A week after Michigan played its last game of the 2013 college basketball season, its stars made decisions about their futures with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway going pro and Mitch McGary and Glen Robinson III returning to school.
Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. go pro
The Big Ten and National Player of the Year, Burke announced Sunday he would declare for the NBA Draft. Hardaway, U-M's second-leading scorer, made that same declaration Wednesday as the Wolverines, proudly, said goodbye to their top-two scorers (18.6 and 14.5 points per game, respectively). With the departures and that of five seniors, Michigan has lost seven players from its NCAA runner-up team.
What They're Saying
You can't fault Burke for making this call, The Detroit News Bob Wojnowski opined in his column: "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."
ESPN Draft insider Chad Ford thinks Burke is making a great decision on his future: "Burke seriously flirted with entering the draft last year but ultimately decided to come back to school after being projected as a second-round pick. What a great decision. He led his team to the NCAA championship game, won the Naismith player of the year award and pushed his draft stock from bubble first-rounder to top-10 pick.
"Although Burke doesn't have great size or the athleticism of some of the other elite point guards in the NBA, he has an incredible basketball IQ, can really shoot, rarely turns the ball over and makes those around him better. He should go somewhere in the top seven and will be the first or second point guard off the board."
ESPN's David Thorpe, meanwhile, thinks Burke could be the top overall selection in this summer's NBA Draft, saying in this video interview that "it depends on who's drafting. The Orlando Magic, for example. I'm not sure there's another guy out there, in this draft, that the Magic can feel like he really answers our prayers better than Trey Burke.
"I think he'll be the first point guard taken. And I think there's a chance he goes No. 1, when all is said and done."
While Hardaway doesn't project as a first-round pick, he's been doubted before, and has proven himself, the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder pens: "Tim Hardaway Jr. didn't have an elite profile when he was being recruited in 2009. Michigan strongly pursued a number of wing players for the 2010 class, chasing Rivals.com's No. 28 overall player, Trey Ziegler, from Mt. Pleasant and No. 71 Casey Prather from Jackson, Tenn. Hardaway was not in Rivals' top 150 and, if not for his famous name, might have drawn even less attention.
"Yet four years after his commitment to U-M and fans' disappointment about missing the highly rated players, Hardaway is the player leaving school early for the NBA."
My Take: Burke's decision to go pro was a foregone conclusion and while he does leave a tremendous hole, Michigan will survive just as it survived when Darius Morris left after the 2011 season. That's not to say that Derrick Walton will step in and do what Burke did as a rookie, but the surrounding pieces are stronger than they were when Burke arrived and they will make the transition easier for Walton. Spike Albrecht's play down the stretch also merits bigger minutes at point guard. Combined, he and Walton should at least be able to do an adequate job replacing Burke, and if the rest of the team steps up its game, U-M will remain a Big Ten favorite.
Hardaway's decision seemed to create greater buzz, with plenty of Michigan fans clamoring that this is a poor choice for a player that won't likely go in the first round and probably doesn't project to have a long NBA career. However, it's his call and considering the impact he made at Michigan, he deserves support in his decision.
Hardaway may end up being easier to replace than Burke, and it's unfortunate that his final memory was a poor performance at the Final Four, but he played a major role in taking this program to the next level, and his contributions should be celebrated.
Mitch McGary and Glen Robinson III stay put
After the purge earlier in the week, McGary and Robinson called a press conference Thursday to announce their intentions to return for their sophomore season. McGary averaged 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds for the Wolverines but became a key player in the NCAA Tournament, starting all six games while averaging 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. Robinson started all 39 games this year and while he battled his ups and downs, he averaged 11.0 points and 5.4 boards during the year.
What They're Saying
MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner said Michigan avoided disaster when McGary and Robinson made their joint announcement Thursday: "This week could have been a nightmare for Michigan. One week after losing in the national championship game, Michigan's 2013 exodus was an even 2-for-2, and the program's immediate future was about to start taking on water. But two massive fixes to John Beilein's ship sat on the horizon. One stands 6-foot-10 and rides a unicycle, the other jumps through the roof and has a pro pedigree.
