The Thunder have received a boost in ball control with her arrival.
The Out-of-Door Academy sophomore point guard Zi Burns isn’t used to this.
The Thunder girls basketball team (4-5 as of Jan. 10) had lost a six-point lead, 39-33, with 6:23 left in its Jan. 10 home game against Palmetto (9-5). After playing under control for most of the contest, the Thunder got sloppy, picking up dribbles in contested areas and throwing bad passes. Both things led to turnovers. The Palmetto offense took advantage and ODA would lose 49-44.
The season has been just as up and down for the Thunder, as have been the last few seasons. Burns isn't used to inconsistent performances as she came to the Thunder this season after spending her freshman season as a bench contributor at Sanford School in Hockessin, Del. Sanford won its state title game last season, 51-49 over Caravel High.
Now, with the Thunder, Burns is a starter, and she is trying to instill some of Sanford’s winning qualities in her teammates.
“It’s all about the team,” Burns said. “Share the ball. Look for the open pass. Always make the extra pass, especially when you get into pressure situations. It’s tough to win without good ball movement.”
“I think we have to work harder at practice, too. I think that we need to do more of everything. On the weekends, stay on it. We cannot stop grinding.”
Considering a lack of ball movement was a problem for the Thunder against Palmetto, I have to agree with Burns’ assessment. In the first half, ODA was aggressive. A string of steals and layups allowed the Thunder to score without running a set offense. Even in the third quarter, the team was able to pass from the inside out, allowing Burns to sink three consecutive jump shots (one from beyond the arc). She finished with a team-high 15 points. Unfortunately for ODA, the effort could only last so long before Palmetto’s double teams started working against Burns.
ODA coach Paige Thevenin said Burns’ experience — and talent — has accelerated the team’s development.
“Ball handling, that was our struggle last year, too,” Thevenin said. “We just didn't have someone with the experience we needed. This year, Zi landed in our lap, which was great. She has been a blessing to the team because she just controls that area of the game, and she can shoot, too.”
The season has been a challenge in other ways, too. The Thunder have just seven players on the roster, meaning its starters are forced to play most if not all of each game. The team has no seniors and just one junior, guard Jenna Viard, so the team has looked to younger players like Burns to be the leaders.
Barring a rapid turnaround, the team probably is not going deep in the state tournament, but Burns won't stop battling until she's back on that level.