WESTCHESTER, N.Y. — Travis Trice isn’t used to this.
Throughout his four years at Michigan State, the sharpshooting point guard grew accustomed to huge crowds and rocking environments. Now, with the Westchester Knicks, Trice warms up without a fan in the seats.
Well under an hour before Monday’s game against the Erie BayHawks tipped off, Trice was going through his pregame jumpshooting routine. All you could hear was the squeaking of sneakers, barking of his coaches and the swap of the net.
Oh, plus the blaring sounds of Future and Fetty Wap.
“It was actually funny, coming out for our first exhibition game, I looked out and remembered being at Michigan State. We’d have more students in our warmups than we even had fans here,” Trice said. “But it’s an adjustment. I can’t compare one or the other. I’m happy to be here.”
This is the life of a D-League player. Like many other college standouts, Trice expected to get drafted in 2015. He didn’t, and wound up taking a training camp invite with the New York Knicks. Though he didn’t make the team, the 6’2” guard cherished the opportunity to learn from veterans.
“I think that’s one of the things that I didn’t know coming in. That’s part of what makes Carmelo so special,” Trice said. “Anytime you have a superstar willing to sit down and talk with you, go out to eat with you, treat you like you’re one of the guys. I mean, that just speaks to [to the success of] a guy like Langston Galloway.”
He entered the contest having started 13 of 14 games while averaging 13 points and 4.8 assists. But on this particular night, Trice struggled out of the gate. He missed several wide open jumpers, ones that you could take to the bank during his senior year as a Spartan. Still, Westchester coach Mike Miller left him out there for 33 minutes, third-most on the team.
After missing a few bunnies — and either angrily clapping, or mumbling “Damn, I should’ve had that” — the 177-pound Trice started slinging one-handed passes through the defense. He found a cutting Thanasis Antetokounmpo under the rim for a few easy buckets, and started to get his groove back.
Going back and forth with the bigger and stronger Myck Kabongo seemed difficult for Trice on both ends, though. He had to fight for position on every play, and early in the game, the former Texas point guard was getting the best of him.
Late in the second quarter, Erie missed a perimeter shot, and Kabongo crashed. Trice, who had just thrown up an airball on the other end, boxed him out and drew an over-the-back foul. Antetokounmpo, who had bolted down the court looking for an easy dunk, yelled out, “TRAV!”
Everyone in the gym looked at “T.A.” The big man flashed a thumbs up, and Trice smiled and shook his head before jogging back.
After the final buzzer, Miller talked about how Trice overcame that early anger.
“I think you look at him, and if he was frustrated, he did struggle. But then he made some big plays down the stretch. And what we’re trying to do, just get a little bit better every day. Maybe today we got better because we had to grind out a win against a tough team. Maybe that’s what we did. We just try to take a small step moving forward.”
There’s a stigma that the D-League is every man for himself.
On some teams, that’s definitely true. Guys are competing against their opponents, as well as the players wearing the same jerseys as them.
That doesn’t seem to be the case for Trice and Westchester.
“It’s far from that,” he said. “Guys are so about winning. We know our best chance of getting called up and getting noticed is because we’re winning. And guys have really bought into that.”
Trice said that the entire team lives together in an apartment down the road from the County Center. He said one of the Knicks players lives there, too, but couldn’t specify who it was. (Safe to say it’s not Kristaps Porzingis, but Galloway, who was on the team last year, would make sense.)
“I’ve been blessed,” Trice said. “You hear a lot of bad stories, guys talking about different facilities, different situations. But this has been the best. It really feels like I’m in college again, as far as the facilities and treatment you get.”
Down the stretch of Tuesday’s game, Trice (nine points, seven assists, five rebounds) and Jimmer Fredette (19 points, two assists, two rebounds) carried the team to victory. The two took turns in the final quarter driving and kicking to one another and making plays. The “Dub Knicks” won 100-92.
A pair of former NCAA Tournament heroes turned NBA outcasts taking over a D-League game — it felt…weird.
