NOAH TRISTER,AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Trey Burke led Michigan to within a few points of a national title, a stirring finish to his college career that validated his decision to return to the Wolverines for his sophomore season.
Now it’s time to find out what the NBA thought of Burke’s terrific postseason run.
“My leadership skills — I would also say my competitiveness,” Burke said, listing a couple attributes he hopes were particularly noticeable. “I think a lot of teams got a chance to see that in the NCAA tournament.”
Burke enters Thursday night’s draft as perhaps the most recognizable name among the top prospects. He was the AP national player of the year — and he went deeper in the NCAA tournament than other college stars like Georgetown’s Otto Porter and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo.
That doesn’t mean Burke will be one of the first players chosen, but he has every reason to believe he can be a lottery pick, at least.
Burke nearly went to the NBA after his freshman season but decided to stay with the Wolverines. He averaged 18.6 points a game in 2012-13, and his long 3-pointer forced overtime in a regional semifinal victory over Kansas.
Michigan lost to Louisville in the title game, but the 6-foot Burke scored 24 points despite early foul trouble and showed off his athleticism when he leaped high in the air to block Peyton Siva on a Louisville fast break. Burke was called for a foul on the play, but that did little to detract from the spectacular effort.
It was no surprise when Burke decided the time was right to turn pro. He’d done almost everything he set out to do when he came back as a sophomore.
“I think it helped me a lot, maturity-wise, physically and mentally,” Burke said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Burke will need to rely on quickness at the next level, since he’s not as big as some point guards, but in Michigan’s perimeter-oriented offense, he proved he could make good decisions, especially in pick-and-roll situations.
Burke said he’s been in touch with teams like the Orlando Magic (who have the No. 2 pick), Phoenix Suns (No. 5), New Orleans Pelicans (No. 6) and Sacramento Kings (No. 7). He’s also visited with the Detroit Pistons, who pick eighth. Michigan fans might be happy if Burke ends up with the Pistons, but they drafted point guard Brandon Knight a couple years ago.
In fact, several teams with top picks already have young point guards. Cleveland (No. 1) has Kyrie Irving, Washington (No. 3) has John Wall and Charlotte (No. 4) has Kemba Walker.
The Pelicans, two seasons removed from trading Chris Paul, might be interested in Burke. They worked him out this month, along with Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams. New Orleans coach Monty Williams said he thought Burke had put on some muscle since the April 8 national title game.
It will be a big night not just for Burke, but for the Michigan program, which has not produced a first-round draft pick since Jamal Crawford in 2000. Burke is expected to go in the first round and fellow Wolverine Tim Hardaway Jr. could as well.
“They are high-character kids,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “I’m really thrilled for them, because there’s been a lot of sacrifice and dedication in all these families, to get to this point.”
Hardaway is the son of the former NBA player with the same name, and Burke says he’s been keeping up with his Michigan teammate via text message. Together, Burke and Hardaway formed an impressive backcourt that helped Michigan reach its first Final Four since 1993.
The star of that ’93 team, Chris Webber, left Michigan after his sophomore year and was the first player taken in the draft. Now it’s Burke’s turn to learn where his next stop will be.
“I’m excited about it,” Burke said. “I can’t wait to hear my name called.”
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