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  • Talent Times Two
    Catching up with former Virginia stars Heidi and Heather Burge

    by David Hill

    When the Washington Mystics and Charlotte Sting squared off in the first round of the WNBA playoffs last summer, there were moments when fans might have thought they were seeing double. At one point, identical twin sisters were guarding each other: Kelly Miller of the Sting and Coco Miller of the Mystics.

    But before the Millers, there was another pair of basketball-playing twins. "They're kind of like our successors," says Heidi Burge Horton, who, with her twin sister, Heather (Burge) Quella, came first. The Burge twins, as they were known before each got married, took up basketball at age 14 during their freshmen year in high school. Later, they played together at the University of Virginia, and separately as pros in Europe and the WNBA.

    As the Burge twins, Quella and Horton are in the Guinness Book of World Records as the tallest female twins, at 6-5. Last winter, the Burges were the subject of "Double Teamed," a Disney Channel movie based on their lives that's now out on home video.

    GBall recently caught up with Quella and Horton. Quella is in her first year as a multilingual teacher in Southern California and told us she was too busy for an interview right now. But Burge Horton took time away from her work as a basketball consultant, massage therapist, and aspiring broadcaster to talk about what she's been up to since leaving the game as a player.

    Burge Horton says she's familiar with the Millers--who in 2002 overtook Horton and Quella as the league's highest-scoring twins--but hasn't met them. Unlike the Millers, however, the Burge twins never played against one another in the WNBA or while playing pro ball in Europe.

    "It's very weird," says Burge Horton, who played in France, Hungary, Italy and Greece before two years in the WNBA. "Even when we had games against each other, we never ended up playing each other. In France our first year we had a game scheduled with each other but something happened right before the game. One time, Heather got a major injury and she didn't play. She went home to California. The next time I think she was well and I was supposed to play against her and something else happened to me."

    Like many identical twins, the Burges were and are close, but, athletically at least, they weren't always identical, even while teammates at Virginia. "I was more of a finesse player and Heather was a bang-'em inside center."

    And they weren't on court together a lot then, either. "It was like I was starting and Heather was coming off the bench, or if I had a lot of fouls, she was in. Debbie Ryan [Virginia's head coach] alternated us a lot but only in our junior and senior years did we play a lot together." At times, Heather got a little more attention, but that only inspired Heidi to work a little harder. "It didn't hurt my feelings," Burge Horton says.

    After college, they went their separate ways, if in the same general direction, playing for different teams in Europe. It was a moment many twins who've been close have to face sooner or later. "It was weird," Burge Horton remembers. "I took things as they came. I didn't take it like 'Oh, I'm losing my twin and I feel so distant, and I'm all alone.' I didn't feel like that. I was pretty confident in myself. Heather and I are very attached but we will always strive to be independent, so this was like the big break. Finally I had a chance to prove what I could do without her and she could do the same, but not in a malicious way, to prove somebody was worse than the other. It was more like you want to kind of earn your own identity and your own fame."

    Burge Horton joined the Sparks in the WNBA's first year, 1997, then was taken by the Mystics in the league's expansion draft the following year. Late in the 1998 season, she suffered a back injury. Still feeling some pain from her back she reported to preseason camp the following May, only to break a finger. After four weeks, she was released by the team. The release left some down feelings, but Burge Horton says she's learned from it. Saying goodbye to playing the sport you love, especially sooner than you'd like, is hard for anyone, but Burge Horton says women athletes may have a better time coping than their male counterparts.

    "With a lot of the men, you'll see depression and you'll see alcohol," she says. "You see a lot of that because you're trained to be sort of obsessive and driven. I was an elite athlete for 15 years. I was brought to USA Basketball every summer and highly touted by people even though I always tried to remain humble because I felt like I was not as good as everybody else. All of a sudden it's over, everything's over. You lose the identity, you lose your job and your income, which is one thing. But you lose more the emotional part, the fun of reporting to a team every day and having those comrades there."

    Yet Burge Horton was ready to move on to the next stage. "I wanted to get into radio and television so I called about four teams in the WNBA to see if I could get what you would call an internship to put together my own demo tape and sort of learn the ropes." No one had a spot for her until she contacted the Houston Comets, who welcomed her to spend the season with the team. "That was what really brought me here, and it was only going to be for the summer. That summer has turned into three years."

    It was in Houston that she met Patrick Horton, who would become her husband. And while going through rehabilitation for the back injury, Burge Horton discovered massage therapy. It made such a difference for her that she enrolled in massage school and now works as a self-employed massage therapist.

    Heather, who played with the Sacramento Monarchs in 1999, officially retired from basketball in January 2001.

    A year ago, the twins formerly known as Burge were in the news when "Double Teamed" came out. They were consulted a lot by the writers, but the movie isn't all true, Burge Horton says. "They called us with little questions like, 'What did you wear, what was your wardrobe like in high school, what was on your bedroom walls. And then the girls who acted our parts, Poppi Monroe (as Heather) and Annie McElwain (Heidi), would e-mail us and say, 'Ok, how would you act if this happened to you?' It was really funny, and they both did a really good job of portraying us, even though they weren't twins or even sisters."

    In addition to massage therapy, Burge Horton works as a private coach and conductor of group clinics. "Whether it's one on one or five on five or even 25 players, I'm doing teams right now Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. A private junior high school hired me to come and run their tryouts. I've been hired as a consultant for AAU teams. Houston is very competitive in AAU."

    The coaching and clinics are her way to keep connected to the game that's given her so much. "Yeah, that's why I do these lessons and stuff," she says. "It's not a big money-maker. I don't do it for money. I do it because I love to give back to all the people, all the coaches who spent hours upon hours with me, teaching me the best techniques and attitude and all the important things that come along with the sport."

    For a look at an interview with Coco Miller of the Washington Mystics, click here

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