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  3. Veronica Burton and the Making of a Lockdown Defender

Veronica Burton and the Making of a Lockdown Defender

ByOwen Pence|@OwenPence| July 29, 2022If you buy something from a link on our site, Queen Ballers Club may earn a commission.
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Veronica Burton has spent much of her life operating in and around the world of sports. 

Her mother, Ginni, was an All-American swimmer at Northwestern, where Veronica would later attend. Her father, Steve, played quarterback for the same university before pursuing a career in broadcasting covering the Boston sports scene.

Veronica’s siblings all played college sports as well – her sisters Kendall and Kayla competing in basketball, and her brother Austin playing football. Would it surprise you to learn, then, that Burton’s grandfather, Ron (Steve’s dad), also attended Northwestern, is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, and a former player for the Boston Patriots? 

Given her family’s extensive and exceptional athletic history, it’s unsurprising that Burton decided to enter the family business. She would tag along on early-morning workouts facilitated by her father and organized for her siblings, asking to join in on the action. It soon became apparent to the entire family that Veronica held special talent with the ball in her hands. 

It is perhaps in part due to the strong foundation laid by her supportive and ambitious family that Veronica is now a pillar of poise and professionalism as a rookie in the WNBA. Acclimating to the rigors of life in the W isn’t supposed to look this easy. Most first-year pros struggle to adjust to the increased physicality and quickened pace of professional basketball. If they are not immediately awarded starting jobs – and very few are – dips in confidence become commonplace as playing time gets harder and harder to come by. Gaining your footing in such a competitive and condensed environment can appear nearly impossible. 

Veronica Burton is proof that one can make their mark and earn respect immediately upon entering the WNBA, even if they aren’t the focal-point of their draft class. Opponents and her Dallas Wings teammates alike are taking notice.

“Just how poised she is,” said Wings shooting guard Arike Ogunbowale when we asked her what most stood out to her about Burton. “Being a rookie in the league is hard, especially at point guard. I had to do it my rookie year and it was very tough. It’s a bright future for her.”

Veronica Burton’s Journey to the WNBA

The guidance and encouragement of her family, along with the work ethic they instilled in her, eventually helped Veronica become the best high school basketball player in the state of Massachusetts. Because Steve has covered Boston professional sports for two-plus decades and is both well-known and extremely well-liked by major figures such as former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, no one was sleeping on Veronica’s basketball potential. And still, she somehow managed to exceed the expectations placed upon her. 

Veronica attended Newton South High School, which is about a 30 minute drive – barring traffic – from the home of the Boston Celtics: TD Garden. Veronica grew up watching her dad cover Hall of Fame level talents such as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. But she was determined to blaze her own path in the game. 

Immediately, Veronica was a standout at the varsity level. She earned serious playing time as a freshman, and helped lead the team to a sparkling 54-12 record through her first three high school seasons. It’s what she did as a senior that really jumps off the page, however. Calling Burton’s stats “colossal” from her final year at Newton South doesn’t begin to do them justice. They verge on mind-boggling. She averaged 21.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.9 steals, and 5.3 assists, and earned MVP honors in the Dual County League for her fourth straight season. As if all that wasn’t enough, Veronica was named The Boston Globe’s Division 1 Girls’ Basketball Athlete of the Year.

Even today, Veronica realizes just how special the massive support she’s received from her hometown truly is. 

“I think I’m receiving a lot of support from a lot of the Newton community which means a lot,” she said. “Coming from the people I grew up with, they helped shape me as a person. I grew really close with a lot of people from Newton. I appreciate them.”

Just because Veronica was well-known in the Greater Boston area doesn’t mean she garnered tons of interest from Power 5 schools. She wasn’t a mainstay on the lists of top high-school basketball players in the country, instead having to fight her way into national recognition and notoriety. She ended up committing to the school that had already developed so much history with the Burton family – Northwestern. 

What Veronica did as a Wildcat in some ways mirrors her dominance at Newton South, despite the far grander stage. She started every game as a freshman and sophomore, averaging 8.6 and 11.6 points, respectively, and tallying 181 steals across the two seasons. Burton was the embodiment of versatility in the Big 10, pairing stifling defense at the point guard position with advanced scoring, passing, and rebounding skills. In her junior and senior seasons, for instance, Veronica averaged 5.2 and 5.5 rebounds, respectively, despite standing just 5-foot-9. 

Overall, her senior season was a smashing success. She averaged 17.8 points, 6.4 assists, and a mammoth 4 steals to go along with her 5.5 rebounds, helping her earn AP All-America Third Team honors. She left the school as a three-time Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year, and was named 2021-2022 Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Defensive Player of the Year

All of Burton’s hard work paid off on April 11th, when the Dallas Wings selected her with the 7th overall pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft. 

A Defensive Superstar in the Making

When basketball fans envision their favorite players working on their games at gyms early in the morning and late into the night, we picture shots being hoisted and moves being practiced. That’s because it’s easy to work on offense by your lonesome. Not only is it the most popular part of basketball, but also it’s the one more conducive to individual workouts, or to grinding in your parent’s driveway. 

