Amani Burke is perhaps Ohio’s most experienced player. She doesn’t offer the same flash that her counterparts in Erica Johnson or Cece Hooks may display on the court. But what she does offer is consistency, and she gives it when the Bobcats need it the most.
She is the third in Ohio’s dominating trio of herself, Johnson and Hooks. That trio currently claims six different All-Mid-American Conference awards from last season when they helped establish Ohio as one of the premier programs within the MAC.
Burke, a senior from Columbus, showed that aforementioned consistency and reliability when she was put in a position to carry the offense against Akron on Jan. 29 — a game with Johnson and Hooks on the bench because of foul trouble.
“I’ve never really gone into the game like, ‘I have to score,’” Burke said. “It’s been mostly what does my team need me to do to win.”
For Burke, the team doesn’t need her to put up those big numbers every game — even though she is confident she could. She is always looking for the smartest play to put the team in the right position to score, or to prevent the other team from doing so.
“I know for a fact I can go in and probably have 25 a game,” Burke said. “But I just think a lot of times it’s about what’s the right play, instead of trying to be that player that’s trying to get my averages up.”
With an average of just over 13 points per game in each of the last three seasons, the senior hasn’t raised her scoring averages, but her comfort and confidence in the offense has grown. The comfort brought on a new level of play for Burke, who has raised her assists per game each year of her career.
Coach Bob Boldon has noticed this improvement and has placed a lot of trust in Burke’s decision making on the court.
“She knows what we’re doing, and she has the ability to do it,” Boldon said. “That’s what makes her so special. It’s one thing to know what’s going on and it’s another to do it. She does it on a regular basis.”
Knowing what is going on in Boldon’s offensive scheme can be a tall task. The Bobcats like to play a position-less system that allows anybody to score at any time. It is crucial for the team that every player knows their role, and Burke always does.
Her consistency on the court has translated to her off-the-court presence as a leader. She has tried to maintain a positive demeanor through her tone in practices and games for her final season by encouraging her teammates.
“I think in the past we’ve had a culture of just getting on each other and not necessarily shedding light on the things that we do well, but when we’re doing things bad.”
Her positive attitude and uplifting messages to those around her have boosted the rest of the team, and with Burke’s career coming to a close soon, the team is trying to repay the favor by winning a MAC Championship and receiving a berth to the NCAA Tournament.
“We know how important her last year is to her and we’re just trying to get it done. She wants a ring, so she’s been more vocal than usual,” Johnson said. “And it’s not just being vocal, she’s also being positive and just being a good leader, being a good senior and being a good role model.”
Those are the things Ohio’s extremely young team needs. Burke is the only starter that won’t return next year, and the other two in the trio will be able to take over leadership of the team seamlessly.
For now, the Bobcats will continue to look to their senior to make the right decisions and lead the team as they go into the final stretch of the season.
In a month, Ohio will most likely go to Cleveland for the MAC Tournament to qualify for a NCAA Tournament spot. Burke wants nothing less than to go out big.
“It is my senior year, so I definitely been thinking like, ‘hey I want to go out with a bang,’” she said.