Much has changed in the past year for Maryland point guard Melo Trimble. A year ago, he was coming off a sensational freshman season and was voted the Big Ten Conference’s preseason player of the year, in addition to being on several preseason All-America teams.
Now, after helping the Terps reach the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003 despite struggling with a hamstring injury that contributed to a drastic shooting slump, Trimble is coming back as a junior in a different role and with a different mindset.
The spotlight has dimmed as well. Wisconsin senior forward Nigel Hayes was voted the Big Ten’s preseason Player Of The Year and was the only unanimous All-Big Ten first-team selection. Trimble, who finished second team All-Big Ten last season and was a first-team preseason selection this year, still has his doubters.
“I’m here to get better and also, of course, (have) something to prove,” Trimble said during Big Ten media day Thursday, held in the nation’s capital in conjunction with the league’s tournament’s being held at the Verizon Center. “Last year wasn’t the year I wanted to have. Me coming back this year, I’m really focused, confident about myself. I’m going to play like the way I want to play.”
Said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon: “He doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody, except be the best basketball player and teammate he can for Maryland. If he does that, everything else will work out.”
After a lackluster performance in the NBA draft combine in Chicago, Trimble pulled his name out of June’s draft two hours before the deadline.
“It was a big relief,” Trimble said.
Seeing his stock fall from potential first-round pick to someone who might not have been selected at all gave Trimble a better idea of what it takes to make it in the pros.
Turgeon recalled what another former great Maryland guard said to him about Trimble last season.
“Juan Dixon used to tell me all the time, it’s good for a great player to have struggles at some point,” Turgeon said. “Melo had it, which is going to make him a great player.”
Northwestern junior point guard Bryant McIntosh saw a different Trimble last season than he did when they were freshmen.
“I think he was going through a little bit of a shooting slump and mentally it affected him. His confidence kind of wavered,” McIntosh said. “Toward the end of the year he sort of picked it up a little bit. I think that’s the biggest difference. His freshman year, he played so confident. I’d like to see him get back to that. That was the best Melo I had seen. He was a tough guy to guard.”
Trimble acknowledged that he was distracted by the NBA chatter last season, particularly compared to his mostly stress-free freshman year.
When the Terps open their season Nov. 11 against American, Trimble will lead a Maryland team with several new players, including three freshmen and graduate transfer L.G. Gill, expected to play major roles.
After deferring the leadership role to then-senior star Dez Wells as a freshman, and to seniors Rasheed Sulaimon and Robert Carter Jr. last season, Trimble knows that this year’s Maryland team will go as far as he can take it.
Certainly not as fiery as Wells or as emotional as Sulaimon, Trimble said he is getting his own message across.
“Last year, we had a lot of weapons on the team, but this year, I’m the leader. It’s my team,” Trimble said. “We’ve just got a group of guys that want to get better. When you have a group of guys that just want to get better and respect the leader, you’re going to have a good season.”
Trimble said that going through NBA tryouts last spring has helped deal with whatever criticism he might hear this season.
“You’ve got to be mentally tough,” he said.
He also admitted that he was “lazy” about taking care of his body, even after he had some lower back problems as a freshman. The hamstring injury that occurred in early January lingered for the rest of the season, and contributed to his 3-point shooting drop from roughly 41 to 31 percent.
“If I take care of my body like I’m supposed to, certain things like my hamstring, my back won’t happen,” Trimble said.
Trimble likes to go back to his freshman year, when he put on one mesmerizing performance after another and, with Wells, led Maryland to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. That seems like a long time ago, now that Trimble’s game has been picked apart.
“I’m a confident player and I know what I can do, but when people say things like that, it just gives me more confidence,” he said. “Chip on my shoulder – that’s how I’m going to play all year because I feel people forgot things that we’ve done as a team, that includes me. Not only myself, but we’ve got something to prove.”