With his decision Wednesday to withdraw from the 2016 NBA Draft and return to College Park for his junior season, Maryland guard Melo Trimble immediately transformed the Terrapins from team that would have been rebuilding next season into a team now with legitimate NCAA tournament hopes.
The return of an All-Big Ten guard who, at times throughout his career, was arguably the nation’s best point guard will do that.
From strictly a basketball perspective, Trimble’s decision to withdraw is the easiest to explain and the most reasonable. He struggled during a crucial stretch toward the end of the season. The NBA Combine in Chicago put onto paper the subpar measurables that have been the greatest criticism of those tasked with projecting his game at the next level. Workouts with teams after the Combine did not move the needle.
Now the clock resets and he has a junior season with a young but talented team to either solidify himself as a second-round pick or find a way to work into the first round.
But in choosing to return to College Park, Trimble did something much less tangible, though perhaps nearly as noteworthy. He, knowingly or not, shielded himself from what would have been unfair and inevitable criticism that comes along with perceived NBA Draft failure.
If he had decided to remain in the draft -- and especially if he had gone undrafted, as many reputable mocks suggested was a possibility -- that would have been a factually accurate end to his career at Maryland.
All-Big Ten First Team as a freshman, All-Big Ten Second Team as a sophomore, late second-round pick or undrafted player after declaring.
Again, factually accurate, but a label that would then unfairly color in the eyes of many an individual career in College Park that has been unlike any other the program had seen in a decade or more.
Remember: Trimble committed to Maryland in Dec. 2012, during a season that would end in the NIT for the Terrapins. He stuck with it even after five players decided to transfer out of the program after the 2013-14 season.
And because of that, he was branded as the program savior in the lead-up to his freshman season in 2014 -- astronomically high expectations that carried with them an incredibly heavy unspoken undertone of having to save Mark Turgeon’s job after the head coach had, to that point, not yet made an NCAA tournament appearance in College Park.
Dez Wells and Jake Layman kept the ship afloat. Melo Trimble got it sailing -- rapidly -- in the right direction, somehow exceeding every single expectation placed upon him.
In two seasons, Trimble has piloted the Terrapins to a 55-16 record, which is the program’s most successful two-year stretch since winning the 2002 national championship and advancing to the 2003 Sweet 16.
Last season was the program’s first trip back to the regional semifinal in 13 years.
The only Maryland player ever to score more points than Trimble through his sophomore season? Joe Smith.
Yet there would have been a strain of the Maryland fan base that would have immediately dismissed a decision to stay in the draft as misguided, at its most tame, or employed far stronger adjectives beyond that. Look at comment sections prior to Trimble’s decision for proof.
The NBA Draft is not a video game. One cannot return for another year in college, improve by five skill points in every category, and magically cement oneself in the first round.
Trimble will likely return to the NBA Combine next year and there he will still have one of the shortest wingspans in his position group and will have one of the shortest vertical jumps because by this point his weaknesses are known. He will be 22 years old in what is considered to be one of the deepest, most talented drafts in years.
At that point, he will simply have to show he can play ball. And he will have his entire junior season in College Park to prepare himself for that moment.
But never, thankfully for Trimble’s story, will anyone ever be able to say the homegrown star was chasing money or getting bad advice or any of the other preferred terms to explain an underclassman jumping to the draft.
We do not yet know what Trimble’s junior year will be like. He will have an opportunity to get healthy, but his supporting cast will not be as purely talented on paper as it was last season. At the same time, though, expectations will be closer to what they were his freshman season when he exploded onto the national scene.
In front of him will be the opportunity to unquestionably put himself in the conversation about the greatest Maryland guards ever, along with Juan Dixon, Steve Blake, Greivis Vasquez, and others -- without the verbal asterisk of “if he had come back for his junior year.”
Years from now, he will sit courtside as a guest and be shown on the videoboard overtop the court to a deserved raucous applause because he will have satisfied the purists and the narrative writers, regardless of what happens in 2016-17.
And yet there is still much of the story to be written.