Frosh PG makes most of chance
Burke proves he's quick study, seizes opportunity to play big minutes for Wolverines
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- When Darius Morris left Michigan for the NBA following last season, then-Northland High senior Trey Burke knew an opportunity opened up. He knew he'd have a chance to play major minutes.
If the Wolverines were going to be good this season, he'd have to contribute fast.
And he has, surely more than anyone who didn't know Burke before he arrived in Ann Arbor thought he would, and perhaps more than some who did.
He came in prepared -- more so than most incoming freshmen. He trained hard, watched film and was fortunate to play on an excellent high school team with Ohio State star Jared Sullinger.
And then, a teammate he was competing with for playing time became his mentor: Stu Douglass.
"Stu has been real huge," Burke said. "Sometimes during the game I might not know what play we're running or what set he calls, and he'll do what I'm supposed to do. Sometimes it may be the hardest part of the play.
"He just does things that captains do, that seniors do, and that helps me out a lot."
It is a role Douglass has been waiting three-plus years for, one he last felt as a senior at Carmel (Ind.) High School, when as a senior he mentored the freshmen on the team. He relished that -- and now has that chance again.
Douglass took the chance as soon as he met Burke. In the freshman, the senior saw a lot of himself: a somewhat quiet kid, someone who will listen first, then speak. Someone who was receptive to criticism and improvement.
"It's something I like to do, and to see a player of his talent come in and be so humble and completely responsive &" Douglass said. "He was a heck of a player on his high school team, all of these guys were a heck of a player on their high school teams, and it's not easy to corral so many egos. His was about as easy as I've seen since I've been here."
So he started in. Douglass took his accumulated knowledge and poured it into Burke whenever he had a chance. On the court during games, if Douglass sees an opponent hedging one way, he'll point out various options that might work for Burke.
Burke doesn't complain. He doesn't question. He listens and then he does.
It's because Burke wants only a few things. He wants to improve. He wants to make his team better. And he wants to win.
Burke's demeanor and composure, another thing helped by Douglass' tutelage, has helped in his assimilation.
Thus far, that maturity and willingness to listen as he learns and leads has been a key reason to his quick development. Unlike many freshmen in John Beilein's somewhat complicated offensive system, he has played a lot of minutes early -- third on the team at 31.9 a game -- and has used it to his advantage. He's averaging 11.3 points, four assists and three rebounds, all while figuring out exactly what's going on.
And as he has gone on, he has become more comfortable because of the leadership of senior guard Zack Novak and the mentorship of Douglass.
"You've got Stu and Zack right there," said Burke's father and former AAU coach, Benji. "If he has any struggles, they are right there. I think what he's had around him, the leadership he has around him on the court and off the court and the assistant coaches and everything, it's the perfect fit for him not to fail."
Thus far, he hasn't. His play has been so good Beilein can barely afford to take him off the court -- usually pulling him surrounding television timeouts in the first halves of games to snag him some rest.
Otherwise, he has put his team's future in the hands of a player less than 10 games into his college career. And most of Michigan's players and coaches seem completely comfortable with that.
"He's probably as close to ready as I've seen a player from a mental standpoint," Douglass said. "I had a tough time with that my freshman year. I wasn't coming in as a big recruit and wasn't expecting much and it was tough to transform to that.
"He's been put in a position where he's able to do a lot of things he was able to do in high school and at the same time still, expectations from coach and things he's learning to deal with that he wasn't quite dealing with in high school and no players have to deal with in high school and he's dealing with it as well."
He is. With a little bit of help from everyone else around him, as well.
Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mikerothstein.