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Having completed the dribbling drills at the recent Brunswick Community College basketball camp, the small group of players gathered for a huddle before moving on to the next drill. They gave a weak-hearted, low-spirited cheer and then dispersed.
The coach of those drills called them back. She was dissatisfied with their attitude. So they huddled again. The cheer was louder, but robotic. They tried to disperse again, but the coach made them huddle again. This time, the cheer was enthusiastic, and they moved on to the next drill.
The coach was Ashlyn Burke, recently named women’s basketball coach at BCC. She conducted the dribbling drills with the same discipline she showed in forming those huddles. And if that kind of discipline equates to victories, women’s basketball at BCC will eventually have its first winning season.
Burke is confident in her knowledge of the game and in how to teach it. Basketball has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember.
Her dad, Bob, was the head men’s coach at Chowan College for 22 years, accumulating a 454-258 record.
He was an assistant at the University of Hawaii. He now is the special assistant to Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan. McMillan was an All-America player for Burke at Chowan before becoming a point guard for Jim Valvano at N.C. State University.
Her brother, Rob, has been the head men’s coach at Spartanburg Methodist College for six seasons and last season was the Region X coach of the year.
Her mom, Jane, coached middle school basketball before becoming a school superintendent.
“I’ve grown up around junior college basketball my entire life,” Burke said. “I know the ins and outs of basketball. I’ve basically grown up being a gym rat. Throughout my life, I’ve been around men’s and women’s basketball.”
At a young age, she was learning about the game.
“I went to my first basketball camp (at Campbell University) at the age of 6—I wasn’t supposed to attend it until I was 8,” she said. “I started working camps at a very young age. I was attending camps and working camps. I didn’t have a choice.”
Burke, who also has worked in TV and film, became the programs and special events coordinator in December for the Dinah E. Gore Fitness & Aquatics Center. She will retain that job, but basketball now is filling most of her time.
“This was a time where I felt I could step in and have a successful program with some new girls, starting basically from scratch with a new team,” she said.
“We want to do some different things, like get some scholarship money in here. Now is a time where girls’ basketball is really big. I felt I could make a difference and be successful with it.”
She realizes the losses will be many at the start.
“I’ve always been up for a challenge,” she said. “It’s going to be difficult. We’re going to have to find some players. We’re definitely going to try to improve the program and build something here at BCC with our new athletic facility.
“Community colleges across the state are starting women’s programs. So it’s a good time for all of us.
“I am focused on trying to build a successful program here. Hopefully, I can do that with these girls. I think we have some good girls coming in.”
And the model for running a successful community college basketball program is always nearby: BCC men’s coach Walter Shaw. He has gained a nationwide reputation for blending academics and athletics. His teams have won back-to-back Region X regular-season championships. Eight players from his most recent team signed scholarships with four-year colleges—and six of those were Division I teams.
In contrast, no girl basketball player has graduated from BCC, Burke said.
“I look forward to bringing these girls in here and sending them on to a four-year institution,” she said, “where they can continue to play basketball. And that is one thing Walter Shaw has done. He has given many the opportunity to go further with their education and their basketball career. Having him on my side and (the people) he knows and has worked with, I’m really excited about it.”
And Burke knows she will have the unconditional help of her dad and her brother, both of whom she admires for their coaching success.
“I have big shoes to fill as far as following my dad’s footsteps and my brother’s footsteps,” she said. “I have a long way to go.”
MICHAEL PAUL is the sports editor at the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or at email@example.com.