AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The Utah Jazz are playing a road game Friday night, but the team is expecting to have some fans cheering for them in The Palace.
At least they’ll be cheering for Trey Burke.
“I expect a lot of old fans to come out,” the rookie point guard said. “I think my college coaches will be there, hopefully. I’m looking forward to it.”
Tyrone Corbin laughed when asked about Burke going to Michigan for the first time with his professional basketball team. The Jazz coach is fully aware of how popular the 2013 NCAA player of the year became in the Great Lakes State while helping the Wolverines get back on the national stage and in the championship game again.
“He’s huge,” Corbin said Thursday before the Jazz practiced in a San Antonio boys and girls club. “I can only imagine the circus that’s waiting for him when he gets back today.”
Burke’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio, is less than a four-hour drive to the Pistons’ arena, so that adds to the circus atmosphere that’s expected to surround him. Jazz PR was flooded with interview requests leading up to game day, and the 21-year-old said he’s been hit up for a bunch of tickets.
That’s why it seemed almost laughable, if not admirable, when the former All-American and Bob Cousy Award winner made the following claim.
“To me, it’s not really no different than any other road games. I don’t want to look at it like that. I don’t want to go in there pressing or anything,” he said. “I just want to play it out like it’s a regular game.”
After that, though, Burke admitted this is different. This is the arena he used to drive up to from Ann Arbor during his Michigan days to watch NBA games on occasion. These are some of the fans who feverishly cheered for him as he played for the Maize and Blue for a couple of years.
“It’s a little different for me, obviously, because I played there in the state of Michigan,” Burke said. “A lot of people are looking forward to seeing me play again. It should be a fun and exciting atmosphere.”
Corbin said it’s difficult for players when they return home or to where they played in college because everybody has their demands.
“It’s just so many things and it’s hard for them to say no because they don’t want to seem different to the group,” he said. “It’s a process. They have to understand the game is the most important thing.”
TOUGH CALL: Burke said it wasn’t easy to decide to end his collegiate career after his sophomore season. Getting so close to winning a national championship made him consider returning to see if the team could clear that title hurdle in 2014.
“It was tough making that decision last year to turn pro,” he said. “Talking it over with my coaching staff at Michigan and with my family, I think it was the right decision to make.”
You won't hear any arguments from the Jazz. Burke has averaged 13.6 points and 5.6 assists since his rookie season got off to a belated start after surgery for a broken finger.
MORE TEAR DROPS?: Burke had a strong finish Wednesday night in San Antonio, scoring 11 points in the final 1:05 to spark a late Jazz rally in the 109-105 loss to the Spurs.
But Burke said he took valuable lessons away from the defeat.
“You can always learn something from a veteran point guard like Tony Parker,” Burke said.
One thing he’s hoping to add to his arsenal is a consistent running floater — sometimes called a “tear drop” shot — that Parker often uses to score in the paint.
“We work on it a lot, every day in practice,” Burke said. “Coach (Sidney) Lowe and Johnnie (Bryant), they always have us shooting those floaters. It’s a shot we need to use when you get down there with the trees. They are looking to block a shot.”
It becomes a valuable weapon, Corbin said, when bigs stay closer to the basket on the pick-and-rolls. That opens up mid-range jumpers and floaters for smaller guards.
“Pretty much all the really good guards have that in their game,” Burke added. “It’s something that I continue to work on.”
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