MATTHEWS – In the Butler gym on an otherwise quiet Saturday afternoon, balls bounce, whistles blow and the voice of Bulldog great Cierra Burdick can be heard above everyone.
There are probably 10 to 15 post players sharpening their skills, but Burdick isn’t taking it easy on anyone.
“No, stop the play,” she yells as sweat drips from her practice gear. “Do it again and get it right.”
Burdick was holding her annual basketball camp June 29 at Butler – the gym that hangs banners with her name as a N.C. Gatorade Player of the Year, a Parade all-American honoree and a co-Associated Press Player of the Year.
She led the 2009-10 Butler team to its first state basketball title and compiled a 86-7 in three seasons with the Bulldogs.
Burdick went on to star at the University of Tennessee before being drafted with the 14th pick in the WNBA by the Los Angeles Sparks. Burdick has also played for Atlanta, New York and Las Vegas, but spent last season playing for Poland’s Sleza Wroclaw. There, Burdick appeared in 35 games and averaged 12.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game on 45% shooting. She also made nearly 80% of her free throws.
Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly’s sports editor Andrew Stark recently caught up with Burdick to see where she’s playing, why she’s giving back and some of her memories from her time on Butler’s campus.
I saw you out here banging with them, correcting them and working as hard as anyone on the court today. Why is it important for you to show it to them that way and let them see that you’re willing to work, too?
Burdick: I think the important thing is that they left better than how they came. I want them to learn something new, because if they didn’t learn something new, then I didn’t do my job. I’ve had years of experience. I’ve had a bunch of great college experiences, and coaches and mentors who have helped me, so I have the responsibility to give back and do the same for other people. That’s my biggest goal and mission – to give them some knowledge. Hopefully, they walked away better than when they came in.
I’ve been to a lot of other camps where the star of the camp is sort of going through the motions. When they see it coming from you, that’s better than from a coach or someone they already have, don’t you think?
Burdick : Absolutely. And I’m more hands-on anyway. If my name’s on something, I don’t want to just have eyeballs on it and not be involved. I want to be working with the kids. I love doing player development and skill development-type stuff. I love being able to get in the gym, work with them, bang them up a little bit and be physical. I try to show them what they’re going to see in real game-like situations.
I know some of the girls from Independence and Butler I see out here today, but do you know where these girls come from? And how do you get the word out about the camp?
Burdick: We had kids today from Metrolina Christian, Mallard Creek, Independence, Butler, South Pointe, so we have North Carolina and South Carolina represented. And it’s honestly all social media mostly. I hung up a few flyers in the Matthews area, but that’s my least favorite part. The marketing and promotion are the least favorite by far, but I love being here, being in the gym and working with the girls. The hanging of flyers and passing out information is the stuff you have to do. It’s not the most enjoyable for me, but social media and word of mouth.
How long have you been doing the camp here?
Burdick: I did my first ever camp here after my second year in the league, so 2016 was the first time I ever did a camp. I didn’t break up the first camp by position like I did today. This year we have the posts on (June 29) and guards on (June 30). Butler and coach Satterfield, the AD here, have been so generous saying this can be my home court for whenever I need it. I’m grateful. I put a lot of time and a lot of work into this gym, so it’s nice to come back and be able to shoot around and have camps here. The people have been great here.
I know your professional career has taken you all over the world, but do you still have a home in the Matthews area?
Burdick : Yes. I bought my house here two years ago right in the Matthews area, so this is home for me. This is home base for eight months out of the year it’s nice to just come back. I love Matthews. I love Charlotte. It’s where I was born and raised. I’m glad to call this home.
What does next year hold for your professional career?
Burdick: I resigned with my team in Poland, so I’ll leave Sept. 1 to head back overseas. I’m playing with Wroclaw and going back to the same club I was playing at last year, so I’m looking forward to it.
That’ll be nice to have some familiarity over there, right?
Burdick: Absolutely. That doesn’t happen with every team, with a new city every year. This will be the first year I’m going back to a place I know, and that’s really a relief.
I’m sure culture is Poland is a little different to say the least. What’s that part of your basketball experience been like? I know it’s cold, right?
