Former Michigan guard Trey Burke was a busy man in his return to Michigan Jan. 17, and not just on the court in leading Utah to a 110-89 win over the Detroit Pistons with 20 points and a career-high 12 assists. The rookie point guard literally spent hours signing autographs before the game, many for kids wearing a replica of either his Utah or Michigan jersey, met with local media for several minutes before and after the game and then posed for pictures and signed more autographs afterward.
Thursday night Jan. 16, though, was a night for family. Burke had met 25 family members on a recent trip to San Antonio, but the Columbus native was in much higher demand a few nights later.
"This feels like a second home to me having played in Ann Arbor and being this close to home," Burke said. "This was a game I definitely looked forward to. I played here and you see all the fans that ask for autographs. It's kind of like yesterday when I was in Ann Arbor in college."
Part of him seemed to miss it. The NBA is a "job and a grind," he admitted, noting he had to catch a plane immediately after the game to go to Minnesota, the team that drafted him ninth to trade to Utah. He's overcome a broken finger that sidelined him for the first month of the season along with a sprained ankle to earn December Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors and was averaging 13.7 points, 5.7 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game as of Jan. 20 for a team that went 1-11 before winning 13 of 29 upon his return to the lineup.
Burke insisted he didn't use the Pistons' draft snub - they had the No. 8 overall pick, but passed on him - as motivation for his solid performance.
"I wouldn't say my feelings were hurt," Burke said. "Obviously it was a team I could have seen myself playing for, just because I played in Michigan and a lot of people expected them to pick me up at the time. It's a business. Things happen. They went in a different direction. I kind of thought they would take me, but they didn't. Life moved on. I'm up here [in Utah] and I feel like I'm in a good position, having a lot of fun."
Burke started 0-for-5 from the floor before finally hitting a triple in the second quarter against the Pistons, and he only got better from there. He ended the half with a drive and finish, the third quarter with a floater in the lane and ran the offense like a veteran. He put teammates in good position to score and showed why they love playing with him in Utah.
"When we were getting closer to our pick it was 'man, we're going to get him,'" coach Tyrone Corbin said of Burke. "Then luckily for us we were able to make a move for us to move up to get him. It was great. First of all we needed a point guard, and to get a young point guard as successful as he was in college and have a chance to be the player that we think he can be in this league is great to get him at this juncture.'"
Burke said he was adjusting to the size and strength of the NBA players, but he showed many of the same qualities that made him the Naismith Award winner as college basketball's best player a year ago. He still keeps in touch with many of his former Michigan teammates and friends, including Tim Hardaway Jr. and Darius Morris, and keeps tabs on the Wolverines as much as he can.
On and off the court he's the same Trey Burke, impressing even opposing coaches with his unselfish play.
"From what I've seen, he's been pretty good," Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks said. "He seems pretty heady for a rookie. He understands how to play. I'm impressed with the way he plays."