8 - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 ,
The Michigan Daily michigandailycom
8- Tesdy, arc 19,013Sp~ ts he Mchian ail - mchiandilyom
by Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Benji Burke peeks over his
menu, trying to order his din-
ner and watch the television
at the same time. There's a waitress
next to him, leaning in while waiting
to take his order.
Benji doesn't order until, up on
the screen, the basketball goes out of
bounds, and even then, it's a 10-sec-
ond conversation without eye con-
When the food arrives, Benji's eyes
still almost never leave the screen.
He talks to friends without looking at
them, occasionally glancing down at
his phone duringcommercial breaks.
Up on the TV is his only son, Trey,
who is playing basketball for Michi-
gan in State College, Pa.
The Wolverines are playing Penn
q State, ateam that doesn't have a
conference win. This shouldn't
be much of a contest, yet
Benji's right leg doesn't
stop twitching and won't
stop twitching until the
end of the game.
Benji's got his sup-
port system here at a
local bar in Colum-
bus. It's a group of
10 men, all of whom
are former Ohio State
fans and almost all of
whom have known
Trey since he was born.
Most are still wearing
red. One, Alonzo Shav-
ers, even played foot-
ball for the Buckeyes.
Yet none of them
miss a Michigan bas-
ketball game. Even
the women at the
salon where Benji
gets his hair cut
plan their weeks
At a venue full
of Buckeye jerseys,
posters and memo-
rabilia, the major-
ity of the TVs are
tuned into the
ball game, which
starts with an
assist from Trey.
To everyone but
Benji, Trey is Michi-
gan's star sophomore,
the best point guard
and one of the best over-
all players in the country.
He's the most important player
on a Michigan squad that is widely
considered to be a fringe top-20 team
But to Benji, Trey is his project
and his lineage, a lifeline to a game he
loves more than just about anything
and a growing reminder of what it
means to raise a son and not his for-
And for the first time since Benji
coached Trey in basketball - which
he did for most of his son's life in AAU
- their relationship has settled.
P enn State getsafouled on amade
layup, and a waiter walking by
lets out a first pump and an
"and-1!" call. The entire group stands
up, telling the waiter he needs to be
That waiter doesn't return to the
Everything Trey does gets a reac-
tion. If he has a nice assist, one of
them shouts out that he taught the
kid that move. If Trey has a turnover,
the men blame Benji and his coach-
ing. Nothing goes unnoticed, nothing
goes without a comment.
The men yell out, "What's the
count" every couple minutes during
the game, but the count isn't the score
of the game, or even Trey's point total
- they're counting his assists.
At this point, Trey's averaging 6.9
per game on the season, but they want
him to get eight against Penn State. If
he averages eight over the last four
games of the season, it'll put him in
the same company as former Michi-
gan State great Magic Johnson, who
is the only Big Ten player to average
17 points andsevenassistsin aseason.
They want to see his name next to
Magic's, even if it says Michigan and
not Ohio State next to Burke.
Trey's relationship with this rau-
cous, competitive group of men start- 0
ed when Benji began bringing his son
to the Nelson Recreational Center
gym when Trey was just learning
how to walk. Trey was dominating in
his first organized league by the time
he was 5.
Still, nothing compared to those
weekends at Nelson.
Walking around the gym,he would
dribble with both hands, focusing on
his left, trying to impress the older
guys playing the real games on the
court. He can still vividly remember
standing on the sidelines, dribbling
with his off hand, waiting for his
chance. Trey would beg to play with
them, to no avail.
After the games, the group hung
out in the parking lot, a once-a-week
reunion of sorts. Trey would still be
dribbling, still working on, his off-
hand, trying to get his dsd's friend
O.J. to play a game of keep-away with
With no rims in sight, just the
asphalt of the parking lot, O.J. would
take the bait and try and take the ball.
He would get the steal almost every
time, but once or twice every week-
end, Trey would get him to bite on a
crossover and leave him behind.
The men would whoop and hol-
ler because while they might have
owned the gym, for a couple of fleet-
ing moments once a week, the kid
owned the parking lot. In those
moments, he felt like he was one of
the guys, not just the runt who had to
sit out and watch them play while he
It would make Trey's day, until the
group would go back to the Burke's
and hang out in the basement, where
Trey was left out from playing cards
and even his own video games.
The men were never mean on pur-
pose, but they were hard on the young
boy. It makes Trey laugh now, but
back then, sometimes he wondered if
they merely tolerated him instead of
Sometimes Benji felt guilty know-
ing his group was too harsh with
Trey, and that maybe even he was
too hard on his son. But every week-
end, there was Trey, still trying to tag
along at the gym and be with the guys.
He couldn't tell Trey not to come, and
he couldn't tell his friends to not be
themselves. He still remembers how
that felt, the line of tension between
his son and group of friends.
"I think they were hard on me
because they knew it would help me
grow into the person I am today,"
Trey said. "It was fun growing up
around my dad and all his friends
because they allowed me to grow up
quicker than I would have if I wasn't
Now the men are back at the bar,
planning their nights around watch-
ing Trey's game from the sideline1
A few weeks ago, Trey watched
a family video of a kid, prob-
bly 3 or 4years old, throwing
a legendary fit after being tagged "it"
in a game of duck-duck-goose.
Trey couldn't believe he was
watching himself; he thought he was
Trey's better at concealing his
emotions now. The stage is bigger, the
consequences are greater. Still, inside
his 20-year-old body is that same
little kid who couldn't stand losing at
See TREY, Page 6