Beilein puts more trust in PG
Coach began running offense through Morris, has continued with freshman Burke
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- When Trey Burke committed to Michigan the summer before his senior season, he didn't anticipate this. He thought he'd be backing up Darius Morris, playing 10-15 minutes a game.
Burke figured he'd pick up pointers from Morris and others as he prepared eventually to take over the role. Then Morris left for the NBA. Burke started training twice a day, and less than a year later has become Michigan's most indispensable players.
"He did a great job of stepping into the role at the point guard position," Morris told WolverineNation. "His play has been exceptional. Just earning the respect of his players and his coaches. I'm happy they are giving him the freedom to go out there and be the player he could be.
"That's a really big part of it, the coaches believing in you and showing confidence in you and letting you make mistakes and playing through your mistakes. You're going to play a lot better than if you're feeling like you're handcuffed. I think he did a great job coming in and being ready."
That freedom has been crucial. While Burke is largely responsible for his own success this season, the schematic change started by Michigan coach John Beilein with Morris also had something to do with it.
Michigan changed last season as it floundered during a six-game losing streak. The Wolverines began running more through their point guard, Morris, instead off through the wing, which they had under Beilein in years past.
This shift allowed the Michigan point guards -- first Morris and now Burke -- more freedom within the offense to create, penetrate and either score or kick out to an open shooter with the help of ball screens.
"We started running more ball screens with Darius and spacing the floor," senior guard Stuart Douglass said. "They wouldn't help off our shooters, and they took a lot of our sets away, so the simple answer was run a ball screen out of Darius and play basically two-on-two with him and Jordan (Morgan) in there, point guard and big.
"Coach is always talking about last year. He's still learning about ball screens and still learning about it every single day."
Before the switch, Michigan ran its offense through its wings, specifically Manny Harris, during Beilein's first three seasons.
This adaptation is not new for Beilein. He has come a long way from running the flex -- and flex only -- in the 1970s as he started to learn the principles of a two-guard offense.
"It may look to others like there are these stringent rules," Beilein said. "There's not. There's just trying to get them one-on-one leverage, that's what we're trying to do all game long.
"Now, how you get there, some years it might take two passes, some years it may take 10 passes to get there. This team has been able to get into things very quickly because they have experience, and our point guard has been terrific all year long at putting pressure on the defense."
Really it has been the point guard for the past year-and-a-half.
Burke briefly worked out with Morris in Los Angeles before heading to Ann Arbor, where Morris gave advice. They talked again before the season, but when Burke showed up to play for the Wolverines, he wasn't sure exactly what was going to happen. Michigan had a talented, athletic wing coming off a summer of international basketball in sophomore Tim Hardaway Jr. It had two seniors who were dynamic 3-point shooters.
Beilein liked what he started with Morris. So he stuck with it, which meant putting a lot of early trust in Burke.
"It's helped me out a lot, because it gives me confidence," Burke said. "It allows me to make plays that I know I can make within myself or for others. That's what I feel like and it definitely helps the team.
"When it comes down to it, (Beilein) just tells me to make plays."
It helped that Burke has been a true point guard almost his entire life, and he entered a situation similar to when Morris came to Michigan as a freshman.
Then, Morris was the only true point guard on a roster trying to replace two veteran seniors. Burke came in trying to replace an NBA-bound guard, and he has been able to do it.
He showed it early, making big plays and staying calm in a loaded Maui Invitational, catching attention.
"I'm not surprised, because he can handle the ball so well," said former Michigan point guard Gary Grant, the Wolverines' all-time leader in assists. "I've been watching teams trying to trap him bringing the ball up the floor, and he just breaks it down real calmly.
"In crucial situations, he isn't worried about taking the ball to the hole, getting fouled, going to the foul line and making foul shots. He seems like he's under control all the time."
That control has led Burke to average a team-high 14.2 points a game and make 138 assists -- two away from Grant's freshman record.
Burke's control, however, coincided with Beilein's switch a season earlier toward freedom.
That freedom turned one point guard into Beilein's first-ever NBA draft pick. And it is turning his next one into one of the best young players in the nation.
Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.