PHOENIX — Wednesday was supposed to be the debut of Trey Burke’s NBA career.
Instead, the Utah Jazz’s prized offseason acquisition sat behind the bench. In dress clothes. Unable to play for the first time in a real game since the 2013 NCAA player of the year’s Michigan squad was in the national championship game last April.
“It was exciting,” Burke said. “At the same time, it was killing me not to be out there.”
Burke traveled to Arizona to be with his team for Friday's first road game against the Suns, but he’ll just be an attentive observer again. The Jazz will also be without Marvin Williams (Achilles), Brandon Rush (knee), Jeremy Evans (rotator cuff) and Andris Biedrins, although all will travel.
“It was definitely a bummer that I wasn’t out there,” Burke added, “but I’m looking forward to being out there.”
It’s still unknown how long Burke will be sidelined, but he was allowed to speak to reporters Thursday for the first time since having surgery on his fractured right index finger 2 1/2 weeks ago.
Instead of talking about his first game as a rookie, Burke explained the progress of his finger rehab the day after the 2013-14 season tipped off without him.
“Right now, I’m just trying to continue to get this strength back,” Burke said. “I’m almost there. I’m almost at a full fist.”
Though it was initially announced that Burke would be re-evaluated three weeks after his surgery, the point guard’s check-up will come a week later on Nov. 11. It will then be determined how long it will take before he can resume basketball activity and full workouts.
Burke continues to wear a special splint at night and during some conditioning (not allowed to run yet), but he’s allowed to take it off the rest of the time.
This is his first injury since the 21-year-old suffered a hairline fracture in his knee in middle school, forcing him to miss two months.
“It’s really tough, but injuries happen. That’s what happens in sports,” Burke said. “This is my first real injury of my career. Obviously I had to learn to deal with not being out there with my teammates. I’m staying positive. I’m doing a good job of trying to get back out there as quick as possible.”
In the meantime, Burke will continue to sit, watch and learn. He picks the brain of Jazz player development coach Johnnie Bryant. He watches film, especially to study “what we need to do on the offensive end.”
Burke is trying to make the most of his downtime.
“Just try to basically (make) it like I’m out there, learn from the sidelines since I can’t be out there,” he said. “I’m trying to do a good job of being more of a student right now.”
Speaking of a student, this No. 3 smiled when told by a reporter that a young elementary school kid dressed up as Burke in a makeshift Jazz jersey with the playmaker’s name on the back during a school costume parade.
“That’s amazing,” the real Burke said. “It’s always great to see young kids with dreams wearing your jersey. I was that little kid (one) day.”
FAMILIAR FACE: Friday night will be the first time the Jazz get a crack at one of the franchise’s all-time most popular players’ new team.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin can’t wait to face new Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek, his former Jazz assistant and Suns teammate.
Hornacek was hired by the Suns after being on the Jazz staff in various capacities since 2007. The sharpshooter played in Utah from 1994 through 2000, including two trips to the NBA Finals.
“It’ll be great. He had a great win his first game out,” Corbin said, referring to Phoenix’s season-opening 104-91 victory over Portland on Wednesday. “I’m happy for him there.“
Corbin said he’s kept in contact with Hornacek since he took his new gig.
“He’s doing well. He’s enjoying himself,” Corbin said. “He lived in Phoenix, so he’s really enjoying being there. It’s a great opportunity for him and he’s excited about it.”
That said, Corbin would love to hand Hornacek his first coaching defeat.
“Absolutely. On his home floor,” he said, smiling. “We’ll say ‘Hi’ to him and smile before the game, but once the battle starts he’s going to try to get us and we’re going to try to get him.”
ROOM TO IMPROVE: While the Jazz gave the Thunder a tough fight in Wednesday’s 101-98 loss, Corbin knows Utah needs quick corrections.
“We can’t turn the ball over 22 times. We’ve got to make our free throws (20-for-30),” Corbin said. “Those are two areas we have to make sure we get better at.”
Starting point guard John Lucas III echoed his coach on the turnover topic.
“We’ve got to take care of the ball,” he said. “Myself, I had a crucial turnover in the fourth quarter with the travel. That was crazy. I usually don’t make mistakes like that."
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