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Daniel Wasserman: Don’t hate, appreciate, Trey Burke

Erin Kirkland/Daily
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By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 4, 2012

Take all the expectations you might’ve had regarding next year’s Michigan men’s basketball team and throw them as vigorously as you can at something hard, so they explode into a million little pieces.

Admire the pieces of what was to be a surefire top-10 team next year for a moment, then sweep them up and trash them.

But don’t trash Trey Burke.

Just 15 days ago, in an interview with Burke’s father Benji, the Detroit Free Press reported that the point guard was inquiring about his NBA Draft stock and leaning toward going pro.

After an initial panic, most fans stepped back from the proverbial cliff after realizing that no matter how good of a season Burke had, his 5-foot-11 frame wasn’t going to grow three inches into a first-round pick over the next few weeks. Almost every draft analyst gave the freshman a possible late second-round grade but said he’d most likely go undrafted.

And then came two eye-opening projected rankings for the 2012-13 season.

On Tuesday, ESPN’s Andy Katz pegged Michigan at No. 8, but warned that it “might change by Thursday.” Later that day, CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman and Gary Parrish tabbed the Wolverines at No. 5.

But at 2:57 p.m. on Wednesday — less than 24 hours after his rankings were published — Goodman announced via Twitter that he had “some HUGE news.” Moments later, he broke the story that Burke is planning to depart Michigan after his freshman season.

And boom. Just like that, Michigan fans bolted for the cliff and jumped without ever looking back.

Even with key departures, including Zack Novak, Stu Douglass and Evan Smotrycz, the Wolverines were going to be good. How good? A lot of that depended on how the most talented recruiting class coming to Ann Arbor since the Fab Five II class of 1994 would pan out.

Now we’ll never know. And if Michigan hopes to earn a 2013 NCAA Tournament bid, that incoming class needs to add a point guard. And even if it does, the Wolverines just went from a top-5 contender nationally to a team that may fight to stay out of the Big Ten’s worst five teams.

Fans — the same ones who let the basketball program go unnoticed for much of the last decade — didn’t like the taste of that.

They took to Twitter to call Burke names. They took to message boards to doubt that he’ll ever make it. They commented on articles saying that his departure means that he isn’t Michigan material.

Nothing he hasn’t heard before, though.

A year ago, the casual Wolverine fan didn’t even know Burke’s name. Two years ago, he was a barely a Big Ten-quality prospect, committing to perennial bottom-feeder Penn State. And three years ago, one of the only schools to show him interest was Ohio — ironically, the same team that ended his career at Michigan.

Do I think Burke should leave? No.

With another year under his belt and the expected improvements that typically accompany added experience, his chances of being drafted soar. Some top draft analysts who project Burke going undrafted this year label him as a first-round pick in next year’s draft. No, he won’t grow from this year to next year, but he won’t shrink, either.

But to those trashing Burke, I ask you this: What does he owe you?

A Big Ten Championship? He already brought you that, and almost single handedly at that. After Darius Morris left following last season, many wondered how successfully John Beilein could work around a void at point guard. At even the mere thought of Smotrycz and Tim Hardaway Jr. struggling like they did this season, it would’ve been hard to project the Wolverines finishing above .500 in conference play.

But instead, a level-headed Burke carried Michigan through one of the toughest schedules in the country. He led Michigan in nearly every meaningful stat category, including blocks — yes, blocks — and in doing so, the Wolverines won a conference that was widely considered the best in the nation.

Does he owe you wins in the future? No, he doesn’t, and Michigan may take a short-term hit in next year’s win column. But what future point-guard recruit wouldn’t want to play for Beilein, who has sent point guards to the NBA in back-to-back years? Yes, Burke and Morris are both immensely talented, but both saw meteoric rises in their stock in a very short timeframe. Landing better recruits typically equals more wins.

But none of that matters, because Burke doesn’t owe you, me or the University anything anymore.