‘Grandma’ Cierra Burdick Continues to Persevere with 3x3 National Team
Cierra Burdick’s first instinct was to laugh.
The question was whether there has been an obstacle that she has faced in her basketball career.
“One thing?” she said with a chuckle. “I don’t think we have enough time.”
Burdick went on to describe how she has played for eight of the WNBA’s 12 teams, all in the last seven years. She talked about how she has spent her entire pro career on the league’s fringe. She acknowledged that her career as a 5-on-5 basketball player has, in essence, been rescued by 3x3 hoops.
“I just think about my resilience,” she said, “being in and out of the WNBA, being on the bubble. I could make a whole list of trials and tribulations that I’ve had to overcome in the WNBA and on the pro circuit. But I’m grateful for everything — for all the ups and downs — because they made me the player I am today.”
While Burdick has struggled to find a long-term landing spot in the WNBA, the 6-foot-2 forward from Charlotte has become a mainstay on the USA Basketball 3x3 circuit over the last eight years. She first won a title at the 2014 USA Basketball 3x3 National Championship and most recently helped the U.S. capture the crown at the 2021 Red Bull USA Basketball 3X Nationals, earning MVP honors.
Next up for Burdick is the FIBA 3x3 World Cup, which runs June 21-26 in Antwerp, Belgium. The U.S. is in Group B alongside France, Austria, Brazil and New Zealand, and Burdick is hoping the Americans make a deep run after not qualifying for the 2019 event.
“There’s a standard to live up to, but there’s also a privilege that comes with it,” Burdick said. “Anytime you wear ‘USA’ across your chest, it’s a big deal.”
Burdick, 28, will be joined on the team by three younger players — Lauren Cox, a 24-year-old forward who played for two teams in the WNBA last year; Ashley Joens, a 22-year-old Iowa State University guard; and Hailey Van Lith, a 20-year-old guard from the University of Louisville.
As an experienced 3x3 player with championship pedigree, Burdick likes the look of the squad.
“I think we check all the boxes,” she said. “We’ve got a shooter (Joens), a big (Cox), a versatile veteran 4 (Burdick) and a point guard that can create for herself and for others (Van Lith). It’s our job to get better and to get this gold.”
Burdick expounded on her personal role, describing herself as a player/coach at this point in her 3x3 career.
“With me being the seasoned vet, the grandma, I’m definitely the vocal leader,” Burdick said. “I’m trying to make the vocal adjustments and make sure we’re tight offensively and defensively. But I’m not the only voice.”
Indeed, one of the other key voices on the squad belongs to coach Kara Lawson, who according to Burdick has been very hands-on in designing offensive plays. Burdick said this is the most offensive sets she has ever had as a member of a U.S. 3x3 squad.
“K-Law is very analytical in her approach to the game, but I appreciate the basketball IQ side of things,” Burdick said. “K-Law and I are similar. We believe in the work, in the preparation. It takes time. You’ve got to be willing to put the time in — and we are.”
Additionally, Burdick gives much of the credit for her success to Carol Callan, the former USA Basketball Women’s National Team director. She initially met Callan a dozen years ago at the age of 16.
“She just kept saying, ‘Play 3x3. Play 3x3. Play 3x3,’” Burdick said. “She knew the opportunity that would be there for me before I even knew. She always encouraged me to play the game. You need people like that around you.”
Burdick always had the motivation to lace up her sneakers and grab a basketball.
“I love basketball. I love it,” she said. “To me, this isn’t a job. It’s not a task, it’s not a hobby. This is my life and I’m in love with playing basketball. Even when I’m tired or hurting or fatigued, I’m still on the court shooting around like a kid on the playground. I’m still in love with this game.”
Burdick is left with playing the sport she loves in the 3x3 style that she loves for the country that she loves.
“Any time you have the opportunity to represent your country, it is special,” she said. “In high school, you’re representing your neighborhood. In college, it’s your state. With USA Basketball, you’re representing your country on the world stage. It’s an honor and a privilege. And now it’s up to us to make most of this opportunity and to remain humble and grateful.”
And as for competing for the U.S. in 3x3 at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris?
“I’m very much a ‘one day at a time’ person, but it’s in the back of my head,” Burdick said. “I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t. I would love the opportunity to play in the Olympics, but we’ll see what happens.”
Drew Silverman is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.