April 15, 2013 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Trey Burke's decision to leave Michigan is well-timed move

Ann Arbor -- Trey Burke left a significant mark, which naturally means he leaves a significant void. He helped forge the newest era of Michigan basketball, and if you look closely, his impact wasn't limited to the floor.

He ended up representing both sides of the college-versus-pro debate — he put off his pro ambitions a year ago, then went out and turned that smart decision into this one.

Burke is headed to the NBA, right after he's done traveling the country to collect all of his awards. John Beilein and pretty much everyone knew this was coming, which made Sunday's announcement relatively upbeat. Burke was flanked by his teammates and the basketball staff, less than a week after losing a hotly contested national championship game to Louisville, 82-76.

Beilein and his assistants have work to do, but while the job gets tougher — replacing someone as great as Burke — the job also gets easier, as Michigan's basketball imprint grows. And as three other Wolverines — junior Tim Hardaway Jr. and freshmen Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary — watched Burke's farewell, you wonder what they saw.

Is the moment right for them to turn pro, too? Or is this the moment Burke felt last year, when he contemplated the jump, stayed and raised his stock tremendously? All situations are different, but a leap to the NBA shouldn't be a blind leap of faith.

That was Burke's thinking then, and now he departs as one of the most decorated Michigan players ever. It provides perspective for Hardaway Jr., Robinson III and McGary, who stood to the side without speaking Sunday. Beilein said he was using the NBA advisory board to collect data for them, and expected they'd be sifting through it a bit longer, leading up to the April 28 deadline.

In college basketball, you expect the unexpected, and accept the expected. Beilein just lost his best player and could lose one, two or three more, but there's no sense fretting about it.

"With the college rules, it's inevitable, so we have no other choice but to embrace it," Beilein said.

"You try to guide young men through it and treat everyone like you would your own children. Everyone is different."

Program is solid

So how do you replace the irreplaceable? It will be difficult, but Beilein likes what freshman guard Spike Albrecht provided, and eagerly awaits touted incoming freshman Derrick Walton Jr.

If not for the blossoming of others, some might argue Michigan's 31-8 season was all about Burke. But it's clear now there's a solid program in place that develops talent, which means for every reason to jump, Burke's experience might give teammates a reason to stay.

I asked him if his decision could impact his teammates' options.

"It may, it may not," Burke said. "I talk to them and they're still trying to get feedback. It's not a decision you can just make in one day. Leaving this family is tough. When I first came here, I was just a skinny freshman that didn't really know much, but I learned a lot in just two years."

The last time this happened, the Wolverines weren't prepared for it. Two years ago, Darius Morris unexpectedly left after his sophomore season, and Beilein's sudden scramble led him to Burke. That was a bit lucky — Burke originally committed to Penn State — but it also showed, given the right opportunity and responsibility, young players can flourish here.

A template for future

If no one else goes pro, Michigan is a top-10 team again next season. If one more goes, it would still be a good team. If three go, well, the Wolverines had better hope Walton Jr. seizes his opportunity like Burke did. Frankly, I think the NBA feedback will be ambiguous enough to nudge Robinson III and McGary to stay and work on their games, but who knows?

"There's no need for nervousness," Michigan assistant Bacari Alexander said. "Trey Burke's decision is more of a reason for celebration.

"I think there's an opportunity for other guys to use his process as a template for future decisions. Trey did a tremendous job of gathering information and making educated decisions with the people he trusts."

Burke admitted that every Tournament victory, every positive step, made his decision clearer. It also helped he'd gone through the exploratory process a year ago, and used it to improve his game.

This is how the big boys play, and Michigan must play it correctly to stay on the big-boy playground. Beilein reiterated he'd recruit a "one-and-done" player if the kid was totally committed. At this level, there are unforeseen consequences, and if Beilein and his staff keep developing young players, this won't be the last April news conference they ever hold.

"After our research with the NBA, Trey knew what he had to work on," Beilein said. "He came back with a fire in his belly, and there wasn't one time I felt he was playing for the NBA, not playing for Michigan. He had that incredible competitive edge. There's a reason he's a special player — they don't come along all the time."

When they do come along, they often don't stay very long. And sometimes, they stay just long enough to leave an indelible mark.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com

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Michigan sophomore point guard Trey Burke announces he will enter the NBA draft. / Tony Ding/Associated Press
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