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May 17, 2018 - Image 12

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12

Thursday, May 17, 2018
The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com
SPORTS

Five years later, Trey Burke

discovers a new beginning

Trey Burke lined up across
from Corey Person with only
winning on his mind.
This wasn’t a practice drill
between the two guards —
Burke a sophomore on his way
to winning National Player
of the Year, Person a walk-on
in his senior year. Nor was it
a pickup game after practice.
It wasn’t even on a basketball
court.
In a football tailgate lot out-
side Michigan Stadium, the
Michigan
men’s
basketball
team was hosting an event for
recruits, and a pickup football
game had broken out. Playing
wide receiver, Burke’s competi-
tive urge kicked in.
“He wanted to win so bad —
not only did he want to win, he
wanted to embarrass (Person),”
recalled then-graduate man-
ager Kyle Barlow. “And (Burke)
dominated him.”
It didn’t matter that this was
a different sport. It didn’t mat-
ter that this was as informal a
setting as you could get. Burke
had to win, and he did.
That was what every bas-
ketball recruit visiting Ann
Arbor realized that day— and
what the Wolverines’ coaching
staff had come to understand
a year prior—when they saw
Burke play against live com-
petition for the first time at a
closed-door scrimmage against

Toledo. Trey Burke, it turns out,
makes a strong first impression.
On that day in October 2011,
Burke had walked into the
scrimmage with Stu Douglass,
the presumptive starter at point
guard. Instead, video analyst
Pete Kahler, assistant coach
LaVall Jordan and administra-
tive specialist C.J. Lee watched
together, mouths agape, as
Burke came off the bench and
gave Michigan its answer.
Almost immediately, Burke
stripped the ball from an oppos-
ing player, blew by Toledo’s
transition defense and scored.
He followed that by coming
off a ball-screen and nailing
a jumper, then picking up an
assist. The coaching staff had
known Burke was good, but not
this good, and not this soon.
“We’re like, ‘Whoa. We
might need to give this kid the
key to the car,’ ” Kahler said. “It
was just very clear right away
that (Burke) was just more ath-
letic and more skilled than any-
body on the court.”
“It was the first experience
of him in live competition,”
Lee, who played point guard at
Michigan between 2007 and
2009, added. “And it was some-
thing that was just noticeable.
It’s like, ‘This guy is made to do
this.’ ”
When Burke came out, the
offense slowed down. When he
checked back in, it sped right
back up. This wasn’t just a few
good minutes. It was a precur-

sor for the next two seasons.
Anyone with eyes knew
then and there that Burke was
simply better than Douglass.
Including Douglass.
“Stu went up to (Michigan)
coach (John) Beilein and said,
you know, ‘Coach, we gotta
start him at the point,’ ” Kahler
recalled.
It took all of one game —
the opener against Division II
Ferris State — for that to come
to fruition. Three days later
when the Wolverines faced
Towson, Beilein heeded Dou-
glass’ advice. The starting job
belonged to Burke.
Burke’s legend starts there
and, for now, ends 18 months
later with a seemingly clean
block, a whistle and a national
championship game loss to
Louisville.
Everything
that
happens after is often consid-
ered a mere footnote because
until four months ago, Burke
was just another player who
peaked in college before flam-
ing out at the next level. Burke
still may end up being just that,
but he’s as close to rewriting
that script as ever.
***
There’s a formula to a season
ending: Coaches frustrated,
teammates nervous for the
impending finish, shots that
normally fall rimming out. In
the 2013 Sweet 16 against Kan-
sas, Michigan was following
that to a T—until Burke broke it.
Burke had been trying to

rally the troops throughout the
second half, telling his team-
mates in timeout huddles it
wasn’t over, they could come
back — all the things you say
partly because you believe
them and partly because not
saying them would be admit-
ting defeat. It wasn’t until the
Wolverines were down eight
with two minutes to go and
Burke forced a 10-second call
on the Jayhawks’ Elijah John-
son that they became more
than platitudes.
At that point, LaVall Jordan
started to holler, using a white
Gatorade towel to smack the
raised court, getting louder
with each shot.
As Burke kept hitting shots
— a stepback 3-pointer over Jeff
Withey to cut the deficit to five,
a transition layup to cut it to
three — Jordan began ignoring
the playcalls Kahler suggested
to him.
“Pete!” Kahler remembered
him yelling. “Just let that boy
rock!”
When Burke hit a shot,
Jordan would scream, “That
boy is special!” annunciating
each word by hitting the towel
against the court, sending fluff
towards Kahler, as the rest of
the bench stared, wide-eyed,
the Wolverines pulling ever
closer.
Still, Michigan needed to
foul Johnson and pray for a miss
on the front end of a 1-and-1 to
have a chance to tie at the end of
regulation. Whether Johnson
made or missed his free throws,
the plan was the same: get the
ball in as fast as possible, set two
high ball-screens for Burke and
go from there.
Everyone knew the last
shot — Michigan still needing
a 3-pointer to tie — belonged to
Burke. But he wasn’t supposed
to pull up, at least not from
30 feet. He did anyway and
drained it.
“The follow-through was
like a goose-neck,” said then-
junior guard Tim Hardaway
Jr. “It was perfect, pretty, you
couldn’t teach it any better.”
“After (Burke) hit the shot
… and then we all went to the
timeout, he kept saying, ‘We’re
not losing this game,’ ” then-
senior guard Eso Akunne
recalled.
The Wolverines still had to
defend with 4.3 seconds left, a
situation they had blown ear-
lier in the season after a Hard-
away triple had seemingly won

