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Marc Narducci: Willingboro's Burke happy to have stability

Chris Burke has enjoyed success during his basketball career, but the 6-foot-4 Willingboro senior is experiencing something for the first time in high school - peace of mind.

Chris Burke has enjoyed success during his basketball career, but the 6-foot-4 Willingboro senior is experiencing something for the first time in high school - peace of mind.

For somebody who attended three high schools in his first three years, Burke finally has stability in the present and the future.

The future part was secured in November, when Burke signed a letter of intent to attend St. Peter's College. He earned a basketball scholarship and rid himself of any more recruiting worries.

"It took a lot of pressure off," Burke said yesterday, a day after scoring 22 points in the Chimeras' opening 69-50 win over Cinnaminson.

Yet, he maintains the mind-set of a player trying to earn a scholarship.

"Going into the season, I wanted to come in and play hard," Burke said, "and show St. Peter's I am playing hard."

He's also playing more relaxed. For the first time, he's able to start a high school season in the same place where he ended the previous one.

Burke attended Westampton Tech during his freshman season and saw varsity time - in his words, usually as the seventh man.

He says he impressed Marist while playing in a tournament, one thing led to another, and as a sophomore, he transferred to the nonpublic school in Bayonne.

As a sophomore he was a key reserve, but clearly had his moments, such as the time he scored 11 points, including the game-winning layup with five seconds left in a 65-64 win over North Bergen.

But Burke said he yearned to go back home, so he enrolled in Willingboro to begin his junior year. The only problem was that he had to sit out the first 30 days of the season because of NJSIAA transfer rules.

"It was really hard sitting there watching those games," he said.

It was much harder on opponents when he returned.

Burke helped lead Willingboro to the South Jersey Group 2 championship game. In the title game, Willingboro lost to favored Camden, 61-52, despite a team-high 18 points from Burke.

By all accounts, Burke had a strong off-season competing for his AAU team, the Dajuan Wagner All-Stars. St. Peter's must have liked his progress. According to Burke, it was the first school that offered him a scholarship, although several other colleges were in contact.

While fans often get consumed with identifying a player as either a point guard, a shooting guard, a small forward, etc., Burke's versatility allows him many options.

"He's an all-purpose player the way he plays," Willingboro coach Jeff Haddock said. "He handles, shoots, defends, and rebounds, and St. Peter's is getting a very good player."

Burke said that the guard-oriented St. Peter's offense fits his style well.

"They play a four-guard offense, so they feel I can play anywhere," Burke said. "If I get a rebound, I could dribble down the floor and get the offense going."

It's precisely the way Willingboro operates, with many interchangeable parts able to handle the ball and shoot it as well.

"Our starting five, everybody can play point [guard], and whoever gets the ball can take it," Burke said.

Of course, many times whoever gets the rock dishes it to Burke, who certainly knows how to finish.

While Burke remained in the same place as last season, Willingboro has moved from South Jersey to Central Jersey Group 2. The goal, however, remains the same - to win a sectional title.

Burke doesn't know much about the new teams he will face in Central Jersey. He is just happy to be playing his first full varsity season as not only a starter but the go-to player.

"It feels good," he said about the stability he is enjoying. "This is the place for me."