Hempfield’s Monica Burns to play final college season at Cal (Pa.)
Monica Burns took a year off from college basketball, a decision made for personal reasons but one that ultimately scrubbed away her final season at Wheeling Jesuit.
The standout guard would have been a redshirt senior had she played.
The year removed seemed like an eternity for Burns, a bona fide gym rat long before she was a backcourt star at Hempfield and, later, Wheeling Jesuit (she transferred from IUP).
She mined thoughts of the good times, the big games, the highlights, and those memories reminded her what she gave up. That competitive undertone is what encouraged her to return.
Best known for her renowned free-throw streak of 118 in a row in 2017 — nobody, man or woman, has made that many consecutively at any level of college or pro basketball — Burns realized she had more to give to the game.
Cal (Pa.) is the place where she will do so. She has transferred and will dedicate one more season to the hardwood.
You can’t call it a come back bc the same Mo isn’t coming back. I’m going to finish what I started this next season by using my final year of eligibility while completing my final 2 semesters for my Master’s degree… https://t.co/WVlUI2bbfb
— Mo Bucket$ (@moburns13) April 30, 2019
“It really made me sit back and think how much I missed the game,” she said. “However, at the same time, it was honestly best that I had taken some time off. I had watched a lot of basketball in my time off from playing. From going to my younger sister Michelle’s games and streaming plenty of other games, I really feel as if my basketball IQ has increased to another level.”
Michelle Burns will be a junior guard at Point Park.
And speaking of smarts, Burns is pursuing her master’s degree in cybersecurity. She earned a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Wheeling Jesuit.
“After realizing that I wanted to play again, I had taken a lot into consideration and realized that Cal U. would be a great fit for me in regard to the system, players and wonderful coaching staff,” she said. “I wanted to do something in relation to (criminal justice), however, there really is no correlation between the two, so I am enjoying the challenge of learning about computer technology and intelligence.”
During her time away, the 5-foot-6 Burns — to no surprise — stayed basketball active. As a graduate assistant at Cal’s fitness center, she oversees in-house operations. That includes intramurals, of which she gladly took part — even if she was the only female at times.
“I played intramural 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 basketball and realized I had a lot left to accomplish and show for it,” she said. “I feel as if by playing against some competition — mostly guys — has really sparked my basketball and competitive mentality.”
Burns, the Hempfield girls’ all-time leading scorer with 1,295 points, averaged 17.7 points two years ago at Wheeling. The all-conference guard made 78 3-pointers and shot 92 percent from the free-throw line (127 of 138).
Free throws still get plenty of treatment when she practices. She said her record streak adds to the character of her game.
“I know for a fact that I put in the time to be great at them, and that is something I would love to continue for this last season of mine,” she said. “It all comes down to repetition and confidence. As an athlete, if you know you put in the time and effort into being great at something or went above and beyond to prepare, there is no reason to not believe in yourself.”
Burns is not using her laurels as a free pass to play again. In fact, she has been working exhaustively hard to stay sharp. She has dropped 20 pounds.
“I am the leanest I have ever been,” she said. “I honestly feel like a brand new player. I feel as if my new shape and workout philosophy will allow me to move a lot quicker and be more agile at all points on the court. Physically, I feel the best I have ever felt in my life and am beyond excited to put my hard work and dedication to the test.”
Burns said the benefits of basketball, not the game itself, can define someone who plays the game with a passion like she does.
“The game of basketball has given me countless opportunities and I have also created a lot of the best relationships of my life through basketball,” she said. “I owe a lot to the game of basketball; therefore, I am using this last year of eligibility to give it absolutely everything I have. I am on a mission.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .