SPORTS HEADLINES

Farewell to Paradise: 4-year starters play final home game for Lady Panthers

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, February 1, 2014

Since they were little, Makenna Burt and Makala Nieghbors have shared the floor at Paradise High School.

“During basketball and volleyball games when we were little, we’d be on the back court playing together,” Burt recalls.

Heading Off Together

HEADING OFF TOGETHER – After four years of starting for the Lady Panthers, Paradise’s Makenna Burt and Makala Neighbors will play their final regular season home game Tuesday against Peaster. The two are averaging a combined 25 points per game for the playoff-bound teams. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Tuesday, the two seniors, who have started for the Lady Panthers since the beginning of their freshman year and became the pillars in building them into a state power, will take their home floor for a final time.

“It’s going to be hard,” Neighbors said. “It’s going to be a major change. This will be our last time on this floor together.”

The playoff-bound Lady Panthers (21-5) will close out the regular season at home against Peaster at 6:30 p.m.

“We’re going to cry,” Burt added.

The emotions are understandable for the two daughters of coaches who have been inseparable since elementary school.

“We’re like sisters,” Burt said. “We’ve played together since peewee.”

Neighbors adds: “She calls my parents mom and dad.”

But aside from their friendship, the emotions will run high because of the long journey they have taken together within the Lady Panther program.

When they arrived on the scene as freshmen, they immediately became starters and leaders for a team that was struggling.

“It was not good,” Neighbors said. “It was totally different than junior high.”

But the duo showed tremendous potential despite their youth. Neighbors, who earned Wise County Newcomer of the Year, averaged 11.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

Burt put in 9.3 points and 12.4 rebounds.

“It was tough going against seniors,” Burt recalled.

The two did leave an impression on then-Grandview coach Kevin Pope during a tournament game that season.

“We played them in a game at the 114 Tournament,” said Pope, who now coaches at Paradise. “We came up and played them at 9 in the morning in an empty gym. I remember telling our players about those freshmen. I’ve still got the film on my hard drive.”

For their sophomore year, the two improved their numbers and helped the Lady Panthers contend for a playoff spot. Burt averaged 13.5 points and 9.4 rebounds. Neighbors put in 10.4 points.

In their junior season, the duo helped Paradise end a playoff drought and earned first-team 9-2A selections. Burt dominated the low post, averaging 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. Neighbors averaged 14.5 points and 5.5 assists.

As they entered their senior season, the two started playing for their third coach as Pope replaced Eddie Fortenberry.

Neighbors said they weren’t sure about another change at first.

“It’s helped that he and Fortenberry are a lot alike,” Neighbors said.

Burt added: “Pope has been a great coach.”

In his first year in the program, Pope has appreciated the hard work and leadership of Burt and Neighbors.

“They are a pleasure to coach and have been a blessing to this basketball program,” he said.

“They are a good tandem.”

This season, Burt has been dominant in the paint despite seeing double and triple teams. She is averaging 15.1 points and 10.3 rebounds.

“Teams all year have thrown everything at her,” Pope said.

Neighbors has made teams pay for all the attention on Burt, hitting treys from the outside or driving through the paint. She is putting in 11 points per night with 3.7 rebounds and 3.1 steals.

“She’s feisty,” Pope said. “She’s the one on the floor fighting for the ball and she hits 3s.”

After so many years together it makes its especially hard for teams to defend them because of their knowledge of each other’s game.

“I know where she is going to be, and she knows where I am going to be,” Burt said.

While Tuesday will be emotional, the longtime friends are quick to point out that it helps they still have more basketball to play.

“That makes us feel better,” Neighbors said.

Opposing coaches are also feeling better – because they are seniors.

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