alternate headline: man does job
trey burke is cooler than a michigan winter in any year but 2012
[Ed (Seth) note: Brian's off today. but Jane Coaston (twitter: @cjane87) has finally written something for this site. Jane is an incredible writer (and an entertaining follow) who spends most of her day making the world better, and probably would have saved it by now if she wasn't so obsessed with college sports]:
He looked so small.
I was looking at Trey Burke in a Utah Jazz uniform at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., and all I could think is, “He looks so damn small.”
When you leave college, you find that the world is big. The world is bigger than Ann Arbor or Michigan or the Big Ten or sports could ever be. It is bigger than Crisler, or this school, or that school, or any school. When you leave college, you have left the biggest little place you will ever be.
You will find that the world is full of a thousand stupid paper cuts. It is full of unspeakable evils, yes, but it is also full of HR managers and disappointing movies and nonexistent reminders for the things you were supposed to do two days ago. You are in debt to someone, probably. You should have cleaned out the back of your fridge in June. Your boss visibly loathes you. And your parents are suddenly old and you don’t remember how that happened. They weren’t old, and now they are, and they will now never not be old again.
Your sophomore year roommate who yelled at you once when you got drunk and threw up in a trash can will get married. The kid who you were convinced would never exist outside of the Brown Jug is now an investment banker in New York; he’s engaged now, too. Much of these changes seem to take place in spurts of activity on Facebook, but sometimes you run into someone you used to know and they’re still them, but a different them. Sometimes they’re so different that you don’t quite know what to say.
Charles Woodson is different now. Tom Brady is different now. Every Michigan player you have ever loved or hated or some bizarre yet totally understandable combination of the two is completely different from the way they were when they played in maize and blue. Trey Burke is different now. He’s playing in the Summer League before his second year in the NBA. He’s 21. He makes $2.4 million dollars a year. And he was roughly 25 feet away from me, playing in front of 13,911 fans on a Wednesday night.
“Are y’all here for Trey Burke? I see all this Michigan stuff and I’m trying to put it together.”
The guy in front of us - who turned out to be a West Virginia grad and friends with Patrick Beilein - turned around to ask us why we were wearing Michigan sweatshirts at a Wizards game. So did the two men next to us, who told us that Michigan-Louisville was the best title game they’d ever seen, and that the upcoming tournament should be a good one. “Good to see y’all representing your university,” one of the men said.
And we weren’t alone. When Trey Burke’s name was announced during warm-ups, at least six people in the area immediately yelled out, “Go Blue!” There were Michigan shirts in every section, Michigan sweatshirts, Michigan basketball jerseys. We had somehow turned an NBA regular season game into the Trey Burke and some other guys and Gortat! Show. This same Wizards team would later go on a mildly improbable playoff run, but on that night in March, we were there for Trey.
Trey Burke is different now, but he’s still Trey Burke. He still got the Steal. He still hit the Shot. The sands of time will turn to glass and the mountains will be made low and Trey Burke will still have put a Michigan team that had barely sniffed the Sweet Sixteen (or hell, the NCAA tournament) for over a decade into the championship game on a run that made me glad I chose to go to devote much of my sanity to the University of Michigan athletics department. I didn’t go to a Wizards game. I went to go see Trey Burke, Michigan player.
Desmond Howard hasn’t worn the winged helmet in 22 years but he will always be diving in the end zone on fourth down for a touchdown. Charles Woodson will be running back a punt on a cold day in November and beating Ohio State with a rose between his teeth for the rest of his life. Denard Robinson will always throw a floating pass to Roy Roundtree, who will fight through pass interference to catch it, and it will always be a touchdown, and we will always win. Maybe it’s strange to hold onto the projections of people like that, but we do it anyway.
Things change, and it’s terrifying. Our offensive line is literally one giant question mark. Michigan’s athletic department makes decisions that make me uncomfortable. I am not doing what I want to be doing with my life and I spend a lot of time trying to not think about that.
