Burleson travels road to recovery for Lady Bucs

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF

   JOHNSON CITY -- Like a bee getting ready to be swatted, the basketball career of ETSU Lady Buccaneer guard Leslie Burleson looked to be all over with two years ago.
   But Burleson wasn't about to let the sting of a knee injury finish her dreams.
   Burleson suffered that severe injury two years ago in ETSU's Southern Conference Tournament semifinal loss to Furman. That night in Greenville, S.C. was the beginning of a long journey for the Mitchell County, N.C. native.
   "One of my meniscus was completely torn, and the other one was just torn slightly," Burleson said. "He had just trimmed it off whenever he went in, and then had to repair the other one."
   Burleson admitted the injury could have been prevented, but it would have come with a price.
   "I was supposed to be wearing a brace, which I couldn't run in," Burleson said. "My options were playing or not playing because I couldn't play with a brace on. The option for me was to play.
   "I just went in with faith that I could do it, and then all of a sudden whenever I jumped up the knee cap just popped back out. It popped back in whenever I landed, and then all I ever remember is one of the other trainers coming over and moving it and whenever it did it starting hurting worse. The ACL had flipped into the joints and made more problems come up."
   Once that night was over with, the road to recovery began for Burleson.
   She was going to be a senior, but had to redshirt due to the injury.
   Burleson finally came back this season, but it took a lot of effort to return to the basketball court.
   "The road was a little bit too long," Burleson said. "Right now, I'm just getting back to where I can do what I've pretty much set my goals to, but the problem is the shooting is not coming back. But that's something I've got to work on and get confidence in myself.
   "The defensive part, I've probably lost a couple of steps there, but I'm working towards getting better and I've pretty much acknowledged what I do have back to at least have one step forward to where I can get back to the defensive part."
   Burleson had several surgeries, which prompted her to consider giving up basketball altogether. But she quickly made other plans.
   "After the second surgery I was pretty much set to not do it," Burleson said. "After the third one he said 'If you work hard enough you can come back.' I don't have all my range of motion back. I'm pretty limited in what I do have, but I'm using it to do what I've always dreamed of doing. It's something I've been fighting for since my ACL surgery. Coming back and playing ball means more to me than anything."
   Burleson also had a fear that she was possibly going to lose her scholarship, but head coach Karen Kemp decided that she could help the team.
   "I had talked to coach, and I told her that if I wasn't able to play that I wouldn't sign over the summer," Burleson said. "But I had gotten to where I was running and getting back my rhythm of everything I could do. And then I was working towards goals to get me better. I was pretty much taking it by faith."
   Burleson isn't averaging the 10.8 points per game that she did her freshman season, but she feels like she has exceeded expectations in her comeback.
   "I've pretty much done a couple of things that I never thought I would be able to do again," Burleson said. "Coming back and being able to play in a game has meant a lot, and working towards getting playing time has meant more to me than anything. At least I know my teammates and coaches have a lot of confidence and faith in me to know that if they send me out there that I will try everything in the world to do what they want me to do."
   Burleson recently won the admiration of Coach Kemp for her defensive play against Appalachian State, a game the Lady Bucs lost.
   Kemp was very upset about the defense in that game, but quickly pointed out that Burleson was one of the players that trying her best on defense.
   "Right before I went in during the second half, she looked at me and said 'Leslie, I want you to go in there and get rebounds for me,'" stated Burleson. "Since my offense has been off, I've been working on my defense and working towards helping my team out. If I help my team out on defense, the offense will come. Plus my other teammates can pick up the ball and shoot.
   "That was a disappointing game. I thought sometimes I could have done something to help out. I know I took a few shots that didn't work, but I tried to do exactly what she wanted me to do and work towards what I thought was right for the team."
   Burleson has had a storied basketball career that a person could only dream about having. But despite having her number retired in high school, winning a high school state championship, and playing on a couple of very strong ETSU teams, her crowning achievement may be coming back from what looked to be a career-ending injury.
   "One of my greatest achievements would have to be after the injury because at first I wanted to give up and not come back, but I set my mind to it that I didn't want to be a quitter and I couldn't quit. If I did quit I would remember that in my last year of playing ball I was a quitter. I have never quit at anything that I set my mind to."