Trey Burke and the Jazz visit the Pistons Friday night. (Gene Sweeney Jr. / Associated Press)
Home can be so many things to people.
On some nights for pro athletes, it’s the hotel they sleep in during a trip.
For Trey Burke, it’s a blurred line between his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, and his second home of Ann Arbor, where he helped Michigan win a share of the Big Ten title and reach the national championship game.
Now, Burke makes his first trip back to his “second home” as a member of the Jazz, which plays the Pistons at The Palace on Friday.
“It feels good to be back here for the first time since being at Michigan. I’m looking forward to the opportunity; it should be fun,” Burke said Thursday. “I know I have a big fan base there. I know there will be a lot of Pistons fans but there will be a lot of people cheering for me as well.”
It’s the place Burke would have called home if the Pistons hadn’t passed on him with the eighth pick and instead drafted Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. With the next pick, the Timberwolves picked Burke and traded his draft rights to the Jazz.
Many experts questioned whether Burke would excel in the NBA because of his 6-foot frame and lack of elite-level quickness, and doubted he could hold his own on a nightly basis against players such as Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and Deron Williams.
And his lackluster performance during summer league had some experts labeling him a good “college” player.
But after missing 12 games (broken finger), Burke has found his groove.
In the two months since his debut, Burke is averaging 13.6 points, 5.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds. He was named rookie of the month in December, and Wednesday in a nationally-televised game at San Antonio, had a season-high 11 assists and scored 11 of his 17 points in the last two minutes.
“It just shows who he is,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “There is not a moment that is too big for him. He relishes in those moments. We are going to need him to continue to grow in those moments.”
For Burke, it was another boost against the Spurs’ Tony Parker, as he builds confidence in his young pro career.
“My confidence has always been there; I never really had doubts about playing at this level. I knew once I got used to it, I’d be fine, just like I had to get used to the college game,” Burke said. “Games like (Wednesday) give me confidence because I felt like I could have played better … and I’m playing against one of the best guards in the NBA and I think I can learn from it.”
'A simple family'
Off the court, Burke has maintained a solid foundation, eschewing the big-name, popular agents and management groups and choosing his father, Benji, as his agent and a local firm, Compass Management, to handle his business and marketing affairs.
“We are a simple family and it’s all close-knit; it wasn’t a big deal for us,” Benji Burke said. “The lights and glitz and glamour didn’t wow us — we just wanted to make sure they had Trey’s best interests at heart.
“Is he going to flourish on and off the court financially? Once we found that out and did some background on the company and some of the people that backed the company, we felt it was a good fit for us.”
Marketing Trey Burke, 21, wasn’t a difficult task, given the popularity he gained while at Michigan and the success he’s had on the court.
“He’s an extremely marketable player and more importantly, a marketable person in terms of how intelligent and articulate he is,” said Daniel Sillman, principal at Compass Management, based in Bloomfield Hills. “It’s a much easier time partnering with companies across the nation based on who he is and what he’s shown on the court his entire life.”
Burke has a shoe deal that makes him the highest-paid rookie in the Nike brand, and signature headphones with the House of Marley — based in Commerce Township — and Sprint. He also has a deal with the America First Credit Union, the largest credit union in Salt Lake City.
Though the broken finger was an initial setback, it turned out to be a hidden benefit for Burke, who got to spend more time with Corbin analyzing the game and absorbing and observing as he learned the hardest position for a rookie.
“It allowed me to grow not only on the court, but mentally. It was a blessing in disguise because it took the pressure off me,” Trey Burke said. “There were high expectations coming into the season for me to perform right away and that allowed me to relax and play my game when I did come back.”
Proving his doubters wrong is a familiar refrain for Trey Burke, who wasn’t seen as a top prospect coming out of Northland High in Columbus. As a freshman at Michigan, he replaced Darius Morris, who left early for the NBA, and Burke excelled, earning Big Ten freshman of the year honors.
“It’s still like a dream because four or five years ago, he was still in high school,” Benji Burke said. “I’m proud that he made it — not just to the NBA, but how he treats his profession and people. He’s a really good kid and his mom and I are proud of that.”
That growth has allowed Trey Burke make another home more than 1,700 miles away in Salt Lake City.
“This was his dream; this is the only kid that told people he would be an NBA player and wasn’t smiling,” Benji Burke said. “It was different, the way he delivered it. Trey was dead serious and he’s gotten there. He wants to be one of the best and he knows it’s a process.”