Trevelin Queen talked with The Step Back about his unique path to the NBA, life as a prospect in the time of coronavirus, and the next steps in his development.
The 2020 NBA Draft is the most unique draft the league has ever had. With the league suspended indefinitely, and questions about whether there will even be an end to the season, the draft is also in flux. Quarantine orders have canceled the NBA Draft combine and individual workouts, and that really limits the opportunities for second-round prospects to make their presence known.
But among the draft-eligible players this year, one can’t be phased by this situation. After all, it’s just another in a long line of challenges that has faced New Mexico State’s Trevelin Queen. The 23-year old from Baltimore’ Maryland enters the NBA Draft after a winding path through the collegiate ranks that featured five different stops — three junior colleges in Maryland, California, and New Mexico, a brief stint at Western Kentucky, and finally settling in at New Mexico State. In between, Queen experienced some incredibly hard times — near homelessness, struggles to find food and some toxic on-court situations he had to escape from.
Queen figures to be in the mix to be drafted in the second round this year, thanks to his athletic gifts and versatility on both ends of the floor. A 6-foot-6 combo guard, Queen averaged 13.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game this past season, and has a good combination of skills that might help him breakthrough as an NBA player. On ball, he shows good court vision and playmaking ability in the open court, and uses his athleticism well in transition. Off-ball, he’s a capable shooter off movement, and he’s sound relocating into open space to capitalize on a bent defense. He also has good defensive potential, playing the coherent team defense you would expect from a college veteran, and showing good capability as an off-ball defender that can jump passing lanes and deny position to bigger wings.
Below is my interview with Queen, discussing how he feels he can work to improve as a prospect, what the pre-draft process is like right now, and how his story prepares him for the grind of being a fringe NBA prospect. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
How are you holding up during quarantine?
It’s going good. It’s not that spectacular, doing the basics every day, same old routine. Waking up, playing the game, playing with the dogs, eating, going back to sleep. I’m just trying to stay safe and healthy.
How are you using the extra downtime? Any new hobbies?
I do more yoga now. Trying to do hot yoga, and make it as hot as I can, but that’s hard in the house. I’m also cooking a little bit more now, but that’s about it.
What’s your training been like under quarantine? What skills have you been working on?
Well in New Mexico we don’t really have a gym or nothing like that, so I have been going to the outside courts, which is messed up because one rim was like 11 feet, and another rim was like 13-feet, so there isn’t much I can do, jump shot wise. So I’m working on my conditioning, staying in shape, my ball-handling, floaters, stuff like that. I’m trying to stay in shape as much as I can.
What would you say is the biggest strength you can bring to an NBA team?
Consistency, I would say. On both ends of the court. I can knock down open shots, make the right reads, and find the open man. On the defensive end….if I’m going to be honest with you that’s the type of defender I can be, guarding multiple positions due to my athleticism, playing the 1, 2, 3 in certain situations, so I feel like I can be a key asset on both ends of the court.
Where do you see your next step is as a shooter? How are you focusing on improving that area of your game?
Getting better off the dribble, and fatigued shots, like trying to keep my body in a rhythm. When I get tired, I use more arms and legs, so I’m trying to work on getting a more off the dribble rhythm shot while I’m tired so I’m always ready to go.
Watching your film, I’ve always loved the touch you’ve had on floaters and runners, but finishing against contact has been a weakness at times. What are some things you are working on to get better at finishing at the rim?
Just trying to use my athleticism more to play above the rim. I want to do as I do sometimes when I’m finishing at the rim against contact. So I need to find a way to use my strength and athleticism at the same time to be able to play at the rim against taller people. In the league, there’s a lot of tall people, so I need to have that extra oomph in my step to be able to use my strength more at the rim.
How do you prepare for a defensive assignment? What do you look for when you watch film to try to exploit?
Yeah, it’s detailed for me. I try to find the weaknesses and quirks that each player has that I’m up against, so I can take advantage of that, and also see what their strengths are so I can avoid them getting to their spots and being in a comfortable position. I like to pinpoint the weaknesses of my defensive assignments and get them into uncomfortable spots so…..I can dictate the possession most of the time.
Let’s talk about your background for a bit. You’ve pretty much played everywhere in your basketball career: high school in Baltimore, three junior colleges, two mid-major Division I schools. Tell me a little about your path and how you ended up at some of these places.
I didn’t really have much of a high school career. I did play sophomore year and senior year at my home town high school. I then ended up going to junior college that summer because of a mutual friendship with my AAU coach and the JUCO coach there. I ended up redshirting there due to my paperwork and everything getting rushed. So I ended up going to California where I attended Marin College, which is in one of the richest counties in the whole country, and also feels like it’s on the other side of the world when you go from the East Coast to the West Coast, and I’m there in a matter of days.
