WAIMEA — Waimea High School alumnus Brandee Burton first learned the game of basketball when she was 6 years old with local club Westside Basketball Club.
“Brandee was always a very good player. She was one that was always eager to learn, and she always tried hard in practice,” said Westside Basketball Club coach Dino Pabre on Thursday. “She was easy to coach because she just absorbs everything. A lot of times, basketball just came naturally to her.”
Since then, Burton has been learning and honing her skills on the court. Soon, she’ll be taking her game to the mountain ranges of the Sierra Nevada. Burton will play women’s basketball at Feather River College in Quincy, California.
“I think it’s a good thing for me. All these years, I’ve been so busy with sports — in the community and helping. I think it’s better for me to be occupied with sports rather than having a bunch of free time,” Burton said Wednesday at Waimea Canyon Park. “I feel like I wouldn’t be getting to college. Sports is what’s getting me there.”
Burton was a three-sport athlete for Waimea High School. For the Menehune, she played three years varsity in girls basketball and girls volleyball. She also did two years in track, in which she competed in the 4×400 meter relay, long jump, high jump and triple jump events.
Feather River College women’s basketball head coach Brent Stephens contacted Burton sometime in November after seeing tape of her. Soon after, she visited the school during spring break.
“I think she’s very multi-dimensional, which is very good for us. It fits into our system,” Stephens said in a phone interview Thursday. “The fact she’s played several different positions for her high school and can do a multitude of things is invaluable — that well-roundedness.”
In addition to her versatility on the court, Stephens also likes Burton’s “blue-collar work ethic” and expects her to compete for playing time right away.
“We’re building a culture, and a lot of that is finding the right kids who are willing to come in,” the Golden Eagles coach said. “I think Brandee’s got every opportunity to compete from Day 1, and I told her that. I said, ‘From the day you come in, you’re going to come in and work because your minutes are going to be earned.’ And she understands that. So, there’s certainly going to be an opportunity for her to come in and make a difference.”
Burton is set to leave for California in August and intends to study multimedia at the school. The former Menehune guard said the fact she’s leaving soon hasn’t hit her yet, but knows it’s coming soon enough.
“Once in a while I’d put deep thought into it. I’d think like I’m going to be on my own and I’m going to have to be an adult,” Burton said.
She added she’ll miss her family and the local lifestyle, saying, “The way everyone treats each other here. Even if you don’t know the person, they’ll say, ‘Hi,’ and be nice to the person.”
In addition to continuing with basketball and furthering her education, she hopes FRC will be an avenue for future aspirations.
“Hopefully, I’ll transfer to a 4-year university. And that’s what coach said, too. He said his goal for his athletes is not just so they play at his school for two years, then they’re on their own,” she said. “He actually helps them to find other schools to go to. And that’s another reason why I chose to go to that school.”
Another thing she likes about the college and the town — it’s similar to home.
“It’s like Kokee, the atmosphere. And the college and the town, it’s pretty much like Kekaha,” Burton said. “It’s a small community. Everybody knows everybody. And there’s a lot of support from the community. It’s a very nice school and a nice area to be in.”
Pabre said to see one of his pupils get a shot on in college brings him joy.
“She’s grown up to be an outstanding young adult,” Pabre said, who is also a varsity boys basketball coach at Waimea High. “She has goals. She has a bright future. … She’s a perfect example for someone who’s going through the program as far as being a student and an athlete.”
He also said whenever a kid from Kauai gets a shot, no matter what sport and no matter what school they went to, it’s a victory for the island.
“It’s an accomplishment to see any kid moving on to the next level,” he said. “This island has a lot of good athletes that really don’t have a lot of exposure. Anytime an athlete gets an opportunity, it’s great for the island. It’s great for the next the next generation to see that if you work hard, there are opportunities out there.”
“We’re getting more and more kids participating at the next level, regardless if it’s a junior college, Division II or Division I. It’s not just about sports. It’s about continuing their education,” Pabre added. “It’s positive for all these people in the community. We’re always going to cheer for them.”
Waimea High varsity girls basketball coach Brandon Moises couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.