High School Sports

In Rock Hill, talented musician morphs into big-time high school basketball star

York Prep’s DJ Burns averaged a double-double as a freshman last season.
York Prep’s DJ Burns averaged a double-double as a freshman last season. Courtesy Jennifer Munsey

Right now there is one D.J. Burns personality, but there needs to be two.

The 6-foot-8 sophomore is a gentle giant at York Prep School on and off the court. He’s a 16-year-old talented musician with good grades and diplomatic manners, and a deferential and team-oriented basketball prospect who has offers from College of Charleston, Davidson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, LSU, North Carolina A&T, North Florida, South Carolina State, Tennessee, Tulane, Virginia Tech, Western Carolina, Western Kentucky and Winthrop.

Burns recently took an unofficial visit to North Carolina.

Those around him - his coaches, teammates and family - continue to try to foster a second D.J. Burns, one that exists exclusively within the confines of a 5,600-square foot basketball court.

“Coaches want him to be dominant because [he’s] big,” said his mom, Takela Burns. “But he shares the ball so much and looks for opportunities for others.”

This summer, D.J. Burns was invited to the Nike Elite 100, an invite-only camp for 100 of the best underclassman prep basketball players in the country. Most of the invitees were rising juniors, and Chris Williams, Burns’ AAU coach with the Atlanta-based Georgia Stars, called the accomplishment “major.”

Last season in high school, Burns averaged a double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds per game). York Prep is a charter school in Rock Hill.

“He scores when he needs to,” said Tracus Chisholm, a York Prep senior guard. “But also he wants to get his teammates involved and make everyone happy.”

Burns also has more to offer than just basketball ability.

He long trailed his mother to weddings, funerals or bar mitzvahs watching her sing and perform. It’s no surprise that Burns is an accomplished musician; he’s learned to play a different instrument each of the last four years, including tuba, piano and saxophone.

“Instruments and basketball are the main two things,” he said.

Like any kid born in the last two decades, Burns is very proficient with technology; he crafts beats and electronic music on his computer. And his mother confirmed that he has a nice singing voice, too.

“It’s a part of how I grew up,” his mother said on Friday, “and I wanted to make sure the kids had something else besides sports to kind of make sure they keep their time spent diversely.”

Burns’ height is genetic; the cultivated love of music isn’t, and neither is his inclination to care for others.

Burns has watched his family take in multiple kids from unstable homes, including a pair of girls that lived with them for several years each.His grandmother runs a foster home. Takela is an assistant principal at Dutchman Creek Middle School in Rock Hill and embodies the tough love ethos required of a school administrator. Burns’ father, Dwight, is a probation and parole agent for York County and helps ex-convicts try to get their lives together once they’re released from jail.

“Our household serves,” said Takela Burns.

Seeing his family open its home to strangers in need has had a wonderful influence on D.J. Burns’ personality. But those around him want to see him park that loving half at the scorer’s table when he checks into a basketball game.

“Maybe it’s just not my game to score,” he said. “I’m gonna try to score if I can but I’m not gonna be selfish.”

Burns’ physical stature makes it difficult to remember that he has three full seasons of high school left. He has plenty of time to cultivate a nastier on-court persona than the one he showed when happily high-fiving teachers at York Prep.

Takela Burns is already beginning to see her son morph. There were several occasions this past York Prep basketball season when Burns spun his defender and slammed the ball, a flash of dominance that could become more regular in the next few years.