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Phil Anastasia: RV's Burley a practitioner of patience

He learned it while coming off the bench. And now, as an injury heals, he's showing it again.

Nobody was better at biding his time last season than Elijah Burley.

The 6-foot-1 guard began each game for Rancocas Valley on the bench. He still managed to make all-conference as a first-team, Burlco Liberty selection.

That's rare for a sixth man. But it underscored Burley's attitude as much as his athletic ability.

"I didn't mind coming off the bench," Burley said. "It was good to be able to watch the defense and see what was happening in the game."

Burley is on the bench again this season. He just has yet to hear Rancocas Valley coach Jay Flanagan call his name to enter the game.

Burley, a senior who is the Red Devils' best outside shooter, broke his left, non-shooting wrist in a pick-up game a week before Thanksgiving. He hopes to play again by the middle of January, but that's no sure thing.

For now, Burley gets to practice the patience that he mastered last season. He attends every practice. He joins teammates in conditioning drills. He sits on the end of the bench and cheers during games.

But he's yet to take off his warm-up jacket. He's yet to begin his senior season.

"Opening night we have a packed house for Pemberton," Flanagan said, referring to a Dec. 17 home game. "I looked at him sitting there and I said, 'You OK?' He said he was doing all right. But it's got to be difficult. This is his senior year."

Like most seniors, Burley was determined to make the most of his final season. His hopes were even higher than most, though, since Rancocas Valley was regarded in the preseason as one of South Jersey's best teams, a legitimate contender for the division and sectional crowns, and maybe even the Group 4 state title.

Burley was coming off a junior season when he led the Red Devils in scoring with a 13-point average. He was projected as a starter this season.

"I was so bummed out when I got hurt," Burley said. "I'd never been hurt like that before. I'd never been to the emergency room before.

"It was tough because we had such high expectations for this season. Everybody was talking about how good we were going to do."

Rancocas Valley (2-1) still is the No. 2 team in South Jersey in The Inquirer Top 10. But the Red Devils aren't close to full strength, not with Burley on the sideline and two other starters - 6-foot-4 senior Kareem Jones, the team's best defender and rebounder, and 6-0 junior point guard Tariq Jett - hobbling with an ankle injuries.

All three players sat out Thursday night's 65-64 loss to Cinnaminson.

There's a good chance that Jones and Jett will recover. And Burley's wrist might fully heal and the Red Devils might hit their stride in February and surge into March.

There's also a chance that Burley's wrist, which needed to be re-set in a second surgical procedure a week after the first one in late November, won't mend in time for him to make much of an impact as a senior.

"You only get one chance to be a senior," said Rancocas Valley senior swingman Kenny Johnson, one of Burley's best friends on the team. "I know how much this is hurting him. All he wants is for us to win.

"But he's a senior. He won't get this opportunity again."

Burley hopes to play in college, most likely for a Division II or Division III program. He has the talent to contribute at those levels.

But this season is his last chance to make his mark at Rancocas Valley. Most young athletes in his position would be overwhelmed with frustration.

Burley is different. He insists he's OK with another exercise in biding his time.

"I think this might have been a blessing in disguise," Burley said. "I was so excited about this season that maybe I would have been too excited. This has made me calmer. It's relieved a lot of my stress.

"I'm watching this season, but I'm watching a little bit from a distance. It's made me more mature.

"I know when I finally get a chance to play that I'm going to do everything I can to help us win and not worry about myself."