Salpointe Catholic grad Karlie Burris returns to Tucson as UNLV assistant coach

UNLV graphic

Karlie Burris and her father Tim, her coach when he coached youth basketball in Tucson, had a conversation recently about her four-year starting career with Salpointe in which the Lancers went to at least the state semifinals every year from 2001-05.

“I was trying to look up our records because my dad was like, ‘I don’t think you lost more than 10 games in high school,'” Burris said this week from Las Vegas, where she is an assistant coach at UNLV. “So I was trying to look up all of our records, but I couldn’t find anything.”

Burris is understandably busy helping head coach Lindy La Rocque and the rest of the staff prepare for No. 4-seed Arizona for when the No. 13 Lady Rebels play the Wildcats in the first round of the NCAA tournament Saturday at 7 p.m. at McKale Center.

For the record, Burris and the Lancers during her career with teammates such as Sybil Dosty, Christina Hurtado and Kellie Olson (Lute’s granddaughter), was 113-21.

During her sophomore and junior years under coach Pete Fajardo — 2002-03 and 2003-04 — the Lancers were 61-5 and did not lose to a team from Southern Arizona. Salpointe lost to unbeaten Gilbert Highland in the state championship game in the 2002-03 season.

Karlie Burris (22) during her senior season at Salpointe in 2004-05 (Tucson Citizen photo)

Fajardo, now an assistant coach at Pima College, communicates with Burris often and he offered his congratulations to her on Selection Sunday after UNLV was sent to her hometown to play Arizona.

If her moxie and basketball IQ rubs off on the Lady Rebels as one of their coaches, the Wildcats are in for a battle.

“It’s funny, whenever I talk with her, we talk about how fierce she was. She was just really competitive,” Fajardo said. “I always thought she had unlimited potential. She was the type of kid who would go out there and guard the toughest player on the other team and do all the dirty work.

“She would do whatever it took to be successful in helping her teammates win.”

Burris, a Tucson native, was a complimentary player to the likes of Dosty (who went on to Tennessee and Arizona State) and Hurtado (the Tucson Citizen and Arizona Daily Star player of the year in 2004-05) but she was talented enough to earn a scholarship to Portland.

She started in 80 games for the Pilots from 2005-09 and became a All-West Coast Conference honorable-mention selection as a junior and senior.

Karlie Buriss is No. 22 with Salpointe in this video from her senior season with the Lancers:

Fajardo did not believe Burris was going to be a coach during her time with the Lancers and Burris was not certain herself heading into her career at Portland, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and history.

“She was laid back off the court and she just kind of kept to herself,” Fajardo said. “But just seeing from where she was then and to where she is now, the maturation process is impressive. I think once she got to college, things just kind of clicked for her.

“If one person I coached could have matured that way, I think that would have been Karlie because she’s really smart. She knows the game and she kind of just takes it all in. She has learned so much playing with really good players in high school and in college and then seeing how things work from coaches at the college level.”

Burris acknowledges that she is “not the most extroverted person” but she grew into being a coach because she “was always trying to make my teammates better.”

“I think in that sense, I played just for the joy of who I played with, and I think that kind of translates into coaching — wanting everyone around me to be successful,” Burris said. “I didn’t know right away that I wanted to coach, until after my career at Portland.”

In addition to being the director of recruitment for Absolutely Affordable Staffing (head-hunting business executives in multiple industries) for one year after earning her degree at Portland, she served as an assistant coach at Rex Putnam High School in Milwaukie, Ore.. She created practice plans and developed game strategy for Putnam’s team.

Shortly thereafter, Burris joined Joan Bonvicini’s program at Seattle University in 2011-12 as the video coordinator. She earned her master’s degree in sport administration and leadership at Seattle in 2012.

Karlie Burris’ one year at Seattle University in 2011-12 as a graduate assistant included serving with former Arizona player Joy Hollingsworth (center) and Kristen O’Neill (Seattle photo)

“I had a bunch of connections in Seattle, including Loree Payne, who’s now the NAU coach. She actually was one of the assistants who recruited me to Portland,” Burris said. “She was up there at Seattle at the time as a Washington assistant. Kayla Burt, who followed her and also played at Washington, was also my assistant at Portland.

“I just kind of went out on a limb and applied to grad school, interviewed with Joan and it ended up working out. Obviously, I knew her from my time in Tucson. She’s a hall of fame coach and it was just an incredible experience.”

Burris was then hired as an assistant at NAU by former Arizona standout Sue Darling working as the recruiting coordinator from 2012-17 before moving on to being an assistant at Cal State Fullerton from 2017-20 and Utah State in the 2020-21 season before La Rocque hired her at UNLV last May.

“I didn’t know Lindy personally but just knew a lot of mutual people,” Burris said. “Her dad (Al La Rocque) actually was an assistant at NAU for (Arizona men’s assistant coach and former Lumberjack head coach) Jack Murphy my first year at NAU (2012-13), which is just a really funny story.

“Jack was kind of in a scramble after one of his assistants left and Al was gracious enough to come to Flagstaff for a season. The La Rocques and Jack Murphy are tight from Jack’s background working with Al (as a student manager for the elder La Rocque’s boys basketball team at Las Vegas Durango High School). I had heard really, really good things about Lindy about what she was doing at UNLV. I feel so grateful to be part of what we’re doing here and it’s really easy to get behind someone like her.”

Karlie Burris (left) when she was on the coaching staff of Sue Darling (far right) at NAU (NAU photo)

Burris, a 5-foot-11 guard at Salpointe and Portland, works with UNLV’s frontcourt players primarily.

The group includes Sahuaro High School graduate Alyssa Brown, whom she tried to recruit to Utah State entering Brown’s senior season at Steve Botkin’s program in 2020-21. Brown, the No. 2 scorer in Arizona girls hoops history with 2,680 career points, is a freshman power forward reserve with the Lady Rebels this season who will also have a homecoming during March Madness.

“I was a guard in high school in college, but I mean, my job in high school was to give Sybil Dosty the ball so I can appreciate the work that goes into post work,” Burris said. “Alyssa Brown, geez, that kid is going to be so good.

“She told me UNLV sent the first recruiting letter to her. She is like, “You never forget the first one.’ I kind of always knew she wanted to go to UNLV. I am so glad I ended up here. I am excited that I get to coach her because that kid would be starting anywhere else.”

Burris arrives back in her hometown Thursday with UNLV ahead of Friday’s press conference and practice schedule at McKale Center.

Awaiting her will be her dad, mom Celia and sister Brittany, who was a standout softball player at CDO. The Burris family still resides in Oro Valley, where Karlie lived during her Salpointe career.

Karlie has played before at McKale Center with Salpointe and also with Portland as a junior in 2007-08 when the Pilots lost to Arizona and Bonvicini 78-71.

“My parents are still at our house and Brittany lives about a mile away and has six kids so the whole crew will be there Saturday,” Burris said. “We’re gonna have a lot going on (with the numerous Southern Arizona connections on the UNLV roster and staff), but I think the players know how serious we are, and we are prepping for that now.”

One of her objectives is continuing to convert her family into UNLV fans, especially this weekend with them in attendance.

“I just went to our bookstore and because all of my family is obviously Arizona fans, I had to buy some UNLV gear,” Burris said. “So I dropped a pretty penny doing that, but I think that’s gonna be the coolest thing, just seeing all my family wearing UNLV gear and obviously the support with lots of ties there.

“I think that’s going to be the most fun thing.”

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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