From Rudy Tomjanovich to Chris Webber, Michigan’s most celebrated basketball players have usually done their damage in the low post. However, that abundance of interior talent means that too little credit is often given to the outstanding passers who have run the Wolverine offense over the years.
Since the 2011-12 season tipped off, a new contender has joined the ranks of Michigan’s ball-handling elite. Trey Burke, already as good of a freshman as has ever tossed up an alley-oop in Ann Arbor, has the potential to compete with the best of his predecessors if he stays for a full four years.
Read on for a closer look at Burke and the rest of the top dozen point guards ever to wear the Maize and Blue.
The point guard who had the privilege of feeding Rudy Tomjanovich in Ann Arbor, Dan Fife actually had his best year after Rudy T graduated. As a senior in 1970-71, Fife averaged 5.4 assists a game, the 10th-best season mark in Michigan history.
Fife did go on to a brief pro career, but instead of the NBA, he wound up with baseball’s Minnesota Twins as a right-handed pitcher. He’s also the father of former Big Ten hoopsters Dugan (Michigan) and Dane (Indiana).
A dreadful scorer who averaged 5.3 points a game in his best season, Travis Conlan had plenty of other skills to keep him on the floor.
His 167 steals are the fifth-most for a Wolverine all-time, as are the 480 assists he dished out while setting up the likes of Louis Bullock and Robert “Tractor” Traylor.
Conlan’s poor shooting ability made sure he wasn't drafted, and he never played in the NBA. He’s currently in his second year as Director of Basketball Operations at his alma mater.
He may not have the point guard pedigree of backcourt mate Tim Hardaway Jr., but Michigan freshman Trey Burke is proving that he can run an offense with the best. Burke is averaging 14.3 points and 4.9 assists per game for his young career.
If Burke maintains his current pace, he’ll break Gary Grant’s Wolverine record for assists by a freshman (he needs 27 more in his final eight games to do it).
The bigger question for Michigan fans, though, is whether the youngster can lead them past the round of 32 for the first time since Jalen Rose was running the floor in 1994.
Dave Baxter rode the bench until his senior year at Michigan, but he made his one shot count. Baxter dished out 6.6 assists a night that season, the third-best mark in program history.
The good news for Baxter was that he managed to get picked in the third round of the NBA draft.
The bad news was that he was chosen by a Seattle club that already had Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson and Freddie Brown in the backcourt and was (unsurprisingly) unable to make the team.
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He was never as much of a point guard as he thought he was, but Jalen Rose still ran the offense for the Fab Five to great effect.
Rose’s career total of 401 assists is the seventh-highest in Wolverine history, amassed while averaging 17.5 points a game for his career and making a pair of national runner-up finishes.
As a pro, Rose continually lobbied to run the floor—he twice dished out six assists a game in the NBA—but was again much more effective as a scorer.
He topped 20 points a game four times in a distinguished career spent mostly with the Pacers and Bulls.
One of Michigan’s all-time greats as a perimeter defender, Daniel Horton could pass a little, too.
In addition to his 1.7 steals a game (second-most in school history), Horton dished out the fourth-most assists for a Wolverine all-time (484 in his career).
Undrafted out of school, Horton landed in the D-League. He played two seasons there, but despite a strong showing with Albuquerque (15.5 points and 4.5 assists a game in 2007-08) he never got a shot in the NBA.
Even sharing ball-handling duties with two other all-time Wolverine greats (Eric Turner and Gary Grant), Antoine Joubert carved a spot for himself in the school record books. Joubert’s 539 career assists are the third most in school history.
Despite his impressive collegiate performance, Joubert could only manage a seventh-round draft spot with the Pistons. He never appeared in the NBA.
After an unremarkable freshman campaign, Darius Morris blew up as Michigan’s starting point guard last year. Morris’ 6.7 assists per game, good for fifth in the nation in 2010-11, were the second-best figure in Michigan history.
Morris’ impressive season earned him a second-round pick from the Lakers. In limited minutes since Steve Blake got hurt, he’s averaging 3.4 points and 1.3 assists a game.
Although Eric Turner couldn’t break an NCAA tournament dry spell that stretched to seven seasons during his career, he did lead the Wolverines to their first NIT title in 1984.
Over three seasons in Ann Arbor, Turner averaged five assists per game, the third best figure in school history.
Following the NIT win, Turner made the dubious decision to leave early for the NBA. Though he was drafted by the Pistons in the second round, he never played in the league.
After transferring from Vincennes, Rickey Green put in two brilliant seasons in a Wolverines uniform. The combo guard averaged 19.7 points and four assists per game for Michigan, running the floor for the national runners-up in 1976.
Green went on to as successful a pro career as any Michigan point guard has ever enjoyed. An All-Star with the Jazz prior to John Stockton’s arrival, Green averaged as many as 9.2 assists a night while leading the league in steals twice.
Arriving on the heels of Eric Turner’s ill-fated leap to the NBA, Gary Grant raised the bar for success as a Michigan point guard.
Grant set school records that still stand with 300 career steals, a senior-year average of 6.9 assists per game and a career total of 731 assists.
A draft-night trade sent Grant to the woeful Clippers, but he made the best of a bad situation. In four seasons as L.A.’s starter, he averaged 7.9 assists a night before settling into a long career as a solid backup PG.
After a season’s apprenticeship under Gary Grant, Rumeal Robinson blossomed into an even more successful point guard than his predecessor, breaking Grant's record with a career average of 5.8 assists per game.
More importantly, he led the Maize and Blue to its only national title in 1989, capping it with some of the most clutch free throws in basketball history: down one point with three seconds to play in overtime, the .656 foul shooter drained two from the stripe to win the national championship.
Although he never justified the lottery pick Atlanta spent on him, Robinson was a capable backup point guard as a pro. In a rare stint as a starter in his second NBA season, he averaged 13 points and 5.5 assists a night.