Side by side, Allonzo Trier’s two iPhones hummed on an aluminum bleacher. One held countless contacts from the college basketball world. The other was reserved for everyone else. It hardly mattered because no one was getting into the 18-year-old’s ear for at least another couple hours.
He stood 10 feet away on a darkly lit court, fiercely focused on making 500 shots and 100 free throws as quickly as possible. The regimen has been part of Trier’s daily routine since he was 8.
“He just makes things look so easy,” his trainer, Matt Clark, said after Trier hit 31 straight three-pointers.
Trier may be the purest high school basketball scorer in the country and the most devoted to his craft. He has never attended a homecoming or prom, and he has missed many other traditional high school experiences because his mother, Marcie, taught him early on that if he wanted to live out his “American dream,” he would have to be willing to go anywhere to do it.
So Trier has become one of the country’s most enterprising players, too. Basketball has taken him from Seattle to Dallas to Oklahoma City to Tulsa to the District in a span of five years. He has played for three high schools in three years, including D.C.-area power Montrose Christian as a junior last winter. Now, in a move to advance his basketball career, he’s transferring to Findlay Prep in Las Vegas for his senior season before, according to his plan, enrolling at the University of Arizona to play for Coach Sean Miller.
The movement of top talent is now an entrenched subculture in boys’ high school basketball, in which many of the best players are no longer developed by a single coach or play for their hometown school. Instead, they thrust themselves into a free agent-like marketplace that blurs lines and places a premium on exposure at the next level, jettisoning old virtues such as teamwork and loyalty and replacing them with calculated moves aimed at advancing individual interests.
Trier may be one of the more extreme case studies and also one of the more complicated. He has been a popular face in national youth basketball circles since before he hit puberty. He shot a commercial with Carmelo Anthony as a sixth grader, was excommunicated from a varsity team as an eighth grader because he was too good and was forced to make the transition from home school to regular high school classes as an 11th grader. He spends more nights on the road than he does at home. A recent two-week stretch included trips to South Carolina, Kansas and Arizona, with a mid-week visit to Oklahoma City, the place he and his mom currently call home, wedged in.
“It’s what comes with the territory of what you’re trying to do and what you’re trying to accomplish. . . . Some people will criticize you for all kinds of things just for going to four different high schools,” Trier said. “It’s all about doing what’s best for you.”
By the end of his workout at the Santa Fe Family Life Center, a sweat-drenched Trier returned to the bleachers to check his phones before taking part in a three-point shooting contest with a group of eighth-graders. He’s a star wherever he goes but especially here. A group of teens stopped playing for a moment to watch Trier work, gawking and whispering among themselves at his jump shot. By the time the middle schoolers lined up for the contest, they were giddy at the prospect of creating a memory by outshooting a potential NBA draft pick.
Part of Trier’s appeal is that he can relate to the kids at the gym. The Sante Fe Family Life Center has been as close to a home as Trier is going to get.
“Seattle will always be my home town,” he said. “Oklahoma City is where I’ve been put and stationed for a while now. It’s been good to me. I’ve had a lot of great things happen to me here.”
Marcie Trier, a 36-year-old single parent who raised Allonzo in Seattle — working at a shelter while attending graduate school and managing her son’s expansive travel schedule — made up her mind early on that the only way to win exposure in the ruthless world of basketball recruiting was to embrace mobility. Trier has never met his father but would have influential male coaches from across the country helping him.
“Me and ’Zo, we just felt like it was our world,” Marcie said. “We did it our way instead of doing what everybody else told us to do.”
The two briefly moved to the Dallas area when he was in eighth grade. Trier was recruited by an up-and-coming Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball organization, Athletes First, in Oklahoma City while visiting for a camp later that year. AAU, which each spring and summer holds corporate-fueled tournaments for elite traveling teams, is one of the most powerful forces in youth basketball. It has overtaken high school as the primary conduit for college coaches to recruit top-end talent such as Trier.
“They were over in a hotbox of a gym over in South Oklahoma City, and so I got in my car and drove over there and went into the gym, and Allonzo was 13, or 12 going on 13, working out with basically a bunch of high school guys,” said Gary Vick, the executive director of Athletes First. “The young man has been, I think, probably groomed since he was very young to be a basketball player.”
Trier and his mother’s move to Oklahoma City, made in part because of what Athletes First offered as a program, wasn’t without challenges. Trier had dyslexia diagnosed in sixth grade, Marcie said, which forced him to be held back a year. That contributed to the decision to home-school him through the first two years of high school, first through an online program called Paces. He had found his way onto a home school varsity basketball team called the Oklahoma City Storm as an eighth grader and, just beginning to grow into his powerful 6-foot-4 frame, started dominating on the court.
His offensive presence helped the Storm beat some of the top public schools in the Oklahoma City metro area, which sparked an outcry from Oklahoma Secondary School Athletic coaches and officials that the team was gaining an unfair advantage by using an eighth grader. Trier was banned from the remaining games against OSSA schools, but a year later he became the first freshman to score more than 1,000 points for the team. Soon after, in August 2012, he attempted to transfer to NOAH, a home school in Tulsa.
The process took on a life of its own. Trier’s transfer request was initially denied by the National Christian Home School Championships Eligibility Advisory Board, which voted 23-4 to block the transfer, citing that Trier must live with a parent or guardian to be considered a home school student.
In a statement published by several news outlets in Oklahoma that August, board executive director Tim Flatt said: “This is both a good day and a sad day for the NCHC. It is very good that once again the Eligibility Advisory Board has voted to maintain a high standard for transfers, as it is important that when private and public schools play our teams they can be confident that they are playing teams that are true local teams, not AAU teams that can recruit without restriction. On the other hand it most likely ends the home school career of Allonzo Trier, who is one of the top players to ever play home school basketball.”
