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Michigan’s Burke stays focused on Syracuse

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ATLANTA — Trey Burke’s trophy case and pro potential are growing by the day. But the talented Michigan sophomore point guard dismissed Friday any thoughts about individual accolades until his Wolverines achieve their ultimate goal, winning a national championship.

“My teammates and coaches have made me who I am,” Burke said Friday, only hours after receiving the prestigious Wooden Award emblematic of the top player in the country. “I share anything I’ve won with them. But it’s irrelevant to talk about things like that, or the NBA, with such an important game ahead of us.”

Burke said his entire focus is on Syracuse, which stands in the way of the school’s first championship appearance since 1993.

“When we win, then I can talk about all that other stuff,” Burke said. “Right now, I’m more concerned about attacking Syracuse’s zone than anything else.”

Burke was not a top national recruit when he signed with Michigan out of Northland High School in Columbus, Ohio. He was more well-known as the teammate of Jared Sullinger, the Ohio State All-American forward now playing for the Boston Celtics.

“I did have kind of a chip on my shoulder because I wasn’t recruited that hard,” he said. “That made me work harder and helped me build confidence.”

Coach John Beilein threw Burke immediately into the fire almost by necessity, handing him the point guard spot as a true freshman.

“Darius Morris had left early for the NBA, and Trey was our only point guard recruit,” Beilein said. “But we seemed to read each other right from the start, and he made a lot of early deposits in my trust bank. Now we have so much mutual respect for each other because the kid works harder than anybody I’ve ever coached.”

Burke said he learned essential leadership skills from veterans Zach Novak and Stu Douglas last season. “They taught me how to be the voice of the team, and to earn my teammates ultimate respect,” he said.

He also said the only pressure he feels being so highly honored “is the pressure I put on myself. Once you hit the court, you’re just a basketball player. And you have to keep proving yourself every day.”

MCNAMARA’S ADVICE

Ten years ago, then freshman Gerry McNamara helped lead Syracuse to its only national championship.

Now a valued assistant coach with the Orange, GMac has given the current Orange players a sense of perspective on the pressure, the pitfalls and the expectations a Final Four can put on a young kid experiencing it for the first time.

“First of all, you have to enjoy the entire experience,” McNamara said. “It goes by so fast, sometimes you forget that it’s just a game and that you’re a part of such a huge event.”

Secondly, McNamara implored the SU players “to play like the next game is your last. Do everything you can to make sure that the season lasts at least one more game.”

As for the pressure involved in such an event, McNamara said he was “as nervous as any player could be” before shining on college basketball’s biggest stage. “But I channeled it into motivation and relaxation. I know that’s hard to do, but you have to keep telling yourself it’s just another game.”

SU senior James Southerland said he has taken McNamara’s advice to heart. “Coach Mac knows how to respond to the limelight because he’s been through it,” Southerland said. “Just hearing him talk about it gives me a sense of calm that hopefully will carry over to this weekend on the court.”

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