By Nate Rohr
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Throughout her life, Nebraska guard Kaitlyn Burke has loved the game of basketball.
That was evident in high school when she chose basketball over cross country, track, volleyball, softball and mountain biking. She displayed her passion for the sport earlier this season when she continued to play with a dislocated finger.
As a child, Burke was also talented in front of a camera. Faced with a difficult decision of whether or not to become a successful actor or commit to play basketball, Burke ultimately decided to play basketball.
“Everything was conflicting,” Burke said. “It wasn’t fair for my agent, my team or my coaches, so I sat down with my parents. They told me to do what I wanted to do and what I loved most, and I couldn’t imagine my life without sports. I love sports, love the game and love basketball.
Burke walked away from an acting career in which she had appeared in both commercials and feature films. Her film credits include starring roles in Ms. Bear (1997) and its sequel, Bear with Me (2000). She shared the screen with stars such as Lindsay Lohan, Henry Winkler and Tyra Banks.
“She’s rare in that she had a lot of things going on in her life and she chose basketball because of her great love for it,” Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. “For some kids, they may not have had anything that matches their basketball success. Therefore, they just continue to play basketball.
“Kaitlyn had some other options at a young age, and gave up a career that a lot of people wouldn’t give up. It just says something about how much she likes athletics and how much of a competitor she is.”
Despite choosing to dedicate her time to developing as an athlete, Burke carries lessons from her acting career into the arenas of the Big 12 competition.
“You’re on the spot when you’re acting,” Burke said. “You have to think quick sometimes. There’s a lot of pressure in it. That’s really helped me in basketball, being able to do things under pressure and handle different situations.”
The excitement of competition and working with teammates was a deciding factor for the 5-7 sophomore.
“I love to compete,” Burke said. “Working hard, focusing on a goal and trying to attain your goal is really what I love to do. I love being in a team atmosphere, playing with my teammates and playing for them.”
Burke fed that desire for competition in virtually every outlet available to her growing up in North Vancouver, British Columbia. She played soccer and softball in middle school, and was a part of three provincial championship cross-country teams. She ran distance for her high school track team and even was a member of the mountain-biking team during her sophomore and junior seasons.
“My brother did it before I did,” Burke said. “I really liked it. I got a little messy at times with some dirt and mud on my face, but it was really fun.”
Basketball success was close to home. life. Her older sister Ashley played at Gonzaga, while older brother Sean played at Simon Fraser. Kaitlyn carved out her own legacy at Argyle Secondary School, averaging 18 points, 10 assists and six rebounds a game, resulting in being named the school’s four-time Athlete of the Year.
She spent her final year prior to college at the Canadian National Elite Development Academy in Hamilton, Ontario, continuing her involvement with the Canadian National Team program.
Nebraska became aware of Burke late in her high school career. Huskers assistant coach Sunny Smallwood was scoping out potential recruits. Burke wasn't on her radar when she arrived; she was when she left.
“There was this little kid who kept scoring," Yori said. "We were looking at some other kids, but they fell through for us. (Sunny) went back in her notes and said, ‘Who was that kid that kept scoring that day and was doing a good job of handling the ball?’ One thing led to another. A week later, Sunny went up to watch her again. She (Kaitlyn) came down to visit and then we signed her.
“Sometimes you get a kid who ends up being a pretty good player for you, despite the fact that you didn’t know a lot about her and didn’t recruit her for a long period of time."
With that, Burke joined the Huskers in 2007-08 playing in every game and leading Nebraska in 3-pointers made (33) and assists (78). Immediately, Burke’s drive and work ethic stood out to Yori.
“Kaitlyn is willing do things that not all kids are willing to do,” Yori said. “I don’t have to worry if she’s doing what she should be doing during the summer and during our breaks. We can count on her to be in great condition because of her work ethic. She’s self-motivated. She’s very, very low-maintenance and someone you can count on to drive themselves and not have somebody have a thumb on them all the time.”
Thanks to that strong work ethic, it looked as Burke’s game would turn a corner entering this season. She earned a starting spot and scored 12 points in the season opener against Weber State.
But against Southern Utah in the third game of the season, Burke sustained a dislocated finger. Though she didn’t miss any games, the brace on her hand limited her production.
“Try shooting with a brace on your shooting hand,” Yori said. “It doesn’t help your game a whole lot.”
Burke healed over the Christmas break and returned to the floor with a 12-point effort to boost the Huskers in its 62-58 upset of No. 22 Arizona State. Since, she has averaged 7.1 points per contest including a 13-point showing at Missouri. She returned to the starting lineup against Kansas.
Burke continues to emerge as a rising star in Big 12 basketball, but will she ever return to a starring role on the big screen?
“Maybe someday,” she said. “I just want to finish here and do the best I can, and get my degree at Nebraska. Who knows? Maybe I’ll go back into acting or maybe I’ll decide that I want to go back and get my Master’s. I haven’t thought that far.”