Allonzo Trier, right, became a five-star recruit in part by playing against kids older than him throughout his life.

Garrett W. Ellwood Photo courtesy of USA Basketball

As a single mother with an active first-grader, Marcie Trier found the challenges of grad school weren’t just about the books.

Desperate for daycare help, and without much money to fund it, she asked a Seattle Rotary club coach if he would just let her son, Allonzo, sit around and watch basketball in a safe environment at the Boys and Girls Club, where the team practiced.

“I wasn’t sure what to do with him,” she said.

Daryll Hennings, the Seattle Rotary director, agreed. But the plan didn’t last long because Allonzo, who grew into a five-star 2015 guard who committed to Arizona on Sunday, wasn’t about to sit still for long.

“He watched for a little while, but he was itching so bad to get out there, we let him get out there,” Hennings said. “He soaked it all in. He was really intense about it. You could just tell.”

By the time he was in the second grade, “Zo,” as he is commonly known, joined a Seattle Rotary youth team full of mostly older boys.

That’s when Hennings knew that this 7-year-old not only had a passion but also a talent.

“We put him in the league and he just burst right away,” Hennings said. “At every age group, he was probably the best player on the floor.”

That trend continued, with some exceptions, all the way up to this summer, when the 6-foot-4-inch Trier averaged an eye-opening 29.8 points on the well-regarded Nike EYBL summer circuit. UA coach Sean Miller saw him at the first EYBL event, at Sacramento, California, in April, and quickly made him a priority.

Miller offered Trier a scholarship in early June and coached him with USA Basketball’s U17 team later that month, while he and UA associate head coach Joe Pasternack pursued Trier relentlessly.

UA then landed Trier for an under-the-radar recruiting visit last weekend and secured a commitment Sunday morning before the Triers returned to their home in Oklahoma. His tentative visit to UCLA next weekend, and thoughts of places such as Kansas and Louisville and UConn, all vanished.

Arizona loved Trier. Trier loved Arizona. The courtship only needed a few months to grow.

“From (Sacramento) on, they continued to follow him through each EYBL event and their enthusiasm continued to grow,” Marcie Trier said of UA coaches. “It was exciting for us because we’ve always considered them a revered program, but we continued to stay open.

“But things started to change as the summer continued. With coach Miller and coach Pasternack, their communication was unbelievable. I was always very up front and told them that he’d go to the school that wanted him the most, and that’s why he ended up there.”

cover boy

In the course of the Trier recruiting timeline, this was something of an 11th-hour upset that came out of nowhere. It wasn’t long ago, after all, that Trier’s heroics with those young Seattle Rotary teams led to all sorts of attention in his middle-school years from travel-ball teams, college coaches, recruiting analysts … and even the New York Times.

On March 19, 2009, under a picture of Trier cradling basketballs that appeared nearly a quarter of his size, this was the headline on the cover of the New York Times Magazine:

“He’s 13.”

The 8,000-word story, which portrayed Trier as a symbol of the consuming world of high-level youth basketball, detailed his intense passion and work habits but also noted after Trier received a hard foul during a 9:30 p.m. practice that he “seemed like an exhausted little boy who needed to go home to bed.”

In the big picture, Trier was OK with all that, the hard work, the long hours and all the potentially distracting publicity. Trier says today the Times article and all the attention he’s received since then has made him “well-prepared for whatever gets thrown at me.”

Besides, Trier’s intense focus has always easily minimized distractions. Not only did he play and practice constantly since his early elementary school years but, as an eighth-grader, he and his mother were so driven to maximize his potential that they moved to Oklahoma so he could join a well-regarded club, Athletes First, that competes in the Nike EYBL circuit and counts NBA players Blake Griffin and Xavier Henry as alums.

Move worth it

Marcie says her master’s degree and experience in social work could easily transfer to another job in Oklahoma, making the move physically, if not emotionally, easy. Mother and son still both own phones with Seattle’s 206 area code and proudly consider Washington their home state.

“Allonzo went to the (University of) Washington camp in fourth grade. Zo was born at the University of Washington. We are truly bred for Seattle,” Marcie says. But “when he was invited to play with the Nike EYBL team we just felt it was a great opportunity. He (became) an EYBL veteran. You could say the move to Oklahoma was worth it because of that.”

It’s just that, at the time, it was hard for those on the outside to see many positives. While Trier jumped quickly to Athletes First’s elite team, learning under older players, his stock began to fall with recruiting analysts.

“You didn’t know what to do with him because he’s a freshman and he’s playing against (age) 17s,” said Clark Francis, a longtime analyst for Hoop Scoop. “He was a role player. He didn’t have to step up and be the guy. We never saw him play against kids his own age. But he did it right. He was playing up and it made him a better player.”

During the school year, Trier also worked on his game in another unconventional way. As a homeschooler, he played for a low-profile association of home-schooled kids, on two different teams.

That generated red flags over the number of schools he had changed to, while his play was generally disregarded because of the weaker competition.

But Zo grew from the experience anyway, his mother said.

“He wasn’t on the main circuit, but that was a benefit to him because he played a national homeschool schedule and he was double- and triple-teamed,” Marcie said.

“That helped him tremendously. The media wasn’t there to write about it but for us he got everything he needed.”

So while Trier was very much a product of the all-consuming elite youth basketball culture, he was also the product of some unconventional development, taking a dip in the recruiting rankings until he re-appeared on the high-profile scene with Montrose last season.

“He exploded at Montrose because he had the opportunity to play on a national stage,” said Gary Vick, director of the Athletes First program. “He has progressed from every age level and he’ll do the same in college. He’s going to get better between now and the time he’s (in Arizona).

“It’s the work ethic. I’m telling you, it’s beyond compare.”

On to Nevada

There’s more evidence of the work ethic today. While awaiting a flight out of Tucson on Sunday, Trier gently scoffed at the idea that he might take a week or two off from basketball before Nevada’s Findlay Prep begins school, despite his big spring and summer.

“No,” he said. “That’s not me.”

Vick knows who he is. On Monday, when asked about Trier on the telephone, Vick chuckled.

“Well, I’m looking at him right now,” Vick said. “He got off the plane (Sunday) and now he’s in the gym. That will kind of tell you something. He’s not like a lot of kids. The ones like Blake Griffin, Xavier Henry, they had that same type of drive.

“The desire to be great.”

Sportswriter for the Arizona Daily Star covering Arizona Wildcats basketball