SALT LAKE CITY — After Friday night’s game between Phoenix and Utah, Jeff Hornacek was walking into the Jazz coaches office at EnergySolutions Arena to talk to old friends and co-workers at the same time Trey Burke happened to leave the nearby locker room.
The Suns coach stopped, greeted the Jazz’s rookie point guard, who'd scored 13 points in a loss, and offered three words of encouragement.
“Hang in there.”
The next night, Burke scored a career-high 20 points and made key plays in the fourth quarter to lead Utah to a 112-104 win against Hornacek’s squad at US Airways Center.
The former Jazz player and coach might add “when you’re not playing us” the next time he gives Burke a friendly pep talk.
Saturday’s performance was a bonus, but Burke was appreciative of Hornacek’s words.
“Just to know a former Jazz player — a guy that played with (Karl) Malone, played with (John) Stockton — is telling me to keep my head up and push through it, that gives me confidence,” Burke said. “Those three words that he said to me, it may be little, but it gave me confidence.”
The current Jazz player got a similar “hang in there” boost from his coach, Tyrone Corbin, when Utah trailed 53-49 at halftime Saturday in Phoenix.
Through two quarters, Burke only had three points compared to 14 points and eight assists for Suns point guard Goran Dragic.
“Coach told me to play confident out there. In the first half, I felt like I got down on myself too much,” Burke said. “I didn’t want to feel like I was bringing like bad energy to the team. I just tried to play through it and do whatever it takes for the team to win.”
That, he did.
Burke scored 17 points in the second half, including two big 3-pointers in the final four minutes, to help Utah pick up its first road win of the season. In just his third start and sixth NBA game, the 21-year-old played 32 minutes, grabbed six rebounds, dished out three assists and made only one turnover.
“He’s continuing to learn,” Corbin said.
He’s also continuing to gain the confidence with his game that helped him lead Michigan to the 2013 NCAA championship game as a sophomore.
You might’ve noticed that confidence is a common topic for this competitive playmaker.
The Jazz point guard called the team’s win at Phoenix on Saturday “a confidence booster” heading into Monday night's matchup with the Houston Rockets.
Utah (3-15) will need all the help it can get to beat the Rockets (13-5), who’ve won five games in a row.
The rookie believes playing with poise and belief will help the Jazz continue to win, which, believe it or not, they’ve done more often than not in the past week. Utah has won two of three games coming into this rematch with Houston, which won 104-93 at ESA a month ago.
“I think the biggest thing for us is (having) confidence going forward,” Burke said. “We dug ourselves in a hole early on in the season, but it’s a long season. We have to continue to play through mistakes, continue to play though losses, and try to find (what) where we’re best at.
“I think we’re our best when we move the ball, when we’re talking on defense, getting out on transition and using every piece on offense.”
Saturday was a prime example.
Burke was one of seven Jazz players with 12 or more points, including nice bench production from forward Jeremy Evans (12 points) and guard Alec Burks (13 points). Utah shot a sizzling 51.3 percent and scored one more point than its previous season high.
It was as confidently as the Jazz have played all season on the road, where they’d gone 0-9 before this win.
As for Burke, the 6-1 athlete had the kind of game many expected he would after being the first point guard drafted in the NBA’s Class of 2013.
Interestingly, the No. 9 pick ended up in Utah after being traded from Minnesota, but he didn’t work out for the Jazz leading up to the draft.
Burke did work out this past spring for Phoenix, which ended up selecting 7-foot-1 center Alex Len with the No. 5 selection in June.
The Jazz point guard came away impressed with Hornacek, who’d just taken Phoenix’s vacant coaching job.
“I had the opportunity to work out with the Suns this summer, and he’s one of the coolest coaches,” Burke said. “I didn’t know him, (but) just being around him for two hours, he was really cool. He made me feel comfortable. He pushed me through the workout. Afterwards, he actually talked to me and gave me some advice.”
The Jazz can thank Hornacek later.