Darrion Trammell, the next, great Aztecs’ point guard

Darrion Trammell at SDSU's first practice. Credit Don De Mars/EVT

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Darrion Trammell participates in a rebounding drill with Cam Lawin. Credit Don De Mars/EVT

Darrion Trammell can score. Only five times in his 54 Division I games at Seattle University did he fail to reach double digits. Trammell matched those subpar games with the same number of 30-plus scoring performances, including a career-high 39 last March against Abilene Christian. He poured in 20 or more points on 22 occasions over the past two seasons. More importantly, he turned Seattle U into a winner.

Trammell led the Redhawks to a 23-9 record last year. Their .719 winning percentage was the school’s highest since the 1964-1965 season. The decade before Trammell’s arrival Seattle had a 132-148 mark. Their exploits galvanized the Emerald City. The Mariners even honored the Redhawks’ first WAC regular season title by lighting up T-Mobile stadium red, Seattle U’s dominant school color.

Ironically, Seattle University and Trammell open their 2022-2023 campaigns in San Diego on November 7th. The Redhawks will be in town to take on UCSD, while Trammell will be making his regular season debut for the Aztecs against Cal State Fullerton.

“It was all about fit,” Trammell told EVT in an exclusive interview. “When I hit the transfer portal, not too long after being in there, I was contacted by JayDee Luster. A few days after, the entire staff actually flew out and took me to lunch, and that was when I got the feeling that this might be my next home.”

“They made it very clear that I was the guy that they needed to ultimately take them to the next level. San Diego State is not like a high major, but they definitely play and win like they are a high major. So that’s what I was looking for, going to a winning program, being surrounded by a good culture with good guys and the coaching staff is going to keep it real, and ultimately just have the opportunity to showcase my talents a bit on a higher stage.”

Darrion Trammell’s fit with the Aztecs

Integrating Trammell this season is more essential than any other player on the roster. Jaedon LeDee, Micah Parrish, and the rest of the returning players can all impact a game, even if team chemistry is not where it needs to be. As a point guard, Trammell is the engine that will drive SDSU, and he has to have the Aztecs clicking on all cylinders to reach the team’s Final Four potential.

There are signs that Trammell is acclimating well. In 2020, high-scoring guard Terrell Gomez transferred to SDSU but had trouble stepping up as the scorer the Aztecs needed. Last season, Matt Bradley, likewise, started the season too passive, deferring too much to his teammates. At different times, head coach Brian Dutcher implored both to be more aggressive. Trammell, in contrast, arrived at SDSU looking to score.

Since Malachi Flynn left, the Aztecs have not been adept in the pick-and-roll. Their entire offense will reach another level if Trammell can put fear in opposing coaches as a scorer in those situations. Trammell understands how talented his teammates are and that it is his responsibility to get the offense flowing. It is his ability as a scorer that is the foundation that the rest of his game is built upon.

“Definitely,” Trammell responded flatly when asked if he bears more responsibility for improving the team’s chemistry. “I’m the new guy, so I just transferred in, so I’m learning, and I also have to understand that I’m a leader as well. Tying in those two was definitely the most important transition for me because, as a point guard, you have to bring everybody together. And then also, I have to learn the system to understand what we have to do to win.”

There are three questions Trammell, the coaching staff, and his teammates need to answer as they prepare for the start of the season. How do Trammell and Lamont Butler play together? How can Trammell and Bradley complement each other offensively? How does Trammell fit into one of the best defenses in America?

Playing with Lamont Butler

A few weeks ago, assistant coach JayDee Luster told EVT that the staff expects Butler and Trammell to have an equal share in working in the pick and roll and playing off the ball. This would be a change for both, as Butler has primarily played shooting guard for the Aztecs, and Trammell is accustomed to having the ball in his hands. How the two work together is still being sorted out in practice.

Darrion Trammell before practice warming up. Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

When Butler plays the point, Trammell will be showcasing a skill set he has not shown in games yet. A career 34.6% three-point shooter, he possesses the resume of someone able to run off ball screens and into more of a catch-and-shoot role. But until he proves in a game that he is capable of spotting up and knocking down jumpers, it remains a question to be answered. His size means defenders can give him more space on the outside and still have time to recover to influence his shot.

If SDSU’s offense reaches its potential, it will force the opposition to “pick their poison.” Their toxin of choice might be to make Trammell beat them in a role he has seldom played.

“I definitely spread the floor pretty well,” Trammell explained of his skills off the ball. “I don’t think a lot of people can be in gaps when they’re guarding me or be too far away from me where they can be in super help and just leave me. My shooting ability is at a good spot. When they overcommit on the closeout, I’m really good at attacking those and then keeping that advantage against the defense where I might score, or I might set up another teammate to where they can do their thing, which is the good thing because I’m surrounded by so many good players. Once I give it up, I know we’re in good hands. They have the advantage as well.”

On the other hand, Trammell arrives on campus as a 1,000-point Division I scorer. To put that in perspective, SDSU has only had 35 players reach that plateau in its history, and only three passed that mark in two years like Trammell did at Seattle. If the prospect of stopping the Aztecs is forcing a 1,000-point scorer to beat you, the reason for the team’s preseason accolades comes into focus.

