Kristen O'Neill (left) and Kayla Burt (20) bottle up Stanford's Kelley Suminski. (Elaine Thompson, AP)
In time for the start of the University of Washington women's basketball season, Husky Select, an occasional series about UW players and their select team experiences, continues with the shared journey of sophomores Kayla Burt and Kristen O'Neill.
Basketball can be such a huge equalizer. It can relegate 30 miles to being the difference between, say, WesCo's North Division, where Kayla Burt used to play for Arlington High School, and its South Division, where Kristen O'Neill used to play for Meadowdale.
It even can span an additional 150 miles, once in a while.
Or so Burt and O'Neil discovered the summer before their senior seasons in high school. One day, Burt got a call from the coach of the Yakima Elite AAU team and thought, "That's a long way from home." O'Neill had received a similar call but, as she had been prepared to play even farther away for the Spokane Stars, it wasn't such a stretch.
They found a way - found each other, actually. And every other Sunday together made the 3 -hour drive to practice in Yakima. Every other week, the Elite team, which included Teresa Borton, of Yakima's West Valley High and now a Notre Dame sophomore, would make the reverse commute to practice with them.
This wasn't their first select team experience - Burt had played for the Arlington Magic; O'Neil for The Energy in Lynnwood, then the Blaze in the Puget Sound Traveling League - but they agree it was their most intense and satisfying.
"The chemistry on that team was really good," O'Neil said. "Sometimes you put together a group of very talented All-Stars and it doesn't work."
Burt said, "It was amazing how well we played together. Everyone got a chance to start, a chance to play. It was very competitive, but all the players were really unselfish and really wanted to win."
The latter, they did. Virtually unknown at the time, the Yakima Elite won the prestigious End of the Trail tournament in Oregon City. They placed second in a major NCAA viewing tournament in San Diego, fared well in Las Vegas and in the Arizona Elite Spring Classic.
They were gone nearly the entire month of July, hopping from tournament to tournament.
"It reminded me how sweet it was to go home for even a little while," said O'Neill, whose sister Kellie is a Husky junior. "You realize how much you miss it."
O'Neill was coming off a state championship season with Meadowdale and would lead the Mavericks to a fourth-place finish her senior year. Burt would lead Arlington to its fourth state berth in her four years there. Both were named to various high school All-America teams and own single-game, season and career scoring records at their schools.
A half year after sharing rides to Yakima, Burt and O'Neill shared the Everett Herald's Player of the Year award.
Today, they share a lot more. They are key sophomore performers on a University of Washington team favored to win the Pac-10 championship. They share a connection - they each cite each other as their funniest Husky teammate - forged during the shared rides over the Cascades, flights to far-flung events and nights on lumpy hotel beds.
Because of it, their dreams don't seem so far away anymore.
Gio & Giuliana: Two Who Got Away
|Glenn Nelson is the co-founder and former head coach of the Dragons AAU girls basketball team in Seattle and will coach the Triple Threat 87s traveling team. Glenn also is the founder and operator of the popular girls basketball Web site, www.HoopGurlz.com.|
A native of Seattle, Glenn was a national-award-winning basketball writer and columnist for The Seattle Times for nearly two decades and has been published in books and various national magazines. He currently is the Managing Editor of TheInsiders.com (www.TheInsiders.com), an online sports network.