It's going to be decision time pretty soon for Melo Trimble.
The Maryland men's basketball team's star guard has two years of college eligibility remaining, but he has at least a few hundred thousand reasons to skip them. If Trimble leaves for the NBA this summer, he's currently projected at DraftExpress to be the 35th pick in that league's draft. If Trimble winds up going in the first round, he'll play for a bare minimum of about $750,000 next season. If he goes in the second round, he'll make somewhere around the league floor of about $543,000. He'll get few guarantees, but he'll get more than the scholarship, room and board he'd get at Maryland.
Trimble has been around this block before – a year ago, when he strongly considered going pro after a sensational freshman season but decided eventually to return for a second season in College Park. This time around, Trimble and several teammates will benefit from a new NCAA rule that allows prospects to declare for the draft and then wait until late May to make a final decision on staying in school or leaving. It's why it makes a lot of sense for Trimble to submit his name for the draft, whether he decides to come back or not.
How Maryland could move forward without Trimble
When Trimble says he hasn't yet made a decision, he's being very genuine, according to several people close to him and the program. But Maryland should be prepared to lose him, and if it does, someone will need to emerge.
Basically, the Terps will have three point guard options in such a scenario: Two are junior Jaylen Brantley, Trimble's backup this year, and true freshman Anthony Cowan, a four-star recruit. The third is an as-yet-unnamed graduate transfer who would be eligible to play immediately. Let's look into those choices.
Brantley had an interesting first season in college. Mark Turgeon didn't trust him on defense for much of the season, and Brantley played five or fewer minutes in 11 games. But he picked up a slightly bigger role as the year wore on, playing double-digit minutes in seven of eight games over stretch from mid-February to mid-March.
On offense, it's easy to see where Brantley became a four-star recruit and one of the highest-rated junior college players in the country when Maryland added him. He didn't shoot much, but he didn't kneecap Maryland's offense when he did. He was 12-of-28 (43 percent) on three-pointers and had nine turnovers in 259 minutes. Both of those figures suggest a player who wasn't at all overwhelmed with a limited role but wasn't quite ready to take on a bigger one.
Recruiting rank: 4 stars
Cowan is ranked as a top-10 point guard nationally, and a lot of us haven't fully grasped yet just how good he could be. Some very competitive programs –, Xavier, Virginia, Arizona, Michigan – offered him scholarships, and Rutgers did, too. He's three inches shorter than Trimble, but he's tall enough to play point guard in the Big Ten right away. Cowan hasn't filled out yet, so he'll be something of a project for basketball performance director Kyle Tarp.
The question with Cowan isn't if he'll be good, but when he'll be good. Not every blue-chip guard enjoys a Trimble-esque rise, especially in the major conferences. Ohio State combo guard Jaquan Lyle was a high four-star recruit and shot 40 percent from the field this year, for instance, while Mississippi State five-star Malik Newman shot 39 percent. Maybe Cowan will struggle, or maybe he won't. A lot of Maryland's planning has to hinge on which outcome Turgeon expects.
The grad transfer route
In a theoretical world without Trimble, this is the avenue that offers the least certainty and the most intrigue. Maryland has tapped into the grad transfer circuit before, most recently with shooting guards Logan Aronhalt (2012), Richaud Pack (2014) and, of course, Rasheed Sulaimon. All had deeply solid single-season careers in College Park, although none was asked to do anything like what Maryland might ask a graduate transfer to do in the event Trimble leaves.
Under NCAA rule, players who have graduated with eligibility remaining from their previous institutions can transfer elsewhere without having to sit for a year. It would be a little unusual for Maryland to seek a starting point guard for an NCAA Tournament contender through these means, but it's happened before. Just this season, Louisville added Cleveland State transfer Trey Lewis, and he managed to slide seamlessly into Rick Pitino's system, giving the Cardinals 11.3 points per game and a lot of leadership in a season that had great promise before a postseason ban squashed it.
It's very hard to gather a full accounting of those who will be eligible under the grad transfer rule, out of the thousands of players in college basketball. ESPN has a little something, but it only turns up one point guard, and he's from Arkansas State and hasn't put up significant numbers. Delaware guard Kory Holden is an option, but he's likely not eligible for another season. It's not easy to find a Lewis or a Sulaimon, but more names should crystallize soon enough.
The only simple thing about Maryland's point guard situation is that things will be a lot simpler if Trimble stays part of it.