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LEXINGTON — The work John Hardin senior forward Ricky Burns does on a basketball court usually doesn’t show up on a stat sheet.
Burns isn’t typically going to fill up a boxscore with gaudy numbers. He’s not a flashy player, and if you’re not looking for him, he might not even get noticed.
Burns, though, is exactly the type of player you want to root for. He’s not the most gifted, but he gives his team every ounce of energy from the time he steps on the floor until the final horn sounds.
It’s exactly that effort that allowed him to step on the Rupp Arena hardwood Thursday afternoon and have one of the best games of his life.
Burns’ story is a unique one, but one where desire and determination win out. He barely made the team as a freshman and was cut the following year. As a junior, Burns once again was one of the last players kept.
A year later, Burns was starring in John Hardin’s 79-69 victory over Fleming County in the first round of the KHSAA Boys’ Sweet 16 Basketball Tournament. It’s a remarkable story of perseverance and dedication.
“Ricky’s been tremendous all year,” John Hardin senior Brandon Price said. “He’s our Ervin (Montgomery) from last year. He just does all the little stuff. He’s going to go get offensive rebounds and he’s going to make the extra pass. He’s been doing that all year.”
Burns does all the tough jobs with little recognition. He doesn’t score, but he is the one setting the screens for Price or senior Daveon Greene for them to get open. He crashes the boards with reckless abandon, giving the ball to a guard to start the fastbreak. He is often responsible for leaving his man to go double-team the player with the ball.
He does all the things nobody likes to do. But he gladly does it and usually with a smile on his face. He doesn’t view it as dirty work, but as a privilege to be part of this team.
“Ricky’s a great kid,” John Hardin coach Mark Wells said. “He’s the type of player every coach loves to have. It helps he’s 6-foot-4. He’s going to play 100 percent all the time. He’s only concerned with one thing and that’s helping John Hardin win. That’s his only thought.”
Playing in the biggest game of his life and the stakes at their highest, Burns came through with a game to tell his children and grandchildren about. He was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field and 2-for-2 from the foul line for a career-high 12 points. His previous high was six.
Burns also grabbed 11 rebounds for his first career double-double. It was his second consecutive game with double digit rebounds after pulling down 11 against North Hardin in the Boys’ 5th Region Tournament championship.
“My coaches had me really ready to play,” Burns said. “I was ready to go to work.”
Following the game, Burns brought his famous brother-in-law, Wes Welker, a free agent receiver who has starred for the New England Patriots in recent years, into the locker room.
It was the first time Welker had seen Burns play and he had to walk away impressed.
Some of the players weren’t even aware Welker is Burns’ brother-in-law. Burns rarely mentions it. Like on the basketball court, Burns is quiet and unassuming, not drawing any attention to himself.
That all changed Thursday afternoon.
This was Burns’ turn in the spotlight.
Chuck Jones is the sports editor for The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or email@example.com.