The One That Got Away

By Kyle Rowland on February 5, 2013 at 10:00a

If things had gone the way Trey Burke wanted, he’d be suiting up in scarlet and gray in the visitor’s locker room tonight in Ann Arbor. Instead, he’ll be wearing the colors of the enemy. Columbus natives are taught at birth to shudder at the mere sight of maize and blue. That Burke wears the hues proudly verges on treasonous. 

Thad Matta never dreamed Burke would develop into a star.

But the Benedict Arnold label doesn’t fit cleanly with Burke. It’s more like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. A longtime teammate and best friend of Jared Sullinger, Burke was always the less heralded member of the ballyhooed Northland high school basketball teams that took the nation by storm.

He was a year younger, thus received less of the spotlight. Sullinger was destined for stardom at a young age, gifted with generous bloodlines and an equally impressive skillset, while JD Weatherspoon blossomed into a valued talent as he progressed through high school. Sullinger and Weatherspoon ended up at Ohio State (Weatherspoon transferred to Toledo after last season), helping lead the Buckeyes to back-to-back Big Ten championships and an appearance in the Final Four.

A three-star recruit, Burke first committed to Penn State during his junior season. He thought better of that after head coach Ed DeChellis fled Happy Valley for Navy in the very offseason following the Nittany Lions’ first NCAA Tournament berth in nearly a decade, an indication of how bad the support is for the basketball program. In came John Beilein, and, as they say, the rest is history.

While Burke was in high school, the lack of attention from Ohio State stung, especially since Buckeye assistants were a regular presence at his games.

“I could have saw myself going to Ohio State,” he said. “But, now that I'm here at Michigan and I've already learned the culture here, I feel like I’m in the right place.”

Few would dispute that claim after the first season and a half of Burke’s career. The former Ohio Mr. Basketball averaged 14.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists and one steal during his rookie season that ended with Big Ten co-Freshman of the Year honors. Burke led Michigan in points, assists, blocks and steals. Not only that, he played a major part in the Wolverines winning a share of their first conference title in 26 years.

But year two has yielded even more impressive numbers – 18.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game. He’s the engine of a powerful locomotive that generally fires on all cylinders. Third-ranked Michigan is averaging almost 80 points per game this season.

It’s those outputs that have Burke atop most national player of the year straw polls.

Due to his hometown roots, Buckeye Nation looks at Burke like he’s the one that got away. But in truth, Shannon Scott was a more highly touted point guard in high school, and the Buckeyes went after him early. Once Scott committed, they weren’t going to take another point guard in the class, especially with Aaron Craft already entrenched. Therein lies the mystery as to why Burke never received an offer from Ohio State.

Aaron Craft has consistently made life difficult for Trey Burke.

“I understood that they had already had Aaron Craft and they were looking at Shannon Scott,” Burke said in January. “In high school, it fueled me. It made me work harder. But now, I feel like I’m in the best situation I could have been in. I’m happy here. It’s not personal anymore. Playing against them is going to be fun.”

It was Burke’s own nightmare in the teams’ first matchup this season. Not only did Ohio State hand Michigan its first loss of the season, the Buckeyes also denied the Wolverines an opportunity at their first No. 1 ranking in more than two decades. Michigan finally reached that plateau a few weeks later, but Saturday night’s loss at Indiana sent them tumbling once again.

“Michigan just took a loss, and they’re going to be ready to get after it,” Craft said. “We were their first loss. They’ll be ready.”

In a game that marked a homecoming for Burke, he would probably rather forget Jan. 13. A missed three-pointer that would have been a game-winner ping-ponged around the rim before popping back out. He finished with 15 points but shot the ball 13 times, and Craft put a dent in his efficiency, limiting Burke to four assists against four turnovers.

The head-to-head battle between Craft and Burke has almost become a game inside a game. So far, Craft has the upper hand. Ohio State fashions a 3-1 record against the Burke-led Wolverines. All three losses have included subpar performances from Burke that were havoc induced by Craft.

“Craft is as good as I’ve ever seen,” Beilein said. “He’s tremendous.”

It’s a sentiment Burke agrees with, but that doesn’t mean he shies away from facing the best.

“I love playing against him because he makes me better and he makes me work,” Burke said.

In four games against the Buckeyes, Burke has turned the ball over 20 times and scored just over 10 points per game. The defensive prowess of Craft is well-documented, but the art of his shutdown abilities against one of the nation’s most productive players offers a vision like no other. When Michigan is on offense, Craft doubles as Burke’s shadow.

Injecting too much energy into a personal rivalry also has possibly led to Burke’s lackluster play against the Buckeyes.

“It’s always in the back of your mind, but when you tend to make things personal in games like this, you tend not to play your best,” Craft said. “He’s still learning, he’s a sophomore.”

