MADISON, Wis. — Next time members of Wisconsin’s coaching staff have a question about Michigan point guard Trey Burke, they won’t need to look far to find an answer. Badgers point guard Traevon Jackson likely can provide them with everything they need to know.
After all, the two spent nearly their entire high school careers playing together on the AAU circuit.
“Trae can probably tell me more about Trey Burke’s habits and tendencies than I can by watching all the film because he goes against the guy all the time,” Badgers associate head coach Greg Gard said.
Of course, understanding Burke’s tendencies is one thing. Stopping Burke, one of the best floor generals in the country, is another story.
Jackson will have that opportunity when Wisconsin (16-7, 7-3 in the Big Ten) plays host to No. 3 Michigan (21-2, 8-2) at 11 a.m. CT Saturday.
“You can know as much as you want, but he’s such a reactionary player,” said Jackson, who, like Burke, is a sophomore this season. “You try to take one thing away, he just goes to the next. That’s what great players do, and that’s what every great player has. Counter plays. That’s what he has.”
According to Jackson, the relationship between he and Burke dates to fourth grade, when the two first joined forces on a youth AAU squad called Team Reebok out of Columbus, Ohio. They reunited in seventh grade on summer teams and played through their junior years of high school for the All-Ohio AAU team.
Jackson attended Westerville South High School, about 15 miles north of Columbus, while Burke played at Columbus Northland, so they didn’t cross paths often against each other. But they maintained what Jackson called a “competitive relationship” through joint summer workouts.
Over the past few summers, they have drilled in a larger group with some of the Columbus area’s top players under the tutelage of personal trainer Anthony Rhodman. In addition to Burke and Jackson, Wright State guard Darian Cartharn and Davidson guard Brian Sullivan also have participated.
The group would meet Monday through Friday, often for workouts at 5:30 a.m. and later in the afternoon for pick-up sessions against area pros.
“In the summer, we pushed each other a lot,” Jackson said. “He’s a great guy. He just wants to get better and be the best he can.”
Burke turned down the opportunity to play in the NBA after his freshman season, and that decision has paid off. He is listed as a sure-fire first-round selection this year in virtually all mock drafts. This season, he is averaging 18.1 points per game and ranks seventh nationally with 7.2 assists.
Jackson, meanwhile, took over the starting point guard role from teammate George Marshall after six games. Jackson averages 6.1 points and 2.3 assists and has developed into a player Wisconsin can rely on in the clutch. He buried the game-winning field goal against Minnesota earlier this season. And on Wednesday night, Jackson showed no fear in drilling a game-tying 3-pointer against Iowa with 21 seconds left in regulation, which ultimately sent the contest to the first of two overtimes.
“He’s developing a little reputation for hitting big shots for us,” Badgers center Jared Berggen said. “That’s good to see. He’s confident in his ability, and we’re confident in him to be able to make a play down the stretch when we need him to. It’s good to have someone step up like that as a point guard, especially as a young player. For him to do some of the things he’s done throughout the season thus far is encouraging.”
Jackson said his confidence had grown since becoming the team’s primary point guard. During Wisconsin’s 74-70 double-overtime victory against Iowa, Jackson played a career-high 43 minutes and scored 13 points with six rebounds. In addition to his 3-pointer, he hit two free throws to tie the game with 1:15 remaining in overtime.
“I think I’ve always been a confident person,” Jackson said “With the faith that I have, I think that I’m always ready for situations like that.”
As for how Jackson intends on handling Burke on Saturday, he didn’t reveal any secrets. Whatever Jackson knows, he’ll save it for the court.
“He’s a really good player,” Jackson said. “He’s one of the best guards in the country, so I look forward to it.”