But Trey still beat Kansas.
The State of Our Thing With State. Since the Rose Bowl there's been a palpable "I don't wanna talk about it" feel on the board with regard to the in-state rival. The coaching carousel came and went without whisking Narduzzi or Dantonio to someplace that doesn't have polar vortexes every other week, and the latest is they're the presumed leader for McDowell, which would be exactly the kind of straight-up, in-state recruiting win they haven't had yet vs. Hoke.
During the conference makeover meetings last fall—you know, where the principles were told to make divisions that keep the rivalries intact but were not allowed to do the obvious thing and leave Rutgers and Maryland out of it—MSU successfully lobbied to host our game on even years, which is going to be incredibly annoying when Minnesota is our most interesting home game, and even more annoying when we have to visit East Lansing a second season in a row. That after the coldest, wettest, darkest, most miserable sporting event in human history, when all good things in the world—Michigan's season, your soul, Gardner's ribs, etc.—were obliterated, and the trolls pranced around the parking lot shouting MLive comments to each other, and it was called wisdom.
|I expect they'll show up with "You were worked" t-shirts tomorrow. How dumb are Michigan's slogan t-shirts? They make the Izzone seem clever.|
At Michigan State they teach that insolence is the highest form of expression. The last time we played them at Breslin the Izzone showed up with the perfect mockery of those arrogant shirts Adidas made during the non-conference sweep. And if that message didn't put the Fightin' Dave Brandons in our place, an all-encompassing 75-52 exposure did the trick. Until then Michigan's losses on the season were a couple of close-ish, badly officiated, bad-luck-sort affairs at OSU, Indiana, and, just three days earlier, Wisconsin.
Some people called the blowout in East Lansing a Tuesday-turnaround throwaway and moved on; these people are not surrounded by Spartans every day of their lives. For me, if it had rained freezing water droplets containing bits of Gardner's sternum rather than Gary Harris three-pointers, it wouldn't have felt much different.
Of course the last time we played in basketball was March 3rd at Crisler, when Stauskas bleeding profusely from Branden Dawson's elbow promised to be your lasting image of the season. Then Trey Burke pilfered one, and scored, and slapped the floor, and then stole another to seal a one-point victory, and burned a completely different set of images onto our memories.
This week their QB recruit from Cass Tech (whom a year ago a lot of people on the board wanted to be our QB recruit) bodyslammed one of his high school security guards. And we played their mediocre hockey team last night at the Joe, and won 2-1 on PDG's goal at 17:42 in the 3rd, and had a posbang thread for it. These are small things, yet received greater attention because the horrific events of late 2013 are still fresh.
Their basketball team started as everybody's favorite 1-seed, and is currently No. 3 in the nation. But that's just because the last guys they called No. 3 got knocked off at home by the same Michigan team that visits on Saturday. LSA says Michigan's shooting the lights out since conference play began. Brian says because we beat Iowa and Wisconsin that tomorrow is house money. I'm telling you it doesn't feel like that.
More Best of the Board
SIGNS OF OUR TIMES
College Gameday will be at Breslin tomorrow, and that means a thread to brainstorm ideas for signs. Some good 'uns:
- "I DON'T PARTICULARLY CARE FOR YOU PEOPLE"
- "EAST LANSING IS A WOMAN OF NEGOTIABLE AFFECTION" (r.i.p. MGoShirt)
- "SAY 'NOT JUST A SHOOTER!'"
- "QUEME LOS BARCOS; QUEME LOS SOFAS" (r.i.p. other MGoShirt)
- "BEAT STAEE"
- "THIS SIGN GOT INTO MICHIGAN BUT CHOSE TO GO TO STATE"
- "MSU MATH: TWO OF SIX = DOMINATING"
- "LET'S ARGUE ABOUT WHO WAS BORN FIRST"
IF YOU SPONSOR, WE WILL COME
We finally did some live events last year and every one turned out better than my expectations. I've been chatting with several former players with charities worth getting together for. Anyway I'd like to do these again this year and am open to venue suggestions, either in cities with a large contingent of MGoReaders over the summer (not New York or D.C. since we already do those), or at football away games. Mostly I need somebody on the ground in your town, or a connection to a company who'd like to sponsor these in various places across their footprint so we can keep them free.
