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Maryland's Melo Trimble rounding into one of nation's best point guards

Maryland guard Melo Trimble (2), left, drives the ball against Marshall guard Stevie Browning (2), second from left, and forward Ryan Taylor (25), right, in the first half, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in College Park.
Maryland guard Melo Trimble (2), left, drives the ball against Marshall guard Stevie Browning (2), second from left, and forward Ryan Taylor (25), right, in the first half, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in College Park. (Matt Hazlett / Associated Press)

Head up, eyes searching, Maryland point guard Melo Trimble dribbled a few feet past midcourt Sunday when he found freshman center Diamond Stone motoring down the lane, running full speed toward the basket.

Trimble kept moving.

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As two Marshall defenders came toward him, Trimble snapped a perfect one-hand bounce pass through a maze of arms to Stone for a two-handed dunk. The evolution of one of college basketball's best point guards continued.

"It's more so me having my head up at all times, trying to get Diamond involved more. He's coming along really well, so I think the more I feed him like that, he'll get more confidence," Trimble said Tuesday before practice. "It's part of being a good point guard."

By the time Maryland was finished with its last nonconference game before Big Ten play starts Wednesday against Penn State, Trimble had the kind of stat line — and one unofficial stat — that has become typical of the 6-foot-3 sophomore these days.

Trimble finished with 13 points on nine shots, seven assists, five rebounds and zero ego in an 87-67 win for the fourth-ranked Terps, who take an 11-1 record into their league opener at Xfinity Center.

Though Trimble has received more accolades than any of his teammates — from being selected first-team All-Big Ten last season to being picked Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year this year — it doesn't appear to affect the way he plays.

"He does not need to be the center of attention," said longtime college basketball analyst Dan Bonner, who has worked several Maryland games this season for the Big Ten Network. "He's just as happy if other guys are the center of attention. If he needs to do something amazing, he's very capable of doing it."

Trimble is certainly getting used to seeing his name on preseason watch lists for such national Player of the Year awards as the Naismith Trophy and Wooden Award. Still, it makes him feel a bit uncomfortable at times when fans or fellow students take his picture or ask for his autograph while one of his teammates is standing nearby, virtually ignored.

"I like the attention, but I don't like it too much because my teammates, not that they don't get attention, but they don't get as much as I do," he said. "I'm a team-first guy. I just want to be like my teammates and be with them all the time and not be excluded in the group."

Big-game player

Yet there is a reason why Trimble has received this kind of attention during his time at Maryland. Just as he often did as a freshman, Trimble's best games this season have come in the brightest of spotlights.

After a quiet first half against Georgetown, in which the Terps fell behind early and he didn't score for nearly 16 minutes, Trimble took over down the stretch to finish with 24 points including nine during a game-closing 20-10 run. His four free throws helped seal a 75-71 win on Nov. 17 at Xfinity Center.

After he struggled for most of the first half at North Carolina on Dec. 1, Trimble and senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon carried the Terps from a double-digit deficit to the lead before the then-No. 9 Tar Heels gave then-No. 2 Maryland its only loss, 89-81, in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Trimble finished with 23 points and a career-high 12 assists.

And, most recently against Connecticut in the Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 8 at Madison Square Garden, Trimble seemed content with getting his teammates going early. Only after a 20-point lead was cut to three did Trimble take over for a season-high 25-point performance, including 14-for-15 from the free-throw line.

Huskies coach Kevin Ollie, who played point guard for 13 seasons in the NBA, was impressed.

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"Melo controlled the whole game," Ollie said. "Just his tempo, his basketball IQ, knowing when to go, when to get other people involved. Just his awareness of what his team needs at critical moments. He does that better than anyone we've played against."`

Asked if there's anything Trimble has done to surprise him, Sulaimon said, "Just his will to win. Big-time games he shows up. For a sophomore when the bright lights are on and everyone's watching you, he doesn't shy away from it at all. His game actually elevates."

Proving a point

If Trimble's first season at Maryland was about proving he was just as good, if not better, than other freshmen across the country who had come in with more hype and fewer skeptics, his second season as a Terp — and potentially his last — is about leading his team deep into March, and possibly into early April.

"It's been pretty amazing what Melo's doing," said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who as a junior at Kansas helped the Jayhawks reach the 1986 Final Four. "I think he wants to prove to everybody that he's not just a scorer. He's a great point guard."

Turgeon said that Sunday's game was a perfect example of Trimble's selflessness.

"He hit his first couple of shots and you figure he's going to get 20, 25," Turgeon said. "He just stopped shooting and started facilitating. … It shows you he's all about the team and doing what's best for the team."

Recalling the player he was for his entire high school career at Bishop O'Connell in Northern Virginia, Trimble said, "I was a scorer. All I thought of was score first. I never really thought of passing first."

It was not that much different last season, when Trimble averaged a modest three assists per game, compared to 5.8 so far this season. A lot of it has to do with having big men like Stone and junior transfer Robert Carter Jr., both of whom can finish inside. It also has to do with Trimble's mindset.

Trimble acknowledged that he struggled with his own transition earlier this season.

"I can say at the beginning I was thinking about it a lot. It threw my game off, but as time went on, it got better and I just played basketball," he said.

If anything, the talent that now surrounds him makes Trimble almost impossible to guard.

"I had great players around last year, but this year we have a more talented group. I don't have to do as much as I did last year," said Trimble, who averaged a team-high 16.2 points as a freshman compared to a team-high 14.8 this season.

Bonner said that Trimble shouldn't be pigeonholed as strictly a point guard.

"In my mind, that's what Melo Trimble is; he's a throwback guy, he's a playmaker," Bonner said. "He's a guy who knows, 'OK, I need to score or I need the other guys involved.' He seems to me to be totally a selfless guy. It doesn't look he's trying to get his numbers. The guys on the team look like they enjoy playing together, and Melo enjoys it as much as anybody."

Getting ready for the future

Nothing Trimble has done so far makes anybody believe that teams have figured out how to slow him down, as some thought possible after he looked slow and out of sync as the youngest member of last summer's United States Pan American Games team. Trimble said it was a good learning experience.

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"It kind of gave me a taste of what the next level's going to be like," Trimble said. "It's more physical, which I wasn't too prepared for last year. It kind of hit me by surprise. Even going off the other teams, even though they were speaking different languages, I could tell how vocal they are and how much they communicate. They don't rely as much on their coaches as we do."

Trimble also saw what goes into the making of an NBA superstar when he was invited to reigning MVP Stephen Curry's guard camp shortly after the Pan Am Games.

"What I learned from Steph is basically to stay in the gym, and earn the respect and confidence of your teammates," Trimble said. "You just know that it's your team, being the floor general."

Trimble briefly considered leaving for the NBA after his freshman year, and his NBA stock has gone up this season. Going into the year, he was rarely mentioned as a first-round pick in most 2016 NBA mock drafts. Now he seems a near-consensus choice, as high as No. 17 overall in one. Trimble concedes that he has been forced to think about the future.

"Yeah, it's hard because everyone asks me if I'm going to leave," he said. "I'm not focused on that. When I do think about it, it makes me sad because I'm leaving my teammates and Coach Turgeon if I do leave. It just makes me happy because I'm going to enjoy the season and live in the moment."

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