SALT LAKE CITY — Trey Burke left Salt Lake City in the summer of 2016 as a disgruntled 23-year-old.
After three seasons with the Utah Jazz, the former lottery pick was traded to the Washington Wizards for a 2021 second-round draft pick.
Now 25, the Columbus, Ohio native returned to Vivint Arena Friday as a member of the New York Knicks.
He seemed happy with no animosity whatsoever toward the organization while sporting new-look cornrows. Burke also traded in his longtime No. 3 jersey for No. 23 — in honor of childhood hero Michael Jordan.
"I just wanted a different look," Burke said. "I grew it out this summer and I was thinking about cutting it but I never did. I just wanted to grow it out and go back to my young look."
He fought his way back to the NBA after a successful stint in the G League, where he put up big numbers for the Westchester Knicks.
Times are much different now. He’s married with a 3-year-old son, TJ, and a renewed faith in God.
Whatever beef or jabs were thrown toward Utah through social media or his family is now behind him. He says its time to let the past be the past, but he’ll never forget those three seasons as a Jazzman where he averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 assists and 2.1 rebounds in 210 career games.
Most importantly, he learned to stay even keel during good and bad times.
“I think in the past, a lot of people think we’ve got problems with each other, but for me, I let that go,” Burke said. “I’ve grown from it, I’ve learned from it. My experience here was my first experience in the NBA as a professional, so Utah will always have a place in my heart regardless of what people may think.
“Every time I come back here, the scenery, the people here and just the feeling I get because this is where I was coming to do my press conference as a rookie in the NBA so I’m glad to be back here.”
Former Jazz guard Trey Burke returns to Utah tonight as a member of Knicks. “It’s always good to come back to a place where they embraced you with open arms,” Burke said. pic.twitter.com/lKNTiXkAxv— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) January 19, 2018
Burke admits he wasn’t always focused on basketball with other distractions holding him back as a young player in Utah. Once the Jazz drafted guard Dante Exum in his second season, he was honest in his assessment that it didn’t help.
“It played with me a little bit and I think that’s where it kind of went wrong,” Burke reflected. “I think that’s where it was kind of like, my rookie season coach (Tyrone Corbin) gets fired then going into my second year it’s a whole new coaching staff that I have to get accustomed to and sometimes things just don’t work out and that’s just how it went.”
As an unrestricted free agent over the summer, Burke turned down non-guaranteed deals from Oklahoma City and Orlando to redefine himself as a player in the G League while also developing resilience on this level. The experience was odd to some but necessary to help him grow not only professionally but personally, too.
“I think it helped me out a lot more as a man going down there and kind of recreating myself, showing that I can lead and what I can do on night in and night out on a consistent basis,” Burke said. “A lot of people wonder why I didn’t go to OKC and some of these other teams that offered me (contracts) but I didn’t think that I would get the opportunity to play on a night in and night out basis to show what I can do.”
Burke’s desire is to someday run a team and he enjoys playing in New York, still respected by many as the mecca of basketball. His current role is still unclear since joining the team less than a week ago but he continues to learn plays and adjust to Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek’s system whether he logs minutes or not.
“He provides something different for us with the penetration and ability to keep the dribble alive and kind of create in those situations,” Hornacek said of Burke. “He’s got the threat of a 3-point shot if teams try to go under.”