Terps confident Melo Trimble can deliver as a freshman point guard

Pop quiz: Who was the last freshman point guard to win a national championship?

Shortly after Melo Trimble made his first turnover in a recent exhibition game against San Francisco State, fifth-year senior Richaud Pack gave some encouragement to the freshman Maryland point guard.

"After the play, I told him to get it out of his head, and he said, 'I'm good to go,'" Pack recalled after the game, which Trimble finished with 19 points, five assists and two turnovers in 27 minutes. "You saw it. He was good after that. He's just a mature freshman."

What might seem like an oxymoron on other parts of a college campus has become the norm in college basketball. Freshmen such as Trimble, Maryland's first McDonald's All-American since Mike Jones in 2003, are recruited with the plan of playing right away.

As the Terps begin their 2014-15 season Friday against Wagner, much responsibility has been given to Trimble, the first freshman point guard to start a season opener for Maryland since Eric Hayes in 2006. Prior to Hayes, Steve Blake started his first game for the Terps in 1999.

"He has a great pace about him, has a great feel for the game," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said of Trimble. "He's a winner. It's a natural progression. It would be bad if he wasn't the starting point guard. He's ready for it."

Turgeon, who played point guard at Kansas, started his team's opener against Houston's fabled Phi Slama Jama when he was a freshman in 1983.

Nowadays, freshman are leaned on more than ever, but Trimble is part of a short list of first-year point guards who are expected to begin this season in the starting lineup.

Nationally, opinions about starting freshman point guards began to change when Bobby Hurley helped Duke reach the NCAA title game in 1990, though Hurley later admitted that it might have been his immaturity that contributed to the Blue Devils getting blown out by UNLV by 30 points in that final. He would play significant roles in Duke's back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992.

In 1997, Arizona's Mike Bibby became the first freshman point guard to start for an NCAA championship team. Since then, freshman point guards have had their share of success in the postseason — Aaron Harrison helped Kentucky reach the national final last season — but only one, Gerry McNamara of Syracuse in 2003, cut down the nets.

Villanova coach Jay Wright has started a handful of freshmen at point guard in his first 12 seasons. Asked how far they have taken the Wildcats, Wright had a difficult time coming up with an answer. "Very interesting — second round," Wright responded after some thought.

"They've got to be really good to start at that position [as freshmen]," Wright said. "And the guy that Maryland has, the kid from O'Connell, is really good."

Trimble could be the most celebrated point guard to come to Maryland since John Lucas in the early 1970s. Despite the fact that he was mostly a scoring point guard at Bishop O'Connell High in Northern Virginia, the Terps are counting on Trimble giving them something they haven't had under Turgeon.

Turgeon has struggled to find stability at that position since succeeding Gary Williams in 2011. No fewer than eight players have started at least a game at the point in that span — including former walk-on Varun Ram (River Hill) — with inconsistent results.

This marks the first time since Turgeon's inaugural season as a Division I head coach 16 years ago at Jacksonville (Ala.) State that he plans on using a true freshman as his main point guard from the opening game. A year ago, when then sophomore Seth Allen was hurt late in the preseason, he moved Dez Wells to the point for a stretch rather than go with freshman Roddy Peters.

Trimble is trying to downplay the significance of being a freshman, partly on the advice of Turgeon.

"Coach told me — not just me but all the new guys — that we're not considered freshmen anymore, so I don't consider myself a freshman," Trimble said after the San Francisco State exhibition.

As much as he defers to more experienced teammates such as Wells and junior forward Jake Layman, Trimble said the way they've responded to him has added to his confidence. It also helps that he doesn't feel the burden to carry a team as he did for much of his high school career.

"Dez and Jake let me talk what's on my mind," Trimble said. "It's not too much pressure anymore there. It's me being smart out there and doing what's right. A lot of my teammates that I'm around now, they relieve a lot of the pressure off me because they can do a lot of stuff off the ball."

Said Wells: "Melo is a really good player without even playing any college games. As long as he sticks to what he knows and plays within himself, he won't have any issues. Melo has a great pace to him, and he has a really good jump shot. He can score at all [spots] on the court."

What strikes his new teammates is that Trimble might act like a freshman when the team is in the lockerroom or away from Xfinity Center. The moment he steps onto the court, it seems to change.

"He's always kind of locked in. For how loose he is, it's kind of weird," Pack said. "It's amazing to be a freshman to play with that composure. You have to have the mindset Melo has, he never gets too high or too low. You never see him miss a shot and shake his head. You never see him make a shot and go crazy either."

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