The Wilson Hall boys basketball team is out to a red-hot start to the season. One of the main reasons is their giant senior in the middle.
Daniel Burton has been electric for the Barons in this young season. Last week, he averaged a double-double and added his share of blocks as Wilson Hall earned wins over Calhoun Academy, Ben Lippen and Orangeburg Prep. His play also earned him the recognition of Hines Furniture Athlete of the Week.
"I'm glad; I had all of my friends, even my old AAU teammates behind me," Burton said of the honor.
Wilson Hall head coach Rip Ripley was glad to have a player like Burton in his corner last week. As several of his athletes are still working their way back into a basketball rhythm after a state championship appearance in football, Burton has been a steady anchor for the Barons.
"Daniel, you notice him when he walks into the gym because of his stature, but it's not just that. His energy is pretty noticeable, too," Ripley said. "He's got a unique style and charisma about him, and him performing the way he is has been really big for us. He's averaging a double-double on the season, and he's had a double-double in pretty much every game so far. He's taken on that role of being our anchor defensively and protecting the rim a little bit. Having him as our rock back there defensively has been really important."
Burton's mindset early in the season is shared by his teammates. The Barons want to let the basketball world know that they're ready to take their game to the next level.
"I feel like the whole team really wanted to make a statement. We didn't want to drop any games we should've won," Burton said. "We really wanted to be dogs out there and scare some of the opponents in region."
One of the contributing factors to Wilson Hall's hot start is the chemistry this team has been building for years. The core contributors all played together last season and picked up where they left off.
"We've been playing for a minute. Since last summer we've been on the grind, working," Burton said. "The chemistry was really built on and off the court. It was a lot of work and a lot of struggle, especially that first year when we were still trying to figure everything out. This year it all kind of clicked with us that we need to come out and dominate."
Burton had standout performance after standout performance last week, averaging a double-double with 16.3 points and 12.3 rebounds a game. He added more than two blocks per contest defensively. The game that stood out for Burton was their victory over Ben Lippen, where he was one of three Barons with a double-double, joined by Hugh Humphries and Shawn Michael Matthews.
"That Ben Lippen game, that was a click for everyone, we were just so in sync," Burton said of the 51-38 win. "Everybody was swinging the ball with extra passes. I think me, Shawn and Hugh all had double-double, which is awesome. Having three people with double-doubles, everyone close to 10 points, that's just the perfect game in my opinion."
Burton and Humphries, a junior, form a dynamic duo in the point. Their shared height allows them to be aggressive defensively, knowing they have another big man to back them up.
"I feel like our height is really a big factor in that, but also the way we respond after a block," Burton said. "We'll block somebody or be dominant on the block, and we won't say anything just to get into their heads. This is just a regular thing for us. We almost just do it like a job."
The blessing of having two giants in the middle hasn't gone unnoticed by Ripley.
"This is a really unique group that we have with some of the size and length we've had over the last few years," Ripley said. "I know there are some coaches that have it every year, but we have not had this kind of size and athleticism in the past. A lot of times you get a big kid in high school, and he's still figuring it out, figuring his body out, and he's not as athletic and bouncy. Daniel and Hugh have also been the two last state champions in the high jump in SCISA. They are clearly athletic and have some bounce. They have some length and some reach that is really helpful."
Wilson Hall took their first loss of the season on Tuesday against Heathwood Hall, a heartbreaking defeat at the buzzer. But Burton is ready to lock back in with a few tournaments upcoming, first the Baron Classic this weekend before the District 9 Officials Christmas Tournament. Those challenging slates will help them prepare for a busy 2024 stretch.
"The coaches really said, 'How are we going to bounce back? How are we going to respond to adversity?' I think today we're going to go harder than we've ever gone, and I think we're going to push each other to fight in practice so when we get out there, it'll be easy," Burton said. "We're looking to dominate and not lose any more games."
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