Charlotte, N.C. • Even from behind he was unmistakable — 6-foot-6, bald-headed, an all-time great, one of two players Trey Burke grew up mimicking on the basketball court.
“I had to call his name,” Burke said.
“MJ!” the Jazz rookie shouted at the man walking out of the tunnel to do a TV interview, and Michael Jordan, the six-time NBA champion, five-time MVP, the 14-time All Star, stopped and turned around.
“He called me TB,” Burke said. “I’d have thought he would come up to me and wouldn’t even know my name.”
Eighteen games into his NBA career, make no mistakes about it, the 21-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, is making a name for himself.
Burke is averaging 13.2 points, 4.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds a game. More importantly, a Utah team that was 1-13 without the ninth overall pick in this year’s draft in the starting lineup is 7-9 with him in it.
In Burke, and in themselves, the Jazz are seeing glimpses of hope.
“There are definitely moments where we show our potential and what we can be,” Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward said after the team’s win over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.
Burke was instrumental in that win, scoring 30 points, dishing eight assists and grabbing seven rebounds. But the rookie followed it up with a dud in Atlanta, scoring just two points on 1-of-8 shooting.
“They have them, especially after big games,” Jazz coach Ty Corbin said of a rookie’s swings. “[A rookie] thinks that things will be the same the next night, but it’s a different opponent, different city, different flow to the game.”
The ups and downs have been particularly frustrating for Burke because he believes his team has what it takes to win.
“That’s the thing that’s so disappointing about games like [Friday night’s blowout loss to the Hawks],” he said. “It seems like we go up and then we take a step back, go up two steps, take a step back. But the good teams continue to rise, continue to get better, improve. We’re starting to learn how to do that.”
Saturday night, Burke was back on top.
With the Bobcats making a late charge, the crowd at Time Warner Cable Arena revved up, getting so loud that at one point the Jazz stopped believing they’d heard a whistle blown. “That goes to show you how much their crowd plays a part of it,” Burke said, “but it also goes to show how strong we’re becoming as a team when we can still execute down the stretch on the road with a loud crowd.”
When former Jazz center Al Jefferson threw down a one-handed putback, the Utah lead was 81-79. Burke, in the pick-and-roll with Derrick Favors, faked to get his defender in the air and then hit a shot as he fell to the ground, hushing the crowd of 18,000.
Another Jefferson dunk tied the game at 83 with under three minutes to go.
“Who wants the ball for Utah?” Charlotte Bobcats play-by-play man Steve Martin said on the team’s TV broadcast.
It was Burke, who used a Favors screen to find the space to coolly hit a 3.
“Me being the point guard out there, I’ve got to make sure the team doesn’t see me flustered and out of control,” Burke said.
He has his teammates believing.
“He’s a really good leader,” Jazz center Enes Kanter said of the team’s young floor general. “[Saturday night] he put it out there and played really good, and it’s still his first year and it was on the road. He’s going to be really good, I think.”
He has others believing too.
Burke had a game-high 20 points, three rebounds, four assists and no turnovers Saturday in Charlotte. His late free throws helped seal a win over Jordan’s Bobcats. In the locker room after the game, the 21-year-old Burke’s eyes grew wide and seemed to shine game as he recounted his brief meeting with Jordan.
“He said, ‘Keep working. You’re doing really good. Just stay healthy.’ Those words will stick with me absolutely,” Burke said.
Jazz at Grizzlies
O At FedEx Forum
Tipoff • Monday, 6 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 97.5 FM, 1280 AM, 960 AM
Records • Jazz 8-22; Grizzles 11-15
About the Jazz • Have won twice in four games on this five-game trip. … Point guard Trey Burke is third among all rookies in scoring. … Utah connected on 10 of 21 3-point attempts in a Saturday win over the Charlotte Bobcats.
About the Grizzlies • Point guard Mike Conley leads the team in scoring at 18 points a night. … Center Marc Gasol is out indefinitely with an MCL sprain. … Snapped a five-game losing streak with a win over the New York Knicks on Saturday.