So then from there, I ended up going to military school, which was the last Juco I went to, New Mexico Military Institute. I played there and that’s when I started really making a name for myself and getting buzz. It’s in a good league, it’s just, you hear New Mexico Military Institute, that doesn’t catch your ear as soon as you hear it. But I started to develop as a person and as a player, and I started getting noticed.
That’s when I started getting offers and stuff. Western Kentucky, New Mexico State, Colorado State, Oklahoma State … After that, I committed to Western Kentucky, and I got there and I wasn’t in the most comfortable position. So I ended up transferring to, finally, New Mexico State, which really was my first offer, and that’s the only school where the head coach came and offered me at practice. I did my research when I wanted to leave Western Kentucky and I saw that New Mexico State had a lot of the same types of people I was, which is like, Juco people, the players, even the coaching staff had that type of background, so I felt that I was a perfect fit to be there. So when I got there, I felt like I had already been there for 10 years.
What was life like playing at each of your junior college spots?
I probably wouldn’t be the player I am without Juco, without the struggles, the challenges, the adversity you face throughout the whole process. Just like, literally, every day. Having to find things to eat, go to practice, the schoolwork, it was hard and sometimes impossible. But without junior college, I definitely would not be the person I am today. So I’m definitely thankful for it, and I would never say that’s a bad route because it was hard on certain days. It was a great decision for me and it’s positive for a lot of people. Because if you’re not ready for that high-level stuff, or you’re uncomfortable with your situation, junior college is a great place just to take that pressure off, but also prepare you for the hard times. Because when you’re in junior college? Everything else looks like five-star living. So I would definitely say junior college was a life lesson learned, and it taught me a lot.
What’s the pre-draft process been like so far? You, like a lot of other prospects, are facing a tough time right now not even knowing when the draft will be. What have you been doing for workouts and to get exposure?
Workout-wise I’ve just been working out by myself and trying to see what types of workouts they normally do before the draft so I can prepare myself mentally. But other than that I haven’t been working out for teams or nothing like that. I’ve only been doing interviews over that Zoom app with different teams and stuff like that. That’s about it because there isn’t any hands-on stuff. Mostly staying in touch exposure-wise is based on the film I already have and stuff I already did on the basketball court.
The combine and many draft workouts have been canceled due to this situation, which I would think negatively affects smaller school guys who may not have had the exposure. How are you and marketing yourself to NBA teams who may not be able to scout you as much as they would in a typical year?
We’re trying to market stuff like the growth I’ve made throughout the process and throughout the years where I’ve gone through what I’ve gone through, and how much better I’ve gotten as a person on and off the court. I’m trying to show that even though I’m a little older and I come from a smaller school that I’m just as hungry and I want it just as much as everybody else. Coming from the small school and the junior colleges I feel I’m just as hungry if not hungrier than a lot of the top prospects because they’re used to having a spot at the table and I’ve been waiting all my life to get in.
The G League might be an option for you depending on how things turn out with the draft, and it’s not the most glamorous life playing there. Do you feel like your past experiences might prepare you better for that grind than some of the other guys in this draft?
Oh yeah, for sure. Just to know that I have to keep working to reach the top. I want to play against the best in the world so if I have to take that route, I’ve already been there where I have to go out and put in the work, for however long it takes to get that phone call because that’s the situation when you’re in the G League. So I definitely feel like I’m ready and I’m fit for that type of challenge and that type of battle.
What are some things that you want to accomplish outside of basketball within the next few years?
I want to be able to take care of my family because there have been situations where I’m not there for my Mom, and I want to make special the rest of the time that they’re here. So that’s been a goal of mine since I was little. I also want to open a homeless shelter. Not like invest in one, but start my own, so I can help people that are on the streets get out and start a new life because no one wants to not know where their next meal comes from, no one wants to not know where to sleep tomorrow. So I want to give people the opportunity and chance to restart their life whether I have to comb through the details, find their social security number, find this, that and whatever it is so they can have the opportunity to get jobs, eat, or just start over. I want to give people the chance at a new life.
Finally, are there any NBA teams that you hope will pick you this year?
Any of them, honestly (laughs). Just having my name called is a dream come true. But if I had to pick one or two? My favorite team is the Celtics, and I’d love to play for Brad Stevens. But my favorite player is also Kawhi. And I’d want to hang out with Kawhi for a little bit. So that would be cool because [the Clippers] have a lot of the types of players I am where they don’t really care about that social media and fantasy stuff, they want to win. I like that type of organization.