Trey Burke serving as a quiet leader for Michigan, working to avoid sophomore slump
During an interview midway through last season, Novak was asked about his journey as a three-year captain for the Michigan basketball program. He began explaining how difficult it was for him to adapt to the role of captain as a sophomore.
And then added that "next year," Michigan would likely be going through that same thing.
"It looks like next year we’re going to have that sophomore captain (again), I think at least,” Novak said at the time. “So the biggest thing I’ve been doing this year is grooming him and making sure he’s ready.”
That "him," he was referring to is, of course, Burke -- the co-Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Michigan's leading scorer, top assist man, freshman sensation and overall best player in 2011-12.
All of that is expected of Burke again this year, and more. He's suddenly somewhat of an elder statesmen in the Michigan locker room -- and though he did a lot of listening last season, Burke will be counted on to do plenty of talking this year.
"I think when you look at Stu (Douglass) and Zack, they couldn't have been two different leaders -- both with different styles," Michigan coach John Beilein told MLive.com recently. "And I'm seeing some of that coming out right now.
"Maybe Trey Burke's style is going to be more like Stu's style. A quiet strength about him, a leadership in his demeanor. He doesn't get too high or too low. He's just there."
Asked whether or not Burke would serve as an official captain this season, Beilein said it doesn't really matter.
He'll be one anyway, whether he officially earns that title or not.
"It he isn't one in name (he will be anyway)," Beilein said. "Let's say (Michigan football quarterback Denard Robinson) wasn't a captain this year, he'd still be a leader by the nature of the position. It's natural for Trey.
"It's a natural position for him just to lead by example."
While Burke's presence as a leader will be something he'll have to work at more as time goes along, his presence as a player is only improving, according to Beilein.
Since deciding to return to Ann Arbor and skip an early shot at the NBA in April, Burke has gotten right back to business, his coach says. He spent time at elite-level summer camps during the offseason, bonded with fellow star Tim Hardaway Jr. and got back to the basics that earned him playing time right out of high school in the first place.
In short -- he's sweating the details.
"He's been very good," Beilein said. "The summer was good, he was a great example in practice. We've only had two hours of workouts so far this fall, but he's taking it up another notch it seems from his first year.
"He's had a steady incline in his attention to detail. His desire to improve keeps going up. It was never bad. BUt for a freshman who had such a good year, you'd think right now that he's fighting for playing time."
During the midway point of last season, while Burke was gaining attention and standing in the spotlight, Hardaway -- who also had a fabulous freshman campaign in 2010-11 -- was being asked questions about a "sophomore slump."
His shooting numbers were poor, he looked rushed and uncomfortable and seemed to continuously fight to find the same shooting confidence he had as a rookie.
Asked whether or not he's worried about Burke going through the same pains, Beilein said it'll certainly be hard for his point guard to duplicate his freshman season -- only because it was that good.
But in the end, he's not concerned -- he's got one of the top point guards in America on his roster.
And that's good enough for him.
"Sometimes sophomore slumps happen because your freshman year was incredible, and you can't match it," Beilein said. "But I believe he'll have his good days and his bad days just like everybody else.
"In the long run, I wouldn't trade him for any guard in the country."