Except it didn’t. About 10 days later, Marcie decided to move to Tulsa to help her son become eligible with the school. They were on the move again. She and her son settled into a new apartment shortly after, and he began taking home school classes at Cornerstone Tutorial Center in the city. A few days before Christmas that year he scored 64 points in an overtime win over Bartlesville. It was becoming fast apparent he was outgrowing the home school basketball scene in Oklahoma.
“It was like, ‘I’m going to be this kid, and I’m going to be the one that makes it,’ ” said Kurt Talbott, who coached Trier on Oklahoma City Storm. “We figured if he was with us through his sophomore year, then probably the junior or senior year he would probably go somewhere like he did, like Montrose, maybe Findlay or something like that for his last two years. We always anticipated that.”
Marcie moved back to Oklahoma City after about six months, returning to work as a social worker. As Allonzo started to gain more attention with dazzling play on the AAU circuit, the Triers started to search for a new high school home. They quickly became drawn to Montrose Christian in Rockville, a basketball factory that in recent years has produced NBA players Kevin Durant (who played at two schools before joining Montrose), Greivis Vasquez and Linas Kleiza . It presented an intriguing opportunity for both Trier and Bryan Bartley, who took over the Montrose program after longtime coach Stu Vetter stepped down last year.
Bartley, a former Auburn assistant and recruiting coordinator, ran NBA-influenced offensive sets and carried a reputation for coaching hard. Trier, looking to elevate his game, flourished. He averaged 24.6 points and helped the Mustangs win a National Christian Schools Athletic Association Division I title. He took home Maryland Gatorade player of the year honors and was a first-team Washington Post All-Met, and his recruiting stock took off. Before the summer had arrived, he had an offer from nearly every college basketball powerhouse in the country and became a top target of Maryland.
It also was a year of maturation for Trier. He lived with his aunt in the District, waking up before 6 every morning to take public transportation to Rockville alone. He was forced to cut his signature dreadlocks to play for the team and called his mother afterward in grief. He had grown close to Bartley, and the coach and player discussed possibly setting up a nonprofit to benefit a younger student at Montrose whose father had recently passed away.
But in the spring, Marcie said the school had mishandled Trier’s academic schedule, placing him in two classes he had already taken in ninth grade and forcing him to fall behind should he stay for his senior year. That was always the plan, she said, for her son to graduate from the first high school he had attended. Bartley declined to comment for this story.
“[People] think he’s like a wanderer, and they wonder about him. What’s his deal? It’s not that,” Marcie said. “ ’Zo is a really good kid. He does what he wants to do. He got mostly A’s and B’s and a couple C’s at Montrose. It’s just everything’s been happening that’s beyond our control.”
Nearly every top college in the country was trying to recruit him, and some of the top AAU teams, from Texas to Oklahoma to District, were trying to lock him up for the summer Nike Elite Youth Basketball League, the country’s premier circuit. Now word had spread that he was on the open market for high school teams, too, and soon, Marcie said, she was fielding calls from the top prep basketball academies in the country, including Huntingon Prep in West Virginia, Montverde in Florida, La Lumiere in Indiana and Findlay Prep in Nevada.
It was a wild three-front decision that leveled the family’s inner circle with stress. Trier decided to stay with his original AAU team, Athletes First, and starred on the Nike-sponsored circuit all summer. Then he chose Findlay Prep for his senior year of high school, pledging loyalty to Andy Johnson, Findlay’s first-year head coach and a former assistant coach at UNLV.
“I think he’s obviously one of the most talented players in the country, and more importantly I think he’s one of the best character kids in the country,” Johnson said. “Obviously, times are different now, with parents having opportunities to move all over.”
Montrose Christian’s Bartley told The Post shortly after Trier’s decision to transfer in June: “Sometimes people outgrow your program, and they felt a need to go to another place. They wanted to go where they thought was the best fit for him, and we wish him well. We wish him the best.”
A few hours after he won the three-point contest against the eighth-graders, an exhausted Trier returned to his mother’s house in Oklahoma City, where Marcie had a meal of Raising Cane’s chicken fingers ready for her son.
He placed his two smartphones on an ottoman in the white-walled living room while he ate, flipping on NBA TV to watch a rerun of a playoff game from this past spring. Basketball is all he has ever wanted to do, and it’s everywhere in his life. After dinner, he played on a plastic hoop with his 2-year-old brother, Lashon, but before long a play on the flat-screen caught his eye. It was a crossover move by Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul against Golden State.
“Oh my,” Trier said as he jumped to his feet, rushing to grab the remote to rewind the play over and over again. Maybe it’s something he can incorporate into his game.
“When I’m done playing basketball when I’m in the gym, I go home and play basketball if I can. So that’s how it works,” he said.
A few days later, he and his mother decided he should commit to Arizona during an official visit. He grew close to Miller in June, when the Wildcats’ coach served as an assistant to the under-18 national team in Colorado Springs. The decision to commit seems to lift any shroud of doubt about Trier’s immediate basketball future.
Marcie said she plans to move to wherever her son plays in college, the next leg of a basketball journey that has been unconventional in so many ways. She texts him inspirational quotes every night before bed, and he will take them to heart wherever he is on the road. She will say goodbye to him in three weeks as he heads west for Las Vegas, where he will live in a dorm at Findlay Prep and begin work with his fourth high school coach and fourth set of teammates in four years.
“He’s going to rise above,” Marcie said. “One thing about him is he can play anywhere in the country because of all we’ve been through.”