This year, Trey Burke promises that playing Ohio State is going to be all business.
With the No. 2 Wolverines going for their first 17-0 start in school history Sunday at the No. 15 Buckeyes, Burke doesn’t want the game to get personal.
That’s what he said happened last year, and you can understand why. After all, Burke is a Columbus native who wasn’t given a scholarship offer by Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ best player was Jared Sullinger, Burke’s friend and high school teammate, and he always had friends and family in the crowd when the two schools met.
“I wanted to beat Jared so bad that I made it too personal last year,” he said during a Friday teleconference. “That was a sign of my immaturity more than anything.”
Burke was more intense than normal for those games, and it had mixed results. His late basket over Sullinger helped the Wolverines upset Ohio State 56-51 and earn a share of the regular season championship, but things were much different when the teams met again in the Big Ten tournament.
Burke went 1-for-11 from the floor and turned the ball over eight times as the Buckeyes blew Michigan off the floor 77-55. The reeling Wolverines then lost to Ohio in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“I wasn’t the same player when we played them in the Big Ten tournament,” he said. “I was sluggish — it was a shock to the system having played overtime the night before against Minnesota.”
This season, of course, Burke has been playing at a different level. Just in the last few days, he’s been named Big Ten and National Player of the Week, been chosen as a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award and placed on the 25-man short list for the James Naismith Player of the Year Award.
He has a talented supporting cast this season — he won’t have to lead the team in blocked shots like he last year — but there’s no question he’s the biggest reason Michigan will be trying to break Glen Rice, Roy Tarpley, Gary Grant and Antoine Joubert’s mark of 16-0.
“Trey is the most veteran sophomore I’ve ever been around,” head coach John Beilein said recently. “He has unbelievable poise for someone who is only a couple months into his sophomore season. You watch him out there, and it is like we’ve got an old veteran running the offense. That’s important, because he’s out there with a lot of freshmen.”
Burke said a lot of that came from offseason work in the film and weight rooms, not on the floor.
“Last year, I was playing just with natural ability,” he said. “Now I’ve picked up seven or eight pounds, and I’ve got more basketball intelligence than I did. I’m now to the point where I can teach our plays to our young guys on my own.”
While Burke still will have friends and family in the stands Sunday in Columbus, he has stopped comparing himself to Ohio State players, and he’s cut off Twitter communication with his friends on the team.
He’s just focused on making this season as good as it appears it can be.
“We want to show people that we deserve this ranking, because this team is going to do great things this season,” he said.