Sometimes it Comes Down to Will
In sports it is often said that some players are able to “will” a team to victory. It’s that intangible quality that a big-timer has to put a team on his back and make whatever plays necessary to get his team the win. Trey Burke willed his team to victory over Michigan State Sunday. The sophomore point guard has been a lethal scorer all season, but it was his defense that saved the game down the stretch. Two big steals cinched it for the Maize & Blue... the first of which – his clean swipe of Keith Appling that led to a breakaway slam with 22 seconds left – will go down in rivalry lore.
“I knew that they were going to try to hold for last shot,” Burke said recounting the memorable play. “I could pretty much tell that everyone was kind of nervous. I really wasn’t pressuring as hard as I felt like I could the whole game, so I felt like one time he may slip up, and he did. I tried to turn him as many times as possible. The one time I did turn him, he kept the ball out so I just went after it. If I was going to miss it, then I was going to be out of the play.”
“I’m looking to see if he’s either going left or right. If he’s coming up with the ball straight toward me then I know that I can’t really try to turn him, but he was going left. I knew that he was going to try to turn back right to get the play started once he got all the way pretty much to the sideline, I thought he was going to call time out at first, but he didn’t. He kept running the play. As soon as he turned, he kept the ball in his right hand. When he turned back this way, he kept the ball in his right hand. I was still right there, and I just shot the gap, got the steal.”
More than bragging rights were on the line Sunday. A team’s confidence was teetering as well, and Burke knew it. That’s why the aforementioned play all the more sweet.
“I think that’s number one (on his list of defensive stops) just because I’ve had a lot of those types of steals, but I think our team needed that the most at that time,” he explained. “Who knows what would have happened if I wouldn’t have gotten that steal. Maybe we’d be crushed here and they’d hit a game winning shot, so I felt like it was my job to try to make a play for the team.”
Growth in Leadership
Burke has always shown a willingness take the difficult shot. This year he added consistent encouragement of his teammates to his leadership arsenal. As the season has progressed he has added the necessary and often most difficult leadership element to his repertoire -- holding others as accountable as he holds himself.
“I just kept reminding them (during the Michigan State game) what we talked about in our last meeting,” said Burke. “I think it was critical that we had that last meeting after the crushing loss to Penn State. We pretty much were just talking about playing with intensity throughout the whole game, playing tougher than what we’ve been playing. We knew that Michigan State was going to come in and try to bully us, but (if) we held our ground, played smarter down the stretch, then we’d have a shot to win the game. I just kept telling them to stick together out there. If somebody falls down, then somebody else has to step up. A shot goes up, find a man and put a body on them. We have to find a way to win the game.”
“We had a couple meetings before that that involved the coaches. We felt like we needed to stop having meetings. We need to have one last meeting, really just talk about holding each other accountable. The most important (thing) to us is playing with more intensity. We knew that our name, Michigan basketball, a lot of people are saying that we’re not tough and stuff like that, but tonight we didn’t look that way, and I think from here on out, we all made a vow that – just come out and play with toughness for 40 minutes.”
According to Michigan headman, John Beilein, Burke’s maturation as a leader can’t be emphasized enough.
“I continue to see it every day. There were some times today where he should have just shot the ball in, but he knew the point was get the ball in the paint… drive it at them. Sometimes he was open and he still tried to drive it at them. But what was he doing? He was following exactly what the coaches wanted to do. He is becoming a better extension of the coaching staff every day. It has been huge for us. Huge for us.”
Still Work to Do
Now in a four-way tie for second place in the conference… with at best a share of the regular season title, and at worst a shot at advantageous seeding in both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments on the line… Burke is not going to let his team rest on its laurels.
“It’s a new month. Last month was our toughest month all year, so we know what our flaws are (and) we know how to fix (them),” he said. “Everything that we’re messing up on are all controllables. This win is definitely big. Like I said, we have two tough games coming up, but I think we’ll be ready for it.”
“We know that we have a good Purdue team (on Wednesday). We’re going to West Lafayette… they just beat a good Wisconsin team today, so it’s definitely big. (The Michigan State victory) is going to give us some momentum going into Purdue, and playing here (against Indiana) on senior night.”
To watch the full video interview with Burke, press play below.