SALT LAKE CITY -- It’s a little after noon on a sunny day and the newspaper photographer wants one more image.
He instructs Trey Burke to walk to his car in the parking lot of the Utah Jazz practice facility.
With his father, Benji, close by in the lobby, Trey Burke starts to comply.
But wait, a Free Press reporter who has been waiting patiently needs a few minutes of his time.
Burke doesn’t have much time since he is headed to shoot a commercial for a local car dealership, but it’s just one more item on the to-do list.
This all took place the day after a 20-point loss to the Pistons — a night when Burke was the last guy to leave the locker room because his expressive answers have won over the Jazz media.
After that, he dutifully signed autographs for a line of fans waiting for a signature of the team’s prized rookie.
Then it’s up the next morning for film work and a practice session.
And now two newspapers are tugging at his free time.
Such is the life of the point guard who the Jazz hopes becomes a franchise cornerstone, who at this time last year was leading Michigan to the national championship game.
Burke, 21, is sheepish when discussing the attention. But when you are one of the top-three rookies and hear your name called last during pregame introductions (a Jazz tradition for point guards), it comes with the territory.
“I eventually want to be in that vein, but I don’t want to say I am that guy right now, but I’m definitely working to be that type of franchise guy,” Burke told the Free Press. “I noticed that in the beginning of the season that they called me last. It was kind of awkward at first, but now I’m kind of used to it. I’m sure none of the other guys really care about it. I think that definitely gives me confidence, makes me work harder to become that guy some day.”
Life can be funny. It was hard to find a mock draft predicting Burke would wind up with the Jazz last June.
Burke, the consensus national player of the year, was considered the best point-guard prospect, and when considering the importance of that position, there was no way he would last until the Jazz picked 14th.
The predraft buzz had the Orlando Magic taking the Wolverines sophomore with the second pick. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo was going first to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
There was a comfort level with Orlando. Former Pistons executive Scott Perry, a former Michigan assistant, is now the vice president/assistant general manager in Orlando and the Burkes were familiar with Perry.
The New Orleans Pelicans, picking sixth, needed a point guard. There was word the Pistons might be interested so eighth was the floor.
It all changed when the Cavs surprised everyone by picking UNLV forward Anthony Bennett first.
The Magic quickly took Oladipo, and the Pelicans picked Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, who they traded to the 76ers for point guard Jrue Holiday.
The Pistons were determined to make a playoff push and were in the market for a veteran point guard in free agency. They picked Georgia shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - setting off a draft night uprising from Michigan fans hoping the Pistons would take the local product.
The Jazz front office had a sense draft night would unfold in such a manner and worked the phones and found a natural partner in the Timberwolves, who were targeting Caldwell-Pope at No. 9.
When the Timberwolves - who have point guard Ricky Rubio - picked Burke, there was a sense something was up. The Jazz got its point guard by trading the 14th and 21st picks of the draft to the Timberwolves.
“If Detroit hadn’t of taken KCP, I don’t know if we would have been able to get Trey,” Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin said.
There is status in draft position. And Utah doesn’t exactly have the reputation of South Beach nor Broadway when it comes to destinations for 20-somethings.
But there wasn’t much disappointment.
The wants of 20-somethings are different from fathers. Burke’s father said the situation is ideal considering the reputation of the Miller family, who has owned the Jazz franchise for nearly 30 years.
“For one, it’s more of a family city, it’s not as fast-paced,” Benji Burke said. “The Miller family has run this organization the same way for years. I think that’s why they’ve been successful in the past because they have the right type of guys here. They want high-character guys here. They don’t want guys to come here and just be kind of partyers, they want them to be professional and about their business.”
There was quick adversity when a broken right index finger suffered in an exhibition game forced Burke to miss the first 12 games of the regular season.
The Jazz is rebuilding, so some lumps were expected - but it was the last team to win this season and started 1-14.
Burke was tossed right into the starting lineup.
A 22-point defeat at Oklahoma City where he managed only four points was an early low point. But a victory over Chicago followed the next night, and the Jazz started playing better.
He quickly zoomed up the rookie charts behind the 76ers’ Michael Carter-Williams and Oladipo.
There was a 21-point, six-assist night in a win over the Rockets. There was a 30-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound night in a victory at Orlando.
Then he gave Michigan fans temporary validation when he went for 20 points and 12 assists in a 21-point thumping of the Pistons at the Palace.
The top highlight might be his winning shot against the Magic on March 22 - roughly one year after his 30-footer against Kansas propelled Michigan into overtime and on to the Elite Eight.