ETC. Discussion on Walton's defense. Guy who met Fran McCaffery obviously didn't do so during a basketball game. Detroit Lions get a t-shirt for participation (this was a Bears fan's job but replace the kitten with Bubbles and I'd wear it to Ford Field totally). Michigan's new president is being announced right now. Morgan appreciation. Burke eviscerating the Pistons #FIREDUMARS. Brandon Brown recruiting updates on QBs Nick Johns and Jarrett Stidham, and RB Johnny Frasier. Hart changes directions. Preferred walk-on commit (kicker/punter).
Your Moment of Zen:
We live in a world that has been largely demystified. We've done a pretty good job of mapping all of the uncharted lands. We have located the Higgs Boson. We have mastered fire and sequenced the human genome. And while there are many things in our world that we do not know, we chalk less and less up to the "unknowable." We give our superheroes gritty reboots to show how they could realistically exist in the world we inhabit. Reality TV has all but replaced the scripted show. Even magic has fallen victim; instead of David Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty disappear, David Blaine sits in a glass box for a week and holds his breath for 15 minutes, as if to say, "we all know the physical parameters of this world, so watch me strain against them." The illusion of the supernatural is gone. We are left with merely the unexpected.
It is no surprise, I suppose, that sports have followed suit. We scoff at announcers and commentators who pretend that a thing called "momentum" exists as a causal force separate from the game itself. These mystics see "Team A is currently playing better than Team B" as a sign that Team A is being pushed forward by an invisible yet irresistible hand. The Skip Baylesses of the world insist there is a "clutch gene" which, based on my limited understanding of genetics, is the only gene that can spontaneously appear and disappear based on one’s athletic performance on a given night. Lebron wasn't clutch until he was. Tom Brady was clutch until he wasn't, then he was again, but now he isn't. NBA players develop reputations based on incredibly small sample sizes of high-variation events, all in the name of the almighty narrative.
We modernists see these explanations for what they are: crutches. It's much easier to attribute success to intangible forces than to either find and analyze the underlying reasons or to acknowledge the role of luck and chance. You’ll never hear a commentator say, “sometimes good players miss makeable shots” or “sometimes an average player can do something great.” That isn’t satisfying, but that’s life. We want more, but sometimes there isn’t more.
So when a game like Friday's Michigan-Kansas comes along, every fiber of my rational brain tries to tell me, "these things happen." There was no voodoo. The space-time continuum did not yield just this once to the will of Trey Burke. He took a series of low-percentage shots, and he made them. I mean, look at those four shots. Trey Burke is a 38% 3-point shooter. The odds of him making three NORMAL triples in a row are about 5%. The odds of making those four shots? A 20-foot hesitation pull-up, two 27-footers, and a 30-footer? No "will to win" or "grit" or any of the hundred other clichés you can come up with can make a player capable of reliably making those shots. He got lucky, I tell myself. It was awesome and amazing and a feat of incredible skill and talent that likely won't be repeated in the near future, but it was a fluke nonetheless. “Sometimes when you’re on” and whatnot.
But I've watched the last few minutes of regulation and the first few minutes of overtime a half-dozen times. Each time I've tried to make myself believe that this is just something that happens sometimes. And each time I have failed. At this point I’m willing to swallow the clichés. Trey Burke wanted it more. He had the will to win. He put the team on his shoulders. He made the damn Statue of Liberty disappear. Don't try to tell me how he did it, or if HE did it or whether it was just one of those things that happen. Just this once I am willing to believe my eyes. Lady Liberty is gone. All that remains is Trey Burke pointing at the empty night sky.
