Chalking up points with dad

Basketball: Tee Trotter's talent could have landed him almost anywhere, but he has stayed loyal to his father and struggling UMES.

February 07, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Initially, Tee Trotter had little passion for basketball.

"I was 9 or 10 years old, and I first picked up the ball at my dad's job at a [Chicago] Park District rec center," said the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's leading scorer. "Back then, I didn't care much for it. I kind of like just did it."

"In a sense, I forced it on him," said his father, Thomas Trotter, Maryland-Eastern Shore's coach. "I was a single parent and we didn't have much money. A lot of times, he was stuck in the gym where I worked for two or three hours every day with the ball in his hands.

"He really didn't love the game then. That has developed over the last four or five years."

Oh, how the zeal developed.

In Las Cruces, N.M. - where the elder Trotter served as an assistant to New Mexico State's Lou Henson - his son flourished as a high school junior and senior and became the state's athlete of the year.

"I think that's where I started getting more into the game," said Tee, a sturdily built, 5-foot-11, 180-pound guard. "I got a lot of exposure, and it brought out a lot in me."

Inquiries poured in from the major collegiate basketball programs, including Atlantic Coast Conference members. But it was an accepted fact that he would stay with his dad and play for Henson at home, probably as a key element on the team during his freshman season.

Then, fate intervened. After Tee signed with New Mexico State, Thomas got his first head-coaching job, at UMES in tiny Princess Anne. The coach left the decision to the son.

"I told him if he didn't want to play where I was, the decision was his," Thomas said. "He had a girlfriend in New Mexico, a chance to be an excellent offensive player there. I think it was out of obligation he wanted to get where I went. I had raised him alone until he was 15, and then I got married."

Because he was the coach's son, he was able to obtain his release from New Mexico State, and he headed cross-country. The Big West's loss has definitely been the MEAC's gain.

Tee jumped onto the MEAC scoring charts last season at No. 5 with a 16.7 average, punctuating his season with a career-high 40-point effort in a first-round tournament defeat by Bethune-Cookman. He led the league with 72 three-pointers, hitting 35 percent from long range, and ranked second with a .796 free-throw percentage.

But with the Fighting Hawks not among the MEAC's elite teams, all-conference honors eluded him. Nor was he named to any of the preseason all-MEAC teams this season.

"That kind of bothers me a little bit," Tee said. "They're overlooking me. I know my team is not doing great [3-16 overall, 3-7 in the league], but all that makes me work harder just to prove I'm among the best in the league.

Said Thomas: "I think he is being penalized for being my son."

After last season, the father asked the son, then a sophomore, if he wanted to transfer because "I wanted to make sure he wanted to battle the battles you have to at Eastern Shore." Tee stayed because "he wanted a challenge."

The season certainly has been that. A slew of transfer players who were seen as crucial to the team's success were slow to make the adjustment, and UMES started 0-12 before winning at Bethune-Cookman on Jan. 13.

But the team's problems only made Tee more dedicated. He is certainly not one-dimensional, with his ability to shoot from anywhere on the court. When the outside chance isn't there, he can drive to the basket fiercely. And he is not a ball hog, a notable attribute because he often faces double and triple teams.

"Teams are going to pay a lot of attention to me," Tee said. "But that leaves the game wide-open for other players. A lot of our guys are very new to this level, and they have to grow up. A lot of people might think it's frustrating to me, but this whole new group is going to be good by next year.

"Sometimes, they yell at me to shoot more because I can be open and don't take the shot. I kind of take what I'm given. If I'm wide-open, I shoot, but if they're not going, I pass."

Although his scoring outbreaks were reduced to the low double digits by strong defense from Morgan State and Coppin State in recent games, forcing teammates to compensate, Tee still leads the league with a 22.9 average and has been below 10 only once all season.

He has twice broken his career high, with 41 points against Florida A&M and 42 against Howard in two of the four overtime losses the team has suffered. Tee is hitting 43 percent of his three-point tries and 85 percent from the foul line.

His father proclaims him "as probably the conference's best player."

Tee said he gets winded from time to time because he never seems to be on the bench.

"I always believe I can turn the game around either on offense or defense," he said. "If I turn up my defense, it makes my team play harder."

A fan of former NBA All-Star Isiah Thomas and more recently Baron Davis, Tee presses on with the struggle to make UMES a winner, frequently frustrated by the slow progress.

"If he has a great game, he's the coach's son," said his father. "If he has a bad game, he's shooting too much. That's what he's heard. But I think people are starting to respect him for what he is.

"There is always a lot of pressure on Tee, and he never gets a chance to feel good about his accomplishments. In this program, I'll probably never recruit a kid who's better. He's one of the best I've ever seen at his size."

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