“I don’t know why, but at the end of games, for some reason, I just get more confident,” Burke told reporters two days later. “I just think it’s natural. I think it’s something I’ve embraced from a young age.
“Failing so many times, playing this game my whole life, losing so many close games, losing in the national championship. I’ve already experienced failures. It’s kind of like if I do miss a shot, you got to move on, you got to find a way to find the courage to take that shot again. I think that’s something I really embrace.”
Burke — who is averaging 12.4 points and 5.3 assists — has quickly become a favorite among his NBA teammates.
Veterans Marvin Williams and John Lucas III have taken on mentor roles with the collection of young players, and Burke has become a sponge for their advice.
Burke lives next door to Williams, who says things can get pretty loud when Burke is going against his friends at video games. He has threatened to call the authorities — he jokes.
But Burke is all business on the floor, and Williams enjoys playing with him.
“He got the ability to create his own shot, and he’s really good at creating for others,” Williams said. “To see such a young point guard have that ability is really exciting to kind of play with him because a lot of time point guards don’t develop both of those things until later in their careers.”
But Burke isn’t a finished product. He is one of the worst shooters among starting point guards in the league, although the Jazz expects that to improve.
He started to slump after the big night against the Pistons as the grind of the regular season started to wear him down.
“His body hurts in places he didn’t know there were muscles before, and that’s part of being a young guy in this league,” coach Ty Corbin said. “I remember my first 82-game season, it’s a long haul, and until you go through it and people talk to you about it and you say, ’I’m ready, I’m ready.’ And then you go through it and it’s like, ’Wow.’ “
The All-Star break offered a nice breather, and the Jazz wants Burke to take a break from the game when the season concludes.
“We didn’t have to tell him, he hit the wall,” Lucas said. “I was telling him everybody does it and you’re not the only one. It’s what you put in your body. You can’t eat Wendy’s anymore; you can’t eat at McDonald’s anymore because now you’re playing at a different level.
“It’s 82 games, you’re flying, you got to eat healthy.”
Burke is also walking that tightrope common to young point guards with the ability to score - when to get buckets and when to defer.
The Jazz has scoring options in Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, but the group is learning to play together.
The night of Burke’s winning shot against the Magic, it worked well as Hayward found Burke open in the corner. In the March 24 loss to the Pistons, Burke missed open jumpers early and the whole team struggled.
All interested parties say Burke needs to add strength and bulk to his 6-foot frame. He is not blindingly quick so he has to learn to set up defenders.
But Lucas is a believer that Burke will get it.
Simply put, Burke has that “dawg” personality that Lucas sees in Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose, Lucas’ teammate for two seasons with the Bulls.
They are different types of point guards, but mentally, Lucas can see the comparison to Rose.
Lucas recalled the time when fervor swept the league while Jeremy Lin was playing for the Knicks in 2012. Players called talk calling him the best point guard in the Eastern Conference after only a couple of weeks foolish.
So Rose was jealous when Deron Williams dropped 38 points on Lin.
An angry expression came over Lucas’ face as he tried to re-create Rose’s reaction.
“He was on the plane like, ’Luke, awww! I wanted to be the one to dethrone him!’ “
Lucas said Rose picked up Lin full-court the next time they saw the Knicks “and you never seen Derrick pick nobody up full-court before on the first jump ball. That’s the intensity (Burke) has.”
The what-if game
Reading all of this probably will anger Pistons fans even more - considering not a week goes by without someone calling the drafting of Caldwell-Pope a mistake.
Both players have downplayed any rivalry, and Caldwell-Pope even called Burke a friend recently.
But Burke and his father admitted it crosses their mind: What would have happened if the Pistons had picked Burke?
Benji Burke thinks it’s a good thing Burke is with the Jazz. Playing so close to Ann Arbor influences might not have been the best thing for his son.
“I think he’s right where he belongs,” he said. “Going to Detroit, I just think there would have been too many distractions for him, being a young guy, on his own, being a rookie. I just think he needed to be away a little bit so he could grow and develop and mature off the court, and I think this is the perfect city to start and end your career.”
Trey Burke says people ask him about the Pistons and the draft all the time, so he can’t put it completely behind him.
But ultimately he is in Salt Lake City and Caldwell-Pope is in Detroit. There is no use in wasting brain cells thinking about what-ifs.
“You think about it sometimes, but not really because it didn’t happen, so it’s kind of like these wild imaginations in your mind,” Burke said. “The media, they blow that up so much about if I would have been there or if he would have been somewhere else. Some people get the perception that we’re not friends off the court, but we have a good relationship.
“That’s just a ’what-if’ really. A lot of people ask me about the Detroit thing, but it didn’t happen so I love where I’m at.”