The rote play-by-play of those four minutes hardly does his work justice, but it is illustrative.
- Burke forces a ten-second violation.
- Burke penetrates, draws in Withey and dishes to McGary for an easy lay-in.
- Burke hits a long 3.
- Burke drives for a layup.
- Burke hits The Trey.
- Burke hits a long three.
- Burke hits a long two.
That's 13 points, an assist, and a forced turnover in four minutes. He was good before and after that (he scored 23 in the second half and overtime), but those were really the magical minutes. And from a purely statistical standpoint, they were outstanding. But for those who watched the game, it was simultaneously more impressive and completely unsurprising. There's a reason Josh Bartelstein was celebrating when the ball was still in the air, and it is the same reason you felt so good when it left his hand. You've seen him do ridiculous things all year. You have experienced those moments where you both scoffed at his shot selection and laughed because you knew it would fall. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t shot the ball very well for the first 38 minutes, or that he was taking a contested shot from an improbable distance under impossible circumstances. When he released that ball, I’m willing to bet most of you reacted not with a prayer but with an unspoken “watch this.” Bartelstein knew. Bill Self knew. We knew.
Michigan fans also recognize this feeling because they have experienced its opposite many, many times. In the cold recesses of every Michigan fan's consciousness is that collective moment where Evan Turner and Josh Gasser and Kalin Lucas and Ben Brust hold an arm extended as they send a dagger straight into the souls of those helpless onlookers. There was the moment where you, like the audience in a Greek tragedy, knew the hero's fate before he did. You knew those shots were gonna drop. But for one day, Michigan finally had the deus ex machina on our side. By the time Trey hit that long pull-up two, all of your normal thoughts about ‘good shots’ were replaced by your inner Lou Brown telling Ricky to forget about the curveball and throw him the heater. We hastily scribbled a caveat to the “death to long twos” mandate (and all of the other strictures of proper basketball etiquette) that says, “...unless Trey is doing his thing, in which case, just… just watch this.”
Make no mistake; the game was not a one-man show. Michigan doesn't win that game if Mitch McGary doesn't play the game of his young life despite being punched in the groin for no particular reason. GRIII made an impossible layup from eleven feet under the basket and hit two huge free throws late. Stauskas and Hardaway had solid games. Even Jordan Morgan was there to challenge what would have been a game tying layup at the end of overtime. But that night will rightfully be remembered for Trey Burke. For a few brief minutes he made everyone believe he could do anything. If Michigan needed a four-pointer to tie, he would have made it happen. If the lights went out, he could bring them back up. If that impossibly large scoreboard came crashing down, you get the feeling he would simply shrug and say, "nah, that's cool, I'll carry this too."
Can everyone see this? Good. You’ll like this part (AP)
Brian is right that The Trey is going to be replayed during every NCAA tournament from now to the end of time, and rightfully so. It was one of the most remarkable single moments in recent tournament memory. But my lament is that it will be remembered simply as that moment. Everyone remembers the shots of Christian Laettner and Bryce Drew and Lorenzo Charles, but their shots are remembered in isolation. Trey Burke’s night was more than one glorious bomb. It was an individual effort that both encapsulates his season and made us feel for a brief moment that the gods were on our side.
Michigan fans have been incredibly fortunate to be able to watch Trey Burke do his thing this year, and among the many reasons I am so glad he did what he did against Kansas is that the basketball world got a taste of what we’ve been watching. On the biggest stage, Trey did what we have come to expect. He was unflappable. He was remarkably talented. He was clutch. We may have grown spoiled by this consistent excellence, and it will probably only be after Trey leaves that we will fully appreciate what we all just saw. In the meantime, though, Trey doesn’t seem to be done. He’s got a few more tricks up his sleeve, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss them.
Someone just make sure that he returns the statue before he leaves.
