After a day of conditioning, basketball and weights, an exhausted Cierra Burdick sent the following tweet last Wednesday night: "I've never been so physically and mentally drained in my life."
Presumably, the Tennessee women's basketball player never had been happier, too.
Burdick favors the word "grinding" to describe her devotion to self-improvement. Getting worn down serves to build her up.
"I want to get better every single day,'' the 6-foot-2 sophomore forward said. "If I'm not getting better, I'm getting worse. That's how I look at it. Whether it's in school, I'm grinding with the books. Whether it's in the gym, I'm grinding with a ball in my hand. It's a mentality. It's a physicality."
After last Wednesday's grind, Burdick caught herself accidentally putting a jar of peanut better in the freezer. Must have been a hard day. Then it was a good day in her estimation.
"If it's easy, we're not getting better," said Burdick, who averaged 4.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 13.5 minutes per game last season in a reserve role. "I like for it to be hard. I like for us to be dead at the end of the day. Because that means when it comes game time, it's going to be a breeze."
Along with serving her purpose, Burdick's approach has set an example for a youthful UT team with five first-year players. Since the Lady Vols are preparing to play pressure defense and fast-break offense, their preseason work has been adjusted accordingly. Burdick described the conditioning involved as "10 times harder than last year."
If so, the importance of Burdick's example is multiplied as well.
"It's of paramount importance to the group that that type of an example, we can hold up and say, 'This is how we do it,' " Lady Vols assistant coach Dean Lockwood said. "(Burdick) is not afraid of the process. She's not afraid of the preparation. Everybody wants to be a player, but where the separation occurs is when you start saying the things you need to do. That's a whole
different story sometimes."
If anything, Tennessee's coaches are afraid of the toll the process might take on Burdick. She said that a cap has been placed on her work week. She also has been encouraged to be more efficient while working. She takes Sundays off. If she's putting up extra shots, she's following assistant coach Jolette Law's advice for now and only doing "spot shots," which don't tax her legs.
Burdick ended last season bothered by a sore back. To date, her only complaints involve the usual "nicks and aches."
"Don't go high intensity," Lockwood said. "Save the high intensity for us and the conditioning right now. Once we back off the conditioning later then (she) can come back."
Burdick can afford to downshift for a few weeks. Lockwood already has noticed that Burdick is leaner and better off the dribble. Her shot is as consistent as Lockwood has ever seen and he's been watching her for at least four years. The sum of these improvements has been a boost in Burdick's confidence.
Her playing role eventually will be upgraded as well. So says first-year head coach Holly Warlick.
"My goal is to find her some playing time,'' Warlick said. "When somebody does (the work) you have to reward them."