Mentors in the corner of hoops star ‘Flash’

Photos by Mark Zimmaro

No matter the gymnasium, Aasim Burton always has a cheering section.

The Grays Ferry resident, who is a junior at Cardinal O’Hara High School, has a promising basketball career ahead of him. He also has a tight-knit group of mentors who are hoping to guide him there.

They’ve known him most of his life, from the inner coaching circles of youth basketball in South Philly. It was around then that Burton had the nickname “Flash” attached to his playing style.

“It came from when I was a kid,” Burton said. “I used to watch a lot of Stephen Curry so I always used to do flashy things. My first workout, I made a flashy pass and it carried on from there and people started calling me Flash.”

At 11, Burton caught the eye of former coaches Shon Minnis, Ed Bryant and Dwayne Howard. The trio had watched Burton play youth basketball with the Philly Ballhawks and wanted to become more involved in his life, accompanying him to basketball showcases along the East Coast. 

“We’re more of like his mentors,” said Minnis, who played on a few great Southern High School basketball teams in the late 1980s. “There’s three of us. We come from different backgrounds and give him different outlooks on different aspects of life. He gets 150 years of life knowledge in the car with him. We want him to understand that there’s more than just basketball. We try to help him to navigate through life, navigate through South Philly. If we get this nailed down at 15 or 16, he can take it through life with him.”

Minnis’ son DeShon “Biggie” Minnis played collegiately at Texas Tech and Rhode Island so Shon is familiar with the recruiting process that weighs on young athletes’ minds. So far, Burton has received offers from the University of Texas El Paso, Fairfield and Drexel, with additional colleges showing interest. There’s a lot on his plate aside from basketball, so Burton appreciates the advice.

“It’s helpful,” Burton said. “There’s a lot of people out here that don’t have anyone to talk to as mentors, and tell you which path to go down. I know they all just want the best for me so I can always listen to them.”

They seem to make a great team. Burton is finding his stride at O’Hara as the Lions are trying to claw their way back up the standings of the Catholic League after finishing below .500 in league play the last two years. Through Friday, O’Hara was a respectable 4-4 in the PCL (11-5 overall) and Burton was averaging 10.6 points and 5.6 assists per game during those eight contests.

“Cardinal O’Hara has always been underrated and I wanted to come and help the program,” Burton said. “They haven’t been to the Palestra in a long time and I want to help them get there.”

He knows all about travel. It takes about an hour just to get to school every day from 30th and Wharton to Springfield.

“Some days I ride the bus, other days I’ll Uber it, but it’s all worth it for the education and getting to play (basketball) in the PCL,” Burton said. 

Other days, Burton and his mentors go much farther. They travel to basketball showcases to help the young baller broaden his horizons.

“We said we’re going to give you everything that the Ball Hawks can’t give you on an individual one-on-one basis,” Minnis said. “Play in New York, D.C. and Virginia. Play everywhere besides Philadelphia and give him that different outlook in life. A lot of times, our kids just stay in one spot. It’s a life experience.”

They noticed about five years ago that Burton was special.

“I felt like he wasn’t really like other kids,” said Bryant, a Bishop Neumann grad who is a military veteran paratrooper. “He doesn’t talk a lot. He’s really respectful. Sometimes you have to pull teeth to get him to say something. When you see a kid like that, you don’t want to leave him by the wayside because he definitely needs mature people in his life to guide him in different ways.”

There have been many lessons for Burton both on and off the court. One thing that has become obvious is the Catholic League is no place to mess around.

“It could be going better, but we are learning a lot,” Burton admitted. “You can’t come out here and B.S. one night and expect to win. You have to come out ready to play every night.”