Trey Burke ties renaissance with Knicks to renewed faith

NEW YORK -- Head coach Jeff Hornacek admitted Saturday night what has been obvious for a while: Right now, the Knicks prioritize playing young players over winning games.

"You're not mathematically out of any playoff race, but realistically, what are we, [7.5] games behind with [21] to go, so that's probably not going to happen," he said after the Knicks' 121-112 loss to the Boston Celtics. "So continue to play as hard as you can and get these young guys some minutes."

That means the Knicks will use the rest of the season to evaluate their young players. And Trey Burke is taking advantage of the opportunity.

The 2013 NBA lottery pick (ninth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves, with his rights traded to Utah Jazz) had 26 points and a team-high eight assists in 26 minutes against Boston. Two days earlier, Burke had 26 points and six assists in a win at the Orlando Magic. This is the first time in his career that Burke has scored at least 25 points in back-to-back games. He has shot a combined 54 percent in those two games and has enjoyed a 7-to-1 assist to turnover ratio.

"Trey's been excellent," Hornacek said. "It's kind of that Kyrie [Irving] factor. When you have a point guard that can shoot 3s, can drive the ball and can kick it out to guys, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense."

Burke might be pressuring opposing defenses, but he isn't putting too much pressure on himself these days. A renewed sense of religious faith has given him the kind of peace of mind that was missing earlier in his NBA career.

"I'm living better," Burke said. "Now, being married [to his longtime girlfriend, De'Monique, over the summer], not being out partying and being more focused and more locked in on my assignment each and every day -- which, right now, is a 25-year-old man in basketball. My faith helps me perform at a better level.

"I feel like I kind of lost that when I first got to the NBA."

Burke finished third in the NBA Rookie of the Year voting in 2013-14 with the Jazz, but he fell out of the starting lineup midway through the 2014-15 season and was traded to the Washington Wizards in the 2016 offseason. Burke started the 2016-17 season as the backup point guard, but he dropped out of the rotation in February after Washington signed former New York point guard Brandon Jennings.

As a free agent last summer, Burke had several NBA offers from teams and was close to signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder. But he said that his faith led him to sign a contract with the Knicks' G League team in Westchester, instead of an NBA contract with the Thunder.

"I didn't choose to come here. I really in my heart feel like I heard him [God] telling me to come here," Burke said. "Because I was a free agent and it didn't make sense in the natural eye because you have these opportunities [to play in the NBA] right now. Why wouldn't you go to OKC? But it makes sense because I know what type of platform comes with being a New York Knick. ... This is the biggest market in the world."

Burke said he wants to use the platform in New York to help others, a sense of purpose that is guided by his faith.

"It started this summer when I looked myself in the mirror, and I was kind of like, 'I've got to start over,'" Burke said. " ... I bumped heads with my agent this summer because he didn't understand [the decision to sign a G-League deal with the Knicks]. He pretty much called me and said, ‘OKC tomorrow for training camp. I'm going to call them back right now and say yeah, right?' I said, 'No.' He said, 'Why?' I said, 'I want to go to New York. And I wanted to do that for the Lord. ... I wanted to come to New York because I feel like this is a city where I can help a lot of people."

Burke, the 2012-13 Associated Press College Basketball Player of the Year, isn't quite sure how he wants to use his platform to help others. But he hopes that by discussing his faith publicly he can help other athletes who might be struggling with some of the issues related to faith that Burke wrestled with in recent years.

"I know there's a lot of athletes that want to talk about it but don't talk about it because they're hesitant about it. They worry about how it comes off. They worry about what other people think about them," Burke said. "To me, I'm not worried anymore. I don't want to deny him anymore. I'm at a point now where I want people to know who the real Trey Burke is."