Favorite athlete: Steph Curry
Favorite team: Eagles
Favorite memory competing in sports: Winning the District One title at Temple University.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: When one of my teammates forgot her uniform for an away game and we were all trying to help her.
Music on mobile device: Country
Future plans: Continue my basketball and academic career at Penn State University
Words to live by: “It is what it is.”
One goal before turning 30: To travel the world
One thing people don’t know about me: I have a bad sweet tooth!!!
By Mary Jane Souder
Roll back the calendar to April of 2016.
A host of big name college coaches are in the stands for the championship game of the Boo Williams Nike EYBL in Hampton, Va. The who’s who list includes Notre Dame, UConn, Maryland, Stanford, Louisville, South Carolina among other. All are there to watch a highly regarded ninth grade AAU team from Las Vegas take on the Philly Belles. An eighth grader on the Belles named Maddie Burke is about to put herself on the map.
Burke’s coach, Fran Burbidge, remembers it well.
“I run this one play – you’re pretty confident you’re going to get the kid you’re running it for a wide open three,” the Belles coach said. “We ran that four different times, and they couldn’t guard it.
“I ran it twice where Maddie came off it in front of all the coaches or off a flare, and she’s standing almost on their laps and she’s splashing them. She probably made seven threes in that game. She was pretty impressive.
“I walked out of there validated because I was the one that talked to these guys and said, ‘You’ve got to see this kid.’ They could have chosen any game. It just so happened the majority of them showed up at that game, and all of a sudden – bang, she splashed on the radar.”
Burke never left.
The recent Central Bucks West graduate – the 2020 PA Sports Writers Class 6A Player of the Year - received her first Division 1 offer from Seton Hall in eighth grade. It was the first of many, and last June, Burke committed to accept a basketball scholarship from Penn State University from an impressive final list that included Maryland, Boston College, Villanova and Florida.
The West standout is one of seven freshmen on the Nittany Lions’ 2020-21 roster and figures to be a key piece in Penn State’s resurgence under second-year coach Carolyn Kieger.
“Her main focus is to literally win a national championship,” Burke said. “She just wants to win and develop players.”
Burke’s transition to Penn State this summer marks the latest chapter of a journey that began almost as soon as she could walk
A natural from the start
Sports were an important part of Maddie Burke’s life from her earliest recollection. Her father, Chris Burke, played basketball at Widener University and went on to play professionally in Europe.
So it was hardly a surprise that both Maddie and twin sister Allie – who will be playing Division 1 volleyball at American University - both gravitated to sports. Basketball was Maddie’s passion but was hardly her only sport.
“When I was little, I would go up the block to play with all the guys – play touch football, baseball, basketball or roller hockey, whatever season it was,” Maddie said. “I would always go out and play hoops when I was little. I had a mini basket I would play on when I was really little.”
From the outset, Burke, who began basketball playing in a Doylestown Y league at the age of four or five, excelled.
“She loved all sports,” said her father. “We had a long living room, and when she was four years old, she would be whizzing a football on a perfect spiral.
“I remember even at a younger age than that, I used to throw balls at her, and she would catch them with one hand. You just knew right off the bat – she had this uncanny hand-eye coordination.”
When Maddie was in sixth and seventh grades, she was a pitcher and played first base on a boys’ baseball team.
“She would sit next to me and watch baseball and golf or whatever – I would go outside to practice with a golf club, and she would pick it up and swing perfectly,” Chris Burke said. “She got on her bike and rode it right away, she could ride a skateboard. Everything that took eye-hand coordination, she just mastered very easily. She told me, ‘Dad, I can watch someone do something, and I can just do it.’”
The perfect shot
Maddie Burke may not have burst onto the national scene until eighth grade, but she was turning heads well before that closer to home. The former West standout was pretty much of a showstopper for coach Tom Timby boys’ Lenape Valley travel team when she joined in sixth grade.
“She would have played in fifth grade if they would have allowed it,” Timby said. “We had to get approval, and there was a little bit of a pushback, but it was evident she deserved to be there.
“We had to talk to the league – the league was sensitive to how parents would react. I said, ‘It’s not like she’s not good enough to play. She’ll be the best player in the league.’ No one ever really disputed it once she was on the team and once they saw her play.
“Once she shot the ball, you knew she was something special. That was it. Honestly, I’ve watched a lot of basketball over the years, and I haven’t seen anybody shoot it like her from a standpoint of form - where she releases the ball and how consistent she is. You don’t see that type of shooter, and you don’t see it in sixth grade.”
The shot, the textbook shot.
It comes up in every conversation about Maddie Burke. Todd Brodie, the former Wissahickon boys’ assistant, coached Burke on a Doylestown Athletic Association team with his daughter, former Central Bucks South standout Alexa Brodie.
