trey burke

by DeMarco Williams / @demarcowill

When Michigan star point guard Trey Burke is asked to name the NBA players he tries to model his game after, Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul come up. What do all three of those All-NBA guards have in common? Not one of them knows what it feels like to put a bewildered university on his shoulders and guide it back to national prominence. But Burke does.

“This program hasn’t been this far in two decades,” says Burke, a native of Columbus, OH, who led UM to the Championship game as a sophomore. “Just to be back in this situation definitely means the world to the alumni, and it means the world to us. Last year when I came back, I announced to the media that I wanted to compete for a National Championship. A lot of people looked at me like I was crazy.”

If you watched any of Michigan this past season, you already know that the 6-1 late bloomer—he was not offered a scholarship from Ohio State, the school he grew up around the way from—isn’t crazy…just crazy skilled. He’s gutsy in the lane (166 free-throws attempted as a sophomore), polished with the pass (a school-record 260 assists this year) and big when it matters (YouTube him). Maybe he does have something in common with Parker, Rondo and Paul after all.

On the season, the 20-year-old averaged 18.6 ppg, 6.7 apg, 3.2 rpg and 1.6 spg. In the process, he became the first Wolverine to win the Wooden Award as the best college player. “My teammates and coaching staff put me in this position,” says Burke, who also snagged AP POY honors and the Oscar Robertson Trophy. “I wouldn’t be able to receive those awards without them. I wouldn’t even be in the talk.”

After the heartbreaking title loss to Louisville, Burke could have easily deflected questions about the game and instead entertained ones about his bright NBA future that, after declaring for the Draft, is set to begin in June. But he didn’t. “I still haven’t been able to really grasp it, really,” Burke says. “I’ve had a good career so far, but I think this would have been the icing on the cake. To not be able to get it done as a team hurts me personally. I wanted to win this bad.”