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Scott G Winterton/Deseret News

Between Jazz point guards, a tale of two fathers

By Andy Larsen | Posted - Jan 8th, 2016 @ 2:59pm



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SALT LAKE CITY — Alfonso Clark Burke III is the last player taking shots on the floor of Zions Bank Basketball Center after practice ends.

"Trey", Burke's nickname, was given to him by his mother on account of the fact he was the third in a lineage of Burkes. On this day, Burke has just finished working out with fellow point guard Raul Togni Neto and Utah Jazz assistant coaches Johnnie Bryant and Igor Kokoskov, but still spends a few minutes getting shots up alone in an otherwise empty court.

Despite being perhaps the best quote on the team, requesting Trey Burke to speak to the media is usually met with sighs from Jazz PR staff and journalists alike; it usually means many more minutes of waiting for everyone involved after practice as Burke finishes working out, then shooting, then watching film with Kokoskov one-on-one. On this day, the other writers decide it's not worth the wait, leaving me one-on-one with Trey.

I'm here to talk to Burke about his father, Alfonso Clark Burke II, better known as Benji Burke. I let him know I plan on asking him about his father, and before I ask him my first question, he immediately brings up the unusual relationship between the two.

"He's been one of my no. 1 supporters my whole life, he's coached me since I was 4 years old, pretty much all the way up to high school," Burke starts. "He's pushed me my whole life, he's been hard on me and it's gotten me to where I am now."

Benji coached Trey's AAU team for most of his adolescent life. The stories of shouting matches between father and son during and after games seem almost exaggerated now, so I ask Trey if they're true.

"Yeah, they're very true. There were times I'd be so mad at my dad on the court and I'd go and talk to him right afterwards off the court, and it kinda started to affect our relationship a bit."

By all accounts, relationship between father and son improved after Benji stopped being Trey's coach. "He'd rather have our relationship than that type of coach-player type relationship. But then again, all of the things he taught me have helped me to this point and where I'm going."

Trey's parents, who live in Columbus, Ohio, come to Utah about three to four times a year to watch him play in person. Now, Trey says of his father, "He's always encouraging, he's always telling me things I need to work on and where I can be better at."

***

Raul Togni Neto is the starting point guard of the Utah Jazz, ahead of Trey Burke, despite the fact that Neto is an unproven rookie almost certainly less effective than Burke overall. This drives Benji Burke crazy.

Both Burke parents this season have posted to social media with opinions about Burke's playing time and role on the Jazz, and, well, they don't seem happy. Benji's even has "liked" tweets with messages like "Trey Burke need a new team" and one writing that "Trey Burke has to get out of Utah."

The situation is heightened by the fact that Benji partially represents Trey as an agent ("He's half-agent, basically," says Trey), along with Austin Brown of CAA. A parent unhappy with his son's playing time isn't terribly unusual, but a player's agent making the same claim publicly is a bit more newsworthy.

Trey Burke is embarrassed by his parents' social media exploits when I bring them up. "I don't really condone it, I always tell them to stop and don't do it, because so many people watch it," Burke says. "From their perspective, and it's more of them being parents, and them being a little biased." Benji, if he's anything, he's a fighter, a competitor. If he feels that his son is being slighted, he can't help but make it known.

***

Raul Togni Neto comes back from the showers after the Jazz's 5-point win against the Denver Nuggets a few minutes later than everyone else. Neto apologizes for making me wait, then takes questions about his own father, Raul Togni Filho.

You see, Neto isn't actually the rookie point guard's family name, that's "Togni." In Portuguese, "neto" translates to "grandson", his father's "filho" means "son." In the American system, Neto's father would be Raul Togni II, his son, the Jazz point guard, Raul Togni III.

In a different world, it's not too difficult to imagine Raul Neto being referred to as "Trey".

Like Trey Burke, it was Neto's father who was undoubtedly the driving force behind his basketball career. Filho is a former professional basketball player himself in Brazil who introduced his son to the world of basketball through his play.

The first NBA player Neto met in his life was Leandro Barbosa, who actually backed up Filho in his time in playing for the Brazilian league team from Bauru. When Barbosa's current team, the Golden State Warriors, visited Utah earlier this season, Barbosa posted on his Facebook page about the occasion.

Neto's father had a hands-off approach. While Filho was in the locker room, the young Neto played in the gym alone. "I was almost by myself, just playing ball. I remember I was making up some games, just playing just in my mind, as if I was playing one-on-one with somebody, just playing with someone."

Filho makes it a focus to stay positive in discussions with his son. "Sometimes I get an open shot, and I don't do it, and he's like 'you can do that', he gives me confidence, stuff like that," Neto says. He never says like "you have to do that", because he's not here."

It's easy for Filho to stay positive, though. His son is the starting point guard for the Utah Jazz, a position previously held by Filho's favorite basketball player, John Stockton. Filho even had this made for his home, putting his two favorite Jazz PGs next to each other:


"He's happy for me," Neto explains.

***

As I ask Neto these questions, the only players left in the Jazz's locker room are fathers themselves, watching their kids draw on the team whiteboard, screaming and diagramming up their own plays only intelligible to fellow 3-year-olds.

Trey Burke's son TJ is among them, running around the locker room in circles, playing with his peers – all sons of professional basketball players, all ready to grow up around this young Jazz team.

The irony isn't lost on us: 20 or so years ago, Neto himself was in this situation, growing up in the shadow of professional basketball. As we watch them, he says, "I wanted to be a basketball player just because of my dad. Watching him playing, watching the life he had, it was the one thing I was thinking about."

Just a few feet away, TJ screams happily and runs to his father, still getting dressed. A smile crosses Trey's face.

Andy Larsen

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