“Alexa was a penetrator, and she was able to kick out to Maddie, whose shot is so pure, just so pretty,” Todd Brodie said. “Girl or guy, she’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen.
“She shoots the ball from where she catches it. If she catches it on the left side of her head, she will virtually release it from pretty much that spot, and it’s effortless. Her flick of the wrist is just an effortless thing with her.
“When she catches the ball 20 feet from the basket and she’s just catching and shooting, she can have four people flying out at her, and she sees nothing but the ball and the hoop. That’s all she knows. Everything else is just completely blocked out of her mind.”
There were early indications that Burke was something special.
“Even when she was in fifth grade, you could just tell she was going to be a dynamite shooter,” Brodie said. “Obviously, in fifth grade, you don’t quite have your mechanics completely down, but hers were as close to being down at that age as any kid I’ve ever seen, boy or girl, and although she didn’t make it with the frequency she does today, her shot was so pure virtually back then. You saw it coming, no doubt about it.”
Burke recalls learning under the tutelage of Casey Stitzel – now the head men’s basketball coach at Millersville University - at a Delaware Valley University Basketball Camp.
“He taught me how to shoot, and he was taught by Herb Magee,” said Burke of Stitzel, who was an assistant under Magee at Jefferson University prior to taking over the helm at Del Val.
Burke watched and then was able to replicate what she saw, acknowledging that shooting a basketball always came easily as did the fundamentals of other sports.
“I would watch my dad swing a golf club, and I would do it the same exact way,” she said.
Burke’s uncanny shooting ability was nothing short of astonishing.
“Jay Jameson had this thing where you had to shoot threes from all the spots on the floor – corner, wing, top, and he would time you,” her father recalled of Burke’s former shooting coach. “In three minutes, you had to have a certain amount of makes. Even at a young age, he would put her through drills like that, and she would break all his records.”
Making an early mark
Burke was close friends with Timby’s son Jake, a standout at La Salle. Both were basketball junkies, both were extremely hard workers.
“I remember a time we had about a foot of snow – they were off from school and both of them wanted to go shoot,” Timby recalled. “I remember Chris (Burke) pulled up in our driveway to take them to PSC (Highpoint) to shoot because that’s what they did – they had to do it every day.
“They both went to Jay Jameson, and I think Jay had said – if you don’t take 500 shots a day, you’re not going to be any good, so they both took that to heart.”
For Burke, there was no such thing as too much basketball.
“I played for two travel teams – a girls team and a boys team,” she said. “I would have practices all the time. I remember – it was so fun.
“I was good friends with a lot of the boys – they were the boys that I played with up the block. There were probably looks here and there, but I never heard anything (negative). It was all good.”
Timby has vivid memories of Burke’s playing days with his boys’ team.
“One memory that stands out – we went to play Cheltenham,” he said. “I knew they’d be an athletic team, but I also knew we had the shooting to beat them.
“We walked into Cheltenham grade school, and they had these old metal backboards that were oval shaped and rounded at the top. It became apparent early that Maddie was hot – she liked the gym.
“As the game went on, the other team’s fans started cheering for her. I vividly remember a mom saying, ‘Son, you might want to guard her.’ I think she had 36 points in that game. All the siblings of the kids on the other team were cheering for her.”
That was not a one-time occurrence. Timby goes on to recall taking his team to Reading for a preseason AAU tournament to put them against tough competition.
“We wanted to kind of let them know where we’re at so when we come back to our league, they’d be ready,” Timby said.
Timby’s team found itself taking on a highly regarded Team Final squad.
“We were well overmatched, but it was one of those things – you want to get tougher,” he said. “As our game was ending, Maddie was heating up – I think she had 24 or 26 points. As other teams were coming in, the gym started filling up not only with the fans that were watching our game but the two teams coming in. Man, the teams were just cheering for her every time she hit a shot. I think we lost by 30, but that’s the kind of thing – she’s just a great kid.”
Brodie also has memories from Burke’s early years on the court. He can’t talk about the West grad without recalling a play when his daughter and Maddie were teammates - Brodie was in seventh grade, Burke in sixth.
“Alexa was the point guard, “ Brodie said. “Alexa is standing up front with the basketball beyond the 3-point line on the right side, and Maddie is below the block on the left side.
“Maddie is just looking at Alexa, and she gives a point up with her index finger in the air, meaning ‘lob it to me.’ Not that she’s going to go up and dunk it, but Alexa lobs it to her, she goes up and catches it and just kisses it off the backboard for a layup in the air. I don’t think (her dad) and I were ever so amazed that two kids could plan something on the floor at the moment. It was amazing.”
