Had Michigan guard Trey Burke followed in his father’s college path he still might have been playing for a national championship this season.
In Division II, for a Missouri school.
Can you imagine, Burke sporting the green and white for Northwest Missouri State?
No, Burke didn’t consider playing for the Bearcats out of high school, although he was under-recruited for a player who in his sophomore season is rounding up nearly every national player of the year award and has led the Wolverines into Monday night’s NCAA championship game against Louisville.
Burke’s dad, Benji, played for Northwest and earned All-MIAA honors in both of his seasons there. The Bearcats also won a league championship in Burke’s junior season.
Benji was a defensive specialist and flashed back to his days against the likes of Central Missouri and Washburn when he saw Michigan seal a home victory over Michigan State late in the season with his son’s steal and dunk.
“That was me in college,” said Benji Burke. “That kind of play, that was my strength.”
So much so that Benji Burke, in 1989-90, set the Northwest record for steals in a season with 80, a mark that now stands second on the list. He made second-team All-MIAA that season, after being named honorable mention the previous year.
Trey Burke said his dad often refers to those college days when he helped shape his game as youth and AAU coach growing up in Columbus, Ohio.
“He told me I’d never beat him one on one, and it pushed me every day,” Burke said. “He was definitely a defensive guy, and I’ve learned from him. I don’t think I get enough credit on the defensive end.”
But Burke doesn’t lack national profile. He’s won the Wooden and Oscar Robertson Awards as the nation’s top player and was named AP player of the year over the last few days.
He’s guided the Wolverines into their first NCAA title game since 1993 and was the South Region’s most outstanding player after Michigan defeated Kansas and Florida.
His 28-footer that sent the Kansas game into overtime stands as one of the highlights of the NCAA Tournament. But that wasn’t Benji Burke’s game in college.
“I shot it good, but not like him,” Benji Burke said. “And he’s a more heady player than I was. He’s just a better ball player.”
Trey Burke was a high school teammate of future Ohio State star Jared Sullinger and played on an AAU team with another future Buckeye, Aaron Craft. Burke wanted to play for Ohio State, but he didn’t receive the same recruiting attention as his teammates, and his only Big Ten offer came from Penn State.
Burke accepted the offer, but he decommitted and singed with Michigan. Odd that a Columbus player and Ohio State fan would end up in Ann Arbor, but somehow Michigan fans are in a forgiving mood these days.
Size was an issue for Burke, who played as a 5-11 point in high school. He’s listed at 6 feet now.
“I always kind of used it as a chip on my shoulder,” Trey Burke said.
Benji Burke also experienced a recruiting re-route. He signed to play at Youngstown State but didn’t quality and attended Northeast Oklahoma A&M, a two-year school, in 1987-88. After a year he transferred to Northwest, where the school was still a few years away from becoming a perennial Division II football power.
In Maryville, Burke not only became part of Coach Steve Tappmeyer’s first recruiting class but he met his wife, Ronda. She had lived in Kansas City the previous few years, attending Ruskin High.
Burke said he and Tappmeyer, now the coach at University of Missouri St. Louis, communicate regularly, and he keeps up with old Bearcats teammates.
“It was a great time of my life,” Burke said. “A lot of positive things happened for me then.”
Things dad was able to pass on to son.