KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If you ask Carroll College guard Ife Kalejaiye to describe 6-foot-8 senior forward Match Burnham, he will give you a straight answer.
“He’s a unicorn,” Kalejaiye said, laughing. “Teams haven’t seen a guy like him before. He can shoot, pass, post up, get the free-throw line and even dribble if you need him to bring the ball up.”
Burnham said he viewed being compared to the mythical creature a huge compliment, but he remained modest. It’s just who he is.
“I feel like I can score at all three levels, but it’s really an attribute to my teammates finding me,” Burnham said. “They have done a great job this season. I have had a lot of help.”
Regardless of who takes the credit, Burnham’s successful senior campaign has been a contributing factor to Carroll’s historic tournament run.
He has been averaging 20.5 points per game. The reason? He added the ability to score in the paint.
“He’s so skilled, so strong and so athletic,” Kalejaiye said. “People sleep on him, but he’s a monster.”
After all, he did finish with a team-high 17 points despite coming up short in the NAIA national championship game against Georgetown College on Tuesday night.
Burnham’s post abilities might have been a new addition this season, but his size has always been there.
He towered above the competition while at Liberty High in Spangle, Washington, but he still viewed himself as a guard.
And it showed.
The ability to drive the lane and step back to hit a 3-pointer was lethal as he averaged 23.5 points per game.
With the height of a center and the skills of a guard, Burnham arrived at Carroll but remained in the background. He still served as a nice complement to leading scorer Ryan Imhoff and was called upon when needed.
Burnham converted 152 3-pointers during his first three seasons, but he had to wonder, with Imhoff graduating, how would his role change upon entering his senior season?
Before he knew it, Carroll had brought in a new coach upon Carson Cunningham’s exit to take a job at Incarnate Word.
But soon after Kurt Paulson arrived, he brought with him a new strength and conditioning program that saw Burnham gain 15 to 20 pounds of muscle.
He was going to need it after being asked to play in the post more.
“We got a lot more lifting in this year and as a result, we have gotten stronger,” Burnham said. “Power cleans, shoulders, bench press and core were our main focus. Every week of the season you could see a difference.”
Still, he thought he needed more work down on the block, so he sought advice from his dad, Blaze, who helped coach him in high school and was himself a post player in high school and college.
“A head fake does wonders,” Blaze said. “I wanted to give him more of a philosophical approach. We talked about playing with your back to the basket and what happens when he gets double teamed.”
Match Burnham arrived at Carroll as a 3-point shooter and will now leave as a completely different player.
He finished as the Frontier Conference Player of the Year, and came within an eyelash of a national championship
All of a result of adapting his game.