Future pros soak in special week on campus

Todd Needle/Daily
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By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Editor
Published April 4, 2013

A report by sports business reporter Darren Heitner, citing an unnamed source, surfaced Thursday saying both junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. and sophomore point guard Trey Burke are prepared to forgo their final years of college eligibility to head to the NBA as soon as the Michigan men’s basketball team’s run ends. The families of both players denied the report.

Three other freshmen — guard Nik Stauskas and forwards Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III — appear destined to have eventual professional careers, as well.

In the meantime, this past week has given these future pros a special appreciation for the uniqueness of life on a college campus.

That began just hours after the Wolverines defeated Florida in the Elite Eight, 79-59, as more than 1,000 University students congregated outside Crisler Center to welcome the team back.

“That was very special,” Robinson said. “I don’t know how many students there were but we couldn’t even drive through the parking lot. People were banging on the bus and as soon as we got off, everyone was just waiting for us.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be a part of something like that again. I was enjoying that moment.”

Several players, including Robinson, took out their phones to record the experience as Michigan coach John Beilein and the team’s four captains took hold of police megaphones to address the crowd and turn it into a pep rally.

“I don’t know if you’re ever going to see something like that in the NBA,” Stauskas said. “The fact that we have the support from all the fans here and that they waited for us to come back, it was cool.”

Two days before the win over the Gators, no one had a better seat to witness Burke’s game-tying 3-pointer to send Michigan into overtime against Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen than Beilein. But reflecting back on that moment, the headman lightheartedly joked that he wishes he had a different vantage point.

“I wish I could beam into a restaurant here and watch everybody watch Trey’s shot go in,” Beilein said. “I probably would be right there with them.”

But when the parking lot celebration ended, it was back to normal for the student-athletes. Well, almost.

Hardaway and McGary each had papers to turn in the following day, and Robinson said that an athletic department official checked in to make sure he showed up on time to his 10 a.m. class Monday morning.

Aside from being in class for the first few days of this week — the team departed for Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon — the players are hardly normal students, despite the 6-foot-10 McGary’s best attempts to stay “incognito,” which he admitted isn’t an easy thing to do. But the freshman is going to try to stay under the radar for at least another year, as he announced on Tuesday that he’s returning to Michigan for his sophomore year next season.

“We’re normal people, and we’ve got to do those things, and we’ve got to get our work done,” Robinson said, who then listed a host of abnormalities he’s encountered this week, including students approaching him with ticket requests and teachers congratulating him in front of crowded lecture halls. “It’s been crazy. Everyone’s been coming up and talking to us.”

This week marked the one-year anniversary of when Burke — who according to several reports had, for a time, decided last year to declare for the draft — held a press conference to announce he’d return to Michigan.

Spending his sophomore season in Ann Arbor has proven to be the right decision. Burke, a consensus All-American, has enhanced his draft stock from fringe second rounder last spring to a likely lottery pick in June’s draft. On Thursday, he was awarded both the Associated Press National Player of the Year and Bob Cousy Award for the country’s top point guard.

And though he has excelled on the court, his time off it has proved equally rewarding. His time at Michigan is something that he says he’ll certainly miss.

“That hits me all the time, really, just because the college atmosphere is so great,” Burke said.

It was at that press conference last year that Burke said his intentions were to compete for a National Championship, a statement that many around the country scoffed at.

Now, with the Wolverines just two wins from the title, Burke’s words appear prophetic.

“I just understood the type of talent we had coming in and the type of talent we had returning, you know, the talent to put together a run like we’ve put together,” Burke said. “We’re here now. We just still have unfinished business.”