One box-score line from opening night of this high school basketball season had the local hoop fraternity abuzz: Burton, 12 field goals, 3-3 from the foul line, 28 points.
That would be Ty Burton, of Lampeter-Strasburg. It was Burton’s first high school game. He’s a 5-foot-9 freshman.
Burton’s own reaction, relayed from L-S coach Ed Berryman: “Coach, I’ve got a lot to learn.’’
Not that Burton is a total surprise, even though he spent last year at IMG Academy in Florida. He’s been on the local hoop radar for a while.
What is surprising is the number of freshmen who are having varsity impact all over the Lancaster-Lebanon League.
There are at least 11 freshmen in varsity rotations: Burton, Ethan Benne of Penn Manor, Trevor Evans and Carter Horst of undefeated Warwick, 6-7 Matthew Gilhool of Elizbethtown, Solanco’s 6-5 Brock Osborne, Dallas George of Elco, Zachary Kirk of Octorara, Brelon Miller of Columbia, and Jared Kumah of McCaskey.
Burton is averaging 20.5 points through Friday and running the show for L-S. Kirk, a point guard, is averaging 10 a game. Benne is Penn Manor’s fifth-leading scorer.
Miller, the son of former Solanco star and Temple/Clemson guard Johnny Miller, missed Columbia’s first couple games due to COVID-19. The Crimson Tide’s signature defeat of Trinity last Tuesday was his first high school game, and he scored 10 in a win over Pequea Valley a night later.
Kumah, of McCaskey, has a twin brother, Jake, who figures to be a factor at Lancaster Country Day, which had played only one game as of Friday.
There are also several freshmen doing the play JV-dress varsity thing, like Northern Lebanon’s Moises Gonzales and long-range 3-point bomber Eric Baldassarre of Manheim Township.
This probably isn’t a trend, just a quirk. Happily, it’s the rare thing happening in 2021 that can’t logically be tied to the pandemic.
There is a common thread, though. We’re talking about a pack of gym rats.
“These guys are basketball junkies, and they have been since fifth or sixth grade,’’ said Kevin Blackhurst, a former Division I college player and assistant coach who has worked with Burton, Baldassarre and other L-L players as a skills coach.
“The thing that stands out is their work ethic, how self-motivated they are.’’
Kumah started showing up for McCaskey’s offseason workouts in sixth grade. Last year, as McCaskey prepared for a District Three playoff game, he walked from his home — a couple miles — to attend practice. As an eighth-grader who wouldn’t even really be practicing.
“I said to the guys, ‘This kid’s walking in the rain to be with you,’’ said McCaskey coach Freddy Ramos. “He really is like a sponge.’’
Burton was on a middle-school team, at IMG last year, that went 30-0. After the season, the team entered an AAU tournament in Houston. Burton was there when the pandemic shut down the tournament and the school for the year. He came home and has stayed.
Despite all that, he didn’t have to be introduced to most of his L-S teammates. Another common thread: Most of these freshmen know each other, and their teammates, from the endless AAU and summer circuits.
“He’s been playing with (his L-S teammates) for years,’’ Berryman said of Burton. “He has a passion for basketball, he’s a competitor, and he’s probably the hardest worker we have, so the guys see that.’’
They also see that, as Burton himself put it, “I try to do as much as I can to help us win. The normal priority is just winning.’’
In coaching players this young, conventional wisdom might say tread carefully, and don’t expect too much too fast.
Ramos said he reluctantly took that approach last year with Jonathan Byrd, a then-freshman point guard with elite playmaking skills.
Then Byrd came off the bench and stood out in a game against powerhouse Chester, and Ramos realized, “The biggest thing is to go with my gut.’’
After that game, Ramos advised Byrd, “you’re getting the keys to the car,’’ and he’s had them since.
Columbia coach Kerry Glover is informed by his experience coaching his own son, Kerry, as a freshman point guard two years ago.
“I knew what he was capable of doing, so my thought was, just go out there and play,’’ Glover said. “For me, it was fun. I think he hit a wall at one point, got through that, and the second half of the year he really played well.’’
Advanced students, of course, push their teachers.
Berryman recently read and was impressed with “Toughness,’’ a book by former Duke star and ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. He recommended it to Burton the other day.
“Already read it, coach,’’ he said.