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January 11, 2013The Michigan basketball team views this weekend as a trip to Columbus - but for two Wolverines, it will mean just a little bit more.
Sophomore point guard Trey Burke and freshman guard Caris LeVert are both Columbus natives. And although they don't need much motivation to get hyped up for a road test against a bitter rival, they're both looking forward to playing in front of some familiar faces.
"I'm excited to go back home and play in front of my home town, in front of a lot of people that don't get to see me play up at Michigan," Burke said in a teleconference Friday. "It should be fun. I was really excited last year. Unfortunately we lost, but it should be just as exciting going in there and playing Ohio State this year.
"Caris is really excited, too. He is in the situation I was last here. He doesn't know what to expect. I tried to tell him it's just going to be another away game. It's exciting, because the level of intensity is higher just because it's Ohio State-Michigan. I told him to play the way he knows how to play and act like it's any other game.
Burke estimates that he will be able to get 20-25 family and friends tickets - and more will be scattered through the stands. Michigan director of basketball operations Travis Conlan used the team's ticket allotment to help secure more for Burke and LeVert.
Burke admitted that last year, going back home to play the Buckeyes was a somewhat rattling experience.
"It was new, so there was some jitters," he said. "Now that I have a year under my belt in college basketball, I won't be as nervous. I didn't know what to expect, going into Ohio State. I didn't know how the crowd was going to react, boo me. Now I'm used to going away and getting booed by crowds.
"I know there will be a lot of people who want to see me do well but lose there, and there will be a lot of people who want to see me do bad. I don't see it as going down there nervous. I know what to expect, and I just have to play my game."
The sophomore is taking a more levelheaded approach to the game against his hometown team this year.
As a high school player, he felt slighted by Ohio State, who never offered Burke, even though he was Ohio's Mr. Basketball and played in their backyard.
Now, though, he just wants to win - for Michigan, and not for personal vendetta.
"I understood that they already had Aaron Craft and they were looking at Shannon Scott," Burke said. "In high school, it fueled me and made me work harder, but now, I think I'm in the best situation I could have been in. I feel like I'm in the right place, and I'm happy here. I don't see it as anything personal. In high school, I did, because I could see myself going to Ohio State, my home school.
"But now that I'm here at Michigan, and I've learned the culture here, I feel like I'm in the right place. It's not personal anymore. Just going against them is going to be fun. I'm looking forward to it."
"I know Craft and Scott are both two good guards, and they're going to give me everything they have. I wouldn't say I measure myself against them. It's a team thing - it's not a personal matchup. Last year, I kind of made it a personal matchup at times, but I think that was just a sign of immaturity. But now that I know what it takes to win, I'm going to try and do that and get the win."
Growing up in Columbus, Burke was used to seeing the Buckeyes among the top five teams in the country and playing deep into the NCAA Tournament.
Now, he's playing for a rival team who has vaulted into the nation's elite.
"Ohio State was usually the team that was No. 2, 3 or sometimes No. 1 in the country. Now that we're in that situation, I think the programs are kind of similar now," Burke said. "We got out to a good start. I understand we're only 3-0 in the conference and we have some tough road games coming up, so that can change. But we're trying to stay humble and get better every day.
"When I came here, I could tell that this program was going in the right direction. I wouldn't say we were young last year, but we were coming off a good season, and I think we had a good season last year. Unfortunately, we lost in the first game, but I could tell this program was going in the right direction. With the way the five freshmen came in and handled themselves, they were learning and asking questions. I could tell we were in for a special year. We still have work to do. It's still early, but I'm excited to see where we are right now."
This year, Burke knows the Wolverines have to focus on defense, if they want to escape Value City Arena with a win.
"I think the keys will be defensive stops," he said. "Like I tell the team every day, we know that we can score. We have a lot of options on offense, but our biggest area of growth is defense. Limiting Deshaun Thomas' touches and limiting his ability to put the ball in the hoop."