COLLEGE PARK — More than three years after coming to Maryland as its first five-star recruit in 11 seasons and nearly a year after hitting his final shot at Xfinity Center — a 3-pointer to beat Michigan State — Melo Trimble returns Saturday as a visitor, not a savior.
Currently home in Upper Marlboro during the NBA G League’s break for the top level’s All-Star weekend, Trimble and former teammate Jake Layman, now in his second season with the Portland Trail Blazers, will be back to watch the struggling Terps play Rutgers on Saturday.
Trimble, who has played well in his rookie season as the starting point guard for Iowa Wolves, said Friday that it will be “pretty weird” to be watching a Maryland game in person after being the team’s star for three years.
“Just watching the games [on television], being away from Maryland … I miss it a lot, just the atmosphere that we had when I was there,” said Trimble, who opted to forego his senior year in order to turn pro.
“Obviously it's a memory. When I reminisce about being at Maryland, the best thing I think about are the [home] games. It was so alive. Everyone was into it, the flash mob, the Gold Rush game, things like that. It brings back memories.”
His remarkable career included being named to the All-Big Ten first team as a freshman in 2014-15, when he and then-senior Dez Wells led the Terps to a surprising second-place finish in the team’s inaugural season in the conference and to their first NCAA tournament bid under coach Mark Turgeon
After Wells graduated, Trimble led Maryland to two more NCAA tournaments, including the school’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 2003 as a sophomore, and an overall record of 79-25.
The team's leading scorer in each of his three seasons, Trimble finished 13th on Maryland’s all-time scoring list (1,658 points), eighth in 3-pointers made (177) and second in free throws made (503). He made a career of hitting clutch shots in close games, evidenced by the team’s 31-8 record in games decided by six points or fewer.
The final memory for Trimble came on senior day last March, when his 3-pointer beat the buzzer and the Spartans. Even as Trimble celebrated with his teammates and fans by pointing to the front of his jersey, he knew it was his last home game.
“I came into the last year always knowing that I was going to leave, no matter what kind of year it was,” said Trimble, who was also named to the All-Big Ten first team as a junior. “It was just time for me to go.
“When I took that shot and made it, it was a surreal feeling. It was probably the best feeling I felt throughout that whole year. That shot was the best feeling right there because my last shot went in on my homecourt wearing that jersey.”
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon talks about the returnn of Melo Trimble and Jake Layman as spectators. (Don Markus/Baltimore Sun video)
Nearly 11 months after announcing he was leaving — a couple of weeks after Maryland’s late-season collapse ended with a Round of 64 loss to 11th-seeded Xavier in Orlando, Fla. — Trimble doesn’t second-guess his decision.
“I never second-guess myself,” said Trimble, who wound up going undrafted by the NBA. “I knew that if I was second-guessing myself, I would be thinking about it too much. I try to stay away from that.”
After playing with the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Summer League, Trimble signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Timberwolves, who cut the 6-foot-3 point guard in training camp and then signed him to their G League affiliate in Des Moines.
Asked what the experience has been like, Trimble said: “It’s definitely different than College Park and being around the D.C. area, where I grew up. I live in a city that’s not too much like D.C.
“Everything’s cool. Obviously the difference is that I’m on my own. ... Even though it’s the G League, the guys have the same mindset — they’re trying to feed their families. It’s real money. Everyone’s trying to get to be where they want to be at.”
Trimble has started all 34 games in which he played, averaging 17.2 points and a team-high 5.5 assists in 33.8 minutes per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field and 32.7 percent on 3-pointers. He recently had his first triple double.
While the Timberwolves just called up veteran guard Anthony Brown and center Justin Patton — both players had signed two-way contracts before the season — Trimble knows that he has to be patient to make his NBA debut.
“I’ve been getting calls. A lot of teams are trying to figure out if they want to buy someone out or they’re going to trade them. It’s that time of the year,” Trimble said. “It’s kind of hard for me because I’m not on a two-way. Things are going to be better for me next year.”
Asked what he is trying to show NBA teams about his game, Trimble said: “I was at Maryland for three years and I feel like I got better in everything I did there. Obviously, shooting was one of my struggles during college.
“Being a point guard, I’m still growing to being a better point guard than I am now, obviously being a leader. I think being at this level right now, I want to show I can play at that level even though I wasn't drafted. I’m good enough to run a team.’”
Trimble said that being the starting point guard as a rookie is similar to when he was a freshman at Maryland, when he was thrust into a leadership role when Wells broke his wrist early in the season.
“I’m playing with a lot of guys that are a lot older than me," said Trimble, who turned 23 last month. “I haven’t played with guys like that since my freshman year, guys that have been around and know the game.
“Guys that are here have been in the league, are trying to get back into the league. Me running the team, it isn’t easy. You get greedy. You get selfish. For me to be down here running a team like that, I think [NBA scouts] are looking at that.”
Though the team doesn’t draw that many fans to its games, there has been a pleasant surprise for Trimble living so far from home.
“There are Maryland fans out there. I didn’t know that,” he said. “They come to the games and I’ve got to take a picture with them or talk to them. There are a lot of Iowa fans, obviously. But to see Maryland fans always makes me happy.”
Trimble is still in touch with some of his former teammates who remain at Maryland, particularly senior wing Jared Nickens and redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley, who were part of the same recruiting class with Trimble and senior center Michal Cekovsky.
As Wells did after he left Maryland when Trimble struggled, Trimble is trying to do the same for the players on this year’s team.
“Whenever they’re going through a struggle, I tell them to keep their head up and keep playing,” Trimble said. “I tell them to stay confident. Every year is not going to be good. For the younger guys like Anthony [Cowan Jr.] and Kevin [Huerter], next year is the year they’re going to bounce back.”
Huerter said that his opinion of Trimble changed after he went from watching him while still in high school to playing with him last season, when the Terps got off to a school-record 20-2 start before slumping with seven defeats in the last 11 games.
“He seemed really crafty, really shifty. No one could really stay in front of him. He made a lot of winning plays," Huerter said Friday. “When I got here, I realized how much stronger he was in person than he was on TV, and his strength allowed him to do a lot of the things he did.”
Given the team’s road struggles — Maryland is 1-8 after Tuesday’s 70-66 loss at Nebraska — Huerter has often said Trimble’s steadiness helped the Terps to an 8-2 road record last season.
"That’s why we were so good on the road. We knew what we were going to get from him game in and game out,” Huerter said. “He kind of carried us through a lot of stretches in our season.”
As much as Huerter was looking forward to catching up with Trimble before the Terps play Rutgers, he doesn’t think his presence will make a difference in the game's outcome.
Asked if Trimble’s return could give the team more energy, Huerter said: “Hopefully not, to be honest. Hopefully we don’t need extra people in the building to come in energized. Playing at home, another league game, another opportunity for a win — that should energize us enough. But obviously we’re going to be pretty excited seeing him sitting at courtside.”