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Posted on Sun, Mar 27, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

The hands that guide: Trey Burke could see key minutes next season for the Michigan basketball team

By Michael Rothstein


Incoming freshman guard Trey Burke recently was named Mr. Basketball in Ohio.

Courtesy of Benji Burke

COLUMBUS, Ohio — His hands are coarse and calloused, almost bruised to the bone. Trey Burke’s flesh wraps around his digits like the hands of a factory worker who bangs away shift after shift.

These hands are something special.

Burke plays point guard, so his hands are everything. These hands have controlled the dribble since he started playing basketball as 5 years old. They have carried Trey Burke wherever he has gone in basketball, from dominating recreation leagues in Columbus to making him Mr. Basketball in Ohio this year.

Now these hands are part of the future of Michigan basketball, where he will play in the fall after committing to the program last August. And right now, they look like they belong to a man twice Burke’s age.

“That’s one of my most important features, really,” Burke said. “Ball-handling wise, passing and catching, that all has to do with your hands.

“That’s the most important thing.”

The rims around Columbus, Burke says, wore his hands out, although he later says they have always been that way. No one is complaining.

These thieving hands These hands forced his youth basketball league, Youth For a Positive Image, to keep him from pressuring the ball as a kid. The league’s directors eventually stopped Burke from going near opposing ballhandlers before they crossed half court.


Trey Burke averaged 23.6 points a game this season for Columbus Northland High School.

Courtesy of Benji Burke

When he did get close, a turnover usually followed.

“He had just started playing basketball,” Burke’s father and AAU coach, Benji, said. “And he would steal the ball all the time.

“He stole the ball all the time and laid it up.”

Burke was 6. He barely knew what he was doing on a court except he could dribble with both hands, make layups and take the ball from whomever he pleased.

The only thing he didn’t know was the score.

After every game, Burke ran up to his father and asked if his team had won. He rarely did. When Benji told him, Burke lost it, collapsing into a ball of tears and frustration.

“The thing that got me was how he hated to lose,” Benji said. “You had parents saying, ‘You should stop him,’ because he shouldn’t be acting like that. I didn’t mind because he didn’t like to lose.

“I would just have to talk to him all the way home, say, ‘You know, you’re not going to win every game. It’s OK to lose, never like it.’ Every weekend, I would have to explain this whole story.”

Burke couldn’t understand it. Just a kid, he saw he was scoring most of his team’s points and playing the majority of defense. All of this came from his hands and a natural ability.

He’s just always had it.

When the hands lost control Burke and his best friend, Jared Sullinger, were play-fighting in the basement. A year older and almost twice Burke’s size, Sullinger would cause problems when they played basketball on a Little Tykes hoop in the basement.

They hung out, often staying at each other’s houses on weekends, becoming AAU teammates, high school teammates and they now consider themselves brothers.

And on this day, when Burke was in fifth grade, they bonded.

Joking around, Burke’s hands lost control. As good as they were on the court, they were bad off of it.

“We were playing around, and he had no hand control when he was young, when we would play around and fight,” Sullinger said. “He hit me in my nose and my nose started bleeding.”

Burke, realizing what he had done, didn’t stick around to see his friend’s reaction. He bolted up the stairs.

“It was a funny situation now that we look back on it, but then, it was a serious moment,” Burke said. “He got real mad, and I took off as soon as I did it because he was way bigger than me. And at the time, he was kind of fat back then.”

They laugh about it now and neither can really remember what it was over, although the two prevailing theories are basketball or a mistakenly eaten cheeseburger.

The incident bonded the two and created a friendship both say made them better on the court. It’s a relationship that yielded three of the better seasons in Northland memory, one of the top high school teams in the country. And now they both have Big Ten scholarships.

Sullinger went to Ohio State, where he became one of the top players in the country as a freshman. Burke is heading to Michigan, where he’ll likely see early minutes because of those hands crafted in Columbus.

“The Michigan family will be really happy with what they got in Trey Burke,” Sullinger said. “He’s an awesome basketball player.”

Hands of the future All season, Michigan coach John Beilein referenced the future, what his Wolverines team will look like once the kid with the great hands actually plays in Ann Arbor.

The hands are what you'll notice first, but the 6-foot-1 Burke’s game is about more than that. When he arrives, he’ll be one of the Wolverines’ fastest players.

He’ll add another shooter to the mix — and he’s a guy who can spell all-Big Ten guard Darius Morris at point guard. It was that speed and, yes, those hands, that attracted Beilein to Burke once he decommitted from Penn State last year.

Playing for the first time without Sullinger in high school, Burke averaged 23.6 points, shot 47 percent from the 3-point line and averaged 6.8 assists a game, leading his team to Saturday night’s Ohio state championship game.

And he believes he can play right away in college — in part because of his hands.

“If I go in next year and I be aggressive and play my game, it’ll translate smoothly,” Burke said. “Me being as close as I am to coaches and Coach Beilein and Coach (Jeff) Meyer, I know they’ll kind of let me play my game next year. And me being a point guard on the court, that’s what they need right now, to get others involved.

“I feel like I’d fit in great and make a great impact as a freshman.”

