Whitman College women’s basketball coach Michelle Ferenz has watched Mady Burdett spend hours at a time alone in the gym working on her 3-point shot. Just Burdett and the shooting machine, the device popping the ball back after every attempt, as she takes the same step-back 3 over and over again until she makes the number she set in her head before she began.
“She probably spends more time on the shooting machines than any player I’ve ever coached,” Ferenz marveled.
That time has turned Burdett into one of the deadliest NCAA Division III 3-point shooters in the country. And as the Edmonds-Woodway High School graduate prepares for the final “homecoming” games of her collegiate career, she’s shooting for more than the basket, she’s aiming at a national championship.
Burdett and the nationally-ranked Blues cross the Cascades from Walla Walla this week, traveling to Tacoma for games at Pacific Lutheran on Friday and Puget Sound on Saturday. And Burdett’s 3-point acumen is a big reason for Whitman’s success.
Burdett, a 5-foot-7 senior guard, is one of the most prolific scorers in Whitman school history. The 2018-19 first-team All-Northwest Conference selection and third-team D3Hoops.com All-Region pick recently became just the 10th Blues player ever to surpass 1,000 career points. This season she’s the second-leading scorer (14.4 points per game) on a Whitman team that’s 15-2 and ranked No. 12 in the country.
Most of that scoring has been done from deep. Burdett already came into the season as Whitman’s leader in career 3-pointers with 165, and with 48 more drained through 17 games this season she’s threatening to put the record out of reach.
Long-distance marksmanship has always been Burdett’s calling card. It’s the attribute that helped her lead Edmonds-Woodway to a sixth-place finish at the 2016 3A state tournament and earn second-team All-Tournament recognition, and it’s the attribute that first caught Ferenz’s eye.
“I think the first time I saw her play she was maybe a sophomore in high school and she weighed about 100 pounds, she was tiny,” Ferenz recalled. “But I was watching her team play and all of a sudden I realized she hadn’t missed. I don’t think she missed a 3 the whole time I watched her, so I wrote her name down and kept following her.”
The secret to Burdett’s shooting proficiency? Her quick release.
”I’m not the biggest or most athletic, and growing up I wasn’t really a driver because I’m not the fastest,” Burdett explained. “So I had to find other ways to score. A lot of guards are bigger than me, so I was always working on getting the shot off as fast as possible.”
That 3-point shot served Burdett and the Blues well during Burdett’s first two years at Whitman, as Burdett made 85 treys at a 35.5% clip in a support role for teams that reached the NCAA tournament.
But it was during Burdett’s junior year that she went from good to lights out. Last season Burdett shot a blistering 46.9% from deep as she made 81 3s in 27 contests. That’s carried over into this season as Burdett is currently making 43.6% from long range
A lot of the reason for Burdett’s dramatic increase in efficiency is that time spent in the gym with the shooting machine. But part of it was a role change. Burdett, a shooting guard her entire life, was asked to take on point-guard duties. That proved a boon for her shooting.
“I honestly think my coaches don’t know this, but I enjoy playing point guard more than shooting guard now,” said Burdett, who’s leading the Blues with 3.4 assists per game, including an efficient 2.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. “I feel more comfortable with the ball in my hand. There are a lot of plays called for me to get my shot off as the point guard, and as I’m coming off screens I can get the shot off fast. I’m able to shoot right away rather than having to gather myself after getting a pass coming off a screen.”
Just how comfortable is Burdett now? So much so that she was one of 10 players invited to be part of the USA D-3 Women’s Basketball team that toured Brazil last July. Burdett and her teammates played four games against Brazilian women’s professional teams, finishing 3-1 — Burdett even made a half-court shot in one of the games.
The confidence gained from being able to compete against women’s pros has Burdett contemplating continuing her basketball career overseas after graduation. Burdett, who is majoring in sociology and minoring in psychology with the goal of becoming a kindergarten teacher, is exploring going to graduate school in Great Britain and playing for the school team. She’s also been invited to a showcase event in New Orleans where she will be seen by European professional coaches.
But for now her concentration is on Whitman and the goal of a national championship. The Blues have had strong teams since Ferenz took over in 2001, advancing as far as the national title game in 2014. But with a strong five-player senior class that also includes Coupeville High School graduate Makana Stone (15.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game) and Shorewood High School graduate Lily Gustafson (4.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game), Burdett believes Whitman can go one step further this year
“Honestly, I think we can win a national championship,” Burdett said. “But really, it comes down to how we’re practicing. I feel our only two losses were because that week we didn’t have strong practices. So if we continue to work hard and focus on the little things I think we can win a national title.”
And it certainly won’t hurt having a deadeye shooter like Burdett along for the ride.
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