Women’s Basketball: How the ‘Backcourt Burglar’ created a name for herself to become the face of Northwestern women’s basketball


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Northwestern senior guard Veronica Burton posts up a Wisconsin-Parkside defender. Burton led the team with 14 points and six steals in Sunday’s win.

Skye Swann, Assistant Sports Editor

Women’s Basketball

When the game clock buzzer sounded at the end of the 2020 NCAA Tournament’s second round, Northwestern senior guard Veronica Burton’s disappointment was palpable. 

In a contest in which the Wildcats led the majority of the game, she said they watched their postseason slip between the cracks — something she confirmed the squad doesn’t plan on letting happen this time around. The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year has been one of the key pieces in the Northwestern women’s basketball program for the past three years, leading the team to a Big Ten Championship and a NCAA Tournament run. 

With the “Backcourt Burglar” opening her senior season Sunday against Wisconsin-Parkside, Burton said she’s put in the work during the offseason and ready to showcase it on the court. 

“I grew up around a bunch of athletes and I saw what it took to get to the next level,” Burton said. “I’m very motivated internally, so I think getting better is something I’m always willing to do.”


The Newton, Massachusetts, native has been playing basketball with her family since she was 5 years old. Her grandfather, Ron Burton, played quarterback for the Cats while her mom, Ginni Burton, was an All-American and Big Ten Champion swimmer for NU swim and dive.  

But Burton’s NU legacy doesn’t stop there: three of her uncles played football for the Cats. Even before stepping foot on campus, Burton was destined to be a Wildcat and has made her mark on the women’s basketball team.

Burton was an exceptional high school athlete, graduating Newton South High School as its all-time leading scorer. She scored more than 1,200 career points through junior year and was named First-Team All-State. Her success as a Lion earned her honors as the Boston Globe Player of the Year, Boston Herald Dream Team honoree and Dual County League MVP. She was also crowned a Nike National Finalist twice in Washington, D.C. with her AAU team the Bay State Jaguars.

Stepping onto the court in Welsh-Ryan Arena as a freshman, Burton made an immediate impact, starting 31 out of the 36 scheduled games. Burton led the Cats with 113 assists and 81 steals that year, and even ranked first in the Big Ten for steals. Playing alongside NU greats — like guard Lindsey Pulliam and centers Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf — she made a name for herself as one of the key players on the team. 

Coach Joe McKeown said he spotted Burton’s talent early on, noting her AAU experience helped prepare Burton for the transition to Division I basketball. 

In his 14th season as head coach, McKeown took notice of Burton’s greatness. According to McKeown, her mark of playing 31 games was well deserved, a rare feat for a freshman player in a Power Five conference.

“Veronica is a great example of an incoming freshman that played so much basketball and played at such a high level in the AAU world before they ever got to college,” McKeown said. “The transition for her was a little bit easier.”


Going into sophomore year, Burton improved throughout the season to receive her first Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honor. Her dominance defending the backcourt contributed to the Cats winning a share of the 2020 Big Ten Championship — a program first since 1990. 

Her junior year was yet another step forward, securing a second Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award for 96 steals, first in the conference. Outside of her defensive prowess, Burton highlighted her offensive agility with 123 assists on the season and 117 field goals. Co-captain and teammate senior guard Sydney Wood also emphasized Burton’s leadership as a valuable asset to the Cats. 

“It’s very important for us to have her on the court because she creates a lot of opportunities in the paint,” Wood said. “Even when she’s not having her best game, she really contributes in a lot of other ways.”

U.S.A. and South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley agreed, selecting Burton as a member of the U.S.A. Americup Team this past summer. One of 20 Division I athletes invited to tryout for the group, she made the cut to travel to Puerto Rico for the FIBA 2021 AmeriCup. Representing the red, white and blue in June, Burton won gold alongside Michigan forward Nazahrah Hillmon, Maryland guards Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller, all fellow Big Ten players. 

Burton credits all of her success to her devotion to faith. She said her realization that she plays for a greater purpose grounded her and changed her mindset for how she trains, whether it’s the offseason or regular campaign. 


Ahead of her senior season, the gold medalist will be one of the faces of the Cats’ program, being named captain for a consecutive season. Following a conference-only 2020-21 schedule, NU will play a 31-game slate, one that includes Big Ten powerhouses Iowa, Maryland and Michigan along with nonconference competitors Oregon and DePaul. 

Following the loss of Pulliam, Burton’s presence on the court will be essential for the Cats. Although known for her defensive mastery, this year she aspires to be an all-around asset. Burton said she felt ready for the task, praising the squad’s work in the summer and fall. 

With the regular season opener Wednesday against Illinois-Chicago at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Burton said the squad has a chip on its shoulder from its loss to Louisville in the second round of March Madness. The goal for this season is to return to her sophomore-year success and bring home another Big Ten Championship.

Burton highlighted the brilliancy of the incoming freshman class, showing confidence in these young players in their first season for the Cats. A highly recruited lineup, she expressed extreme confidence about their careers with the program and looked forward to playing with them.

“They’re confident and just eager to learn,” Burton said. “They’re asking questions. They want to get in the film room and learn. ”

Gearing up for the grand finale of her four years as a Wildcat, Burton has already made her mark as one of the best defensive players in the program. Her skill, teamwork and tenacity on the court has made her unstoppable and among the most accomplished guards to ever come through Evanston. 

With a gold medal and a Big Ten Championship under her belt, Burton hopes to add one more feat to her resume — NCAA champion. 

“I have one of the greatest college guards in women’s basketball in Veronica Burton,” McKeown said. 

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Twitter: @sswann301

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