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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENTS : Alike, Different : Identical Twins Heather, Heidi Burge Succeed in Their Quest to Be Individuals


Not four hours after helping Virginia advance to the Final Four in Los Angeles, Heidi Burge donned rollerblades, headphones, shorts and a T-shirt and, in 40-degree temperatures, took to the streets of Thomas Jefferson's campus in Charlottesville, Va.

Nonplussed by her celebrity status in a town that sells out women's basketball games, Burge shed her athlete's role for a while and went looking for fun.

Her twin sister, Heather Burge, spent a quieter evening with her boyfriend, Pat Seferovich, a Virginia wrestler who shares her passion for basketball.

The 6-foot-5 juniors from Palos Verdes Estates are similar--and not just because they are identical--right down to their blond ponytails.

They are inquisitive, opinionated, fiercely loyal and competitive.

A birthright that put them in the same classes and clubs, and often gave them similar experiences, forged a bond that neither would sever when it came time to choose a college.

But they are also different, and in their quest to be treated as individuals, they roomed with outsiders when they arrived here and developed different social circles.

The older sister--by six minutes--Heather is the serious one, saddled with a conscience that kept her from disobeying parents, teachers and coaches. An overachiever, she is an academic All-American and has progressed more rapidly on the court where she is No. 1-ranked Virginia's top scorer and rebounder.

Heidi is more gregarious and takes a more relaxed approach to things, although she, too, is an honor student and one of only 50 seniors selected to live next season on "the Lawn," the prestigious bungalows designed by Jefferson.

In their first two seasons at Virginia, the Burges were better known for making the "Guinness Book of World Records" as the tallest female identical twins than for their basketball prowess.

After a freshman season in which they turned the ball over more than 65 times each, Heidi was slowed by mononucleosis.

Heather's sophomore season was also disappointing because of a lower back injury and her penchant for putting too much pressure on herself.

After their loss to Tennessee in the 1991 NCAA championship game, the twins prepared for a junior year in which they knew their impact had to be greater.

Instead of spending the summer on the basketball court though, they prepared by lifting weights, running, rollerblading and biking up a hill in Palos Verdes.

Their rigid workout schedule, coupled with a vegetarian, low-fat diet, had one drawback--they lost too much weight. When they returned to campus, Coach Debbie Ryan sent them to a nutritionist, who helped them put the pounds back on.

The advantages of the summer of training were equally noticeable. The Burges were in the best condition of their lives.

Their mental approach was also enhanced.

"We influenced each other," Heather said. "She became more intense, and I don't take life so seriously."

Their teammates noticed immediately.

"We were playing pick-up in the preseason, and usually the guards dominate," said Tammi Reiss, a 1992 Kodak All-American.

"Heather caught my eye first with these little hook shots and power moves. She started taking it to the hole. She had blossomed, and we gave her our full support. We told her, 'We're going to go to you.' "

It was quite a change from previous seasons, when Reiss had begged Ryan to take the twins out of certain games because they dropped passes, tired easily and became weepy when the play got physical.

The twins say their teammates misunderstood the tears, which fell primarily at practice.

"When we did cry it was mostly out of frustration," Heidi said. "Just not being able to do the things the other players could do."

There was also misunderstanding about the pushing and shoving.

"We thought our teammates were intentionally hurting us," Heidi said. "They said, 'Wait for the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference),' and, sure enough, when we got to the ACC the referees let a lot go."

The coaching staff, particularly assistant Frank DiLeo, dealt with the Burges' frustrations by counseling their teammates to be patient, and Ryan tried harder to communicate with two players who continue to mystify her.

"They talk fast and they talk incessantly," Ryan said. "In a timeout, Heather talks to everybody. Dena's (point guard Evans) biggest adjustment was getting them to be quiet so she can tell them what's going on. They have an opinion on everything."

Ryan is also not quite sure what motivates the Burges.

"It's hard to say what's igniting them," she said after Heather had scored a personal-best 32 points and Heidi a personal-best 22 points in the East Regional semifinals.

"On nights they don't play well I don't know why, and on nights they do play well I don't know why."

Until this season, the twins did not play at the same time. It was a distressing situation, exacerbated by constant questions from fans, classmates and even their parents, Mary and Larry.

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