MILWAUKEE — As always, father and son had a chalk talk afterward.
This game in particular — the only loss of the season to date for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team — was for D’Mitrik Trice to review. The sophomore point guard on the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team had been held to five points on 2-for-9 shooting in a 53-46 loss to Virginia in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game on Nov. 23.
A day after watching Trice make seven 3-pointers and score a career-high 25 points in the semifinal win over Oklahoma, Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett did everything in his power to limit the Badgers’ best perimeter shooter. If Ethan Happ was 1A on the scouting report, Trice was 1B. Bennett instructed freshman Kihei Clark to stay attached to Trice and, in high-ball situations, Virginia hedged so aggressively that Trice usually was forced to retreat well beyond the 3-point line.
Trice and his father went over all of that after the game. When Travis Trice Sr. sent an encouraging text message later in the day, he got a positive response. “I’m in a good place,” D’Mitrik replied.
The following afternoon, Trice Sr. received another message out of the blue. D’Mitrik had sent it shortly after the Badgers’ charter flight from the Bahamas had landed in Madison.
“I learned a lot about myself this past week. A lot of things I can work on and get better at. But also where I stand on this team and, more importantly, in the NCAA. I know I can be one of the best point guards in the country. I’m going to work on being more consistent and staying hungry. I know it’s a long season. There’ll be ups and downs, but consistency will help me get to the next level. I know my mind-set is on another level and I know that nobody can guard me and I can get to anywhere I want to go on the court. It’s about hitting my shots consistently. I know I’m a pro and I tell myself that every day. You’ll see.”
On May 12, D’Mitrik Trice sent out a tweet that is pinned to his profile page seven months later.
“Your life can change in a year … keep pushin.”
Trice found out a year ago that he needed surgery to repair a broken right foot, an injury that ended his season after 10 games. The first game Trice sat out was an 82-63 home loss to Marquette.
Now, Trice is soaring as UW gets set for the annual matchup with its in-state rival. Trice is averaging 17.0 points per game and leads the nation in 3-point shooting percentage (60.0) heading into a game between the No. 12 Badgers (8-1) and Marquette (7-2) at the Fiserv Forum on Saturday.
Trice’s life has changed significantly in a year, but his tweet was more about looking ahead than dwelling on the past.
When Trice wrote that message for the world to see, he was at a bit of a crossroads. It was posted the day after the spring semester final exam period ended at UW and at the start of what has always been an important stretch for the Trice family.
Travis Trice Sr. loves late spring because it’s a chance for him to spend quality time with his family, both on and off the court. Travis II and D’Mitrik love it because it’s an opportunity for them to work on their games under the watchful eye of their father, a former point guard who played two seasons each at Purdue and Butler.
D’Mitrik was the first to arrive back home in Ohio this past spring and sat down for a heart-to-heart with his father, who asked about goals. This was something D’Mitrik had thought about a lot while sitting out most of the 2017-18 season. He was eager to not only return to the lineup healthy, but be much better than he showed in the 10-game sample size the previous fall.
He shared a long-term goal as well: To play in the NBA.
Travis Trice Sr.’s response included encouragement mixed with a dose of reality.
“I said, ‘Your brother is a very good ballplayer and he’s waiting for his opportunity. He’s working hard, but he hasn’t made it yet. And if you’re wanting to be an NBA player, you’re going to have to be better than him,’ ” Travis Trice Sr. said.
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Since capping off his Michigan State career in style by helping the Spartans reach the Final Four in 2015, Travis Trice II has spent time in the NBA G League and playing overseas.
During previous offseason open gym sessions with other college and pro players in the Dayton area, the Trice brothers usually ended up on the same team. And typically, D’Mitrik deferred to his older brother.
That had to stop, Travis Trice Sr. told D’Mitrik. They needed to play against each other and, if D’Mitrik was going to take a big step in his development, he had to hold his own against his big brother.
“I obviously look up to him and kind of defer to him when we’re playing on the same 5-on-5 team,” D’Mitrik said of Travis, who is now playing with Wisconsin Herd, the Milwaukee Bucks’ G League affiliate. “That definitely changed this past offseason, where I was more of the dominant guy.”
Lest anyone thinks that’s braggadocio trash talk on D’Mitrik’s part, a neutral observer confirmed it to be the truth.
“We just saw his confidence rising with Travis having a harder time trying to guard him and him being able to get his shot whenever he wanted to,” Travis Trice Sr. said. “To be honest with you, the last time that I remember them having an open gym, Meech was absolutely dominant. And Travis came to me later on that day and he said, ‘You know, there’s not much I can do with him.’ ”
Sky’s the limit
Travis Trice Sr. says D’Mitrik spent as much time working on the mental part of the game as the physical part, and there’s evidence of improvement in both areas through UW’s first nine games of the season.
D’Mitrik is playing at 183 pounds, up eight from last season. He squatted 415 pounds at one point over the summer and, as a result of that lower-body work, is more explosive and has good lift on his jumper.
That shot, in general, has undergone some tweaking. It has more arch than last season, when D’Mitrik went 12 of 40 from 3-point range, and his transfer from dribble to the ball being in the shooter’s pocket is more fluid.
“He was hoopin’ when he got back this summer,” teammate Brevin Pritzl said. “He brought back that same energy he always had, but he’s more efficient.”
Trice is 30 of 50 from beyond the arc, and half of those conversions have come in the final 10 seconds of the shot clock. UW opened Big Ten play with wins over Iowa in Rutgers in part because Trice made a clutch 3-pointer in the final minute of each game.
While the hot shooting stands out, UW coach Greg Gard said Trice’s all-around game has improved and he’s done a good job of not trying to do too much. Assistant coach Howard Moore pointed out that Trice’s defense has improved significantly since last season
“All the things he was already pretty good at, he’s gotten better at,” said UW assistant coach Dean Oliver, who works closely with the guards. “He’s put the work in, that’s the thing. The preparation was there. He’s really focused and put the time in.”
As for the mental part of the game, Travis Trice Sr. noticed a difference during the second half of UW’s 72-66 win at Iowa on Nov. 30. There was a rough stretch of about 3 minutes in which D’Mitrik missed a wide-open layup that he originally planned on dunking, was called for a charge, had a 3-point attempt blocked and committed a foul that led to a three-point play.
Travis Trice Sr., watching from home, couldn’t help but notice a stoic expression on his son’s face when the television cameras showed D’Mitrik.
“I’m telling you, a year ago, he would have frowned up and it would have bothered him,” Travis Sr. said.
Not only did D’Mitrik bounce back to make a 3-pointer that gave the Badgers a five-point lead with 20.2 seconds left against Iowa, he added a pair of free throws two possessions later. He also grabbed four defensive rebounds over the final 2:35.
Just six days earlier, D’Mitrik had sent the text that put a huge smile on his father’s face.
“It’s night and day from last season,” the elder Trice said. “He’s always been very confident in himself. But a lot of times, people put a lid or a ceiling on what they feel like they can do. And I’m going to be honest, there’s no lid, there’s no ceiling on who he thinks he can be.”