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Monday, February 4, 2013
Updated: February 5, 1:08 PM ET
A clutch decision

By Michael Rothstein
WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- His bags, quite literally, were packed in his dorm room. He had everything organized in his mind. The decision was already made.

His parents advised him. His college coaches made suggestions. But Trey Burke didn't really listen to what they were saying until he decided to take one last trip home to Columbus, Ohio.

Rumors, including a report that Michigan's star point guard was headed for the NBA, raged. His coach, John Beilein, told him he could disappear for a few days if he needed to. He agreed. When Burke's parents, Benji and Ronda, showed up in their Dodge Durango to take him back home, he was ready to finalize his decision.

"When I stepped in the car, I was leaning gone," Trey Burke said. "I was leaning toward leaving."

Trey Burke
Along with improving his game, Trey Burke has become an emotional leader for the No. 3-ranked Wolverines.
A three-hour conversation between mother, father and son changed the course of this Michigan basketball season. It turned a stubborn teenager set on proving he could be an NBA point guard into a pragmatic decision-maker who could see the value of one more college season.

How this particular story ends is already known. Burke returned to Michigan and turned into one of the top players in the nation on the No. 3-ranked team in the country. But to further open up his game, Burke had to first open his mind.

"I just kind of remember everything being put out on the table so Trey knew all of his options," Ronda said. "It's one of those things where in that car ride, the conversation was a deep conversation with him and his dad.

"We did a lot of intervening. We had a lot of individuals sit down with him, different family members, mentors and so forth. Just to reiterate the fact that we knew he could play at that level, but it was much more than that. You had to look at the big picture."

Burke's parents did what parents tend to do. They told him the truth.

Ever since childhood, Burke had been focused on one day playing in the NBA, fairly obvious knowledge further evidenced by drawings by Burke that Ronda recently found in their home.

One, Ronda said, had Trey in a jersey that said "NBA," with no team attached.

Burke stepped onto Michigan's campus as the forced replacement for Darius Morris, who departed for the NBA after his sophomore year. He learned fast and adjusted as he picked up minutes.

He blossomed into one of the top freshmen in the country and, at 19 years old, the dream once doodled in a notebook came closer and closer to actually happening.

"Last year, I was kind of seeking it," Burke said. "This year it is more coming my way. It's more, I'm able to focus more on Michigan basketball and staying in the moment. I was more immature last year.

"I was kind of astonished last year when I would hear some of it. It was my first year in college. It's my first year out of high school and I'm still a teenager. That was amazing to me."

The aspirations of playing professional basketball almost overwhelmed him. He saw what constant NBA attention could do as his best friend, Jared Sullinger, had gone through even more-scrutinized first year at Ohio State. Sullinger stayed for his sophomore season. He got hurt. His draft stock fell.

While Burke wouldn't say that directly led to his contemplation of the NBA after one season, understanding the entire picture put it into play. He knew he had positive buzz and realized the NBA drafts as much on potential as it does production.

This is where his head was when he got into the car.

"Any time you hear, hey, you can go play in the NBA, it's not even about the money with Trey," Benji said. "It's about the competition at the highest level with him. Any time you hear you can get there, you kind of listen to what you want to hear and not reality."

Benji delivered reality over the next three hours in a frank dialogue with his son. Burke was not a sure first-round selection, which meant a bigger risk of not making a roster. He would leave behind a situation where he could not only improve himself, but become the major catalyst on a team with a ton of potential.

There was no way to tell Michigan's freshmen would bring the impact they have -- three of them winning the Big Ten's freshman of the week honors by the midway point of the season -- but Benji knew Michigan would return a nucleus of his son, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan.

There were also personal improvements with leadership, shot selection and defense. With senior captains graduating, this could be Burke's team to run. Instruction from Michigan's coaches throughout the season, along with a summer tour of camps hosted by Chris Paul, Deron Williams and LeBron James, could provide the necessary steps to turn him from a questionable first-round selection to a potential lottery pick.

The talk worked. By the end of the ride, Michigan had its point guard back. Burke called Beilein. A couple of days later, he told everyone else.

Still, Burke wasn't fully convinced. What if the freshmen weren't as good as potentially thought? What if the leadership wasn't the same or things didn't come together like his first year? What if he got hurt?

These concerns slowly washed away. First during the summer, when Ronda saw excitement in her son's eyes as he went back to school on the same drive he took a few months earlier with everything in doubt.

Then Burke met with his teammates.

"Before the season, we had a team meeting, a players-only meeting," senior captain Josh Bartelstein said. "We talked about what being a Michigan Wolverine meant to us. Trey gave a really good speech about it.

"This was the point we could see Trey was back and ready to go."

The speech focused on Beilein's valued concepts of leadership and preparedness. Of teamwork and togetherness.

Burke became Michigan's leader that day, and everything he has done since has dictated the course of this season. Still, those doubts lingered as the season started, even through a high ranking early in the season and a NIT Season Tip-Off championship.

The thoughts lingered for a couple more months. So when did he actually feel comfortable he absolutely made the right call?

"What's today?" Burke answered.

It was the end of January.

Burke is one of the top players in the country and a front-runner for the Wooden Award, given to the nation's best player. His team has realistic national championship aspirations for the first time in two decades.

"Right around this time," Burke said. "I felt I never looked at it in a negative way, but right now, in this moment, I feel this was the best decision for me because we're playing our best basketball as a team and everything is clicking right now.

"We know we have some tough games coming up. We're clicking on the court and clicking off the court and feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be."

And what would have happened had the car ride never happened and Burke stuck to his initial plan of leaving? Beilein gave a hearty laugh.

"I have no way to answer that," Beilein said. "He didn't leave. I haven't thought about that for one second."

He hasn't had to. Trey Burke returned to Michigan. With the way his season and Michigan's season have gone, it could end up as the best decision of his life.