ORLANDO — Legacies aren’t really meant to be evaluated midstream, and we don’t know how much longer Melo Trimble will be around to add to his at Maryland. We know he has Thursday — and maybe through the weekend and maybe into next week and possibly even next year. Each of those opportunities matters.
Trimble leads these Terrapins, the first version that could accurately be described as wholly his Terrapins, into his third NCAA tournament Thursday evening against Xavier. He has never known a March without the madness, yet he evaluated his mood Wednesday thusly: “Still nervous to play.”
Maryland, as a program, should aspire to be an annual participant in a setting such as this. That’s the history, and that’s the standard.
But Trimble’s mere appearance behind a microphone on a dais should serve as a good reminder for Terps fans that, even recently, it wasn’t always like this. Disappointed by a sixth seed in the West Region? Forgot the unexpected giddiness of a 20-2 start and are instead obsessed over four losses in the past six games? All that colors this tournament appearance with a could-go-either-way feel.
Yet even in the middle of all this, Trimble must be evaluated as one of the most important glue guys in his program’s history. He may not have reached that upper echelon of Terrapins greats — Juan Dixon or John Lucas or Albert King or Walt Williams or Len Bias. But would these Terrapins have been here — giddily flinging shots from half-court to complete a light and loose practice session at Amway Center on Wednesday afternoon — without Melo Trimble?
Remember: Before Trimble showed up in College Park, the Terps had failed to play a single tournament game since 2010. That was the senior season of Greivis Vasquez, the final face of Gary Williams’s tenure. So don’t forget this about Trimble: “He changed the face of our program,” Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said.
Put differently and not hyperbolically: He went a long way toward, if not saving Turgeon’s job, then at least making him feel much more comfortable in the chair.
When Trimble arrived on campus in fall 2014, Turgeon again had missed the NCAA tournament in his third season replacing Gary Williams — who, you might remember, won a national championship at his alma mater. Worse was the unsettled feeling around the program. Five players — Seth Allen, Nick Faust, Roddy Peters, Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare — transferred from College Park.
The Terrapins needed stability and quickly. “We had to kind of establish ourselves,” Turgeon said. Trimble, as a freshman, and senior holdover Dez Wells provided it.
Now Turgeon feels entrenched at Maryland, and Trimble’s personality pervades the program. This isn’t obvious from the outside. As a freshman, Trimble could — and did — defer to Wells. In Trimble’s sophomore season, Rasheed Sulaimon, an ebullient transfer from Duke, and senior Jake Layman served as the program’s spokesmen.
But go back to November of his freshman year, when Ryan Lumpkin, then a sophomore manager for the Terps, boarded a bus en route to a game against Iowa State in Kansas City. Row after row, Lumpkin searched for a seat. He ended up with Trimble in the last row. Trimble scored 11, and the Terps beat the No. 13 team in the country. Since then, Trimble and Lumpkin — star and manager — haven’t changed it up.
“If I try to sit in another seat — nope,” Lumpkin said. “Got to make sure I sit in the right seat.”
There is an inclusiveness about Trimble that isn’t a trait associated with players of his stature — a three-time all-Big Ten selection, in the running to have his number honored at Xfinity Center. He counts Lumpkin, one of his roommates, and sophomore walk-on Andrew Terrell among his closest friends. When Trimble comes out of a game, which is infrequently, he makes sure to go to the end of the bench and exchange high-fives or fist bumps with each and every player.
“Even if he’s mad about coming out,” Terrell said. “He said his reasoning is he appreciates what we do. He told me that to my face a couple weeks ago. He doesn’t care if you play 30 minutes, score 30 points or if you’re sitting there cheering him on. Him being who he is, he could be a jerk and it wouldn’t matter. He’d still play 39 minutes. But he cares, and he’s genuine.”
Yet his game is dissected like few Terrapins’. Part of it might be that his freshman year was, almost inarguably, his best statistical year. He shot better from the field overall and from three-point range. He turned it over less. He got to the line more. There was a chance, after one year, that he would head to the NBA. Twice, he came back.
“I feel great on the decision to come back,” Trimble said. “It’s new. I play with a lot of young guys now. . . . It’s different. I’m able to be a leader.”
Which isn’t something that comes naturally. When the Terps meet, even informally, Trimble wasn’t one to speak up. But on a team with three freshmen as primary contributors, he had to.
“I think it was learning the impact his voice has,” Lumpkin said.
“His voice carries a lot of weight in those meetings,” Turgeon said.
But where, in Maryland history, does Trimble fit?
So much of how athletes are evaluated after their careers is determined by what was expected of them before and during. Trimble, for one, established a high bar as a freshman. Then he was paired with Sulaimon, Layman and freshman center Diamond Stone, the flashiest recruit of Turgeon’s tenure, on last year’s team, which was an across-the-board top five selection entering the season.
How, then, is that season viewed: a success because it represents Maryland’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 2003, or a failure because the Terps got only that far? Trimble, too: He was first-team all-Big Ten as a freshman, second team as a sophomore.
Now there is another chance. On Wednesday afternoon, as the Terps finished practice, they heaved those half-court shots and hooted at each other. Trimble stepped up and let it fly.
How his career will be evaluated, in full, will be determined against Xavier — and perhaps Saturday against Florida State and perhaps beyond that.
“There’s no ‘legacy’ with him,” Lumpkin said. “He doesn’t think that way.”
Either way, when his shot puffed through the net, the Terps let out a holler. Everyone smiled, relaxed and ready for another try at March. It’s worth remembering that might not have happened had Melo Trimble not laced them up for Maryland.