Working and developing the defensive side of your game is far tougher to accomplish. It takes time, conditioning, and many hours in the film-room. It involves honing your basketball IQ and gaining a greater feel for opponent tendencies. It is a laborious process. 

Veronica knew she was a good defender in high school. But she hadn’t come close to realizing her fullest potential. 

“I could always get deflections,” Veronica told us. “I could always get some steals, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I was a great defender. I still had to be able to defend the ball, get through ball screens. I would say I wasn’t the best at that in high school. But in college I definitely grew and developed in those areas. I continued with the anticipation, the deflections aspect. But I think I became a better on-ball defender as well throughout my time at Northwestern.”

Naturally, coaching improves at the collegiate level. Instead of one underpaid coach doing their best to teach a team of high schoolers, you have a dedicated staff paid to work individually with each player. Of course, playing against the best players in the country helps one raise their level, too. Playing in the Big 10, Veronica would routinely be tasked with guarding the best point guards in the nation. 

“I think there’s a lot of talent in the Big 10, so that’s helped me in the best way possible,” she said. “You have some incredible players. You have Caitlin Clark, you have Ashley Owusu, all these incredible people.” 

Veronica understands the importance of preparation. If she can get ahead of her opponents in the film room, she has a better chance of denying them points on the court. 

“A lot of it is mental,” said Veronica. “If you’re watching film, understanding what an opponent likes to do, what their tendencies may be, and just what they like to do with the ball – whether it be forcing them a certain way or just kind of taking their favorite moves out. I would say preparing in that aspect is huge. And then footwork, quick feet which is an area I can still develop in for sure.”

It’s easy to discuss defense in vague terminology, using traits like “hustle” and “effort” to demarcate the great from the good. But how about the specifics of defense? What is Veronica’s best defensive quality? 

“Ball pressure,” answered Dallas Wings head coach Vickie Johnson when we asked her this question, and she said it with absolutely zero hesitation. 

“The way she can pick up the ball full court and stay in somebody’s space the whole time is very impressive. That’s her go-to. When she was guarding [Betnijah] Laney, she wanted to drop off for a second. I told her to get up and put pressure on her and then [Laney] turned the ball over. I’m very impressed. Great draft pick.”

Veronica Burton’s Bright Future Ahead

Veronica’s rookie year stats are minuscule compared to the numbers she was putting up at Northwestern. But in 13.4 minutes per game this season she is already turning heads with her professionalism. Who better to attest to Veronica’s impressive demeanor than her veteran teammates? 

“I like the way that V stays with her game,” said Wings forward Isabelle Harrison. “She doesn’t do too much. I think she stays really well in her role and to have that as a rookie, that’s pretty special. You don’t have to tell her too much. I think we just say what we need her to do, and she executes it.”

Being a rookie in the WNBA is hard enough. It’s even tougher when you play point guard, a position that demands leadership and at times, bossiness. Veronica’s confidence in her own voice has gained the respect of other, more accomplished pros on the Wings. 

“[Veronica’s] not afraid to put us in our place, even if we’re older,” Arike told us. “That’s a great point guard and we listen to her because she demands that. I love when she’s in the game. It’s not a step down whenever she subs in. You can’t say that about a lot of rookies in the league. She plays like she’s been here. She’ll be in the league for a while, so I’m happy she’s on our team.”

Vickie Johnson sees it, too. Stepping onto a team full of scorers and being asked to distribute them the ball is a daunting task, but one that Veronica is eminently capable of. 

“Asking her to run a team that’s full of scorers in a sense, where she has to organize and she has to have patience, she has to run the team, for the team, it can be hard at times,” head coach Vickie Johnson told us. “We have shooters that want the basketball. She’s demanded respect and her teammates are respecting her and love playing with her.”

There’s still much work to be done. At Newton South and at Northwestern, Veronica was the top player on both offense and defense. Now, she’s operating in a secondary offensive role, where her primary responsibility is to put her teammates in positions to score. It’s a delicate balance, playing unselfishly but aggressively. 

Veronica knows she has many strides still to take in looking for her shot and improving her offensive arsenal while still keeping everyone happy. 

“I think there’s definitely room for improvement in that area,” she said. “Continuing to be aggressive on the offensive end is somewhere that I think I can grow in and my teammates and coaches would agree with that. I’ve always been a facilitator as a point guard throughout my career so that’s not new to me and I am surrounded by great scorers and great post players, so getting them the ball is important. That’s what gets us wins. With that, because there’s so much attention on them, I need to be able to look for my own shot as well.”

This extremely advanced self-awareness is part of the reason why everyone has only glowing things to say about Veronica in the WNBA. 

Her new head coach offered perhaps the most auspicious review Veronica has received during her rookie campaign. 

“We need her defense and we need her IQ for setting up players,” said Vickie. “She’s a very unique player. She affects the game on the defensive side of the basketball even if she doesn’t score the basketball. 

“She puts the team first in everything. She’s a great one.” 

Then Vickie paused, and repeated herself with emphasis in case anyone had failed to hear her the first time. 

“She’s a great one.” 

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