Unbroken resolve

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OK, he’ll admit it. A little sliver of cyberspace holds a place in Jerome Burney’s heart.

Go ahead, punch in his name on YouTube, and up pops a highlight tape - one friends are known to play whenever the Maryland forward happens to be in the room.

It’s a montage of ultra-athletic plays, actions anticipated from a human pogo stick when he’s introduced even for short spurts on a basketball court.

But even this amalgam of Burney’s finest moments - blocked shots and dunks aplenty - starts off with a foreboding sight: a 6-foot-9 true freshman wearing a brown shirt and pants rather than a practice jersey, ambling through the crowd at Maryland Madness with a broken ankle.

He has endured four fractures, the latest a broken sesamoid bone in his right foot in late February. As his teammates stay sharp with pickup games, Burney isn’t sure whether his career will continue this fall. By the end of the month, he plans to decide whether he’ll play competitively again.

A harsh blow, but Burney’s series of fractures prepared him for the moment his career would end, whenever it happened.

“After my third one, I kind of saw it,” Burney said. “The fourth one made me realize it even more. It’s not as hard as it would be if it was earlier in my career.”

‘Feet like a bird’

Muscles bulge from Burney’s arms, and his slick, clean-shaven head only enhances his athletic frame. It’s not too difficult to envision him averaging a triple-double (yep, 10 blocks a game) as a senior at Westlake High School outside Atlanta.

But glance down to the floor, and inside those huge shoes are surprisingly brittle feet.

Burney broke his left ankle even before practice started as a true freshman, then suffered a stress fracture of the fourth metatarsal in his left foot later that season. His right side wasn’t spared either; Burney missed much of last season with separate breaks in that foot.

“They say certain guys just have feet that are not made for the sport,” said Paul Ricci, Maryland’s strength and conditioning coach. “Look at the guy. He’s put together like an anatomy model. But he has feet like a bird - bony and flat.”

Burney remained healthy his redshirt freshman season, and there were glimpses of a valuable rebounding-and-defense option emerging for a size-deficient team the next year.

Yet he earned scant playing time early last season before logging 11 minutes against George Washington. Two days later, the kinesiology major felt something in practice and instantly knew the problem.

“I thought, ‘This is a stress fracture in my third metatarsal,’ ” Burney said. “I was thinking that. The only two reasons I knew was because it happened in my left foot, too, and I took anatomy, so I knew about my bone structure. Metatarsals, I didn’t forget about. Anything in the foot, I didn’t forget about.”

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