unorthodox” on defense and frequently out of position. But, he said, Burkholder’s instincts and “nose for the ball” compensate for what she lacks in polish.
“Seven out of 10 times, she’s making a play,” Brooks said. “We just kind of throw our hands up and let her do it.”