Written for nbl.com.au by Tom Hersz
If you don’t know much about Dan Trist yet, you soon will.
Signed by Melbourne in early May for the next two years, the soon to be 26-year old power forward has returned to Australia to play full-time for the first time since he was in High School. Trist, who spent four years at Lafayette College, has been playing professionally in Europe the past three seasons between Spain and Denmark. But while he’s had designs on returning to play in NBL before, the timing and opportunity was right to make it happen this year. “Basically, since I got out of college I’ve made the decision to stay in Europe, but there’s always been a bit of back and forth with a few NBL teams about coming back,” Trist told NBL Media recently. “Every year it was like ‘I’d rather play in Europe, I’d rather do that while I’m young’, but this year towards the end of my season in Spain, Melbourne came to the table with a really good opportunity.
“And you can’t really ask for a better team than Melbourne so it was sort of a no-brainer from that standpoint. When the defending champs have a hole they need to fill and they say ‘we want you to do it’, it’s hard to say no.” The hole that Dean Vickerman will be hoping Trist can help fill is that left by Tai Wesley. Coming off an All-NBL season and playing a pivotal role in United’s Championship success, it’s a big ask for anyone to replicate Wesley’s role and production. Yet it’s Wesley’s game that Trist seems to be drawing the most comparisons to. He shares some similarities in terms of being able to score in the post as well as stretch the floor, but Trist is the first to admit that the comparisons, while flattering, are unfounded at this point in his career. “Obviously he’s a two-time NBL champion, six years older than me at this point, so he’s way further along than I am,” said Trist of Wesley. “If I can have a career trajectory like that, it would be unreal. It’s more something for me to aim towards as opposed to compare myself to him at this point. So talk to me in a couple of years and we’ll see if I can fill those shoes.” For now, Trist has been focused on re-acclimatising to the Australian style of play. He spent the past three months playing for the Frankston Blues in the SEABL, and while his team struggled, it’s safe to say Trist dominated the competition.
He led the league in scoring at 25.2 ppg and finished fifth in rebounds with 10.9 rpg. Trist scored over 20 points in every game he played and had nine double doubles. That kind of game-to-game consistency caught the attention of those following him and is reason to be optimistic about what he can contribute in his first season in the NBL. The on-court benefits seemed to pay dividends, but it was also a chance for him to acclimatise off the court; something he relished after living abroad the past seven years. “It was good from two perspectives,” Trist explained of his time with Frankston. “It was very good for off the court stuff. Just because moving to a new city, you’re trying to make a bit of a social network and find a home base, besides your professional team. So it was good to branch out and meet some really good people. It’s an amazing organisation down in Frankston, great community support, great group of guys and the coaching staff there was awesome. “And just from a conditioning standpoint and working out, it was good to be able to get some runs. I played heavy minutes there so it was good to keep that touch and that game speed, which you can’t really replicate in a sport like basketball just in practice. So it was a good opportunity from that standpoint. “Obviously it’s a different level to the NBL, but I just tried to push myself physically in terms of running the floor, hitting bodies and that kind of stuff. And that stuff always translates.” Trist is well aware of the step up in level he’ll face when Melbourne’s season starts. Despite playing in Europe, he’s been keeping an eye on the NBL while he’s been away. “Yeah of course. I’ve got a lot of mates from the junior national team and growing up playing here, like Macca [Mitch McCarron], Creeky [Mitch Creek], [Anthony] Drmic all those guys I came up with. So I tried to watch and keep an eye on it. I think the Finals series this year was really good. Obviously knowing a lot of players in that made it interesting to watch, and it’s just taken off over the last three years really.” Melbourne fans are hoping Trist can make a similar impact as his mates have done in recent years. He’s a chance to be United’s starting four-man when the season tips off in October, and while he’s confident he can help his team try to defend their title, it’s too early to predict exactly what his role will be for Vickerman. “I think it depends on a number of factors in terms of what imports we sign and how preseason goes, but I think I can play that four role pretty well,” said Trist. “Similar kind of physical four to a lot of teams in the NBL; can step out a little bit and shoot a perimeter shot, but also bang around down low and run the floor well. If we decide to go small and play some small ball, I can jump in the five a little bit. So just being that versatile inside player that a lot of teams have nowadays.” He’s certainly shown that in some early preseason play against both Chinese Taipei and when Melbourne faced Saint Mary’s University last Thursday. Trist had an impact in both games and it’s clear the work he put in with Frankston, and in practice with Melbourne to date, is already paying off. And Melbourne’s preseason has been intense already. Not only have they been going through a rigorous strength and conditioning program, they’ve also had a number of very talented guests drop in – Joe Ingles, Dante Exum and Jonah Bolden – which has really raised the intensity of their scrimmages. “It’s been awesome,” Trist admitted. “Having Dante has been good obviously just for working on your ball screen coverages, and having a guy like Jonah as well. You know he’s my position, he’s got that NBA length, he’s a great dude. We’re trading moves and buckets and that kind of thing, it’s just awesome. “And obviously having Joe come in for some of our open runs, getting in there and talking some s***, hitting some threes, it’s been fun but it’s also very good for you definitely.” Trist had 19 points in the Saint Mary’s game and made some big plays when the game was tight down the stretch. However he knows that is secondary to ensuring he’s working on the things Vickerman expects of the group at this early stage of preseason. If he does those things, he’s headed towards a strong start to his first NBL season. “I think after every game Dean has us evaluate from three points,” Trist explained. “Were we physical? Did we execute? And did we make our teammates better? So throughout the preseason that’s really my focus. Especially for me, am I physical, am I out there hitting bodies and running, am I executing our sets and our defensive coverages, and am I making my teammates better? You know making that extra pass, setting screens, just doing the little things. “I know I’ve got the skill level right, so if I can do those other things, I’ll be in a position to make an impact this year.”