Navigating the Michigan locker room last week in the minutes after the Wolverines fell victim to Ohio’s upset bid was a dreary chore.

Players sat solemnly at their lockers. The room was cloaked in a shocked silence, and reporters obliged the atmosphere by practically whispering their questions to the few who seemed worthy of an interview.

Most of the attention was given to seniors Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, whose careers had just ended in near tragic fashion. They were asked mostly about how they could look past this immediate disappointment, whether they could reflect on all they had managed to accomplish at Michigan.

But while the pair of captains spoke about their pasts, the queries for the next generation of team leaders were focused on their futures: would Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. be returning for their sophomore and junior years, respectively?

Really, it was a silly time to be asking that question of them. The two had just finished playing a heartbreaker, having allowed an underdog to end their season well before they imagined it would. Even if Burke and Hardaway Jr. had thought about their futures before that night, the only thing that possibly could have been in their head at that moment was how painful that loss was.

But because we, the media, know we won’t have regimented access to the team again until next fall, we’re forced to ask about the NBA right then, 15 minutes after the season had ended.

I asked Hardaway Jr. first if he had thought about his future plans at all.

“I’m staying,” he said. “I’m staying.”

“You’re staying for sure?” I replied.

“For sure,” Hardaway Jr. said.

And that was that: unadulterated confirmation from the source himself that Tim Hardaway Jr. would be wearing the maize and blue as a junior. At about the same time, Burke also told reporters he’d be coming back. That would end the speculation and controversy already — no reason to be following this story for the next few weeks.

But here’s the problem: NBA draft decisions made in the wake of season-ending losses — or even made in front of the media in general — mean nothing.

Burke proved as much this week, when his father Benji told several media outlets that the family was looking into his draft status, and that they would decide whether Trey would stay in school or leap to the NBA once they came back with solid information about where he might be picked.

Whether Burke ends up staying or going, the information-gathering step in itself is evidence enough that there’s no point in taking any stock of unreliable public draft resolutions.

It’s hard to fault Burke for looking at his options. Most players grow up dreaming not of college basketball, but the pros, and Burke is doubtless no exception. Considering that college success and NBA draft standing are so fleeting — in almost all cases, a player’s stock goes down after an additional year in college — it makes sense to leave as soon as you know you’ll be a first-rounder, meaning you’re guaranteed a contract.

And though some may be mad at the apparent hypocrisy of telling the media you’re staying, only to then explore the possibility of leaving, you can’t blame any player for ever doing so.

Just what good would come out of telling the truth? It would immediately bring a firestorm of unwanted attention, making the whole process even more stressful for someone like Burke.

Despite the high-minded air they may hold themselves in, fans don’t really care about honesty.

If Burke said after the loss to Ohio that he was considering the NBA and then went out and actually declared, Michigan supporters wouldn’t say, “Well, at least he was honest about it.” They would be just as angry as they would if he declares now after saying he was staying — the focus would be on his actual decision, not what he said in an emotional moment after a loss.

There’s just no benefit for Burke or anyone else to be forthcoming about it in such a situation. Fans will be angry if he leaves either way, and no points for honesty will be given.

So while Hardaway Jr. was pretty emphatic in declaring his intentions to stay, I’m going to go ahead and ignore what he said.

Even if he and Burke end up returning, there are too many examples of players who have claimed they’re coming back only to change their stance a short time later. Look no further than star Kentucky freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who told reporters a few weeks ago he would come back for his sophomore season. ESPN’s Chad Ford reported on Wednesday that Kidd-Gilchrist was instead headed to the NBA.

Do I think Burke and Hardaway Jr. will leave? No, though I’m much more confident Hardaway Jr. stays, just because his struggles this season essentially mandate that. But we’ll know one way or the other on April 10, the deadline to pull out of the draft if a player has declared.

The only thing we know for sure? The declarations of March 16 will continue to mean nothing.

Estes would like to announce that he’s coming back for his senior year. He can be reached at benestes@umich.edu or on Twitter: @benestes91

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