EAST LANSING, Mich. — D’Mitrik Trice is being a pest, and that’s what younger brothers do. But the request he’s made is legitimate and can’t be dismissed as an annoying sibling thing.
When the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team plays Michigan State today at the Breslin Center, the freshman point guard’s cheering section is expected to include his older brother. Travis Trice Jr. is going great lengths to get to the game, arriving on a flight Saturday night in Chicago on a journey that originated in Sydney, Australia, and included a stop in Los Angeles.
This is where it gets complicated for the Trice family. D’Mitrik has been lobbying Travis Jr., who played four seasons at Michigan State, to go all-in and wear Badgers’ colors for the game.
“I love my brother, but I bleed green,” Travis Jr. said shortly before boarding a plane in Australia. “He won’t catch me in any Wisconsin gear. That’s not going to happen.”
Still, both brothers are looking forward to the occasion. Travis Trice Jr. never got to watch his brother play in high school because of conflicting schedules and this will be his first time seeing D’Mitrik live in college.
For D’Mitrik, it’s a return to a venue that became a home away from home during his brother’s college career.
“Going to the games and supporting my brother was a big deal,” D’Mitrik said of Travis Jr., who was Michigan State’s leading scorer as a senior on a team that advanced to the 2015 Final Four. “I love the atmosphere — it’s always loud — and I know this game is going to be really big for them and for us.”
Indeed, there’s a lot on the line for both teams. The No. 16 Badgers (22-6, 11-4 Big Ten) are trying to remain in the hunt for a conference title — a win today gets them back into a first-place tie with Purdue. Meanwhile, the Spartans (17-11, 9-6) are attempting to secure their 20th consecutive NCAA tournament bid.
UW has lost three of its past four games, and the only thing that saved that stretch from being a complete washout was a brilliant second half in a home win over Maryland. Anything less than a complete performance at the Breslin Center, where the Badgers haven’t won in 13 years, likely will spell disaster.
“It starts with the seniors,” UW senior forward Nigel Hayes said. “We should be the ones being irate when things aren’t going well and going off now because now is that time. Our clock is dwindling down.”
House of horrors
If anybody can speak to the Spartans’ home-court advantage, it’s Travis Trice Jr. When he runs into guys he played against in college, a common refrain during the conversation is how the noise generated by the Michigan State student section, dubbed “The Izzone,” makes life difficult on opponents.
“I definitely appreciated it and didn’t take it for granted while I was there,” Travis Trice Jr. said.
The Badgers’ most recent victory at the Breslin Center was a 68-64 overtime decision on March 2, 2004. A banner celebrating a Big Ten title was hanging in the rafters, ready to be unfurled, but UW spoiled the party; as it turned out, the Badgers and Spartans ended up tied for second place, one game behind Illinois.
But UW has lost nine consecutive games at the Breslin Center since that night. The Spartans’ average margin of victory during that streak is 10.3 points.
“Just because of where Wisconsin was all the years we played, it was always a big game for us because they were always in the hunt or, depending on where our season was at, it was almost like a must win,” Travis Trice Jr. said. “But I think that just speaks to the strength of Wisconsin and their coaching staff and their program. They really bring the best out of everybody and you know you’ll have to come to play or you’ll lose.”
Last season, UW arrived at the Breslin Center with a seven-game winning streak and left with a 69-57 defeat. The Spartans jumped out to a 14-3 lead, led by as many as 16 points in the first half and extended that cushion to 22 points at one point in the second half.
“It felt like we were down 30 the entire game,” Hayes said.
This is the first time D’Mitrik Trice will enter the venue in enemy colors. He accepts the fact that he won’t get a pass from the crowd simply because his brother played at Michigan State.
“It’s going to be different having those fans cheer against me,” he said. “It’s going to be a little different feeling. I’m excited, though.”
‘Everything to me’
Travis Jr. and D’Mitrik have a younger brother, Isaiah, the third in line to play for their father at Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Ohio. Travis Trice Sr. was a point guard in college, playing two years each at Purdue and Butler.
Naturally, the brothers had some epic battles on the court in the backyard. Did Travis Jr. ever let up on his brothers? “Never. Not once,” D’Mitrik said, and Travis Jr. made it clear that his little brother wasn’t exaggerating.
“Our parents raised us like your younger brother is supposed to be better than you,” Travis Jr. said. “If you did your job, he’ll be better than you and I knew that I couldn’t take it easy on him.
“But lately, over the last couple of years, I’ve had to go that hard just because he’ll beat me if I don’t. I think that speaks to him.”
The age difference between Travis Jr. and D’Mitrik is four years and the two have always been close. “He’s my brother,” Travis Jr. said, “but I look at him as more of a best friend.”
Before games, Travis Jr. sends his brother a lengthy motivational text message. When they talk after games, the older brother typically gives blunt assessments of what he’s seen.
“He still is everything to me, someone to look up to, to get advice from,” D’Mitrik Trice said. “It’s the little things that make him special on and off the court. He can tell me what I’m doing wrong, he can be harsh on me. But I take that as constructive criticism. It’s just brotherly love.
“I have to thank him for everything, because without him I don’t know where I would be.”
Travis Jr. averaged 14.6 points per game this season with the Cairns Taipans of the National Basketball League, the top professional league in Australia. Former UW standout Kirk Penney plays in the same league, with the New Zealand Breakers.
The Taipans’ season ended in the semifinal round of the NBL playoffs this past week. The early exit made it possible for Travis Jr. to make it back to the mainland in time to watch D’Mitrik and the Badgers take on his alma mater.
And while Travis Jr. won’t be donning UW gear, he will be pulling hard for his brother to play well.
“My main goal is just getting to the game,” Travis Jr. said before embarking on a long journey. “I’ll sort out where I’m sitting and what I’m wearing when I get there. As soon as I get to the gym I’ll be fine because I’ll be seeing my little bro play for the first time.”