Few players have stepped onto the basketball court at Central Bucks West with more hype than Maddie Burke, who served notice in the first game of the season as a freshman she would have no trouble living up to her billing. The rookie standout scored the first basket of the game on a short pull-up en route to 12 points – which included two threes – in the Bucks’ 61-53 win over Perkiomen Valley in the Lady Knights Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament on Dec. 9, 2016.
“Looking back, it really didn’t sink in until later,” Burke said of the hype that preceded her. “I was young, I didn’t know how to handle it, but it was good pressure.
“That first game I was definitely nervous, but I was good friends with a lot of girls on the team so that helped a lot.”
A four-time all-league and three-time all-state player, Burke finished her career with 1,340 points, 660 rebounds, 155 assists, 231 steals and 218 blocks.
As a senior, she averaged 13.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.9 assists while leading Central Bucks West to Suburban One Continental Conference title, the SOL Tournament crown and the District One 6A championship.
“It all ended really well – my senior year was awesome. It was good to go out that way. It was good to end on a good note with a lot of good friends and good coaches.
“We were all really close, we looked forward to seeing each other every day at practice. Sometimes you didn’t want to be there, but when you got there, you had a great time with the coaches and the players. It was just a really good experience overall.”
Zach Sibel knew he’d inherited a special talent when he took over the helm of the West program last year.
“Coaches wait a lifetime to coach a player like Maddie, and many don’t ever get to coach a player like her,” the Bucks’ first-year coach said. “To coach her this year was an absolute blast and truly an unforgettable year.
“From the first day you could see how bad she wanted this team to be successful, she pushed herself to be the best and pushed her teammates along the way. It was that kind of drive and energy that became the staple of our team and season.”
There were plenty of high points during Burke’s stellar senior season, and although individual performances were always secondary to Burke, the gifted sharpshooter turned in a jaw-dropping effort against Central Bucks East, burying seven of eight 3-point shots while scoring 21 points before halftime in a big West win.
There were also Burke’s 27-point performance in a win over Imhotep and her glittering 29-point effort in an overtime loss to Lancaster Catholic, but Burke didn’t have to score points to be effective.
“She was incredible,” Sibel said. “She didn’t take the role as being, ‘I’m going to shoot 25 shots a game.’ She took it as ‘I’m going to do what I need to do to make my team better and to make sure we win.’”
Burke elected to not shoot at halftime of games, choosing instead to talk to the coaches.
“She said she doesn’t like shooting when other people are shooting because if her shot hits another shot it throws her off,” Sibel said. “She’d come over and tell us what she was seeing.
“I remember the North Penn game she said, ‘We have to run more stuff for Emily Spratt. She has a good matchup,’ and we did. It’s selflessness, it’s those types of things. It opens your eyes.”
Burke, the focal point of opposing defenses, was a captain and undisputed leader of the Bucks during a memorable senior season.
“Maddie is a leader in every sense of the word - from her stepping up in huge moments and also keeping the team focused and poised when adversity hit on the biggest stages,” Sibel said. “Off the court she was awesome, she kept the team laughing. It was her ability to do both - push the team at practice and lead in games, but also reminding them what high school sports is all about, creating memories with friends and having a ton of fun along the way.”
“Maddie loved her senior year as much as she loved the DAA team,” Todd Brodie said. “For me, I think high school basketball is pretty much the epitome of sports in general.
“You’re playing with the friends you’ve grown up with, and for the most part, it doesn’t get better than that. College basketball is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a spirit about high school that I don’t think can be matched. That is Maddie to me, that’s who she is, there’s no doubt about it.”
An interesting dynamic came into play during basketball season when Burke faced her twin sister, a captain for Central Bucks South. Both attended elementary school together but parted ways in middle school. With a parent living in both school districts, Maddie – close friends and club teammates with West players a grade above her - chose to go to West, although both live with their father.
“It’s like we’re doing our own thing, but we’re still going to be connected,” Allie said. “If we were doing the same thing all the time, we’d take it for granted.
“When it comes to being her twin, I just like to share her success and happiness with her. I just love being part of all the great things she gets to do because of how talented and amazing she is. I love being her twin.”
It was hard to tell who was more excited when Maddie’s West squad won the coveted district championship with a 42-38 win over Pennsbury at Temple University.
“It was just crazy – it was almost like I was more excited than she was,” Allie said. “She’s a lot chiller, and I’m kind of out there. I was very excited."
A selfless star
Maddie Burke could have been and – according to some – should have been a gunner. That was never her style.
“For that level of kid, she was very unselfish,” Burbidge said. “I think that took away from that giant impact. You play in the league, people know her, and they’re going to mark her, they’re going to tag her.
