Nov. 25, 2011
By Joanne C. Gerstner
University of Michigan men's basketball freshman guard Trey Burke wants to work on a very special skill this basketball season. It's an art form, developed over many days of playing, to close your ears to the taunts of fans but keep your hearing open to your coaches and teammates.
Burke's selective sense of hearing will need to be quite sharp when he goes back home to Columbus, Ohio, on Jan. 29 to play Ohio State. Friends and family will be in the stands, but only some will be cheering for Burke over the Buckeyes. He's undergone a big conversion in the last year, from an Ohio State fan and Ohio's 2011 Mr. Basketball, to now bleeding Maize and Blue.
"Coach Beilein asked me if I had gotten rid of everything green or red when I started school, and I answered, `Yes, sir,'" Burke said. "All that red stuff and Ohio is in the past. My closet is blue, my heart is blue and Michigan is my home now. But don't tell my friends that, they probably won't want to hear it."
Some outsiders probably assumed Burke would end up at Ohio State, given that his former Northland High teammates Jared Sullinger and J.D. Weatherspoon star for the Buckeyes. But Burke wanted to blaze his own path, and it ended up being the road leading away from Ohio State and toward its biggest rival. He took a visit to Michigan's campus when he was in high school, and made up his mind.
"I got it pretty bad at home when I said I was going to Michigan," Burke said. "People I went to school with were teasing me, telling me they're going to enjoy watching Ohio State beat me bad, stuff like that. I got called a traitor -- and worse. I took some pretty big hits.
"It's a matter of when I go back home, everybody around me is an Ohio State fan, they can't understand why somebody would want to go to Michigan."
And that's where Burke's evolving selective hearing kicks in. He's learning to tune out the Buckeye nay-sayers, one at a time.
"In Columbus, people knew who I was because of high school, and everybody feels like they've got to say something about me and Michigan," Burke said. "It's totally the opposite up here, I don't see that going on at all. You got to hang in there down in Columbus, because they live and die with Ohio State. Football's not having a good year, so everybody pretty much is looking at basketball season.
"For all the people giving me a hard time, I don't take it personally. But I can't wait to play Ohio State twice and tell them Go Blue."
Burke grew up loving Ohio State football but wasn't a fan of the basketball team. He admits that he hated seeing the football team lose, putting him in an angry funk for a bit. Things have changed now, as Burke is throwing his support behind the Michigan football team.
"I can't stand them now, the Ohio State football team," Burke said. "I've got a few friends who play for the Buckeyes, and I hope they do fine, but as for the team -- no way."
Burke's family in Columbus isn't shy about letting their neighbors know that they have a Michigan basketball player in the house.
"Oh my gosh, they're flying Michigan banners, my grandma has one of those, my Mom has a Michigan license plate border," Burke said. "You can see my mom on Facebook, putting up all these shoutouts to Michigan, and then the Ohio State friends come back and give her a hard time about it in fun."
Burke wants to use his enthusiasm for the big rivalry to get him pumped up for the game in Columbus and one in Ann Arbor on Feb. 18. But he knows keeping a calm head, and a finely tuned ear, will be most important.
"I am going to remind myself this is fun, I'm playing against my high school buddies, against Ohio State, and oh, how I want to win in the end," Burke said. "That's the name of the game for me -- beat Ohio State."
Michigan/Ohio State Rivalry
Cheryl Stacy: Trading in the Scarlet & Gray for the Maize & Blue
Michael O'Neill: A Buckeye, Yankee Fan Makes the Move to Ann Arbor
Leisa Rosen: From Wasilla to Columbus to Ann Arbor
Carmen Reynolds: Converting a Closet from Red to Blue