Burdick: It’s a lot of work. For the majority of the season, it’s two practices a day. It’s cold. I always end up in cold countries. Italy was the warmest country I ever played in because I was in the south part of the country. I played in Israel, which was amazing weather, too. But I was in Russia before I was in Poland and that’s some cold, cold weather. The first week in a new place is always the hardest because you’re trying to learn where the gym is, where the grocery store is, and get into a routine and flow of things. Once your able to do that, it’s great. I love Europe. I love the lifestyle. I love getting to meet new people and play with new people every year and I’m doing what I love to do so that’s a blessing. But going team from team you see a lot of new cultures and I’ve met so many amazing people and teammates through this game. I’m so grateful for the village of people basketball has given me. You really do build lifetime relationships. The people who help run my camps and help me train are literally the people I’ve been with since I was 10 years old. You’re able to build these lifetime relationships.
Do people recognize you? Is basketball as popular over there?
Burdick: We do get a good amount of fans, and especially so with the team I just played with in Poland. Our fans were great. We’d travel as far as eight hours away, and we’d have fans in the stands, so that was really cool. As far as being recognized on the street, they can obviously tell I’m not from there, but for as to what I’m doing there, they’re not really sure.
I know you had tons of success here at Butler, but what are your thoughts about the Mallard Creek game (they beat undefeated, 30-0 Bulldogs in the semifinals of the 2010-11 season)? Does it still haunt you?
Burdick: Oh my gosh. It’s funny you ask that because we just talked about it. Yes, it still eats me up. It does. I always say – and not to take anything away from Mallard Creek – that we went through a lot my senior year. We had an entire new coaching staff. We lost our principal. We lost our second-leading scorer, Aliyah Kilpatrick. My center, Jada, went down with an ACL in the semifinal game against Dudley here. I was playing with strep throat in the playoffs. It was just a ton of things stacked up against us. If we could have just caught a break on one of those, we could have hopefully gone to the state championship game and repeated that year. So, I get coach (Clarence Johnson) over there a hard time because if they were going to beat us, at least win the states, so they didn’t even do that. I give him a hard time about that. But, you know, everything happens for a reason. I’m not bitter about it. I wish I could have gotten three state championship rings, but I’m grateful for my one.
What was it like for you to go to college? You’re a Gatorade Player of the Year, playing for Team USA and being a highly recruited star in high school. Now all the sudden you get to Tennessee, and I’m sure it’s not like that anymore. How was it different for you?
Burdick: It was humbling. Freshman year is always the hardest for any transition. I say my transition from high school to college was honestly harder than my college transition to the pros. It’s like you said. You go from playing the entire game, being the go-to player and the go-to scorer and having all of these awards and accolades. You go to college, and now you’re just one of 12 girls who have all done the exact same thing. You have to find your place. I had a really big adjustment defensively. In high school, all I did was sit back in the post and block shots. I never had to play true defense. When you go to the University of Tennessee and you play with Pat Summitt, you have to play true defense. I had to go from playing post players in high school to guarding 5-8, 5-10 guards on the college level. That was a hard adjustment for me, and I put in a lot of time working on actual defense. I worked with my speed and agility coach on my footwork. It made me better as a player and as a person, but it was not easy by any means.
What’s your advice in this situation: Say there’s a girl thinking she wants to play in college, but she’s struggling with the idea that all of her work may not be worth it.
Burdick: It’s honestly taking it one day at a time and doing something to get a little bit better in those 24 hours. That’s kind of my mindset that I have each day. What can I do today to be a little better than I was yesterday? I approach it like that because if you look at the grand scheme of things, it can be overwhelming with the, ‘I have to get a college scholarship and I only have one summer to get it done’ mindset. It can be stressful. We never play at our best when we’re stressed, upset of frustrated. It’s just hard to play under those circumstances. It’s really about taking it one day at a time, controlling what you can control and working hard. You have to work on your craft, and that’s something I stress to this younger generation all of the time. There are so many distractions with social media, parties, friend groups, parents and whatever the case may be. They have to make up in their minds that this is something they love to do and they have to make it a priority if this is truly what they want. If it is, this has to be a priority. Basketball has got take the forefront and you have to put some other stuff on the back burner to accomplish what you want to accomplish. There are so many distractions, so I really try to stress that. When I was coming up through high school, me and (my teammates) cared about hooping. We’d come before school and hoop. We’d stay after school and hoop. That’s all that we wanted to do, and I think that’s why we had so much success. The work never lies. If you put in the work, you’ll reap the awards.