“Travis is a great guard,” Fredette said after the win. “He’s a tough-minded Michigan State kid, so he competes really hard, shoots the ball well, gets into the paint. He’s a tough-nosed defender. He’s a guy that complements me well. I’m always trying to run the wing, and he’ll hit me for some open shots. We’ve played together pretty well, and we need to continue to do that.”
Like he did with Anthony, Trice has found learning from Jimmer to be extremely beneficial.
“Just his habits in practice, watching him in the game — especially his demeanor. His focus, even talking with him. That’s when you really learn the most, when you play with someone,” Trice said. “You can pick their brain in the game and in practice. But I think it’s another thing for a guy like him to be so humble, so down to earth and be able to teach you.”
Fans eventually filed into the Westchester County Center awhile after Trice completed his warmup routine. Jimmer jerseys were scattered everywhere, and there were noticeable cheers whenever he shot the ball.
People know Fredette. Fans walked onto the court to take pictures with the pride of BYU after the game. He smiled for each one, high-fived everyone who extended their hand and drank it all in.
Trice just walked off the court into the locker room.
How can a player expect to get noticed by Phil Jackson when the fans are running past him to get to Fredette? Is it the stats?
“Between having an agent, fans and family, they remind you enough,” Trice said of worrying about numbers. “But my mindset is to go out and do what I can, play the right way. And then the stats, awards (don’t matter). Hopefully making it to the league will take care of itself.”
In May of 2012, Trice got sick. He was sleeping 16 hours a day and feeling abnormally fatigued, all while losing 22 pounds. Doctors couldn’t give him a straight diagnosis, but he and MSU coach Tom Izzo believed it was a brain infection, per Gillian Van Stratt of MLive.com.
His life — not just his basketball career — was severely threatened.
Trice recovered and went on to finish a successful college career. After going through something like that, though, Trice isn’t fazed by getting passed on by NBA teams.
“If you know anything about my story, I shouldn’t even be where I’m at now. I just take everything and use it as motivation.”
Trice has an NBA-caliber jumper. He’s quick off the dribble and can make up for his lack of height with a quick trigger. But for most teams, it’s his size that’s a concern. Kabongo is no scrub, but he’s no Russell Westbrook, either.
Trice said that playing in Westchester is helping him learn how to play against bigger opponents. If he wants to get to the NBA — and he absolutely does — he’ll have to clear that hurdle.
“It was an adjustment, even in college. A smaller guard playing in the Big 10, which is a tough league and a real physical league. So it’s just an adjustment, and it’s gonna take time. But I’m willing to learn.”
One way Trice learns is through just watching hoops. He said he still follows the NBA, and part of that comes from his Michigan State connection.
He talks with Golden State Warriors superstar Draymond Green all the time, and was thrilled his former MSU teammate got a championship last year:
Draymond Green texted Trice this AM: "Don't let this be your last game" "I won't" Trice said he texted back
— Chip Patterson (@Chip_Patterson) March 22, 2015
Trice also said there are certain players he tries to emulate, too.
“I’m more of a fan of basketball. Growing up, I really didn’t have a favorite team. But especially now [it’s different], getting to see guys in person, especially in training camp. Isaiah Thomas is a guy I like to watch. He’s a smaller guard, but he’s really, really skilled. And he’s really under control. I’m just a fan of basketball. So whoever I can, I’ll watch and learn from.”
Trice seems to have the right mentality. He’s not going out there firing up 45 shots a game — he’s playing to win, just like he did at Michigan State.
And that took time. He became a star his senior year, but that was after three years of earning his spot.
Now, the combo guard seems to be traveling a similar road. The talk of him being too small just adds fuel to the fire of someone who comes across as calm, but really has a burning passion to make it in the Association.
A hooded Trice was the first one at the exit door after the game, swaying back and forth like a prize fighter with a backpack on. He was waiting for the bus, and some would argue he’s also waiting on his big break, his chance.
That’s wrong. He’s not waiting on anything — he’s working for it.