By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
WEBB CITY, Mo. —
Mikaela Burgess first learned the importance of using her left hand during a youth basketball tournament.
“I remember being at a tournament and I shot a left-handed layup,” Burgess said. “I shot it with my right hand and made it. Coach (Walter) Resa said, ‘you know you have to shoot that left-handed.’ So for the rest of the tournament, I’d go up and shoot it left-handed pretty much over the backboard. Not even close. But he’d look at me and say, ‘that’s what’s going to make you better.’
“From then on, that was all I worked on was my left hand and getting it to where it needs to be.”
Burgess took the advice to heart. The Webb City junior point guard is now one of the best ballhandlers in the area with her ability to use either hand.
That ability has helped the Cardinals reach the MSHSAA Class 4 semifinals. Webb City (24-5) will face Smithville (25-4) at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Mizzou Arena in Columbia with a trip to the finals on the line.
“Mikaela is exceptional at using either hand,” Webb City coach Brad Shorter said. “It’s a dream to have a point guard who can go either way. A lot of teams feel like she’s left-handed, but she’s not. She’s right-handed, but she just uses her left hand so well. It’s such a valuable asset for this team to have a point guard who can pass the ball as well as she does and handle the ball as well as she does. I feel like this year, she really has turned into a great leader for us.”
Burgess leads the Cardinals with 16.2 points per game. She also paces the team in assists and steals with averages of 2.8 and 2.3, respectively.
Burgess’ ballhandling skills makes her dangerous driving to the basket and helps her create separation on her jump shot. She has made 68 3-pointers this season.
“She’s pretty amazing with it,” Shorter said. “She’s got long arms. She’s able to get places in a hurry. I wouldn’t say she’s probably the quickest guard I’ve had, but with her length, her will and her fundamentals, she’s able to get places just like other point guards, if not better than other point guards.”
Webb City often is able to break a full-court press just by having Burgess dribble through it.
“Bobby Knight once was asked how he breaks a press,” Shorter said. “He said, ‘I give it to Isiah Thomas.’ We give it to Mikaela Burgess sometimes. She’s very capable of doing that.”
Burgess said she improved her skills by attending numerous camps over the years and by doing drills over and over. She also has been helped by her mother Stephanie (Williams) Burgess, who starred at Wheaton High School in the 1980s. Stephanie Williams averaged nearly 20 points a game in her final two seasons and led Wheaton to a Class 1A state runner-up finish in 1986.
“She was a pretty good ballhandler. I mean, I’m sure I could still take her,” Mikaela said with a smile. “But I heard she was pretty good.”