“She deferred a lot – more than I would have liked her to have done at times, but I understand her personality. I think her numbers did not scream out as much as you would think with that type of kid, but have to take into account – she’s the marked kid when they go out to play. They know who she is, they’re going to have people aware of where she’s at, and instead of trying to go for it, she’ll throw to the open player.
“She came on and had the rep, but the fact that she’s an unselfish kid and deferred and wasn’t demanded to take X amount of shots during the course of the game held her numbers down. We’re still talking about a kid that made all-league, made all-state and had a great showing with USA Basketball.”
Brodie and Timby echoed similar sentiments.
“So many times I hear certain kids need to be a little bit more selfish and things like that, and I get what a lot of people say,” Brodie said. “But in my mind, one of Maddie’s best attributes is her unselfish play.
“In a world of basketball where you see everyone going one-on-one all the time, she is a cog in a machine, and she loves being a cog in a machine. She never puts herself above anybody, any team, any time. She just goes out and likes to play basketball as a unit. When people say she could be a little more unselfish – while I understand what they say, being unselfish just is a great thing, and it’s a great attribute of hers as well.”
“She was always very humble and also very unselfish,” Timby said. “It’s tough to tell a kid that age that you need to be more selfish, and it sounds bad coming from an adult.
“I remember many times talking to our team and literally telling her – Maddie, you’re going to shoot the ball 15 times this game or we’re not going to be able to compete. Even standing in front of our team – ‘Guys, does anyone have a problem with that?’ They’d be like, ‘No, no, she has to.’
“There were plenty of time when I’d stand in the locker room with these guys – and they’re great kids, they all grew up together playing different sports, and they’re great families. I’d say to them, ‘My job is to prepare you to make your next team, and I’m pretty sure there’s one person in this room that we’re going to be watching on TV one day.’ A couple of them would be like, ‘It’s going to be me.’ I said, ‘I think you all know who’ that’s going to be.’”
The next chapter
Penn State was a late addition to Burke’s final list of colleges when Carolyn Kieger – who changed the fortunes of a struggling Marquette program and was a semifinalist for the 2019 Naismith Women’s Coach of the Year Award - was named head coach after the 2018-19 season.
“I went to visit, and I just loved the new atmosphere they had,” Burke said. “The new head coach – everything she said really excited me. I was like, ‘I can really see myself there and I can see myself thriving. I’m just going to do it because it’s going to be the best thing for me.’
“Just the mindset she has – I love it. She has a lot of passion, she loves what she does, and she’s so driven. She’s awesome and the whole staff is. I’m really excited.”
Leaving Allie and her father was the only hard part of Maddie’s newest adventure at Penn State.
“Honestly, I absolutely love being a twin – it’s like having a built-in best friend,” Allie said. “Anything I want to do – I can do it with her. I never feel lonely. It’s amazing.”
That connection hasn’t changed even though the twins are going their separate ways.
“I want to know everything that’s going on in her life, and I want her to know everything that’s going on in my life,” Allie said.
My dad was at every game – he was always supporting me, always giving me confidence,” Maddie said. “And my sister was always there for me, and it was great.”
Burke recently completed the first chapter of life at Penn State, displaying the shooting touch that made her such a coveted recruit during the summer session just completed.
“Her numbers in high school don’t scream to the impact she has on the game with the nuances – how other kids are going to get open looks because she’s out on the floor,” Burbidge said. “I think that’s going to play well for her at the next level because now she’s playing with kids that are Power 5 basketball players who can score the ball, who can do those things. Now facing the double teams, being marked and all that is not going to happen as it did throughout her playing time on high school. I think that will bode well for her at the next level.
“She’s still going to be that kid that’s going to space the floor for Penn State because people are going to have to be aware of her. They aren’t going to let her out on the perimeter shooting open shots, so she’s going to open up the floor for them. If they get the right kids in there and have kids that can attack that space and people are going to have to come off her a bit, she’s going to be getting clean looks and comfortable looks, and I think that’s going to bode very well for Maddie at Penn State.”
Burke left West as the first basketball player to garner state player of the year honors. She was ranked in the top 50 of her class by Preferred Athlete (#27), Blue Star (#39) and Prospect Nation (#48), and the #80 overall recruit in the class by ASGR. On the AAU circuit, she helped lead her Philadelphia Belles team to the Nike Indianapolis Championship. Burke was an invitee for the 2018 USA Women's U17 World Cup Team Trials and was also a finalist for the 2017 USA Basketball Women's U16 National Team.
“She’s a great kid with a high basketball IQ,” Todd Brodie said. “I’ll put her in the categories of the Steph Currys and the Reggie Millers as far as shooting. That quick shot is just incredible. How she catches and shoots – I think that defines the kind of player she is.”
(Maddie and Allie Burke photo provided courtesy of Amanda Fischer.)
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