A band of reporters followed Wisconsin senior forward Nigel Hayes into a swanky ballroom at the Wardman Park Marriott in Northwest Washington, D.C. on Thursday afternoon, but before he sat down to begin his interviews for Big Ten basketball media day, the league's preseason player of the year noticed something on his chair. It was Maryland's preseason notebook, which features a cover photo of junior guard Melo Trimble. Hayes spotted Trimble across the room and yelled to get his attention, then threw the program to the ground in jest.
Trimble got a good laugh out of it. He walked over to shake Hayes's hand, greeting a player with whom he has much in common. A year ago at this event, Trimble, not Hayes, was selected as the Big Ten's preseason player of the year, and each ended up returning to school after testing the NBA draft waters in May.
But unlike Hayes, who enters his senior season as a celebrated commodity, Trimble is facing questions about which version of himself will show up this year. Will it be the gleeful, baby-faced freshman who became a campus hero and led Maryland back to prominence two seasons ago? Or the often subdued sophomore who struggled to find both his shot and his voice last season, when Maryland ultimately failed to live up to overwhelming expectations?
The answer, Trimble asserted Thursday, is closer to the former, although he and Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon alike believe an entirely new Trimble will show up when Maryland opens its season against American on Nov. 11.
"He went from this hunted guy, where everybody was fired up to play against Maryland and play against Melo, to a guy who has a huge chip on his shoulder," Turgeon said. "I like this Melo. He's on a mission."
The mission began in earnest for Trimble on the night of May 25, when he announced that he was withdrawing his name from the NBA draft and returning to College Park for his junior season. The decision was made only an hour before the deadline to declare, underscoring just how torn Trimble might have been. In reality, he was always coming back, even though he was unsure of what the roster would look like. Maryland must replace four starters from last season and has welcomed seven new players to the roster, including Duquesne graduate transfer L.G. Gill, former UNLV commit Justin Jackson and former St. John's College High School point guard Anthony Cowan Jr., who has a longstanding relationship with Trimble.
"Just going to the combine, going to these different workouts gave me a good experience to learn how it is at the next level. It's a business. If you belong, you belong," Trimble said. "After last year, I didn't feel as though I was ready, so I came back for another year. I'm happy to be here. Hopefully next year is my time."
Last season was the most difficult of Trimble's basketball career. He finished with plenty of decorations - he led the team in scoring (14.8 points) and assists (4.9) and became just the second player in program history, after Joe Smith, to score 500 or more points in each of his first two seasons. That was about all those two campaigns had in common. Whereas he was viewed as something of a savior during his freshman season, leading Maryland to its first NCAA tournament in five years, Trimble struggled with a lingering hamstring injury during his sophomore season and endured the worst shooting slump of his career, hitting just 7 of 38 from the field during one four-game stretch in conference play. Moreover, his confidence wavered as he struggled to establish himself as a leader on a team full of dominant personalities.
" 'Hey, Melo, you got something to say?' Last year, it would be really weak. He was really just talking to talk. Now I don't even have to ask him because he's comfortable talking," Turgeon said. "Looking in the eye. Message is better. His message is clearer. His voice isn't cracking."
He began to find his voice after a humbling draft evaluation process, which was complicated by the fact that he was still in school - he worked out for the Atlanta Hawks the day after taking a final in College Park - but ultimately helped shed light on how to be a professional. But while Trimble returned to College Park with that mentality, specifically with taking care of his body with constant stretch and massages, he also wanted to rediscover fun in the game.
"I met up with my best friends from high school. I just needed to be with them, to remember what it was like not to have to worry about anything and not have so much pressure on myself," Trimble said. "And just be a regular person again."
Trimble will still be the Terrapins' primary ball-handler as the team's point guard, but he will play off the ball more and will again be able to showcase his natural scoring ability, especially with the return of guard Dion Wiley from a knee injury suffered last season. He will also be something of a spokesman for his team, as he was Thursday. He arrived at media days in a gray suit and polka-dotted shirt and spoke to reporters for nearly an hour, mostly about the frustration he endured last season and how it's shaped him.
He paid his respects to Hayes before he left, not looking bothered by the fact that he's been replaced as the conference's preseason player of the year, or by the fact that he wasn't even a unanimous pick for the preseason all-Big Ten team.
"I don't really worry about it too much. I know what I can do. That's why I was in the gym all summer, getting better," Trimble said. "I'm just ready to prove myself."