Melo Trimble knows why more cameras and voice recorders are pointed toward him than anyone else at Xfinity Center. But, as always, he remains calm.
It’s Oct. 21, Terrapins men’s basketball media day, and dozens of reporters gather around the 6-foot-2 freshman point guard with a freshly cut fade as he sits at a gray circular table. Clad in his white Terps No. 2 uniform, Trimble sits tall as media members spout question after question about his sky-high expectations.
ABOVE: Terrapins guard Melo Trimble addresses the media as he prepares for his first season at Maryland.
In April, Trimble, ESPN’s 29th-ranked recruit in the country, became the first Terps signee since 2003 to play in the McDonald’s High School All-American Game. He has since been labeled by some pundits as this year’s most important freshman in the country. And a win-starved fan base that’s watched the Terps miss the NCAA tournament each of the past four seasons has labeled Trimble as its savior.
Nationally and locally, college basketball fans and experts know about the pressure Trimble faces. They know what’s been said about the 19-year-old from Upper Marlboro and the role he’ll play as the Terps starting point guard.
But with the team’s season opener looming Nov. 14, a question remains regarding the local kid who has the weight of a once-prominent program planted on his shoulders.
Out of the spotlight, away from the reporters that stare him down on this media day, who is Melo Trimble?
Kim Trimble was nervous her 5-year-old son would have trouble making friends while growing up in Upper Marlboro. Melo was studious and friendly but just so reserved around others.
Sports, Kim Trimble figured, would present Melo an opportunity to branch out.
“You see, I’m shy, too. I’m so shy I wouldn’t try out for teams,” Kim Trimble said. “So I brought him out for pee-wee flag football and then for pee-wee basketball.”
Basketball became the sport that stuck, and Melo Trimble’s venture onto the hardwood as a youngster kick-started a rise to prominence. Soon he was spending hours in gyms each week and making his mom drive him to Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia, at 5 a.m. so he could shoot 100 shots before school started.
Kim Trimble doesn’t tell the story of how her son started playing hoops because of what it produced on the court, but because of how it characterizes him off it.
Trimble’s not the kind of guy who’s the loudest or most outspoken in a group, O’Connell coach Joe Wootten said. He is, though, someone who develops extremely close bonds with his teammates and coaches.
Even when he was scoring more than 20 points per game at O’Connell in his junior and senior years as one of the most hyped prospects in school history, Trimble didn’t seem brash or cocky. Instead of walking down the O’Connell hallways commanding attention like many star prep athletes, Trimble would stay close to his friends and grin and blush at compliments about his on-court performances.
“He was such an everyday guy,” Wootten said. “So humble.”
Mark Turgeon was acting like a 5-year-old.
The Terps coach was at a session of intrasquad scrimmages at O’Connell along with a handful of other Division I coaches, and he couldn’t keep himself from smiling and clapping. He watched as Trimble, then an underclassman, routinely sliced into the line to make plays for teammates, buried nearly every shot he launched and played gritty defense.
Opponents would double-team the young guard, and he always seemed to make the right play.
Turgeon bounded over to Wootten with a smile on his face as the games continued, and he leaned in close to the O’Connell coach.
“‘I love him, I just love him. He’s unbelievable,’” Turgeon whispered. “Don’t tell anybody though. I don’t want anybody recruiting him.”
Turgeon couldn’t keep his admiration for Trimble a secret, but it didn’t matter. The Knights star spurned offers from Villanova, Miami and Notre Dame to commit to this university in December 2012.
The most noticeable thing that makes Trimble a threat on the floor is his shooting ability, his coaches said. But perhaps the more valuable trait is his steady composure in all situations.
“Melo’s a unique young man,” Turgeon said. “He kind of just stays at the same pace the way he plays. He doesn’t get excited; he doesn’t get up; he doesn’t get down.”
Trimble’s top two attributes were most on display when he lead O’Connell into the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament final against Benedictine (Richmond, Virginia) as a junior in March 2013. Entering the game, Wootten knew their opponents were bound to throw two or three defenders at Trimble on each possession because he had scored 28 points the previous night.
The game was on a big stage, too, with about 4,500 fans squeezed into the gym at Frostburg University.
Trimble, though, never faltered. He accepted the double teams and hit his first shot. Then his second. And another.
“I love him, I just love him. He’s unbelievable”
— Mark Turgeon, Terrapin men's basketball coach
“He was nailing shot after shot and he finally missed one and the whole crowd went, ‘whoa,’” Wootten said. “It was just such a show.”
Kim Trimble wasn’t able to watch the game, but she knew all about her son’s 17 first-quarter points.
“I was getting all kinds of text messages,” Kim Trimble said. “People were calling me saying, ‘This is unbelieveable.’”
Trimble finished with 34 points that night in an O’Connell win before the largest crowd he played in front of all season.
And now that he’s in College Park, Trimble’s steadiness and scoring ability has seemed to translate. In the Terps’ exhibition opener Saturday, Trimble scored a game-high 19 points and dished out five assists to two turnovers in his Terps debut.
“He’s been everything and more than advertised for us,” Turgeon said.
