ATLANTA — Trey Burke is leaving Atlanta with plenty of hardware.
The uber-talented Michigan point guard won every Player of the Year award that you can win, receiving trophy after trophy, posing for photo-opp after photo-opp, going from press conference to press conference to talk about the season that he had over the last five months.
And what a season it was.
Burke averaged 18.5 points and 6.8 assists. His efficiency numbers were superb despite being responsible for handling the ball on seemingly every one of Michigan’s possessions over the course of the season. He was the focal point of every defensive scheme, somehow managing to remain the engine that made the nation’s best offense run. He led a team full of freshmen to the national title game.
But there was only one piece of hardware that Burke wanted. And thanks to an 82-76 loss to Louisville in the national title game, he didn’t get it.
“It hurts a lot,” Burke said after the game. “Just to play for the national championship, it hurts so much.”
“You know we fought.”
Yes, we do.
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Burke, quite literally, left it all on the floor. He drove headlong into the lane and got knocked to the floor twice in the final minutes, spending every second he could milking the landing as he tried to catch his wind. After one possession where he went one-on-one against Russ Smith, trying to once again single-handedly lead Michigan back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit, he drew a foul and stepped to the line, grabbing his shorts as his chest heaved.
“There was never a point in time where we gave up,” he said.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
In all likelihood, this was the last time that we’ll ever see Burke suit up for the Wolverines. He was all-but out the door last season before a change of heart led him back to campus. You don’t think that, after a season where he’s the consensus Player of the Year and almost a lock for the lottery, he’ll be declaring for the draft?
And there-in lies the shame of it all.
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Not that Burke is going pro. I think he’s making the right decision. As the saying goes, strike while the iron is hot, and Burke’s iron will never be hotter than it is right now.
The shame is that the lasting memory that most will have of Burke is with his head down, slowing walking off the court as the Cardinals celebrate, streamers and confetti bursting from the Georgia Dome rafters.
The memory of Trey Burke that will always stick with me will be late in the first half, after Spike Albrecht had just beaten Louisville off of a high-ball screen, getting to the rim and finishing a layup over Gorgui Dieng for his 17th point of the game. That shot put the Wolverines up 33-21, their biggest lead of the game. Albrecht, the seldom-used back-up point guard who finished with a grand total of 24 points in all of Big Ten play, came sprinting back to the sideline, as fired up as you’ll ever see a basketball player.
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The first person to meet him, sprinting out to midcourt, was Burke.
Because when Burke was recruited to Michigan, he was that guy. He was supposed to be the seldom-used back-up to Darius Morris, the guy that paid his dues for a couple of years before getting a shot to beat out the next John Beilein point guard recruit for a chance at a starting job. But Morris went pro earlier than expected, and Burke was suddenly forced into the starting job, where he thrived.
Where he grew into an all-Big Ten talent as a freshman and the Player of the Year and a lottery pick as a sophomore, all as a kid that had originally committed to Penn State.
That ascent into greatness is how I’ll remember Trey Burke.
And I hope you will as well.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.