SI College Athlete of the Year nominee: Michigan's Trey Burke
There are three Alfonso Burkes from Columbus, Ohio. The first is a 70-year-old commercial painter nicknamed Pookie; he never played college basketball but he has a court with two hoops in his backyard and the lines are always freshly painted. The second is a 44-year-old nicknamed Benji; he played Division II hoops at Northwest Missouri State, where he was regarded as a defensive specialist. The third, Benji's son, is a 20-year-old nicknamed Trey who grew up playing on his grandpa's court. While he is the best player of the three, being named Mr. Ohio Basketball as a senior at Northland High, the Burke name did not loom large on the national recruiting scene.
The hometown U, Ohio State, did not offer three-star point guard Trey Burke a scholarship. He committed early to Penn State, then de-committed and chose Michigan over Cincinnati. He wasn't expected to start as a freshman, only getting the spot by default after Darius Morris left early for the NBA. He was not expected to become the best player in college basketball at any point in his career, but he did so in just two seasons. The winner of the 2012-13 Naismith, Wooden, Oscar Robertson and Associated Press Player of the Year awards, as well as the Bob Cousy Award for the nation's best point guard, is one of 10 finalists for SI's inaugural College Athlete of the Year award because he did far more than merely lead Michigan to its first Final Four since the Fab Five took the tournament by storm in 1993.
As a sophomore, Burke had one of the greatest point guard seasons since advanced statistics have been tracked (from 2003-on); only Jon Scheyer's 2010 Duke campaign is on a similar level. Burke used 29.0 percent of Michigan's possessions with a 121.2 offensive rating, according to kenpom.com, while handing out 6.7 assists per game against just 2.2 turnovers. It takes a special leader to turn a green team -- the Wolverines ranked 342nd (out of 347 D-I teams) in experience -- into the nation's most efficient offense, but that's what Burke did. "He's been with three to five freshmen all year long," Burke's coach, John Beilein, said during the NCAA tournament, "and he's been just as calm and cool as if he was a fifth-year redshirt senior guard."
Never was Burke more calm and cool than against Kansas in the Sweet 16. With the Wolverines trailing 76-73 and Burke already having orchestrated the tournament's most improbable comeback, he hit its signature shot. The day before, when Burke was asked how he planned to score against the Jayhawks' stingy guards, he had said, "I try to play off what the defense gives me." In this case, he deemed the best option to be a pull-up three from 30 feet out, which he made with 4.2 seconds remaining, setting up a Michigan win in overtime and cementing his status as the scariest off-the-dribble scorer in the college game. Trey Burke's first college act was proving he belonged with the Big Ten elites; his second act was proving he was the nation's most valuable player. He cannot be faulted for failing to stick around for a third. That will take place in the NBA.