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Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015
Nature Coast

Burkes' return a boon for Sharks


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For three quarters Tuesday night, Jordan Burkes had just one made basket and three points to his credit.

He would finish the night with two field goals, yet somehow managed to score 16 points, to go along with six rebounds and three steals.

Burkes made 11-of-14 free throws - all in the fourth quarter - to close out a 70-56 victory for Nature Coast in a Class 5A, Region II semifinal versus visiting Tarpon Springs.

The Sharks are two years removed from the days when 6-foot-9 center Tyler Bergantino pieced together possibly the finest prep career in county history.

Yet they are back in the Elite Eight for the fourth time in five years, traversing up to Gainesville Saturday night for a 7 p.m. contest against Eastside.

"This is huge," Burkes said. "My whole dream was trying to get to Lakeland (for the state finals), and we're one game away from going there. We've just got to stay focused, work hard in practice and just got to continue getting better."

This is new territory for Burkes. Unlike most of his teammates, he hasn't been around to witness or partake in Nature Coast's recent run of success.

The 6-foot-3 senior guard made a three-game cameo as a freshman for the Sharks in 2010-11, then disappeared from the program.

Though he remained a Spring Hill resident, for the next two school years he hitched a ride with his father to work in Tampa and attended Tampa Catholic.

He appeared in 51 games for the Crusaders, averaging 4.6 points, 1.7 rebounds and 0.8 steals. The team advanced to regionals last season, but couldn't solve Tampa-Berkeley Prep in the district final or the Sweet 16.

Burkes made the decision to return to Nature Coast his senior year, and though he had attended the school previously, the transition wasn't smooth.

"At first it was tough. I didn't really know anybody. All the people I knew were at Tampa at my old school," Burkes said. "Coming here, I was just focusing on basketball, that's it. Then good things started happening. I'm starting to talk to people now and great things are happening for me."

On a team that has seen several key contributors graduate over the past two years, Burkes has proven himself a valuable two-way commodity.

Through the regular season, he was averaging 11.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.7 assists. He's also been a 3-point threat, knocking down 28 shots from beyond the arc.

However, Burkes said he still had to make some adjustments as the season went along.

"In the beginning of the year I was just doing too much, trying to be the go-to guy and I wasn't letting the game come to me," Burkes said. "Toward the end of the season Coach kept trying to teach me, and work on my game and get the right mindset. Now I just let the game come to me and good things happen."

He put his outside shooting prowess on display in the 5A-District 7 championship game against Hernando, hitting on three 3-pointers en route to scoring 21 points in a 59-44 win.

In the 5A-II quarterfinal against Gulf, he only scored eight points yet received high praise from Nature Coast head coach Dave Pisarcik, who credited Burkes with stymieing dangerous Buccaneers guard Joey Nickerson.

The clamps were truly placed on Nickerson, who didn't score until a meaningless buzzer-beater at the end of a 56-43 triumph for the Sharks.

Then came Tuesday night, when Burkes not only had to step up the at foul line - he was only a 52-percent shooter there during the regular season - but essentially played point guard down the stretch.

"I think Jordan has brought athleticism to our team. He does so much for us," Pisarcik said. "His defense has been huge for some of these games. He's held some of the best scorers to zero points.

"That's tough to do. He's got to handle the ball, create and score, and guard the best player. His defense has definitely allowed us to get back and win the district."

Of course, Burkes and his teammates haven't quite finished authoring the story of this season. They'd like to prolong the ending until next weekend during the Final Four.

"Just keep playing hard, that's all we've got to do," Burkes said. "When we keep playing hard, good things happen to us. When I keep playing hard, good things happen to us. We've just got to stay calm, cool, collected and we're going to get to that Final Four."

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By the numbers: Jordan Burkes (through 1/29)


Fr NCT 3 2 0.7 1 0.3 0 0.0 0 0.0

So TC 23 113 4.9 32 1.4 13 0.6 17 0.7

Jr TC 28 120 4.3 55 2.0 29 1.0 17 0.6

Sr NCT 26 294 11.3 99 3.8 43 1.7 60 2.3

Totals 80 529 6.6 187 2.3 85 1.1 94 1.2

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