Ontario Basketball League Player of the Month: Will Burleigh, U12 Grimsby Grizzlies

Will Burleigh, the starting point guard for the U12 Grimsby Grizzlies, is the Ontario Basketball League’s inaugural Player of the Month. Will is a leader by example on the court, but his strength cannot be measured simply by watching him play basketball.

In 2013, Will suffered from regular and debilitating headaches. His parents, George and Denise, brought him to the hospital on many occasions, and doctors diagnosed and treated him for sinus infections. After months without relief, Will’s parents pressed doctors for further information. Will was eventually referred for an MRI, which showed the unthinkable: a golf ball-sized tumour in his brain. It was removed within three weeks, and the headaches vanished.

During Will’s three month check-up, everything seemed to be fine. There were no headaches and his energy had returned. He was bouncing around as before, dunking on the hallway Nerf hoop that consumed his time on rainy days. The results of the check-up, however, were devastating. After the initial tumour was removed, another one appeared, larger than before. One week later, Will required a second surgery. As a precaution, the doctors advised George and Denise that Will should go through radiation and chemotherapy. They agreed and were forced to spend the next three months watching their son go through numerous treatments.

Will’s treatment concluded in December 2014. Will is left-handed, and doctors believed that the treatment would leave him with a weakness on his left side. Respectfully, Will disagreed. His mother remembers the doctors having an unwavering concern over Will’s apparent weakness. Denise said that Will was thirsty after waking up from one of his surgeries. She offered to help, but Will declined, making a point to grab the cup with his left hand.

While rehabilitating, Will spent countless hours dribbling and shooting with his weakened side. Just two months after his final treatment, Will was playing two-minute shifts for the U10 Grimsby Grizzlies. At the 2015 Paul Mitchell Basketball Tournament in Brantford, Will nearly drove his mother to tears.

“He made a lay-up, and everyone went crazy. I had to leave the gym; I didn’t want to cry in front of a room full of strangers,” his mother said.

Will has been granted Player of the Month for January for one reason: he refuses, in any situation, to be beaten. Will is the ideal example of succeeding through adversity. He never takes no for an answer, and his passion for the game of basketball is contagious. When asked about Will’s demeanor on the court, U12 Grimsby Grizzlies coach Chris Unrau had this to say: “Will leads by example. He works hard every day in practice, and he shows incredible toughness. He always puts the team above himself.” Will is everything that a Player of the Month should be, and we are honoured to grant him this award. Everyone in the Ontario Basketball community can benefit from following Will’s example.

As they say in the Burleigh household, “Where there’s a Will, there’s a way.”


Player of the Month Nominations

Players of the Month are exceptional athletes selected from Player of the Week nominations. Players of the Week are selected for a variety of reasons. Be it scoring, leadership, academics, or other admirable characteristics, Ontario Basketball League hopes to highlight athletes who are deserving of recognition.

Coaches can nominate a Player of the Week by sending the following information to Leagues:

  • Player name
  • Photo of the player (action shot or headshot)
  • Team name, age group & pool
  • Justification for nomination (at least 2 reasons)

Coaches must submit their nomination by Wednesday at midnight to nominate a Player of the Week for the previous week.