Let’s run some sprints at Blackhawk Christian. On the line, Coach Marc Davidson is barking out orders. You are going to run and run quick.
This is your time to shine. That extra push, get noticed a little, maybe find yourself some more clock in Friday night’s game.
Who wins the sprints? Common thought would say it isn’t the guy already getting 32 minutes a night; save for games like Tuesday’s 73-24 drubbing of Adams Central.
Zane Burke wins. He wins the sprints, Davidson will tell stories of. Why? Because he has become the workhorse that makes all the difference as the Braves look to win back-to-back state titles.
And how Burke goes, Blackhawk Christian goes.
“It’s because of mental toughness and he is always dialed in,” Davidson said. “When Zane is dialed in like that, it permeates our group and it has been really good for us.”
That certainly helped the Braves on Tuesday night. They were always going to beat Adams Central, a team on the rebuild without anyone as high profile as the Braves’ top three scorers. But when Burke broke out of the gate with back-to-back triples to give his team a quick six points, his teammates followed suit, just as Davidson said they would do did.
Burke the shooter was on full showcase Tuesday in front of a lively crowd despite the pre-game blowout potential. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo was tucked in next to the Braves bench watching five-star junior Caleb Furst, who looked pretty good himself as usual.
But Burke was the one who took over the game from the get-go. He has more of an ability to do that now as the team’s primary point guard. It was a change that drew questions, even from me, in the preseason. Would the team’s best shooter and pure slasher be muted by being the primary ball handler?
Answer: He isn’t. Not even a little bit.
On Tuesday, Burke buried six threes on his way to a game-high 23 points in less than three quarters of play. For those playing at home, that is one less point and five more three pointers than all of Adams Central’s team.
“So many opportunities are coming because we have so many threats this year, everybody is knocking down shots so a lot more open shots have come,” Burke said.
Burke even attempted to throw down a left-handed dunk in transition. While it didn’t quite hit its mark, it does show how much Burke is still trying to diversify and change his game. If the Braves are to make a postseason run, something they aren’t even talking about, there are so many roles that Burke can fill himself.
But the point guard role was one that Davidson thrust into Burke’s hands this summer to replace the graduated Michael Pulver. It isn’t new for him to hand off the role to a guy who isn’t your prototypical point guard. Two seasons ago, it went to Jalan Mull, who ended up as one of the most prolific scorers in program history. But Mull was always a scorer more than a passer in most people’s eyes. Last season, Pulver moved into the position after being looked at as more of a spot shooter. Then came Burke, again a guard more in the vein of Mull than your traditional distributor.
“At first, it was a little different but slowly in time I have gotten more into it and am more comfortable. My teammates are making the job a lot easier for me,” Burke said.
The move has also made Burke more of a leader. Last season, a massive senior class allowed for Burke, in his first year with the program, to take a back seat in areas that didn’t involve scoring. This year, there is just one senior, so the leadership is open and the trio of juniors that are the face of the program have done a tremendous job in taking on the role.
You probably haven’t seen many players talk as much on both ends of the court as Burke, Furst and Marcus Davidson did on Tuesday.
“He continues to make strides in term of skill,” Davidson said of Burke. “The biggest thing are the intangibles. He, Caleb and Marcus all deferred to our seniors last year and as sophomores that was normal. But I challenged all three of them; they’ve all done a good job of that. Zane, in terms of the intangibles in leadership, toughness, the energy and intensity he brings is permeating to the rest of the group.”
Next up for Burke: The dunk.
“I took pride this offseason in trying to get more athletic, quicker,” he noted after the win.
While the dunk attempt Tuesday didn’t land, Burke smiled after the try. He knows he has made major strides already and he knows also what we know: at his current trajectory, what comes next for Zane Burke is going to be a lot of fun.
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