BLACKSVILLE — There’s nothing like watching a truly gifted passer on a basketball court.
Sure, 30-point performances are certainly entertaining, and nothing will get the fans roused up like a heavy-hitting slam dunk or an NBA-range 3-pointer to take a late-game lead.
But there’s something about the grace and finesse demonstrated by a talented passer.
And as much as there is to be said about legendary scorers such as Kobe Bryant and Wilt Chamberlain, the passing of John Stockton, Jason Kidd and Magic Johnson was just as critical to their teams’ successes as any 50-point game would be.
Clay-Battelle junior Riley Burnette learned about the art of passing from a young age. She credits her father with bestowing the lesson upon her.
“My dad has always preached to me that assists are just as good as a made shot,” she said. “With only eight players on the squad, we have to play as a team and lift one another up if one of us is off.”
The principle of teamwork is one Burnette fully bought into. According to C-B head coach David Joyce, her skill and dedication to sharing the ball were visible on the court every time Burnette would play.
“Riley is team-oriented and packed full of skill and energy,” he said.
The Cee-Bees graduate Abbey Ammons and Haley Barr, the top two contributors on last year’s 15-8 sectional runner-up squad, and will be taking the hardwood this season with an extremely young squad.
After showcasing her hustle and offensive production last winter, the expectations are high for Burnette to step up and lead the squad.
“We have no returning seniors, and as a junior guard, she will have to carry a large portion of the load,” Joyce said.
Burnette said she feels prepared to take a leadership role in large part due to the wisdom imparted by Ammons and Barr.
“I was fortunate to have them as role models. I was able to learn from them, and hopefully I’ll be able to fulfill those responsibilities and expectations,” she said.
With a young group behind her, Burnette knows that this could be a rebuilding year, but that the team also has a chance to lay the foundation for success in the following seasons.
She has some ideas about what it will take to do that, as well.
“We are going to have to work hard and give it all we have every game; we have to rely on each other to do our jobs,” she said. “Also, we’re going to have to play hard on defense. Tough defense leads to opportunities on offense.”
Keeping that type of energy consistent across an entire season will be difficult, but Burnette is willing to lead by example. She knows what it means to leave it all on the court. It’s another lesson that’s been drilled into her from youth.
“I had an older brother who would never give me any slack. I had to give 110 percent, or he wasn’t going to play with me,” she said. “I feel like if I don’t give it all I have, then I can’t ask my teammates to do the same.”
Burnette understands that the season will be a learning process, and it will likely take time to instill the mentality she wants to see in Clay-Battelle basketball. For the time being, she just wants to perfect her craft and try to bring another winning season back to Blacksville.
“I just hope to improve every game and make my coaches and community proud,” she said.