Next man up: After roster turnover, D'Mitrik Trice is learning to lead UW

D'Mitrik Trice is set to take over Wisconsin's starting point guard spot on a young Badger team. 

Image By: Brandon Moe

Just inside the doorway of an over-crowded locker room in Madison Square Garden, D’Mitrik Trice watched as reporters fired questions to Wisconsin’s four seniors. But as Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter reflected on their Wisconsin careers following a heartbreaking 84-83 defeat in the Sweet 16, Trice started to look ahead to what his future in Madison would bring.

Trice played just seven minutes in UW’s loss to the Gators. In Wisconsin’s final two NCAA tournament games, he played a mere 19 combined minutes and finished with three turnovers, no points and six fouls.

“I know there’s a lot of work that I gotta do,” Trice said following the Badgers’ loss to Florida. “And I’m gonna put in that time to make sure this team gets ready for next year.”

Now, over six months later, Trice is one of the most important pieces on a young and inexperienced Badgers team. While only a sophomore, he will be relied upon to not only fill up the stat sheet, but lead UW on and off the floor.

Trice’s potential to one-day lead the Badgers was apparent early in his freshman season. On Dec. 3 in Wisconsin’s 90-70 win over 2015 Final Four participant Oklahoma, the Huber Heights, Ohio product shot 75 percent from the field, scored 16 points and didn’t record a turnover in 20 minutes off the bench.

“Not a lot of freshman come in to Wisconsin fearless, attacking the basket and also pulling up for three’s like he does,” Koenig said following UW’s victory. “There’s just a trust factor that you have with him that you can trust him to make a play — make the right play.”

As the season progressed, Trice continued to play an important role for Wisconsin. When Koenig missed two games late in the season due to a leg injury, it was Trice who stepped into the starting lineup. He was one of just five Badgers to play in every game last season, and while his 5.6 points and 1.7 assist per game numbers are rather pedestrian, the freshman who stated on media day in 2016 that he “just [wanted] to get on court and contribute in any way possible” certainly exceeded expectations.

This season, the Badgers hope that Trice’s prior freshman experiences will pay off.

“Any time you can go through and get the kind of experience as a freshman, it helps you not only with what’s going to happen in year two,” head coach Greg Gard said, “but your preparation and your mindset going into year two.”

Over the summer, Trice worked diligently to become stronger, improve his endurance and work on his finishing ability. He frequently practiced against his older brother, former Michigan State point guard Travis Trice, to develop his left hand on offense and keep a more skilled player in front of him.

Trice also started growing into a leadership role that he didn’t have last year. Freshman point guard Brad Davison has been a frequent workout partner of Trice’s this offseason and has been impressed by Trice’s work ethic and his constant communication on the court. Davison, who many have already compared to former Badgers Zak Showalter and Josh Gasser, thinks those qualities will go a long way for UW this year.

Trice says he still hasn’t grasped the idea that Hayes and Koenig aren’t walking through the doors of the Kohl Center any time soon. He adds that the novelty of someone else leading the team is new not just for the basketball program but the Madison community as a whole.

“It definitely feels different,” Trice said. “I haven’t quite grasped the feeling yet.”

Trice will be stepping into his leadership role alongside redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ, Wisconsin’s lone returning starter from last season. According to Happ, the duo has spent more time off the court in recent months and Trice adds that they’re talking a lot more this year.

“It’s important that off the court we spend more time together,” Happ said. “We both have some added weight on our shoulders, but we just see it as an opportunity for each other.”

But, even with a young team, the opportunity that Happ and Trice has comes with high expectations. Wisconsin has not finished worse than fourth in the Big Ten in the Bo Ryan-Greg Gard era. And even with disappointing tournament losses in consecutive years to Notre Dame and Florida, it has still made a Sweet 16 appearance in each of the past four seasons.

Last March, Trice admitted that he couldn’t sleep well before Wisconsin’s Big Ten Tournament opener against Indiana. Against Virginia Tech in his first NCAA Tournament appearance he whipped his towel in disgust when he checked out of the game for the final time because his jump shot was not falling. And against the Gators, he watched as Chris Chiozza’s running-buzzer beater sealed the careers of many of his teammates.

Those moments color his decision making as a leader. They help fuel Wisconsin’s next man up.

“It was a dramatic experience,” Trice said. “And it’s a position that I don’t ever want to be in again.”

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