By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 14, 2012
What they couldn’t have realized was that the move paved the way for the most promising era in Michigan basketball since the Fab Five in the early 1990s.
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Upon arrival in Ann Arbor, some was expected of Burke, but not as much as he delivered. Michigan was expected to compete in the Big Ten, but not threaten Ohio State or Wisconsin.
Beilein had the task of integrating a freshman point guard into a team with seniors Novak and Stu Douglass, who had dreams of making a lasting impact in their last year.
So did the coach work extra hours with Trey to teach him all of the intricacies of his offense so that he could command the system by Big Ten play in January? Quite the opposite.
“What we did do, because that’s the toughest position to come into, is we shortened our package in games,” Beilein said. “We tried to work on our package for the future, but we shortened our package for him in games because it would be too much for him.”
The plan seemed to work. Burke led the team in scoring and assists, was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and earned the complete respect of his teammates.
Burke led the team to its first Big Ten championship in 26 years.
“We all came here with some different ideas and John filters the best of them,” said assistant coach LaVall Jordan. “He’s always thinking about the strengths of the team to get us in the best position.”
Burke’s season earned him national acclaim and preseason All-America honors this year. But that success almost came at the expense of the Wolverines’ success this season.
News came out shortly after Michigan bowed out in the first game of the NCAA Tournament that Burke would be thinking about entering the NBA Draft. On April 4, CBS Sports reported that Burke was indeed leaving Michigan.
Amid the rumors, fans questioned how the Wolverines would be able to deal with losing their underclassman point guard for the second straight year. In a year that seemed to be a big step forward for Michigan, Burke’s departure would beckon a rebuilding year.
Burke quelled the speculation by announcing that he’d return to Ann Arbor for his sophomore season on April 9.
The episode frightened the Michigan fan base for a short while, but it spoke to a larger trend under John Beilein.
Long gone are the days where he could count on his players for four years. Now, there’s a tradeoff. The better his players become, the better his teams will be — but long-term success is placed in jeopardy as the allure of money and fame in the NBA is too much for a college student to ignore.
In all but one of Beilein’s seasons at Michigan, an underclassman has led the team in scoring and assists. The young guards have flourished in the system, and the NBA came calling for each of them. This wasn’t Canisius anymore.
“With Manny and Darius and now our current players, Trey and Tim, we want what they want when it comes to their future,” Beilein said. “And if they’re in a position to move to the NBA, we have to be prepared to not be surprised. We have to be prepared to expect that. Just like you have to be ready for an injury or other types of attrition, we have to be ready for it. You have to be prepared for a really good player that has an opportunity in professional basketball.”
Certain things change when Beilein has this type of player. He needs to decide whether to redshirt a player that may be a bigger part of the program once the NBA guy has moved on. He needs to take advantage of the late recruiting periods. He must make sure the goals of the program align with the individual’s wishes.
He may very well have to switch everything up for next season if Burke decides, once and for all, to head to the NBA — whether to plug in crafty sophomore Spike Albrecht or go directly to the touted recruit, Derrick Walton.
But other things need to stay the same.
“We adjust to the players,” Beilein said. “But there’s certain things that are not negotiable.