Leo Sepkowitz is an Editorial Assistant at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @leosepkowitz.
You probably best remember Trey Burke as the dude who got as hot as humanly possible two years ago to help Michigan top Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen. If you can’t vividly picture the absurdity, then take this two-minute refresher course. Please, take your time. I’ll still be here when you’ve finished watching and have picked up your jaw from the floor.
Back with me? Cool. Following that explosion, Burke was named the Naismith National Player of the Year. Shortly after that, the Jazz selected him with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. There’s no doubt been some inconsistency in the 18 months since, but the signs of stardom aren’t hard to find. At his best, Burke creates shots for himself and his teammates with ease. He’s a willing passer who can score from all over the floor—a lethal combination that should grow more deadly with time.
He’s not yet an All-Star, but he’s taken part in the next-best things. A year ago, he won the Skills Challenge and started for Team Webber in the Rising Stars Challenge. He participated in both events again this past weekend, scoring 17 points for Team USA on Friday night.
In the middle of a hectic All-Star Weekend, Burke sat down with SLAM to discuss a Rising Stars loss to the World team, staying in touch with old college buddies and being the face of the upcoming Get Game Ready campaign with Unilever, which will launch during the NCAA tourney.
SLAM: Was it hard to gel with your rookie and sophomore teammates with zero practice time beforehand?
Trey Burke: Yeah, it was a little weird. But the game comes natural to all of us—we just try to move the ball, play together. It was kinda like a pickup game. The last 10 minutes, guys turn it on, start playing actual defense. We just picked it up too late.
SLAM: Did anybody that you played with surprise or impress you?
TB: Getting to play with Mason Plumlee, a versatile big that can run the floor like that. It’s easy to get assists off him. That was cool, having that opportunity. Playing with [Victor] Oladipo, a guy I competed with for two years in college… I had a good time. It was a fun night, we just didn’t win. We were all kinda mad about that [laughs].
SLAM: Did you sense a different style of play from the World team?
TB: They do have their own unique style of play, euro steps and things like that. It’s not too big a difference but you can tell watching a guy coming from another country that they bring a different flavor to the game.
SLAM: Was it strange—or scary—playing against Rudy Gobert?
TB: Yeah that was a little weird [laughs]. But I play against him in practice. He’s a force down there. Every time you get down there, he’s affecting your shot. He’s getting better and it’s great to see—I think he was just as good defensively last year just ’cause of his defensive abilities. Offensively, he’s much better and more confident finishing around the rim. He had a great showing [on Friday].
SLAM: What do you think of Dante Exum so far?
TB: It’s a growing process. He’s facing some of the issues I faced last year, not being as consistent as you know you can be. I just tell him ‘Sometimes you’re gonna have some games like that, you just gotta keep getting better.’
SLAM: It’s only your second year in the League, but do you feel like you’re his mentor a little bit?
TB: To a certain extent. Like you said, I’m still young, too, so I don’t have all the answers. I’m still a guy who’s looking for that mentor who can take me under their wing.
SLAM: Who do you look to for advice?
TB: On the team, probably Steve Novak. He’s a guy I’ve talked to from time to time about things. He’s a vet, he’s had experience in the League. So I probably say him because he could tell you things that some guys, even if they’re successful in the League right now, couldn’t tell you because they don’t have the mileage.
SLAM: Is he the best shooter you’ve ever seen?
TB: [Without hesitation] Yes. definitely. If not the best, top two or three.
SLAM: Who else, as far as dudes who just never miss in practice?
TB: Nik Stauskas, who I played with in college.
SLAM: Your Michigan team has five guys in the pros right now. How much do you stay in touch with them?
TB: The season is strenuous and there’s a lot going on, so you don’t just talk to them as much as people think you get to. But every time I see them we have discussions. From time to time we send text messages and things like that. I make sure I keep in touch with them via Twitter or whatever.
SLAM: Do you pull for your old Michigan teammates who are in the League now?
TB: Absolutely. Mitch McGary, Nik, Glenn [Robinson III], all those guys. I know Nik is getting some time so I look at his stats. When Glenn has an opportunity to play, I’m always looking and seeing how they do. I’m sure they do the same thing with me. Tim! I didn’t mean to leave Tim out! Tim [Hardaway Jr.] is doing his thing here in New York.
SLAM: Would you feel confident if Michigan’s old starting five faced any other college’s starting five? Like Anthony Davis’ Kentucky team?
TB: I’d be very confident. We went through highs and lows together, went through a lot of adversity. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. That second year, we made a big run, so, I’m sure if we were to come back together and play again we’d still have that chemistry.
SLAM: Stauskas and Hardaway have gone through coaching changes, as have you. How’s the adjustment been with Quin Snyder?
TB: It’s been good. He holds me accountable for a lot of things, on the court and off the court. So he’s already helped me out because, you know, some coaches won’t do that to the full extent. He always tells me ‘Until I see the defensive improvement, your minutes might be reduced or you may come off the bench.’ Things like that. I don’t take it personally, it’s just something that’s gonna make me better as a player. Then off the court, he treats me like a grown man, basically keeps it real with me. Lets me know that I gotta do this, be productive in that way. So to have a coach like that, that’s new, is great. Great communication—we talk a lot.
SLAM: Obviously you don’t want to look to next year yet, but there’s a ton of young talent on your roster. I think what the Bucks have done—15 wins last year, above .500 this year—is a fair comparison for what you could do next year. Do you get excited about that long-term potential?
TB: I think so. We got a young team, so we have a lot of areas to grow in. We got a lot of good young players who play the right way. It’s an unselfish team, we move the ball, we have multiple guys who can make plays. I don’t wanna put limits on our team. I definitely think we can contend. We’ve beaten some of the top teams in the League this year, and that alone lets me know that it can be done, that we can contend, definitely.
SLAM: Last year you won the Skills Challenge and had a chance to be around top point guards like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard. What was that like, as a rookie?
TB: It was cool. I compete against them, so it’s a different perspective that I have to take. But off the court, seeing those guys, it’s an inspiration. The level that they’re at is the level I wanna be at eventually.
SLAM: March Madness is coming up, and you’ll be partnering up with Unilever on an ad campaign. How cool is that?
TB: I’m very excited. I know one thing I’m excited to see once the tournament comes around is some of those ads online and in the stores and things like that. So I’m excited to team up with Unilever to Get Game Ready.
SLAM: Have you been following the college basketball season closely? Who do you think will win it all?
TB: Wisconsin lost my guy Traevon Jackson. They need him back. He’s one of their leaders, he makes plays for them. Kentucky looks good obviously. I don’t know if they can win it all ’cause college basketball is so weird—a team can look good the whole season and lose the second or third game of the tournament, or even in the Final Four. Virginia will have a great shot of winning. Duke, you know. I think those are contenders.
SLAM: What do you think of Michigan hiring Jim Harbaugh?
TB: I’m very excited. It’s a new era. Coach Hoke was my guy, but they had to go a different direction with Harbaugh. I’m looking forward to that. Those Michigan-Ohio State games will be a little more competitive now [laughs].