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‘A match made in heaven’: How Nimari Burnett finally got to Michigan

After picking Texas Tech over Michigan out of high school, Burnett is a Wolverine four years later.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - Alabama vs Miss. St.
Nimari Burnett at Alabama
Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Nimari Burnett was a Michigan target coming out of high school before he chose Texas Tech. He transferred to Alabama after playing just a few games in Lubbock. Now, two years later, Burnett is finally a Wolverine.

“After I hit the portal, literally the day of, I got a call from Juwan (Howard), and hearing him and having our conversation, and knowing the type of guy he is, the type of coach he is, and him just wanting to see guys win, especially at the highest level, it was just a match made in heaven,” Burnett said on this week’s Defend the Block podcast.

But what made Michigan such a perfect fit now? Burnett has three years of college experience and had already navigated the transfer process once before.

“My priorities changed in the way of knowing who the person is over the phone, knowing the character that person has, and just how much they want to see you succeed,” Burnett said. “That was a factor in making a quick decision. I got into the portal, three days later, I made the decision to come to Michigan. My priorities changed in that regard in knowing who’s there and what’s there, and how I could fit in with the roster was also a big thing, and what changed a bit as well.”

Burnett was a McDonald’s All-American and a highly touted recruit in high school, but stumbled out of the gate in his college career. He played 12 games with the Red Raiders before leaving the team for personal reasons, and then tore his ACL before his first season at Alabama, causing him to miss the year. Last year, Burnett’s first full college season, he averaged 5.6 points over 14.7 minutes per game.

“I am so grateful for the journey. The injuries, to not play as much, even when you feel like you deserve to, it’s all a part of the journey, and I thank God for it every day,” Burnett said. “I think my mindset has improved, and it’s helped me become a stronger individual, mentally and physically. It just helped me gain some mental toughness, even though I felt like I already had a good amount.”

Burnett now comes into a situation where he’ll have an opportunity to win more minutes than he’s played up until now in his college career. Burnett said he’s looking to be a vocal leader on the team, despite being a new addition, and to help the team with his past experience. He also said he is working to improve his ball-handling ability, and to learn from and form a strong duo with returning point guard Dug McDaniel.

Burnett said he has a “chip on (his) shoulder” and describes himself as the kind of player who “takes pride in defense, who takes pride in helping his teammates get better, who can do multiple things, whether it’s shoot, get downhill, play the mid range.” Burnett feels he hasn’t gotten to show some of those aspects of his game yet, and he’s eager to prove himself this year at Michigan. He sees that mentality and drive reflected in his teammates.

“Day one of me being here, I felt the energy,” Burnett said. “The guys were really serious, it wasn’t immature, no immaturity has shown whatsoever. Seeing that these guys are serious about winning and improving from last year, and just improving in general individually, I think that’s a big thing for us as a whole, and it’ll show this season.”