SALT LAKE CITY — Jazz rookie Trey Burke led Michigan to the NCAA national championship game last spring, but the Wolverine grew up smack dab in the middle of Ohio State land.
The Columbus, Ohio, native even admitted he was an ardent supporter of the local school as a kid.
“I get a lot of people saying, ‘We know you’re a Buckeye at heart,’ and things like that,” Burke said. “At one point in time, honestly, I was before. When I was younger, growing up, I was a die-hard Buckeye football fan. It’s kind of like a total opposite now.”
That’s important for people back home to know, especially Saturday when third-ranked Ohio State (11-0) visits Michigan Stadium to take on the Wolverines (7-4) in football.
Burke’s loyalties remain with the school that offered him the basketball scholarship and not with the college in his old backyard.
His pick for the game’s winner does, too.
“I’m going with Michigan,” Burke said. “Obviously, we’re the underdog in this. Everybody at home wants me to root for Ohio State. I want the Big Blue to win.”
Burke has fond memories of going to football games at Michigan and the last time the Buckeyes played at the Big House.
“I was fortunate enough to have one home game there when they played Ohio State.
It was crazy,” Burke recalled. “It was a lot of tailgating, a lot of craziness. I had to make sure I was away from it.”
By the way, Michigan beat Ohio State that game, 40-34.
Burke got some grief when he decided to leave Ohio to play for Michigan in college. The Beehive State equivalent would be a Provo standout joining Utah coach Kyle Whittingham’s squad on the hill after not being offered a scholarship from BYU's Bronco Mendenhall.
“It was weird at first, just being from Columbus and going to the total opposite school, the rivalry school,” Burke said. “I got a lot of junk for it at first. Now I got a lot of respect coming from the Ohio State fans.”
Burke enjoyed his homecoming to Columbus, Ohio, on Jan. 29, 2012, even though his Wolverines lost 64-49 to the then-No. 4-ranked Buckeyes. The freshman had 13 points and five assists in front of a crowd that had mixed feelings.
“When I went back to the Schottenstein Arena and played there, it was some boos,” he said. “At the same time it was a lot of cheering for me, so it felt good.”
HORNACEK HOMECOMING: Friday’s game was the first time Jeff Hornacek had been an opponent at his old basketball home in Utah in two decades. Now the Suns head coach, Hornacek played for the Jazz from 1994-2000, spent seven years away from the game and then helped coach with Jerry Sloan and Tyrone Corbin from 2007-13.
“It’s a little strange being in that visitors locker room,” he said Friday at Phoenix’s morning shootaround.
Hornacek didn’t spend much time reminiscing about the good old days or visiting his favorite haunts in Salt Lake City during this trip. The Suns arrived in Utah on Thanksgiving night and flew out after Friday’s game to get back to Phoenix, where the same two teams will play Saturday night.
Hornacek went to dinner Thursday with the Suns’ trainer, Aaron Nelson, who happens to be his brother-in-law. Friday was packed with meetings, shootaround, pregame prep and the actual game.
“Too busy,” he said. “No play time.”
BRAGGING RIGHTS: Hornacek was asked if he told his team any old Jazz stories or showed players his No. 14 banner that’s hanging in the EnergySolutions Arena rafters.
“No,” he said, smiling. “They don’t care.”