Burke seeking that big, team trophy
Wooden, Robertson winner proven leader of young Michigan
ATLANTA -- The trophies are piling up quickly for Trey Burke, but there’s still room for one more.
On Friday, Burke -- to the surprise of few -- received not only the John R. Wooden Award but the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association Oscar Robertson Trophy, presented to the top player in NCAA Division I men’s basketball. He’s received more.
No. Check that. He’s received a lot more, but they’re all individual honors so far. There’s the little matter of a national championship to grab, and first, Burke’s Michigan Wolverines have to get past Syracuse on Saturday night in their semifinal.
His own trophies are one thing. The capper would be, of course, to grab the brass ring and take the sport’s biggest team prize and take it back home to Ann Arbor, Mich.
“It would mean the world,” Burke said. “It would be a dream come true, because that is the ultimate goal. It’s great to have the individual accolades. That definitely feels good, but we as a team have had one goal all year. That was to get to Atlanta and win a national championship. Now that we’re here, we just have to make the most out of the opportunity.”
Michigan head coach John Beilein knows what he has in Burke, and he also knows the kind of talent that surrounds his awards winner.
“What I’ve said over and over again is that Trey Burke has been playing this year because an injury to Jordan Morgan,” Beilein said. “Tim Hardaway [Jr.] is a fabulous player, and Trey wouldn’t be there without Tim. He would tell you the same thing.”
One of the truly astounding things about Michigan’s run this year has been the fact that the team is one of the youngest in the nation, with six freshman and one sophomore -- Burke -- in the steady rotation.
Has that seemed to faze Burke? Not in the least.
“He has been with three to five freshmen all year long, and here he is, this cagey, veteran sophomore,” Beilein continued. “The whole year, he has been just as calm and cool, like he was a fifth-year redshirt guard.
“He didn’t come in as a freshman, sophomore and [have] all these veterans around him and he just has to fill in the pieces and carry this team. This team carried itself. He was just out front all the time, so many times. Those young guys look at Trey. They see poise and they see patience. It’s worked very well.”
As a freshman last year, Burke had to learn quickly. He took to the leadership of veterans such as Zach Novak and Stu Douglass, both of whom are now playing professionally in Europe.
Burke soaked it all in.
“I was able to actually learn from them, learn certain leadership skills,” Burke remembered. “It meant a lot, me coming into this year after they left to be more of a voice out there and be the Zach Novak that this team needs.
“I definitely think it’s my job to stay poised out there. It’s my job to allow the team to hear my voice, because I know that I’m pretty much the quarterback out there running the show.”
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When Burke broke into the lineup, Beilein was like most any coach at this level. He was concerned whether the kid could handle everything that was being thrown at him as the team headed off for the Maui Invitational.
“We’re flying out to Hawaii, and I’m saying, ‘This is going to be tough having a freshman point guard. All of a sudden, we go to Maui and he’s one of the best players on the floor playing against Duke, UCLA and Memphis.”
Beilein grinned at the memory and added, “I said, 'Maybe it won’t be such a bad year after all.' ”
As good as he was, there were times when doubt inevitably began to creep in.
“Sometimes, I would forget the plays and Stu would come up to me and tell me what I was supposed to do,” Burke continued. “I think that was something I needed to go through. It was something that allowed me to become more experienced. I was playing right away, and basically the ball was in my hands. I had to grow up pretty quick.”
Even before Friday’s awards announcements, the recognitions that had come his way were almost literally too numerous to list. It’s a lot of hardware, to be sure, but that’s the result of Burke’s hard work and not the motivation behind it.
Asked if there’s pressure to live up to the awards, Burke doesn’t hesitate.
“Not at all,” he said. “I just want to go out there and win. I’m not going to go out there thinking, 'I just won this award, so I need to show these people I was deserving of it.' I’m going out there to try to win the game. It’s not about me. It’s about this team and it’s about this program. We’re trying to do something great.”
Burke and Hardaway have been the subject of the almost obligatory rumors that they’ll turn pro after the season. Beilein would not comment on them, and Burke insists that it’s not his focus right now.
“It’s not a distraction, because we’re not thinking about that,” Burke concluded. “When you have the opportunity in front of you that we have right now, it’ll be selfish to think about something that’s totally irrelevant right now. We’re focused on Syracuse. We understand what’s at stake.”
What’s at stake? One more trophy.
• Burke winner of Wooden, Robertson awards