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Burke's return boosts Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - For about three weeks, Michigan fans wondered whether Trey Burke was going to turn pro.

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If he did, the Wolverines would enter this season with a major hole to fill. If Burke stayed, Michigan would be among the favorites for the Big Ten title - and possibly an extended NCAA tournament run.

There didn't seem to be any middle ground.

Burke decided to put off the NBA and remain with the Wolverines, and sure enough, his team enters the season with high expectations. With Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan also back - and a highly touted recruiting class arriving - Michigan looks ready to contend for another conference crown after sharing the title last season.

``I'm pumped,'' Burke said. ``I'm really excited. The level of talent we have, I'm excited to see how far we can go.''

When Burke arrived last season, the Wolverines were trying to replace another star point guard after Darius Morris left for the NBA. Michigan didn't miss a beat. Burke was Michigan's scoring leader and provided an additional threat from 3-point range.

He looked comfortable in coach John Beilein's offense from the start, and his quickness made him a candidate to turn pro after only one season in college.

But after weighing his options, Burke announced he was staying - and suddenly the Wolverines looked like they could be loaded for this coming season.

``It was a hectic process, but I've been settled for a couple months now,'' Burke said Wednesday at Michigan's media day. ``We're ready for practice to start.''

Michigan finished tied for first in the Big Ten, and although the Wolverines need to replace Zack Novak, Stu Douglass and Evan Smotrycz from last season's team, there's talk they could be even better now.

Burke says he worked on strengthening his lower body in the offseason. He's now listed at 6 feet, 190 pounds.

``I haven't put on that much weight,'' Burke said. ``I probably put on about two or three pounds, but I definitely can feel the difference.''

Burke averaged over 36 minutes a game last season, which indicates how hard he would have been to replace. He's indispensable in Beilein's system, which has been perimeter oriented over the years and involves plenty of 3-point attempts.

``He's involved in so many ball screens, and he's got the ball so much,'' Beilein said. ``The point guard has to be in a similar kind of shape I guess to a middle linebacker ... a running back who's running it 40 times a game.''

There weren't many weaknesses in Burke's game in 2011-12, and with another year of experience he might look even more comfortable when he takes the court this season.

The Wolverines may have a slightly different look. Freshman Mitch McGary gives Michigan another option inside, and the team as a whole may be able to do more damage in transition now.

``Last year, we weren't really as athletic as we are this year,'' Burke said. ``I think we're going to be a half-court team, but I think we're going to be able to get out and run more.''

Burke is impressive in transition, and Hardaway can also get out on the break. At 6-foot-8, forward Jordan Morgan runs very well for a big man.

Burke's return gives the Wolverines all sorts of options, and if he can build on his impressive freshman season, Michigan could have its best team in quite some time. Now a savvy sophomore, Burke has been working hard to prepare - and his teammates have noticed.

``Just being a smarter player,'' Morgan said. ``I know he's definitely put a focus on just trying to find his teammates, and I think just having a deeper understanding of the offense.''

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2016
The Associated Press
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