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Melo on a Mission: Last year’s struggles ignited a fire under Maryland’s Trimble

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Melo Trimble didn’t want this.

He didn’t want to return to school for his junior year. He didn’t want to put his professional career on hold for another 12 months. He didn’t want to return to College Park as the forgotten superstar in an era where three seasons in college makes you an elder statesmen that the general public believes is somewhere between overrated and not-all-that-good to begin with. He waited as long as he possibly could to announce his decision to return. He looked for any justifiable reason for him to keep his name in the draft.

There were none.

Melo was the 2015-16 Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year. He was a potential first round pick that opted to return to school to be the face of a team that was one of, if not the most talented teams in college basketball. He was supposed to be the hometown hero that returned a storied program to the pinnacle of the sport, to become a legend amongst the maniacal Maryland fan base, to never have to pay for a sandwich in College Park again.

Suffice to say, the year didn’t go as planned. The Terps under-performed throughout the regular season, managed just a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament and fell to No. 1 Kansas in the Sweet 16. The pieces that head coach Mark Turgeon had collected just didn’t seem to fit all that well together. The team lacked leadership. They lacked cohesion. There were too many players worried about how their performance would affect their professional future. They were soft.

Individually, Melo was just as bad. His scoring average dipped (16.2 points to 14.8 points), he could no longer hit threes (41.2% to 31.5%), he shot 58 fewer free throws and he spent the second half of the season in a dreadful slump he never truly seemed to shake.

It was bad.

Ask him and Turgeon will try and spin it. He’ll tell you that they won 27 games, that they went to the Sweet 16 and took a tough loss to the No. 1 team in the country, that the only possible way to live up to their preseason expectations was to win Big Ten titles en route to a national title. He’ll call it a “great season” over and over again.

And he’ll be wrong, both in his characterization of last season and in how he’s handling it this year.

He should keep reminding everyone just how disappointing the Terps were in 2015-16. He should want that to continue to be a talking point. He should want the the narrative around Maryland to be that the Terps couldn’t handle success and that Melo was the reason why.

Because the best thing for Mark Turgeon and Maryland is a pissed off Melo Trimble.

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The biggest issue that Melo Trimble had as a sophomore was the inability to tune out the noise.

His future wasn’t the only thing on his mind, but it’s hard not to think about what comes next when the end result will be, quite literally, your dream coming true. Every basketball player grows up dreaming of hearing their name called during the NBA Draft, of walking across that stage and shaking the commissioner’s hand and getting interviewed on national television. Melo wasn’t immune to that.

He also wasn’t immune to the detractors, to the negative narrative that started swirling around the Maryland program as an unimpressive start turned into doubts about just how good the team, and the team’s star point guard, actually was. Every bad performance gave way to being questioned by the talking heads on game broadcasts, criticisms on college basketball and NBA Draft websites, a sliding draft stock, a cauldron of hate on social media.

Melo let all that noise get to him, and it snowballed. He couldn’t shake a nagging hamstring injury, he lost his confidence and he just wasn’t having fun anymore.

“Too much expectations, too much pressure on myself, too much thinking about the NBA,” Trimble said. “I just forgot how to be a kid and have fun playing basketball.”

“I think I played well the first part of the season. Then I had a little area when I didn’t shoot he ball well and everyone blew it out of proportion.”

Trimble didn’t know how to handle it. He never had to deal with that kind of adversity or negativity before. He was a star at Bishop O’Connell High School, a very good basketball program that plays in the toughest conference in the D.C. area. He was a McDonald’s All-American as a senior, and as a freshman with the Terps, he was a hero that made clutch shot after clutch shot and led the Terps to win after win. Maryland was picked 10th in the league and finished all alone in second place, earning a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament before succumbing to West Virginia in the second round.

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon watches from the sideline during a break in play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Purdue, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“He’s a kid,” Turgeon said. “As mature as he plays and acts, he’s still a kid. [Last year there] was a lot of pressure, but he’s much more equipped to handle it now from what he went through.”

“Juan Dixon used to tell me it’s good for a great player to have struggles at some point. They all have it. Melo had it. It’s going to make him a better player, a better person. It’s life. We all struggle. What the went through last year has made him much more complete.”

The biggest change that Turgeon has seen in his point guard’s game comes in the leadership department. Melo is naturally a quiet kid. He’s not the kind of player that is going to scream at a teammate who missed a defensive rotation or forgot how to run a set offensively. He’s not the guy in the locker room firing up his teammates with an impassioned pregame speech.

He’s not Draymond Green. He’s the lead-by-example type.

That worked when he was a freshman because Maryland had Dez Wells, a senior guard that had spent three years in the program and who was a powerful voice in the locker room. That was Wells’ team even if it was Melo who starred on the floor.

Partly because of all the new faces coming into the program and partly a result of the way those players fit together – both on the floor and off the floor – it just didn’t work last year, and Maryland paid the price.

“This year is different,” Melo said. “It’s my team. I’m the leader of this team. We’ve got a group of guys that want to get better and I think this group of guys respect the leader of the team this season.”

“The players, the attitudes. This team has the best attitude. I’ve got a bunch of guys that want to work. When you have those guys that want to work and that respect their leader, everything works out for itself.”

Turgeon will vouch for Melo’s growth.

“His message is clearer,” Turgeon said. “His voice isn’t cracking. It’s a lot of things. We all mature at different rates. Some guys are born leaders. Some guys become leaders.”

Melo still isn’t the loudest voice in the locker room – “Coach Turgeon is going to do all this yelling,” he says with a smile, adding that “when they come to me I’m pretty much their savior, helping them with things they don’t understand.” – but he has a confidence that comes with knowing that this team will go as far as he takes them, and that the rest of his team knows it as well.

The Terps do have some quality pieces. The freshmen are drawing rave reviews. Anthony Cowan, a top 40 point guard prospect, will allow Melo a chance to play off the ball while Kevin Heurter, as well as the now-healthy redshirt sophomore Dion Wiley, will give Maryland the kind of floor-spacers they lacked last season. Damonte Dodd and Michel Cevosky are back in the interior while a third freshman, Justin Jackson, as the kind of length, athleticism and skill-set to play as a small-ball four.

And it was that small-ball lineup that the Terps used to such effect during that 2014-15 season.

But the key is Melo.

It’s always going to be Melo.

And in a year where he’s finally learned how to take control of a team in a season where he is determined to prove his many doubters wrong, that is the best news that Maryland basketball could receive.

Melo Trimble, AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
Melo Trimble, AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.