Working in the Aztecs’ favor is an intangible whose worth is beyond calculation. For three seasons now, transfers entering the program have raved about Butler as a person and a teammate. While Dutcher and the coaching staff deserve lots of praise for their ability to build teams with new players, Butler should get credit as well. His selflessness, team-centered approach, and the joy with which he goes about his work is infectious.  

“Oh, it’s been great,” Trammell said, describing his relationship with Butler. “We’re becoming really close. We hang out a lot off the court, so just bringing it on the court is so much easier because we can relate to each other. He’s kind of been taking me under his wing and helping me figure things out and what it’s like to be successful as a guard here at San Diego State.” 

“We’ve been going at in practice. We’ve been on the same team, but when we go against each other, it’s always like, ‘you’re my brother, and we’re going to help each other get better.’ So, when we go and play against other people, then our talents will be where they’re supposed to be so we could dominate.”

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Playing with Matt Bradley

Trammell, of course, is not the only 1,000-point scorer on the roster. Bradley currently sits at 1,831 for his career and should pass 2,000 this year. Brandon Heath (2,189) is the only player in SDSU history to reach that level. While Bradley did most of his damage with CAL, his stats show another element for Trammell to juggle. Unlike last year, the Aztecs should be able to win if Bradley has an off night but to beat the best on their schedule, they need Bradley to score.

Darrion Trammell attempts a layup at practice. Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

The challenge is how the two can coexist because they are both terrific scorers who use multiple dribbles frequently to get to their preferred spots on the floor. If they accommodate the other too much, they risk losing what makes them elite.

With every challenge comes an opportunity; Bradley had more of a catch-and-shoot element at CAL than he did at SDSU a season ago. With Trammell running the point, it could bring that back to his game. Bradley’s presence, in turn, guarantees Trammell will have more space to work with than he ever did with Seattle.

Jordan Schakel told EVT’s Austin Tarke in May that the space in the NBA game is so much greater than in college because everyone can score. If Trammell and Bradley can create that environment for each other and their teammates, the sky is the limit offensively for the Aztecs.

“It was definitely a process,” Trammell said about learning to play with Bradley. “We have to understand, we’re both high-level scorers, but at the end of the day, we kind of have to stay out of each other’s away, and we have to set each other up. Matt is actually a very underrated passer. When me and him are on the same team, he gets me a lot of shots because he draws so much attention, and I can spread the floor for him. It’s definitely a good thing. I feel like me and Matt are at a good place on the floor right now.”

San Diego State Defense

Trammell was fifth in the nation a year ago, averaging 2.52 steals per game. He hounds quicker point guards like the ones that gave the Aztecs fits last year. He is adept at stepping into passing lanes to take advantage of the chaos his longer, athletic teammates create. A first-team all-WAC defensive performer a season ago, Trammell prides himself on being a two-way player and fits the ethos of an Aztecs defender.

As much as Trammell adds to an already elite defense, at 5’10, there is still the question of his size and how he fits into Dutcher’s preference to switch all ball screens. In the pick and roll, Trammell will be forced at times to cover the opposition’s biggest player. The trick for the Aztecs will be to deny an entry pass into the post long enough for the defender on the opposite corner to switch with Trammell without opening up passing lanes for easy scoring opportunities.

Darrion Trammell shoots before practice at Viejas Arena. Credit Don De Mars/EVT

“Dave (Velasquez)’s does a great job with making an accommodation for me, taking away that advantage of me being on the big. He’s a defensive guru, so we’ll be just fine,” Trammell explained.

Velasquez is praised as a tactician, and the staff is renowned for teaching defense at a truly professional level, but it takes multiple years for any player to learn all of the nuances SDSU utilizes in its defense. This fact is the reason newer players earn fewer minutes typically than established veterans. They simply cannot implement all that is required on the defensive end.  

“I’m getting adjusted,” Trammell explained. “It’s coming around at the right time. It’s definitely not easy. There’s a lot to San Diego State’s defense that I’ve never learned before, but I’m a quick learner, and they’ve done a great job teaching me. They haven’t gotten frustrated when obviously, I can mess up sometimes. They’re teaching me well, and it’s coming along. I can definitely help them in that area this year.”

Embracing the Expectations

Trammell has been an underdog his entire basketball life. Through hard work and tremendous skill, he has proven at every level that he belongs at the next. His great career at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco opened up a door to the City College of San Francisco. His play there earned him a spot at the Division I level with Seattle. Resurrecting the Redhawks allowed him to enter the upper echelon of college basketball with the Aztecs. A professional career is a likely next step for the talented playmaker.

To get there, Trammell will have to show he can run a team with prolific players surrounding him without losing his calling card as an elite scorer. San Diego State this season is the perfect training ground for the rest of his career.

With Trammell anchoring the backcourt, the Aztecs have a chance to be among the best teams in college basketball on both ends of the ball. Expectations on the Mesa have never been higher.

“We love it,” Trammell said of the preseason buzz. “We bring it every day in practice because we understand the expectations for our team. The coaches don’t allow us to come in and have a lackadaisical day or anything like that. We come in, and we’re ready to work.”

“The first month of our schedule is one of the better ones in the country. So we understand that we don’t really have too much time to let things come to us. We have to understand that and work hard in practice and bring a high level of focus and a high level of intensity so we can be ready for those high-level games. When March comes around, we all know what time that is, so we’re just preparing for March, and I think we’ll be very ready for March.”

If SDSU is going to reach its own aspirations, they need Darrion Trammell to become the next great Aztecs’ point guard.

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