A Change in Plans
Cierra Burdick was on Sunday morning as close as she's ever been to where a lot of folks believe she should be -- the CEO of her own empire. From the head of a long table, she presided over a group that included her people -- mother Lisa and grandparents Jane and Charlie -- and the Lady Vols women's basketball coaching staff. The only item on the agenda was the future of the prospect ranked No. 6 in the 2011 class by ESPN HoopGurlz.
"Any questions?" Burdick asked the group.
Pat Summitt, the legendary Tennessee head coach, had one: "What's taking you so long?"
"Nobody knew," Burdick said later. "Even I didn't know."
So Burdick made a decision she hadn't really expected to make during her unofficial visit to the Knoxville, Tenn., campus -- she would join Summitt and the Lady Vols in the fall of 2011. The original plan had been to make another unofficial visit to her other finalist, South Carolina, and make a comparison. The junior at Butler High School in Matthews, N.C., said she'd eliminated a third finalist, North Carolina, about three months ago, but had chosen not to make the decision public.
Tipping points often emerge from major life events. And teens like Cierra Burdick are conferred (some say cursed) with an additional life event in the choosing of a college program. Burdick's commitment to Tennessee meant taking in and processing late-arriving, additional data and then making a decisive change in course.
Sunday's development could provide a blueprint for changing course in her basketball fortunes as well.
Burdick has made no bones about wanting to be the best player in the country. Initially ranked by ESPN HoopGurlz as No. 3 in the 2011 class, she didn't make any headway in her goal during an episodic summer tour on the club circuit. She consequently slipped three slots, and says she noticed.
"It's just more motivation," Burdick said.
At 6 feet 2 with eye-grabbing athleticism and wingspan, coupled with uncommon hardwood wizardry, Burdick has the components to become the most dynamic college prospect since Maya Moore in the 2007 class. Burdick points out that her perimeter shot isn't yet "money," but Moore's jump shot also was a work in progress during high school. Burdick admits she lacks consistency in her offense as well as a consistent, take-over mentality.
Last summer, she also lacked composure, Burdick admits. After making the USA Basketball U16 national team in May and matching wits with the country's top players at Nike's National Skills Academy, Burdick rejoined her D.C.-based club team, Team Unique. A July of underachievement and internal clashing over individual agendas led her to consider jumping during the final week of the evaluation period to New York-based Exodus, a team she says is full of players "who are real chill, laid back and take care of business."
"It was not a good summer," Burdick said. "It was frustrating to me, and I'm still learning to control my emotions on the court. I let my frustrations take over, and it obviously effects my whole game."
Her college choice was not a stressful endeavor, Burdick says. Her journey to No. 1 obviously has been weighing more heavily. She said she bent the ear of many, including those of coaches who were recruiting her, to learn better about becoming the best. They were frank with her, she says -- something she desperately wanted. She has a list of things to work on and says moving to a different club team remains a possibility, though making the USA Basketball team that will compete at the world championships in France next summer would negate the need to make such a move.
But Cierra Burdick says she's ready to act. If Sunday's resolute performance was any preview, her next production will be highly anticipated.
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the Parade All-American Selection Committee, he formerly coached girl's club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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