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan basketball for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein



Sat, Apr 9, 2011 : 4:06 p.m.

Coach B knows point guards.Every Team in the sweet 16 had great point guards.They are your QB of your basketball team.Kid looks pretty good,Mr Basketball in Ohio,great snag for Michigan.


Mon, Mar 28, 2011 : 4:37 p.m.

He comes from a tradiiton rich high school program a tough high school basketball conference so he can be a contributor right away maybe like his best bud at OSU. I can't help but wonder why Matta wasn't interested?


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 9:05 p.m.

Looking at Rivals OSU has already signed the top point guard in Geaorgia and one of the best in the nation


Mon, Mar 28, 2011 : 5:02 a.m.

If Darius Morris doesn't make the correct decision, Burke could play a lot next year. I hope I'm wrong, but I have a feeling that Morris is getting family pressure to go make money now. Being a mid to late second round pick in a lockout year wouldn't be a very good situation, though. I just hope Morris isn't fooled by ESPN's inept mock draft that has him going early second.


Sun, Mar 27, 2011 : 10:16 p.m.

My sources say that Darius is a strong lean to leave. If so, Trey is going to see 20 minutes a game.


Mon, Mar 28, 2011 : 12:22 a.m.

More watercooler type... but they talk to many It has more to do with his brother and his disputes with JB


Sun, Mar 27, 2011 : 10:40 p.m.

Seriously interested... are your sources "insiders" or are these "watercooler" sources? The reason why I ask is that I've read in multiple places that he's not hiring an agent so there's a good possibility he could be back. This is the first time I've ever heard that he's a "STRONG LEAN" to leave. I do hope he comes back for one more year. Yes, there's always risk of injury but I really believe it could raise his value in the 2012 draft (barring an injury.) Either way, I wish the best for him.


Sun, Mar 27, 2011 : 6:42 p.m.

What's the expectations for the young dumars? Is the coaching staff expecting him to play any part of a pivotal role with the team on the floor?

Michael Rothstein

Mon, Mar 28, 2011 : 2:02 a.m.

Mikey, Even if Dumars was healthy and in shape enough to play (he had been hurt for most of the second half of the season), it would have been tough to crack an established rotation at the wings between Douglass, Novak, Hardaway and Vogrich. By sitting him, it saves a year of eligibility for Dumars. He should have three years left, where if he played at the end of this year, he'd only have two. So far as I know, he should be good to go for next season.


Sun, Mar 27, 2011 : 10:47 p.m.

Thanks M. Roth. for the information and the article. I remember that he was injured. I thought there was some talk of him possibly playing towards the end of this past season but JB ended up keeping him sidelined for his best interest? So I was figuring if he was close to returning at the end of this past year he should definitely be good to go next year. Right? Maybe not? I'm not very familiar with his injury at all though.

Michael Rothstein

Sun, Mar 27, 2011 : 8:34 p.m.

MikeyMike, Right now, Dumars is injured and still coming off the injury going into next year. I think he'll be given a chance to compete but right now he'd be behind Morris, Hardaway, Novak, Douglass and Vogrich at least. He hasn't played in a competitive game since 2009.

Big Wolf

Sun, Mar 27, 2011 : 4:41 p.m.

The key to Michigan next year will be the development of Horford. From what I saw during the he should have gotten more minutes. I would like to see Horford starting over Stu Douglas next year. By the way, why can't JB recruit a true Center?


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 4:30 p.m.

Well, Barcari Alexander was on WTKA the other day and he was talking about how Horford has grown to 6'-10" and is up to 243 pounds. He could easily develop into that true center!


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 10:05 a.m.

Horford had an injury late season also,which held him back a little..imo he has a great upside though,he's going to get bigger,and stronger over the summer/fall,and he is not afraid to mix it up with the big boys in the paint,so look forward to his progress come Oct. GO Blue..


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 12:48 a.m.

Are you not familiar with Beilein's system? He prefers big men who are good passers and can shoot from the outside. Many traditional centers don't fit this mold.


Sun, Mar 27, 2011 : 4:15 p.m.

After watching Darius Morris evolve this past season I don't see how he could split time with Trey. Darius should be the starter and receive the majority of the minutes. Don't get me wrong I am excited to see Trey play and believe he will be an awesome backup for this next year and hopefully learn a lot to take over the team once Darius decides to leave. But if Darius leaves for the NBA this year, then hopefully this youngster can learn quickly and lead UofM to the top of the big ten GO BLUE!!


Sun, Mar 27, 2011 : 3:49 p.m.

His speed on the court reminds me of Ricky Green. Dr. Steve


Sun, Mar 27, 2011 : 1:01 p.m.

Will be interesting to see how Coach B*Line works the chemistry. Morris is not a good enough outside shooter to be the 2. They can split time for awhile but Burke will emerge.


Sun, Mar 27, 2011 : 12:20 p.m.

Very exciting to read about Burke. He's the point guard we've been waiting A LONG time around here for. Morris is good, but at 6-4 has a really high dribble that can get him into trouble. Burke brings sure ball-handling, passing, really good 3 point shooting, and an ability to steal the ball that will really help Michigan.