Hempfield grad Michelle Burns heating up for Point Park basketball
When Point Park's Michelle Burns opened her freshman season by missing 25 of her first 30 shots, Tony Grenek could have shared numerous coaching nuggets gleaned from 17 years of experience.
He chose a different tactic with his 5-foot-4 point guard from Hempfield.
“I never said one word to her as far as, ‘Hey, you're shooting too many 3s,' or ‘Hey, try to do this,' ” Grenek said. “The one thing I never wanted to do was to tame her. I think she's too good of a player, and I knew the shots were going to start falling eventually.”
Sure enough, they did. Burns shook off the early slump and has emerged as one of the top first-year players in the River States Conference. She is averaging 12.9 points and 3.5 assists — seventh in the league — and has bumped her shooting percentage up to 37.4. Burns leads the Pioneers (15-9, 10-4) with 29.3 minutes per game heading into Tuesday's game with No. 21 Rio Grande (26-2, 14-1).
“It definitely takes a toll on you at the beginning,” Burns said of her struggles. “You're like, ‘Am I even a shooter anymore?' ”
Burns said deep down, she knew the answer was yes. So she stayed after practice putting up extra shots, and the results started to come.
On Dec. 9 against Indiana-Kokomo, Burns scored a season-high 27 points on 11-for-20 shooting, including 5 for 7 on 3-pointers. She has been steady since.
It shouldn't be a surprise that Burns responded to a little adversity. After all, she grew up as the youngest of three sports-loving sisters, and things often got competitive. Mary, the oldest, played lacrosse at Wheeling Jesuit and graduated last year. Monica, Hempfield's all-time leading scorer in basketball and a former Tribune-Review Player of the Year, is a redshirt junior at Wheeling Jesuit who holds the NCAA record for consecutive free throws made with 118. Monica and Michelle played together on the 2013-14 Hempfield team that reached the WPIAL Class 4A final.
“They've shaped me into the player I am today and the person overall,” Michelle said. “They were pretty hard on me, but if they weren't, I wouldn't be the player I am. They were who I looked up to.”
Burns said the three also had a friendly rivalry when it came to grades, softball and running, but basketball came first. One-on-one games remain common, and Michelle said her record is respectable.
“They're definitely stronger than me, but I'm getting there,” she said. “I've gotten a few wins in before. They might not admit that, but I definitely have.”
Burns had an offer to join Monica at Wheeling Jesuit and seriously considered it but said she wanted to “start my own path.”
It's been a good match. Point Park has won six of its past seven games, and Burns is averaging 15 points during that stretch. The surge coincided with Grenek upping the tempo and letting the players' instincts take over.
“She's an excellent ball handler,” Grenek said of Burns. “She's an excellent passer when people are up ahead, and she's able to get our fastbreak going.”
And if another shooting slump comes along, Grenek isn't worried.
“She's got the mentality you want your point guard to have,” he said. “When things are going bad, and she's not playing well, she's able to shrug it off and not let it linger.”
Jeff Vella is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JeffVella_Trib.