MADISON — On the night of November 17, it was just another non-conference blowout win for the 2016-2017 Badgers, defeating Chicago State at home, 69-51. This early season contest was the second game in three days for Wisconsin, who would then have to travel to Maui in a matter of hours for the Jim Maui Tournament Invitational.
Consequently, only one starter played over half the game for Wisconsin, and the second-leading player in minutes that game was freshman point guard D’Mitrik Trice, with 23. Trice, younger brother of former Michigan State star Travis Trice, tied the UW freshman record for assists (seven) in a game on this chilly Thursday night. And as he was chosen to answer questions at the post game press conference, he would make his way into the media room, shuffling in, his iPhone covering his face, clearly FaceTiming someone, smiling after his stellar performance.
As the media quickly learned, the person on the other end of that FaceTime call was his older brother Travis, and this routine use of modern technology would come to be a common occurrence throughout the season.
Just on the surface, the Trice brothers’ relationship appears to be tight-knit. And that’s without mentioning that Travis was halfway around the world during this call, playing professional ball for the Cairns Taipans in Australia.
To D’Mitrik, the two are “as close as brothers can possibly get.” To Travis, their relationship is simply that of “brothers. That’s really the only way to describe how close we are.”
The Trice brothers, about four years apart, grew up in Huber Heights, Ohio. D’Mitrik and Travis are the oldest brothers in the family, and Travis was the first to play for his father, Travis Sr., as head coach at Wayne High School, where D’Mitrik would soon follow, the two of them missing playing together by just a year.
That, of course, didn’t stop the duo from playing against each other at the house, though, big brother Travis explained.
“We played and challenged each other,” Travis explained, “and one thing that our parents preached to us, was that ‘you want your younger brother to be better than you.’ So, it was ultra-competitive, but at the same time we were kind of looking out for each other.”
Many people struggle with the concept of playing for family members as coaches, as it can be very hard to separate the roles of coach and father for players, which can certainly prove detrimental to both relationships inside and outside of the hardwood. As Travis described, it was a positive experience for the kids playing for their father, as the two roles seemed to combine smoothly into one.
“I think one of the biggest things, that helped not only myself, but my brothers, while playing for my dad, was the conversations, outside of practice and off the court.”
That being said, it wasn’t always easy for Travis.
“They say the oldest have it the hardest, and yeah I think my dad was the toughest on me,” Trice explained. “I think part of it was because I was the first son he coached, and also, his first year as head coach was my freshman year.”
As Travis continued, he also gave more praise to D’Mitrik and his cerebral play on the court.
“That’s one thing you pick up on, he’s definitely smart, and the way he acts and plays on the court…that’s totally how he is,” the eldest Trice brother explained, which is a very important trait to have as a point guard, especially in the traditional Wisconsin offense.
According to Travis, D’Mitrik showed plenty of intelligence, as well as personality, off the court.
“I would say he’s really book smart. He’s kind of a nerd, too. He’s definitely a different kind of guy, I mean he’s got snakes at the house,” Trice stated in between laughs.
“He used to love dinosaurs. He likes to read different things, and he made National Honor Society. He’s definitely a bookworm, kind of nerd.”
As much as Travis and D’Mitrik have in common, their personalities couldn’t be much more different, as the eldest explained in detail.
“I think part of why we’re so close, is that we’re almost complete opposites,” Travis said. “I would be fine going to the gym by myself, not talking to anybody, but he’s different. He’s like the life of the party, everybody wants to hang around him, but I would never want to volunteer in front of a class like that,” referring to little brother “Meech” volunteering on the first day of a lecture with over 400 people in the room.
Travis has always looked out for D’Mitrik, as is the job of a big brother, but Travis also listened to his parents, never letting Meech win in the countless games of one-on-one in the driveway, showing his competitive nature, but also helping his brother improve along the way.
“The thing is, I would never let him win. I would let him have some success, but I would never let him win. As of late, the last two to three years, it’s been a lot harder. I would say my last two years of college, that was when I knew I couldn’t play around with this guy.”
Since leading his Michigan State Spartans to the 2015 Final Four in his senior year, Travis has played professionally in both Australia and the US, most recently for the Westchester Knicks of the NBA D-League.
Playing halfway around the globe could be a strain for most family relationships, but not for the Trice family, including Travis still watching D’Mitrik this past season for the Badgers.
“It ended up ok, because his games would come on at 9 or 10 in the morning here (in Australia), so I would just wake up and watch them…It worked out really well,” Travis detailed.
As much as the two brothers battle on the court, and even sometimes off of it as brothers do, D’Mitrik doesn’t try to hide his appreciation and gratitude for his big brother.
“Off the court, it’s almost same in every aspect because he always has my back. Whether it’s relationships, or stuff with my dad coaching, he’s always been there with me. It’s honestly how he makes time for his younger siblings with his really busy schedule, and he just helps me improve in every way of life.”
If that’s enough, this lengthy quote from Travis really put things in perspective, not only with the importance of family to him, but also his enjoyment of the concept.
“To be honest with you, he’s (D’Mitrik) more like my best friend…any time I would come home from college, people wouldn’t even know I was back in the city, because all I did was hang out with them, and joke around with them. Whether it was playing a video game, going to a movie, going out to eat, we could be doing whatever. I think that’s what made us so close, is that we’re more like best friends.”
D’Mitrik will play a big part in the future of the Wisconsin Badgers program, along with returning All-American Ethan Happ, as well as Trice’s best friend and roommate, redshirt freshman Aleem Ford.
Ford is an incredibly talented 6’9” forward that played with Meech at IMG Academy, who has the athleticism of a wing, but the shooting ability of a guard. It is very rare to see Trice or Ford somewhere without the other, as was the case when the two trained with Travis over the Summer.
To put it simply, the eldest Trice brother was impressed with what he saw.
“I remember, the first time I met Aleem, he came up with us for a couple weeks, and we were all working out together just about every day,” explained Travis. “Man, those two (D’Mitrik and Aleem) are two really good guys, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do together.”
But Travis didn’t stop there when talking about the young duo’s abilities on the court.
“I think they’re both good enough to leave early,” Travis exclaimed. “I really do.”
As bright as the future is for the younger Trice and Ford at UW, they know that they can take a lot from Travis during their time together.
“I think the biggest thing I try to take from his is his domination mindset. He’s obviously a great leader, but just how he always has the mindset to be the best player on the court,” D’Mitrik noted, which Travis demonstrated not only during his Final Four run for the Spartans, but also professionally, being one of the team leading scorers both in Australia and in Westchester.
During his time training with Meech and Travis, Aleem has also tried to make the most of his time.
“Trav is a great player, training with him definitely pushes me to better myself. We are both competitive guys and working with him motivates me to get to his level,” explained Ford.
“Trav’s the G.O.A.T. [Greatest of all time],” he added with a smile.
Travis could give his little brother and Ford advice all day, and enjoys it, but is also confident that D’Mitrik knows what he is doing.
“I don’t worry about that guy… he’s always motivated, he’s the ultimate competitor, and he’s a winner,” Travis says of his little brother.
“I knew he was good enough to play at the level he’s at now, and I can’t wait to see what he does next, and how much he improves.”
Badger fans can surely be excited about “Meech” and his best friend playing together on the court next year, as the two hope to eventually play in the NBA, along with Travis.
But for now, D’Mitrik is making the most of his time at Wisconsin, as no matter what the future holds, his big brother is always right behind him.