a game at Wisconsin. But after
Naadir Tharpe’s try at a game-
winner fell short, Michigan
could see an impending loss on
the face of every Kansas player.
Throughout that year —
even with a starting lineup that
included three other future
NBA Draftees — Michigan had
leaned on Burke, and Burke
had delivered. Now, with the
season on the line, he had done
so again.
“It’s almost like a warm
blanket,” Kahler said. “You’d go
on the court and (know) that,
no matter what happened, we
had that great chance of win-
ning. We were probably gonna
win because we had Trey
Burke on the team.”
The blown lead oozed into
the Jayhawks’ body language
and the comeback into Michi-
gan’s, as Burke rollicked around
the court, scoring the Wolver-
ines’ first five points of over-
time. All the while, Jordan kept
thwacking that towel.
“Just let him go!” Kahler
recalled Jordan belting. “Don’t
need to run plays, just set a ball-
screen, let him go to work.”
When the buzzer sounded,
handing Michigan an impos-
sible 87-85 victory, it had Burke
to thank.
“Probably next to getting
married, one of the best feelings
in the world,” Kahler said. “I’m
serious.”
***
Needless to say, Burke hadn’t
expected to be taking commer-
cial flights to Canton, Ohio and
Greensboro, and North Caro-
lina four years later. But with
his basketball career in need
of a revival, life took Burke to
White Plains, New York, home
of the G-League’s Westchester
Knicks.
Four years after Burke
played in front of the entire
country during the Final Four,
he was running point in front
of barren arenas off the beaten
path. At Michigan, Burke had
been vocal in huddles during
games, but often led by exam-
ple. Now, at age 25, he was one
of the team’s oldest, most expe-
rienced players.
With the Wolverines, the
closest Burke had come to men-
torship was when Caris LeVert
— another future NBA player
from the Columbus area and
a year behind Burke — came
to Michigan. The two trash-
talked, telling each other, “You
can’t guard me,” until there was

no choice but settle it on the
court. They played before prac-
tice, after practice — even on
gamedays, at least until Kahler
kicked them out of the gym.
“They would go back and
forth — who can’t guard who,
or who would win 1-on-1 —
and then there was just sorta,
‘Alright, shut up and grab a ball,’
” Person said. “Next thing you
know, they’re at it again.”
In
Westchester
though,
Burke embraced being the old
guy in the locker room.
Burke told teammates where
they had to be in practice. He
told them about his time in the
NBA — about how, early in his
career, an opposing player blew
by him for a layup and how
Burke realized this was differ-
ent than college — and about
anything else they asked. In
film sessions, he spoke up.
“We had about seven or
eight rookies — everybody was
instantly willing to listen and
learn, because not too many
times, coming in your first year,
you get that cool of an opportu-
nity to have somebody like that
around,” said Paul Watson Jr.,
a Westchester guard last sea-
son. “... Trey was a leader for us
instantly.”
And, most importantly, after
his career had sunk to its low-
est point, Burke was having fun
again.
In one contest against the
Fort Wayne Mad Ants, he was
held scoreless in the first half.
The Mad Ants focused their
entire defense around trapping
him. Then Burke came out of
the locker room and went on a
tear, scoring 28 in the second
half of what became a victory.
“(Burke) told the guys (at
halftime), he said, ‘I’m good.
You guys keep doin’ what
you’re doin’. You guys are open
and I’m gonna find you,’ ” said
Westchester
Knicks
coach
Mike Miller. “... And then (in)
the second half, it balanced out
and he went on one of those
runs.”
Miller and Burke’s team-
mates alike all knew from
the day he signed, the Knicks
would call him up eventually.
When that call finally came in
mid-January—bringing Burke
a little less than an hour south
and a second chance— there
was little room to squander it.
***

FILE PHOTO / DAILY
Former Michigan point guard Trey Burke hopes to extend his lease on basketball life and expand legacy

ETHAN SEARS
Daily Sports Writer

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