By ubiquitous request, we present tonight's commemorative unit of fashionable upper body apparel. (UPDATE: Those waiting on the store link to order your shirt, be patient. It's off the hook in there. UPDATE UPDATE: now working.)
It was someone's birthday. Someone who'd been really good this year. We had the grandkids over and had pizza and chicken wings. But the pizza was cold. And they forgot the wings (They usually have such great wings).
We thought about calling it a night—there will be another birthday next year—but then Trey...Trey said "Let's get subs!"
But it was far away, the place with the subs. Really far away. Like past the county line and closer to the state border than the edge of the arc. But that kid, he just went and delivered the subs. One after another: bologna and ham; three-salami and roast beef with provolone; turkey, swiss, mortadella and capacolla on cracked whole wheat, no tomato. Every order went down. And suddenly there we were…
Let me tell you, it was quite a night. We even made t-shirts!
WE HAD SUBS IT WAS CRAZY OH MY GOD IS THIS REAL HERE ARE SOME MUPPETS
and you can't have one without the other...
Survive multiple heart attacks and advance, baby.
Trey Burke doesn't have to prove anything to anyone anymore. If he doesn't win national player of the year, it'll be an upset. NBA types are scrambling over each other to draft him in the top ten despite his lack of stature. He picked up the baton left by Darius Morris and jammed Michigan forward into its first Sweet 16 in almost 20 years. (Turnovers be damned!) As a freshman he was the best player on a team that broke an even longer Big Ten title drought. Trey Burke must find internal motivation these days; haterz are thin on the ground.
If Michigan goes out against shot-swatting Jeff Withey and his band of athletic freaks, oh well. Vegas has figured it and pegs the Jayhawks as favorites; Kenpom has Michigan by one, basically a pick 'em. If Michigan's run ends here that won't reflect poorly on Burke. Like Denard Robinson, Burke's done all he can do in this town.
Unlike Denard, all of his limbs are still working, and if things break right mosaic artists in southeast Michigan are going to be living large for a while. With the potential for a tourney upset past, Burke's at the same point Shawn Hunwick was last year when his .932 save percentage saw Michigan into the hockey tourney as a top seed. The options now are: great or the greatest.
As always, merely great is the heavy favorite. The gauntlet Michigan has to run reads something like Kansas-Florida-Syracuse-Louisville. We are entering the Super Meat Boy Warp Zone portion of the tourney.
Michigan, unfortunately, cannot respawn.
I don't think these things weigh on Burke. When you can remember the one blistering sequence at Ohio State where Burke was rattled and a detriment—remember the gravity-shift terror of the new universe you found yourself in—that says more about his base state of being than any step-back jumper you care to name. There's a tag on this here blog about it. Trey Burke is more of an emoticon than any other point guard I've experienced, and it's this one:
He does things that make pinwheels explode from Mitch McGary's head with the laconic coolness of Death harvesting a plague-ridden city. Also my head, Mitch McGary being a low bar to clear in the realm of cranial pinwheel explosions*. It wouldn't be a huge surprise if he turned out to be a robot.
He's got a tough job tonight. Kansas runs out a pile of swarming, long, experienced athletes. If you get past the first guy, this guy lurks:
Even though Burke should get 20 minutes against 5'11" Naadir Tharpe nothing's coming easy. Michigan needs Trey Burke to make it look like it, though, to glide to that spot on the baseline he takes his leaner from, to toss his hot-potato floater over Withey's outstretched fingers, to pull up at the top of the key and fire in a three, to push any sliver of a fast break.
One game doesn't define a player, especially one who'll be running an NBA team for the next decade. Burke's just adding exclamation points after his name at this juncture. We're about to hit the exponential part of the curve, though.
x = games into tourney; y = burke apotheosis points
My preferred Burke exclamation point count comes with scientific notation. Screw Mudville, let's do this.
*[OH MY GOD HUMMUS IS 50 CENTS OFF /does cartwheels into banana display]