By Robert Wilson
Burney King won his 400th high school girls basketball game Tuesday night and credits his high school coaches for giving him a great foundation and his family’s deep love for basketball.
King – in his 34th year as a head coach, the last 29 at St. Andrew’s – won No. 400 with a 48-28 victory over McLaurin at the St. Andrew’s Athletics and Recreation Center in Ridgeland.
He got win No. 1 coaching at his alma mater, Magnolia Academy in West Jackson, where he learned from his basketball coach Richard Elam and baseball coach Rick Clarke. And King learned a lot about the sport from home with his basketball crazed family.
“Coach Elam and Coach Clarke had a great impact on my life,” King said. “I learned from Coach Elam that those at the end of the bench were just as significant as the star player. I watched him practice this philosophy on a daily basis. He valued each individual and what they brought to the table. Coach Elam and I still spend most weekends in the summer working together on a farm. I learned from Coach Clarke the importance of fundamentals, consistency, and a commitment to excellence.
“Both my mom and dad (Virginia and Burney King) played basketball in high school and my dad played a little juco ball. Any time I would go to my parents’ or maternal grandmother’s (Etta Mae Wilhelm) homes, basketball would be on the tv. When cable came to be, basketball was on year around at my parents’ home. It didn’t matter what level or who was playing.”
King admits he wasn’t much of an athlete in high school.
“I was a plus 20, minus 20 player,” King said. “I got in when we were up 20 points or behind 20 points. In baseball, I was a role player at best. I was fortunate enough to play on back-to-back-to-back state championship baseball teams from 1979-1981. I dabbled in baseball at Hinds (Community College), but it was short lived. Mainly because fall ball interrupted my deer hunting.”
“Burney is the classic example of a very average player becoming an excellent coach,” said Elam, who retired two years ago after 47 years of coaching basketball (Sylva-Bay Academy, Magnolia Academy, Hillcrest Christian School, Central Hinds Academy, Rebul Academy and Mt. Salus). “Burney gave his best effort as a player and was a team player. That’s one of his great attributes and it shows in his coaching.”
“Burney was a part of a lot of winning at Magnolia,” said Clarke, who coached baseball for 30 seasons (Magnolia for six, Hinds CC for 23, and Pearl for one) until 2006. “He had a love for the game, was a great teammate and learned that as a coach he could use sports to influence a lot of young people with essential skills such as discipline, confidence, motivation, determination, and toughness. He is a class act and loved by his players and students.”
King’s parents are a fixture at the games when he coached until his mom passed away in 2006.
“After I lost Mom, I literally stepped away from the game,” King said. “Fortunately, (St. Andrew’s athletic director) Coach (Dewayne) Cupples talked me into coming back in 2009. It was a tough decision initially as I didn’t know how I would handle not seeing her over my shoulder. Turns out it was the best decision I’ve made in my career.”
King still has his dad, his wife (Hannah, who has been teaching at St. Andrew’s for 39 years) and their daughters (Ashton and Hannah Clay) who come to games on a regular basis.
King has been a head coach for 34 seasons, one at Magnolia Academy, four at Hillcrest Christian and 29 at St. Andrew’s. He has never won a state championship as a head coach, but he was an assistant on four state title teams (two in baseball at Hillcrest and two in track and field at St. Andrew’s).
“I’ve learned a lot from (former St. Andrew’s football coach) David Bradberry, (former St. Andrew’s boys basketball coach) Brian Cronin and (current St. Andrew’s baseball coach) Mark Fanning,” King said. “Longevity is another reason for my success and persistence when times were difficult. Above all else, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best young ladies anyone could ask for. I still keep up with them and know where each is and what they are doing. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
Former players like Kathryn McWhorter Post, Class of 1999, who was in the class which won 100 games and two division titles in four years.
“Coach King taught us the value of perseverance, teamwork, and sportsmanship,” said Post, whose boys are in middle school at St. Andrew’s and who lives in Ridgeland. “One of our mottos was pride, determination, desire, and hustle. It succinctly covers what his program is all about. Our teams had great success and won two district championships, but the team dinners, the horrible, but necessary, lane slides, our hilarious shiny warm-ups, and the bus rides to games are what we talk about now. The direction and bonding that basketball gave all of us is unmatched.
“Coach King’s mentoring and positive influence continues. His belief in kids never wavers. He cares deeply, but I think his greatest achievement is teaching thousands of teenagers that being a kind, respectful, and responsible person is what is most important. The 400 wins are just icing on the cake.”
“Kathryn was a true success story in our program,” King said. “We cut her in the seventh and eighth grade. We kept her in the ninth grade, and she sprung up to 6 foot and ended up being our sixth girl as a sophomore and started her junior and senior years on some really good teams.”
The ’99 team was one win from making the Girls State Tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum, finishing 28-7. The 2004 team went 29-6, King’s best record at St. Andrew’s.
Sarah Spann, King’s assistant for the past eight seasons, has learned so much about basketball and life from King.
“Burney is more than a basketball coach. He is a role model, mentor, a friend, father, husband, grandfather, the list goes on and on,” Spann said. “I’ve learned so much from him, especially in staying true to yourself and always showing up ready to work and to give your best. That the game of basketball is just like life. You get in what you put in. His pillars of his program that still holds true today that we try to model every day is pride, desire, determination, and hustle. He is big on making sure each player he coaches has no regrets when she leaves the program and goes into the real world. That no one is going to hand you anything in life, you have to earn it. Burney has taught me so much that has helped me grow as a coach but even as a better person. It’s been a blessing being able to coach alongside him every day and do what we love to do, which is bigger than the game of basketball, but about reaching these players to shine on and off the court. It’s pretty legendary seeing him accomplish this number of career wins.”
St. Andrew’s team captain Enyla Blackmon has enjoyed playing for King.
“Coach King has always emphasized that what he does isn’t just basketball,” Blackmon said. “He’s preparing us for life in the real world, which is one of the reasons I really appreciate him. He’s taught me to take pride in what I do. He’s shown me how I’m supposed to hustle on the court and use that same determination to get me from one place in life to the next. It’s been great playing for him for the past four years. Through wins and losses, he’s made sure we’ve done everything together and as a family.”
“Coach King has players who played for him just a couple of years ago or 25 years ago that still call him or come by to visit with him when they can,” said St. Andrew’s athletic director Dewayne Cupples, who started as St. Andrew’s AD in 2009. “He loves the game of basketball and developing young athletes. Coach King has the respect of his co-workers and the coaches he coaches against. I have truly been blessed to work with him and call him a friend.”
This year’s team has an 8-9 record. King goes for win No. 401 Tuesday against Raleigh in a MHSAA Class 3A, Region 6 game at St. Andrew’s.