EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Trice family was traveling a familiar route Friday, Dec. 25, when a text message arrived somewhat unexpectedly.
While Travis Trice Sr. and wife Julie knew they'd be touching base with Tom Izzo at some point during the day, they weren't expecting the Michigan State coach to reach out in the hours leading up to the Spartans' game against the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team.
Izzo opened with a Merry Christmas wish before turning to brutal honesty. He'd coached the Trice's oldest son, Travis II, from 2011-15 at Michigan State and now he was about to face their second-youngest son, Badgers senior point guard D'Mitrik Trice, possibly for the last time.
This is my most hated game of the year. Both because of the relationship with you guys but also the respect I have for D. He has made himself a great player and he's done it with a process. Love that.
Izzo never has hidden how much respect he has for UW coach Greg Gard or his affection for Trice. He praised both following the No. 9 Badgers' 85-76 victory over the No. 12 Spartans, UW's first win at the Breslin Center since 2004.
The dean of Big Ten coaches was particularly complimentary of Trice, whom Izzo has known since the 24-year-old was in middle school. Trice scored UW's first 13 points of the second half, helping it erase a nine-point deficit, and finished with a season-high 29.
When Izzo mentioned the "process" in the message to Trice's family, he was referring to the fact the Ohio native attended IMG Academy in Florida for a season following his career at Wayne High School near Dayton. His "process" at UW is now in its fifth year, having been extended by a medical redshirt season in 2017-18 following a foot injury that ended his campaign after 10 games.
"He went to the prep school for a reason ... and it was just to get better," Izzo said in his postgame news conference. "Who does that anymore? That kid gets exactly what he deserves. Doggone it, you've got to love people that do that. He had the courage to do that, but he had good people at home, too, talking to him.
"It's been a battle, he's redshirted there, he struggled a little bit early. Boy, I don't want to make him out to be Michael Jordan, but as far as running that team, making shots, making plays, he's as good as there is in this league. Maybe as good as there is in the country."
For the first time this season, parents were allowed at the Kohl Center when UW hosted Nebraska in the Big Ten opener last Tuesday. The Trices were among a handful of families who attended the game.
The parents had to watch the game from a suite and it was there, at the top of Section 122, that Julie Trice got a taste of her own medicine. For nearly two decades, she's been making what even she describes as a "high-pitched, annoying noise" when the opposing team is shooting free throws.
When she did it against the Cornhuskers, reporters on the opposite side of the Kohl Center could hear the screeching call. But most of the sound reverberated right back at her.
"I hurt my own ears," Julie said. "It sounds a lot different in a closed room than it does in wide-open arena."
Julie had a chance to do it in a more natural fan setting three days later at Breslin, but she made a rule that she's abided by for five seasons: She has too much respect for Izzo and Michigan State to make the noise when the Spartans are shooting free throws against the Badgers.
Call it a moment of weakness, or perhaps the fact that she's got a lot of pent-up enthusiasm from not being allowed in arenas most of the season, but the high-pitched sound came flying out of Julie's mouth after her son made a 3-pointer in the first half on Friday.
"It absolutely was not the plan," Julie said. "I think that I was just caught up in the moment and I was excited and it just came out."
The Trice traveling party went eight deep at Breslin. It included Travis Sr. and Julie; his mother, Jackie King; Travis II, his girlfriend Briana Williams and their son, Travis III; and two of Travis Sr. and Julie's other children, Olivia and Isaiah.
The group — some of them in Michigan State gear — was seated in the section directly across from the UW bench. That gave them a great view of D'Mitrik Trice's outburst in the second half.
There was plenty of eye contact being made between Trice and his family and loads of encouragement sent his way during the game.
"It just wasn't the same at the Kohl Center since we had to be in the suites and pretty much had to have the doors shut or just cracked. He couldn't see us," said Travis Trice Sr., who played at Purdue and Butler and now coaches. "I think that's the big difference for a lot of these young men who want to see their mom smiling, their dad giving them a head nod.
"Giving a chance to give some head-nods and some encouragement was huge and being able to lift him up throughout the day was big for all of us."
Trice might have been pressing early in the game Friday when he committed two turnovers and was benched with only 130 seconds elapsed.
He didn't have any turnovers the rest of the way, and UW followed its leader in that regard: After turning the ball over five times in their first nine possessions, the Badgers had two turnovers over their final 59 possessions of the game.
"I was just really proud of the way that he responded mentally," Travis Sr. said.
Trice went 4-of-7 from 3-point range and 11-of-15 from the free throw line to finish with his most points in a Big Ten Conference game, topping the 28 he scored in a win at Michigan late last season. After Michigan State scored the first nine points of the second half to take a 51-42 lead, Trice answered with a 3-pointer, pull-up jumper, four-point play and a layup during an 11-2 burst that tied the game.
"I knew somebody had to make some plays and get to the rim or make some shots," Trice said. "So it just happened to be my turn tonight."
Trice was so distracted by his preparations for the game against Michigan State game he forgot to tell his parents he'd earned a 4.0 grade-point average this semester. A three-time All-Academic Big Ten performer, Trice is in the Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis graduate program after earning his undergraduate degree in Communication Arts last spring.
He finally got around to sharing that news with his father Saturday morning.
"Nothing makes me more proud of you than that!" Travis Sr. responded.
As they made their way back during a 3 1/2 -hour drive from East Lansing to the Dayton area Friday night, the Trices couldn't help but soak in what had been a fabulous Christmas Day.
"It was magical, it really was," Julie said. "Walking into the Breslin Center is like home anyway, so D'Mitrik should have already felt like he wasn't walking into the enemy's territory. He should have walked in there knowing what the last name Trice means at the Breslin Center.
"What Trices do at Breslin is they make shots."
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