When he was sitting out for three games, Malique Trent didn’t know he would become a better player.
“It made me think,” he said. “It made me learn a little bit about the game, because I was watching from the sidelines. So it just helped me mentally. I think I learned a lot about the game just watching my teammates.”
It was an unexpected interruption in the season for the TCU sophomore guard. He missed games at Baylor on Jan. 13, at Kansas on Jan. 16 and against Texas Tech on Jan. 18 for a violation of team rules.
The Horned Frogs went winless without him.
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Since his return, he has averaged 12.1 points. In the past three games, it is 19.0 points. Last week, he earned Big 12 newcomer of the week honors after scoring a season-high 25 points against Baylor.
There’s no easy sell, especially with our program, because it takes a lot of courage. ... He had an opportunity to do a lot of things, go a lot of places.
TCU coach Trent Johnson, on Malique Trent
Trent’s season is back on track. But weeks later, he’s unable to say why he had to miss those three games.
“I’m not really sure,” he said after the Baylor game. “I can’t answer that.”
But it was surely at least in part about accountability, which coach Trent Johnson has tried to make a selling point at TCU. He believes his players must have their social and academic lives in order or they won’t reach their potential as players.
When he was recruiting Trent, a junior college honorable mention All-American last year, Johnson had to appeal to personal responsibility.
“I remember in the recruiting process with Malique letting him know he had an opportunity to come in and have an impact, get a great education and be part of building a tradition,” Johnson said. “You know what? The most important thing for him was the opportunity and to get a good education.”
Immediately, they had an understanding.
It got Trent to Fort Worth as Johnson’s top recruit in his fourth signing class.
In 15 games before a team rules violation, Malique Trent averaged 11.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists. In 11 games since, it is 12.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
“He had a lot of people that were recruiting him,” Johnson said. “There’s no easy sell, especially with our program, because it takes a lot of courage. So it’s not an easy sell. He had an opportunity to do a lot of things, go a lot of places. Recruiting is tough, because we’re all trying to get the best possible player we can get, to play at the highest level. So we still have to continue to get good players who are great kids and want to be part of something that’s ultimately going to be special.”
Two games remain in the regular season for Trent and the Horned Frogs. They play at Kansas State on Wednesday night and host Oklahoma on Saturday. Then it’s at least one game in the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City.
That’s three or more chances for Trent to continue improving his game — by playing, not just watching — and strengthening the relationship with Johnson that began in recruiting.
50 Steals for Malique Trent, most in the Big 12. He had a season-high five at Iowa State on Jan. 23, starting an 11-game streak with at least one steal.
“He trusts me, and I trust him,” Trent said. “I came here because of him. I trust what he’s done with a lot of players. We’re growing. We’re growing as a player and coach. Sometimes we have difficulties seeing eye to eye, but as a head coach, I have to respect him and I have to do what he says.”
The three missed games in January did not appear to change things.
“I like him,” Trent said. “I love him as a coach.”
TCU at Kansas State
7 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN3