Melo Trimble is used to being the center of attention on a basketball court. The past three years he was the focal point of the University of Maryland’s men’s program, leading the team in scoring each season while helping the Terrapins qualify for three straight NCAA tournaments for the first time in more than a decade.
Now consider everything that’s happened to Trimble over the past few months, since he declared for the NBA draft and ended his college career after his junior season. Trimble struggled at the NBA’s scouting combine in May, and sat through all 60 selections of June’s draft without hearing his name called. Then, after agreeing to join the Philadelphia 76ers for its summer league entries in both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, Trimble was a bit-part player, left on the bench for the entirety of four games, and playing more than 10 minutes only twice.
It was a stark reminder that Trimble’s days of being the big man on campus – or being on campus at all – are officially over.
“It’s been good for me,” Trimble said after his final summer league game last month, a 16-point performance on 7-for-9 shooting in 20 minutes against the Chicago Bulls on July 14 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. “I definitely was hit with not playing a lot … it’s not what I expected.
“In the position I’m in, not being drafted and trying to make a team and all that, I’m not going to be the first or second option. I might not be an option at all. But I’m going to do my role, and these next couple years for me is just getting where I fit in.”
In assessing where Trimble’s career is headed from here, though, figuring out exactly how he fits best as a pro is easier said than done. He caught his first break on Tuesday, when he agreed to a partially guaranteed contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves. But that will likely mean an invitation to training camp and, by the end of it, being assigned to Minnesota’s G League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.
There is, after all, a reason Trimble went undrafted in the first place and had a small role for the 76ers. As an undersized scoring guard (6-foot-3) with underwhelming athleticism, he isn’t able to score at will against NBA-level defenses the way he could in the Big Ten. And as his meager total of three assists in four summer league games shows, he still has work to do before he’s going to be looked at as a credible option as a point guard.
That’s why, even as Trimble was having his best game of the summer against the Bulls, two talent evaluators watching him play were tepid about his future potential.
“He’s a scoring-minded combo guard that really struggled in Chicago [at the combine],” said one scout. “He rarely makes his teammates better, and if he isn’t making shots, he’s a liability because his defense isn’t any good.”
“He’ll go to training camp with someone and be an affiliate player,” said another, referring to when teams sign a player to come to training camp with the intention of having them play for their developmental team in the NBA G League. “He’ll probably average 12 [points] and three [assists] and have no chance of [an NBA] call-up, get bought out and play in mid-level Europe.
Those weren’t the kind of reports Trimble was expecting to hear when he left Maryland. After flirting with leaving school following both his freshman and sophomore seasons, his expectation was to get drafted and begin an NBA career this fall.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have been. Jonathan Givony, longtime operator of the scouting website DraftExpress and recently hired by ESPN, said he rated Trimble as a potential early second-round pick after his freshman year. And if he’d entered the draft last spring, after struggling at the Chicago combine, Trimble likely would’ve found himself in a similar position.
“After his sophomore year, he almost certainly would have been in the same situation he was now,” Givony said. “Maybe, in hindsight, he made a mistake not capitalizing on the momentum he had as a freshman. But he wasn’t any kind of lock to get drafted really high even back then.
“So maybe he could’ve been a second-rounder as a freshman, but there’s no guarantees he wouldn’t be in the same exact situation he is now. That big-game experience he garnered [at Maryland] I’m sure prepared him for whatever is next.”
As Givony pointed out, teams often punt quickly on young second-round picks. There have already been five second-rounders from last year’s draft cut from their initial rookie deals – including Trimble’s former Maryland teammate, Diamond Stone, who was let go by the Atlanta Hawks on Monday after being traded there from the Los Angeles Clippers this offseason. There are several other second-round picks from last season who will likely never play in an NBA game.
So while Trimble now finds himself on an NBA roster, he still has work to do in order to officially make it to the league. He learned that the hard way during a summer-league experience in which much of his time was spent watching others play instead of him, just as others had to at Maryland when he was the center of attention.
“Just being humble,” he said, when asked how he handled the extended time on the bench. “That’s it. The past few years at Maryland, there were other players that didn’t get to play, and I’m such a good teammate, and I felt for them. I wanted to encourage them to stay ready, and I had to tell myself to stay ready, so that’s what I did.”
And, after the events of the past few months, Trimble’s eyes are open to what comes next. Tuesday was a milestone for him, as he reached his first goal: gaining an invite to training camp, giving himself the chance to make an NBA team. If that doesn’t work, he said his preference is to head to the G League and hope to impress NBA teams with his play there, rather than going overseas.
It’s far from the path Trimble was expecting when he left Maryland, and it would be understandable if, a few months after leaving, he’d have any regrets about not returning to the school for his senior year.
That isn’t how he sees it, though. He may have a much larger hill to climb, but to him, that isn’t the point. He savors the opportunity to begin climbing it.
“No,” he replied, when asked if he had any regrets about ending his college career. “I’m enjoying it. Of course I want to graduate, and I’m going to go back and graduate.
“But … this was my time. Whether I came back next year or not, and if we did good, I just felt this year was my time.
“I didn’t get drafted, but that’s not my downfall. It’s just the next step. So I just have to keep working, and get ready for the next chapter.”