It was Craft’s sophomore year when he led Ohio State to within a blip of playing for the national championship. Might that ascent follow Burke and the Wolverines?

“Trey is a hard worker from a great family,” Craft said. “I’ve seen him be very successful at every level. We kind of grew up together and it’s great to see him have success.”

Burke would have enjoyed sharing that success with his childhood friend in his hometown. But now Craft is forced to hope Burke’s triumphs don’t come at the expense of Ohio State.


Comments Show All Comments

BuckeyeChief's picture

As I mentioned before, it sucks he ended up in AA, but I bear no ill feelings towards him.

"2014 National with it!!!"

Jack Fu's picture

Yep. He's awesome. It sucks the way things turned out, but no ill will whatsoever. I hope he's so good in games against everyone but OSU that he goes pro after this season... yeah...

gobucks96's picture

Love the way the kid plays... 

bhartman13's picture

Great player and it sure does suck he is killing it for scUM.  You can't be upset with how things turned out because Matta went with Shannon Scott and it basically left Burke looking for the best fit for himself.  I wish the kid the best, except when he is on the court against tOSU!  Go Bucks baby, beat that team up north tonight!

Buckeyebrowny919's picture

i will be glad that he is doing well absolutely every other day of the year...EXCEPT i've got a special finger on each hand designated for him and his teammates today/tonight.
He is a great player and would've been fantastic to cheer for, but as of right now i've got nothing but ill will until the game is over tonight.

To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift - Steve Prefontaine

RedStorm45's picture

I thought we put to rest this notion that "he got away."  He had an offer from PSU and like BGSU and that was about it.  Matta already had Craft, and Scott was HIGHLY rated in the following class (Burke's class).  Burke came into his own after Sully and JD left, but Matta didn't have a scholly for him.  What was he going to do, play off the ball?  Overtake Scott and play 12 minutes behind Craft?  Can we please stop bringing up this mis-conceived notion that he got away?  It was mainly just awful timing for him.
Also, students...really not too classy chanting "Columbus hates you" while he shot free throws last month.  Kid grew up a Buckeye fan, wanted to be in the S&G, and seeing the last year and a half we all would take him in a heartbeat.  Really unfortunate it didn't happen that way, but are you really going to "hate" every single player/person who was from Columbus but didn't go OSU?  Michigan was his best offer, PSU was in shambles and he had no other "big time" offers.

tennbuckeye19's picture

Yeah, I agree, the "Columbus hates you" and "We didn't want you" chants are pretty tasteless. 

Kalamazoo Steve's picture

Can you imagine the outrage if the IU student section chanted something like that to DT? 

ohiostbux5's picture

IU students are notorious for giving it to great players that leave their state. Oden and Conley never played their, but there are plenty of examples of players they have laid into. DT being one, and Gary Harris being the most recent.

ohiostbux5's picture

Completely agree that our students need to knock off those type of chants. They were doing the same thing to Aaron White when Iowa was in town a couple weeks back. Why are they berating a kid who we didn't recruit? What is he supposed to do? Just give up on his dream of playing college basketball when he doesn't get an offer from us.

hail2victors9's picture

 It was mainly just awful timing for him.

Correction: It was mainly just awful timing for him Ohio State.

Those who stay will be CHAMPIONS!

~Bo Schembechler

buck-I.8's picture

Well we are 3-1 against him, so I don't think anyone is ready to mourn quite yet.

RedStorm45's picture

I meant the fact that he wanted to be a Buckeye growing up, but the circumstances ahead of him and who he played with in high school never resulted in a scholarship offer from Thad.

thatlillefty's picture

Last year, meechigan's PA announcer introduced Trey as the, "Pride of Columbus". Lol.

hail2victors9's picture

If I could duplicate one day in recent Michigan history, it would be that day/weekend.  Huge win over OSU and 8 commits in 2 1/2 days.

Those who stay will be CHAMPIONS!

~Bo Schembechler

nick_ferguson58's picture

Considering Ohio State was never really an option, I wish he would have gone north to play for Tom Izzo instead of scUM, but I have no ill feelings towards Trey Burke.  It's weird too because I hate everything about Michigan except him.  Maybe it's because he is from Columbus and IMO should have received a scholly offer and I feel bad for him in that regard?  Either way, he is the only player EVER from Ohio to go to Michigan who I do not consider to be a traitor of sorts. 


bergy22's picture

If I had enough talent and could go anywhere but Columbus to play for the Buckeyes, I have to think Tom Izzo and MSU would be at the top of my list. I would've said IU but I think Crean is a douche.

nick_ferguson58's picture

IMO Tom Izzo is the second best coach in the country.  Behind Coach K at Duke even though I hate to admit anything good about Duke also.