"And just like that, Michigan's 2013-14 basketball season went from one giant question mark to one massive bundle of talent. From rebuild, to reload -- in less than 60 seconds. If McGary and Robinson had opted to turn pro, the Wolverines would have likely started the season outside the top 25, with question marks across the board. They would have likely been forced to push incoming freshmen Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin into immediate starting roles, and would have had a front court completely void of any type of dominant presence.
"It would have been a kick in the gut. There's no other way to put it.
But now, with McGary and Robinson back in tow, the Wolverines have options. And, once again, they have talent coming out of their ears."
ESPN's Ford was torn on the classmates' decisions, liking Robinson's choice but disagreeing with McGary: "McGary, the breakout star of the NCAA tournament, made a dramatic rise up our draft board the past few weeks. His decision to return, considering his age (he turns 21 before the draft) and high draft stock at the moment, is a puzzling one -- I'm not sure his draft stock will ever be higher. A potential first-round pick in 2014."
"Robinson was projected as late lottery pick based almost completely on his upside. He had a very good freshman year at Michigan, but no one was quite sure if he was ready for the NBA just yet. Another year of adding strength and continuing to improve his jump shot could make him a lottery pick in 2014."
The decision by McGary and Robinson to return is good news for the fan, SI.com's Andy Glockner writes: "With the news that Michigan State point guard Gary Harris also is returning for another season, the games between the Wolverines and Spartans, so very feisty this past season, will again be must-watch. If Adreian Payne also comes back for Michigan State, all that much better, but either way, these two teams should compete with Ohio State which, you know, has its own little rivalry thingy with the Wolverines."
My Take: Phew. I agree with Baumgardner, had these two left, it would have been like starting from scratch a year from now and while Michigan would be back eventually, this program doesn't need to go through a rebuilding phase after such a dramatic breakthrough season.
U-M wants to be here to stay, like Michigan State has been for the past 15 years, contending for Big Ten Championships on an almost yearly basis, making more Final Four runs and winning a national title. That seems possible with this announcement as these two, and Burke a year ago, setting a trend that could inspire future Wolverines to stick around a little longer for the benefit of the team.
As for next year, the Maize and Blue should have a greater post presence than at any point in Beilein's U-M tenure. McGary can be the scoring threat down low that fuels the rest of the offense, creating even more open looks for the perimeter shooters like Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert while Albrecht has shown he can get to the hoop. Robinson needs to become more assertive and/or develop a more consistent jump shot (while finding a way to create his shot).
But this team, with McGary and Robinson as anchors, Stauskas, Albrecht, LeVert, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, Max Biefeldt, and then the three arriving freshmen, should contend for another Big Ten title and is capable of another Sweet 16 run.
Denard Robinson projected as a third-round pick
Arguably the most dynamic player in Michigan football history, Robinson could go as high as the third round ESPN Draft insider Mel Kiper Jr., predicts, noting: "This draft is extremely light on players who scare defenses with the ball in their hands, and Robinson is an interesting guy to experiment with."
What They're Saying
MLive.com's Kyle Meinke notes the roller-coaster journey Robinson has been on during the draft evaluation process: "Former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is one of the NFL Draft's most intriguing prospects because no one can settle on where he'll go, or even what position he'll play.
Even Robinson doesn't know.
"He started the offseason projected as a second-round pick, slid to the sixth and seventh rounds after a poor showing at the Senior Bowl and has landed everywhere in between in various mockups in the past few weeks.
"A week before the draft, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has Robinson about where he started -- as a third-round pick."
My Take: I still think there is a decent chance Robinson goes late in the second round. He's a playmaker and after impressing at the Combine and at Michigan's Pro Day, there will be a general manager/coaching staff out there that thinks he can help them win games, and with the fear that someone else will gobble him up as a value pick early in the third, a team will snatch him late in the second.
As for whether Robinson will succeed, that's too early to tell, but he wants to make it in the NFL, and there is no denying that with effort and his skills, he'll have a very good chance to.