Wheeling Jesuit basketball's Monica Burns hit a record-breaking 95 straight free throws
Monica Burns remembers when her father, Paul, tried to get her to watch an instructional video by Herb Magee, the longtime men's basketball coach at Philadelphia University who often is referred to as the "Shot Doctor."
But Burns wasn't having it.
Even in her elementary school days she knew she was going to learn how to shoot a basketball -- solo.
"I refused to watch it; I wanted to do it on my own," said Burns, a redshirt sophomore guard at Wheeling Jesuit. "That's just the way I am. Sometimes I just branch off and do my own thing."
If her basketball career had a GPS, she probably would have turned it off years ago. Going rogue with her personal shooting training -- and choice of schools -- is paying off. It helped her blossom into one of the most accurate shooters in the country and earned her a spot in the NCAA record books.
No one can call her stubborn now.
Burns recently broke the national Division II women's basketball record for consecutive free throws made, with 95. She led the nation in free-throw percentage, at 94.6, making 139 of 147 attempts.
Jamey Gelhar of Saint Martin's (Wash.) had the old record of 78 straight makes from 2008-09.
Burns made 92 percent of her foul shots in her final two years of high school.
"It's just one of those things I've been good at," she said. "My dad taught me how to shoot when I was in third or fourth grade. I sort of picked it up from there. I have always liked to get shots up on my own (time)."
Burns said she tries to shoot 300 to 400 shots per day and that does not include free throws.
"I try to shoot between 50 and 100 of those," she said.
And don't expect her to leave on a miss. The routine is the same, over and again: spin the ball, dribble twice and fire.
"Mo is leading the nation in foul shooting because she is in the gym everyday practicing," Wheeling Jesuit coach Debbie Buff said. "I have been coaching a long time, and she is in the gym more then any athlete I have coached.
"She is very instrumental in our back-to-back (conference) championships."
Wheeling Jesuit went 25-7 this season and lost in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional.
Burns began her college career at IUP but she decided to transfer.
"It's a much better fit for me," Burns said. "I am so lucky to have coaches here who respect my hard work. I love it here; it's probably the best decision I've ever made."
The transition has been seamless. Burns immediately took on a go-to role in the backcourt and her deft shooting touch just needed a chance to be shown.
"She is the best shooter I've ever coached in 14 years and it is not even close," Hempfield High School coach Aaron Epps said. "Unbelievable shooter. She was like the female version of Steph Curry. She could handle, shoot 3-pointers and scored off the dribble."
Burns' last miss from the foul line was Jan. 10 against Glenville State. She went 18 consecutive games without a miss. In two games against Glenville State, she made 23 of 24 fouls shots, including 14 of 14 in the teams' second meeting. She made 10 of 10 against Shepherd.
It wasn't until a few people commented about her streak that she realized its significance.
"The record can still continue," Burns said. "I want it to."
The streak almost ended in the second game against Glenville.
"I knew when it left my hand it wasn't a great shot," she said of one of her attempts. The ball bounced around the rim, "But I got the roll," Burns said.
The best shooters always do.
They also manage to block out distractions. Rowdy, hand-waving hecklers behind the hoop succeed in doing little more than helping the ball go in. It's white noise.
"That stuff doesn't affect me," Burns said. "It motivates me more. I know if I make the shot it will quiet down those crazy boys in the student section."
Burns was named to the all-Mountain East first team, not just a reflection of free-throw shooting. She has worked to round out her game -- on both ends of the floor. She averaged 15.4 points and made a team-best 76 3-pointers.
"I don't want to be known as just a scorer, just a 3-point shooter," Burns said. "Getting first team was a total surprise. It's wonderful that happened."
Burns knows how valuable free throws can be in tight games, and in helping to cement late-game leads. Her confidence entices her to attack the rim and initiate contact.
"I might take a bad shot, but I know if I drive there could be a foul coming," she said. "My teammates know, late in games or if we're in the bonus, to get me to the line."
And opponents know she is not the player to foul.
The foul line is a serene place for Burns. Having family on campus with her aids her comfort zone on and off the court. Her sister, Mary, is a senior lacrosse player at Wheeling Jesuit.
"She is in a different dorm but we see each other a lot," Monica Burns said. "She is not far. She is my No. 1 fan."
The youngest Burns sister, Michelle, just finished her senior basketball season at Hempfield and also is considering a college career at Wheeling Jesuit.
This article is written by Bill Beckner Jr. from The Valley News-Dispatch, Tarentum, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.