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Burton steers Sayre victory

THERESA EVANS might have a future in poker.

THERESA Edmunds might have a future in poker.

Edmunds is the mother of Richard Burton, a basketball player at William Sayre High, and at roughly 10 o'clock Christmas morning, she awakened her son and sadly told him no presents were waiting for him downstairs.

"I wasn't depressed. I was, like, whatever," Burton said. "I know money can be tight."

Soon, mom and son were headed from West Philly to North Philly to visit relatives, and the car was stopping at a park near 22nd and Lehigh.

And, there, in all its glory, was the four-wheeler Burton had been craving!

"I couldn't believe it," he said. "I thought, 'That's probably my mom, just messing around.' But she kept saying, 'No, really. That's yours.' She was so serious. That's when I got hyped. My uncle had brought it over there.

"I hopped right on it and drove it around the park for maybe 25 minutes. I didn't want to go any longer, only because it was so cold out there."

On the day after Christmas, Burton was spotted in East Falls. Specifically, he was inside the heated-well-enough gym at Gustine Rec Center and again partaking of a fun activity.

The occasion was a first-round game in the National Division of the Constitution Tournament, a 4-day affair featuring 44 games (varsity and JV boys; varsity girls) at Gustine and Ben Franklin High. The front man is ConHigh's coach, Rob Moore, and he's receiving lots of help from people connected with both schools (he teaches at Franklin).

Burton, a 6-foot, 175-pound senior, is a combination guard, and he paced a 61-60 win over Mastery Charter North by totaling 20 points, two assists and five steals.

Late in the game, he also showed leadership skills.

Sayre was struggling at the line, and the poor marksmanship was especially frustrating, because the double-bonus was in effect. To no one in particular, though Qadir Wilson was preparing to shoot two, Burton said with passion, "They're giving us the game! We gotta make these free throws!"

Wilson nailed both, pulling the Sabers within 50-48.

In a way, it's surprising that Burton is emerging as a take-charge guy. After all, he's a transfer from Delaware Valley Charter and other guys are veterans.

"Really, it's like I'm a walk-on," Burton said. "No one really knew about me until we started tryouts. Then one day in a workout, I came down on a break and dunked and the coach [Eric Hooks] took notice of me. I guess he could tell I could help us.

"In our last game against Mastbaum, I had 17 points. He was pretty happy with how I played, and he said he wanted to see more and more from me every game. I tried to give him that today.

"Since I made it onto this team, my whole objective has been to take over and become a leader. I can give us both things, offense and defense. If you back off me and just give me the jump shot, I'll take it. But mostly I like being aggressive, just takin' the ball to the cup."

Burton shot 7-for-12 (one trey) and 5-for-6. He shoehorned 10 points into the first quarter, without missing a shot, and he even drained all three free throws after being hacked on a trey.

Sayre owned an 18-9 lead after that one quarter, mostly because it had shown patience and ball movement against MN's zone. The Pumas then switched to man-to-man and the Sabers somehow went 0-for-11 over the second 8 minutes.

Antwan James, Darius Savage (eight apiece) and Burton combined for all 22 of Sayre's third-quarter points, then five guys scored during a roller-coaster ride in the fourth.

Wilson's layup off an open-the-floor approach made it 61-58. David Howard-Dean's follow at 0:11 provided hope, and Sayre opened the door to Disasterville with a blown double-bonus at 9.5. John Washington could not can a layup off a hard drive, and Sayre's Antwan James claimed his 10th rebound.

James added 15 points, while Wilson (13) and Darius Savage (12, 13 boards) also scored in double digits. Javonnta Zimmerman dealt five assists.

Canandhet Jordan led MN with 16 points and four assists. Maxwell Sharpe posted 13 boards, and Rodney Ross scored seven of his 12 points in the last quarter.

Burton, who boasts a 3.1 GPA and wants to become a dentist, said he left Del-Val (near Broad and Olney) only because the travel proved to be grueling. His first thought was to transfer to West Philadelphia. When that didn't work out, he settled for Sayre, a short walk from his home on Ithan Street, near 56th and Market.

"I'm glad I'm here," he said of Sayre. "I've been having fun since Day 1."

And there's one line he hears again and again from teachers.

"I always get asked if I have a wife named Elizabeth Taylor," he beamed. "I don't mind. No matter how times I hear it, it's still funny.

"I never hear it from kids, though. Only older people. Kids don't know anything about Richard Burton."

Some do. The basketball player, that is.