As word about Trimble’s success with O’Connell spread, the rumors started swirling. Would the Knights’ best player, like so many other local talents, bolt from his high school to attend a nearby basketball powerhouse like Oak Hill Academy or Montrose Christian?
“I never had a conversation with him about it,” Wootten said. “I know Melo so well and I know his mom. I know what their values are.”
Trimble stuck with Wootten and his Knights teammates and experienced great success, earning his way onto the McDonald’s All-American team.
That’s always been how Trimble, who lived with both of his parents, older brother and younger sister growing up, has been. His teammates — whether on the Knights, his DC Assault AAU team or his younger recreational squads — have typically been his best friends, and his coaches were his closest confidants.
That tendency to grow tight with teammates followed him to College Park, where he and fellow freshmen Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens have leaned on one another in their transition to college life and Division I basketball over the summer. The trio spends nearly all of their time together, and just before the semester they each got tattoos on their legs that read “MBK” for “My Brother’s Keeper.”
Wiley and Trimble, who both lived in Prince George’s County as kids, have a special bond that hints at their loyalty. They each had offers to leave the area to play Division I hoops elsewhere but stayed at home to help rebuild a fledgling Terps program.
“That’s one of the reasons why we’re so close,” Wiley said.
“This year, since we started in College Park, June 2, we’ve really gotten close — me, him and Jared,” Trimble added. “We’re like brothers. You’ll never see me without one of them.”
“A lot of people are really counting on me”
— Melo Trimble, Terrapin men's basketball guard
Doug Williams, outfitted in a red Terps collared shirt, settled into his seat a few dozens rows behind the baseline as fans began trickling into Xfinity Center about 20 minutes before the start of the Terps’ exhibition opener against San Francisco State.
Williams has been a season ticket-holder since the 1970s. He’s watched icons like Len Bias and Juan Dixon. And he feels he can get a sense of what the Terps need to do each year to have success. So when Trimble’s name comes up in conversation, Williams chuckled and stares at court where the two teams were warming up.
“If he doesn’t have a good year,” Williams said, “we’re gonna really suck.”
Several rows down, Stanley Rodenhauser, who’s had season tickets for 40 years, expressed a similar thought.
“[Trimble’s] going to have a lot of pressure on him,” Rodenhauser said.
Rodenhauser pondered former Terps point guards who entered college with the same expectations as Trimble faces. He came up blank.
Then he adjusted his thought process and mustered two comparisons to young guards who shouldered a relatively heavy burden. One was John Lucas, who ended up becoming the first overall pick of the 1976 NBA draft. The other was Steve Blake, who led the Terps to the program’s only NCAA title in 2002.
Trimble knows all this. He understands the comparisons and the hope and the history.
In early May, Seth Allen became the third guard and fifth Terps player to transfer from the program in the aftermath of a disappointing 17-15 season, leaving a glaring hole on the roster fans yearn for Trimble to fill.
“There’s way more pressure because we had a lot of people to leave last year and people were saying, ‘Oh yeah, but we going to Melo,’” Trimble said at media day. “A lot of people are really counting on me.”
Trimble’s known for a while what stands in front of him. On the day news of Allen’s departure broke, he retweeted dozens of fans.
@_STAYMELO also when picking a number, you should be 24 cuz like Jack Bauer, you’re here to save us.
— John Hartnett (@Hartnettecon) May 2, 2014
(Christian Jenkins/The Diamondback)
Ask his mom or his coaches or his teammates, and they’ll say Trimble is the perfect person to handle such pressure. His most unique trait, those close to him contend, is his steady demeanor.
ABOVE: Terrapins guard Melo Trimble bring the ball up the court during Maryland’s exhibition victory over San Francisco State.
“His AAU teammates called him ‘Poker Face,’” Kim Trimble said. “Never ever gets to him.”
“It’s an uncanny ability,” Wootten added. “He never gets rattled.”
Trimble, though, concedes at times this spring he’d gotten “big-headed,” and the praise rolling in has had him nervous at times. But it never shows. No one around him has ever seen his confidence waver.
After several weeks of practice, Trimble said his nerves have subsided because he’s played with established players like Dez Wells and Jake Layman, and those veterans have responded by telling the young guard that he already has the talents of an upper-echelon contributor on the college level.
“Melo’s a really good player,” Wells said. “He won’t have any issues.”
Trimble provided glimpses at both his ability and level-headedness Saturday when he took the court in a competitive game as a Terp for the first time. In front of Williams and Rodenhauser and other Terps faithfuls, Trimble rose up to release from behind the three-point line just to the left of the top of the key and fired his first shot.
It clanked off the back of the rim.
Several possessions later, Trimble caught a pass in the same spot and released his second shot.
It ripped through the net for his first points.
“Melo Trimble’s a strong dude mentally,” Wiley said. “He’s not going to back down.”
That attitude’s one of several topics Trimble broaches as he spews responses at media day. And while he discusses all of his accolades and aspirations at media day, he makes sure to look each reporter in the eye. He smiles while offering soft-spoken answers about his commitment to playing point guard and his new diet since joining the Terps.
But one question stops Trimble from rambling.
“Are you prepared now to handle all of the expectations and pressure thrown your way?” one reporter asks.
Trimble stares straight at the inquiring man with a small camcorder and nods.
“Yes I am.”
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