I always thought he was a great talent and that he deserved to be in the league, but you know, things happen. —Alec Burks
Benji and Ronda Burke’s son recently celebrated his 25th birthday.
The father of 3-year-old TJ also married his high school sweetheart, De'monique, in their hometown of Columbus, Ohio, in October.
Say what you want about former Utah Jazz guard Trey Burke, but it probably won’t affect him at this point. Maturity has gradually entered the picture.
“I just think he’s probably the happiest he’s been because he’s got his personal life together and his faith is strong,” said Benji. “He’s real spiritual right now, he’s into the Bible so he’s happy.”
If you’re wondering what happened to the University of Michigan’s 2013 college basketball Player of the Year, he’s still doing what he loves to do: play basketball.
No, he’s not currently in the NBA, but the Midwest product could be on the cusp of receiving an NBA call-up soon.
Burke is a member of the Westchester Knicks in the NBA G League. Westchester is an affiliate of the New York Knicks in the NBA’s minor league.
In eight games, the 6-foot-1, 191-pound floor general averages a team-best 23.1 points, 5.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds on 49 percent shooting.
He went off for 27 points, nine assists and four rebounds on Nov. 19 to help the Knicks top the Lakeland Magic 106-100.
Burke also erupted for a franchise-best 43 points on 58.6-percent shooting during the second game of the season as the Knicks rallied to beat the Delaware 87ers 113-111.
While casual basketball fans may be unfamiliar with Burke’s whereabouts, his peers around the league are certainly paying attention. The Knicks (5-3) will face the Jazz’s G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, on Dec. 19, in New York.
“I saw a couple of games in the G League and he’s playing well,” said Jazz guard Alec Burks, a former teammate. “I always thought he was a great talent and that he deserved to be in the league, but you know, things happen.”
So what happened to Burke? After leading Michigan to a runner-up finish to Louisville in the 2013 NCAA national championship game, the sophomore guard declared for the NBA draft.
Minnesota selected him with the ninth overall pick but he was immediately traded to the Jazz, where he entered the league with high expectations. He spent three seasons in Salt Lake City from 2013-16, but never emerged as the prospect fans envisioned, even after averaging 12.1 points, 4.2 assists and 2.5 rebounds while shooting a dismal 38.4 percent from the field.
However, he did finish third in the NBA Rookie of the Year voting behind Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams and Orlando’s Victor Oladipo and often showed flashes of his brilliance as he did as the gutsy leader for Michigan.
But when Jazz coach Quin Snyder took over for Tyrone Corbin during Burke’s second season, his father felt like his new system never fit his son's game.
“We loved the people in Utah. It’s a slow pace,” Benji said. “For a rookie, I think it’s a great place to start your career. Horrible place to end your career. And that’s just my opinion, because it’s just slow. They want you to be a certain way, they almost don’t even want you to have a tattoo.
“That organization is just a little different, and when Snyder came in, he just changed the whole process where he started (Raul) Neto over Trey,” he added. “It didn’t even make sense. The dude wasn’t even averaging two points a game or two assists a game so logically it didn’t make sense.”
Burke has been in contact with the Deseret News over the past couple weeks, but couldn’t be reached for an interview. The Westchester Knicks also denied an interview request.
Contrary to popular belief, Snyder is still rooting for Burke in the G League.
“There were certain skills and certain talents that he had that really complemented our team and our bigs with his midrange game,” Snyder said, during Utah’s recent road trip to New York. “It was a privilege to coach him.
“Our whole staff really enjoyed him and we obviously wish him well,” he added. “It’s not surprising. He can really score and takes care of the ball and I think for us he continued to try to become better defensively and he was committed so I’m glad to see he’s having a good experience.”
During the 2016-17 season, Burke played in 57 games as a backup point guard for the Washington Wizards after being traded by the Jazz for a second-round pick. He never entered the Wizards’ rotation, averaging a career-low five points in 12 minutes while playing behind All-Star guard John Wall and veteran Brandon Jennings.
He entered this offseason as an unrestricted free agent and was rumored to sign non-guaranteed deals with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Orlando Magic before inking with the Knicks. New York would waive the former lottery pick three days after he signed but then announced he would be joining the G-League affiliate in Westchester.
Burke still has hopes of playing in the NBA, according to Benji, but is taking the non-traditional route to work his way back into the league in the Big Apple. His relationship with Knicks general manager Scott Perry, a native of Detroit, played a major factor in his decision to take the risk.
“He feels if he gets a shot to compete to play on a NBA roster, it’s a done deal,” Benji said. “He’s got to be able to have that opportunity.
“He wants to get back on an NBA roster,” he added. “He just felt New York was the spot because he feels he’s the best PG in the camp, including the Knicks.”
If you ask guys around the league, many of them still have confidence that Burke will get another shot.
“He’s still young and can still play,” Alec Burks said.
Ironically, Burke’s former University of Michigan teammates, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Caris LeVert, are also playing in New York for the Knicks and Brooklyn Nets.
Both Hardaway Jr. and LeVert said they aren’t in communication with Burke as often as they’d like, both with busy schedules, but their brotherhood remains intact.
Unfortunately, LeVert wasn’t able to attend his wedding because he had a preseason game that same day, but what they were able to accomplish, as Wolverines in Ann Arbor, Michigan, will never be forgotten.
“We’ve talked about that before, but we know that we can look back on that and tell our children and our families that we were probably the No. 1 backcourt in the country at that time,” said Hardaway Jr.
“We all worked to get where we’re at right now and all the hard work paid off,” LeVert added.
LeVert said he “absolutely” believes Burke will be in the league again.
“For Trey, he’s always had the skillset and the confidence and the heart and everything, it’s just about situations,” LeVert said.
Hardaway Jr. is also watching his friend closely in Westchester as he progresses in leadership, penetration and finding guys on the regular. If he continues to stay focused and limits distractions, Hardaway Jr. feels there’s no stopping him from reaching his goal of getting back in the league.
“It’s great just to have him here and be able to watch him,” Hardaway Jr. said. “He’s a great ball player and time will tell but I think he deserves to be in the NBA.”