Ask Dustin Triano for his first memory of what is best dubbed as basketball culture, and he describes a feeling more than a precise moment.
“I would say (Vancouver) Grizzlies games, just going early to the arena with my dad, hanging around the players,” the former South Delta Sun Devils’ standout point guard remembers.
“I don’t even remember how old I was,” he continues. “Maybe four, five, six? That’s my earliest basketball memory and at that point, the (NBA) is what I thought basketball was. I didn’t know any different.”
By this point you likely have all the holes filled in.
If you have held any stake in the happenings of the B.C. basketball world, then you already know that Dustin Triano is the son of former Simon Fraser Clan superstar guard and later head coach Jay Triano.
You know that in 1995, Jay Triano quit his job as Clan head coach to become both the Vancouver Grizzlies’ director of community relations and its colourful and insightful radio analyst.
And you also know that while the father has gone on to become the head coach of Canada’s senior national men’s team, is currently the head coach of the Phoenix Suns and was formerly the head coach of the Toronto Raptors, that the son has carved his own path.
For the past four seasons, including one as a redshirt, Dustin Triano immersed himself in what can only be described as the total basketball experience.
Yes, playing time was sparse at Spokane’s famed Gonzaga University, where last season he was part of a team that played North Carolina in the national final.
But for Triano, it all came with a built-in understanding that when it was all said and done, what he was going to take away from the experience was simply priceless.
And now, after graduating from Gonzaga and electing to continue his studies in a master’s program, Triano has transferred to NCAA Div. 2 Western Oregon to both continue his education and complete his collegiate playing career with the Wolves.
The local news here?
Quite incredibly, Western Oregon will open its Great Northwest Athletic Conference season at Dustin’s father’s old school, when the Wolves tip-off against the Clan in a 7 p.m. clash Thursday at the West Gym.
Can you believe it?
It’s been 36 years (1981) since a Triano last suited up in a game involving the Simon Fraser Clan men’s basketball team.
A COACH IN THE MAKING?
It was in Novemvber of 2011, near the start of his senior season with Tsawwassen’s South Delta Sun Devils, when a marquee college basketball game came to Rogers Arena.
“I went to the game,” remembers Dustin Triano of a contest in which the Gonzaga Bulldogs — featuring North Vancouver senior Rob Sacre and Kamloops redshirt Kelly Olynyk — topped the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors before about 10,000 fans.
“I thought ‘Wow, college basketball, this looks pretty sweet.’ But it’s funny. I had no idea that I was going to end up going there.”
It was during his senior year of high school that Triano’s game began to blossom.
Manning the point guard spot that season for head coach James Johnston, the then-6-foot Triano not only showcased what has become his specific talent, shooting the trey, but also a crazed on-court competitiveness that according to Johnston, may have bordered on reckless.
“In high school, he could score from everywhere,” remembers Johnston, now the principal at Surrey’s Semiahmoo Secondary. “He took a lot of threes, but he was also fearless going to the rim. He was about six feet tall back then, and he would hit the floor four or five times a game, and really hard. He’s the most natural scorer I have ever coached.”
Soon to hit a bit of a late growth spurt which would add another three inches to his frame, much like his dad experienced upon completion of his Grade 12 year in Niagara Falls, Triano left for New Hampshire’s New Hampton Prep, spending a year there before landing at Gonzaga under legendary head coach Mark Few.
After red-shirting his first season (2013-14), Triano toiled for the next three within a program which regularly produces NBA talent, soaking up his environment with the attitude that he was the lucky one, despite the fact his minutes were limited.
“It was such a big learning experience, just being at such a high-level program,” Triano begins. “There was tons of information for me and experiences that I will never forget. It made me want to keep going with basketball.”
And with that said Triano stresses that his eyes were always wide open as to where he sat within the team’s infrastructure.
“I knew where I stood, that I wasn’t good enough to play a ton of minutes,” he says. “I was able to have conversations with my coaches and I never felt like I was getting robbed or mistreated. I made the most out of it. I made it into a learning experience.”
You could also say that the biggest contribution he made came when the national TV cameras were nowhere to be found.
“I gave it my all in practice all the time, and I made the guys the best I could,” continues Triano. “Coach (Few) still tells me ‘We miss you in practice’. I was making a difference on and off the court, behind the scenes, even if no one else knew. And I was never disappointed or upset. I knew where I stood.”
Of course when those TV cameras were turned on, they often caught Triano leading in his best way from the bench, and it’s that kind of big-picture scene which makes you think he’s not leaving the game any time soon.
PURE BASKETBALL DNA
It’s Monday, a couple of minutes past noon, and Western Oregon is just set to step into the court for practice when head coach Jim Shaw fields a phone call from the media.
So coach, what are the dynamics involved in bringing in a senior to join a veteran-laden team? How tricky is it for a newcomer like Dustin Triano to be quickly embraced within your team’s basketball culutre?
“First of all, he’s a mature person, so therefore you bring in a different level of maturity, both socially and academically,” begins Shaw, whose team will bring a perfect 6-0 preseason record up Burnaby Mountain to face SFU on Thursday.
“Then, he’s been in a high-level program, and that relates to things like habits, and all the things he learned at Gonzaga. He’s a coach’s son. He’s a good person with the right attitude, the right stuff.”
Triano started the first four games of the preseason for Western Oregon, scoring into double figures in the first two, including a 5-of-7 night from distance to net 17 points in 18 minutes as part of the Wolves’ 123-67 win over Fresno Pacific. On the season, he is averaging 6.0 points and two rebounds over 17.8 minutes per game.
And if there is one trait that a coach can so instantly relate to in a player, it would be that player’s ability to understand, in the moment, that not everything hinges on instant gratification. In that regard, Triano’s four-year apprenticeship at Gonzaga is pretty tough to beat.
“The thing I like the most about his decision (to stay at Gonzaga),” begins Johnston, “is that once he got there, he had opportunities to go to a lot of other schools. But he decided to take a risk. He decided to choose a life in basketball, to meet and play with incredible people.
“He gave up a lot of playing time,” continued Johnston, “but I think he comes out of this with so much more behind him. This is a guy that loves basketball. Everything about it. He’s gone on a journey to put himself in place where basketball can be his life.”
BASKETBALL CULTURE DEFINED
Dustin Triano has shot on the hoops at SFU’s West Gym in his younger days.
And when he arrives for Thursday’s game, a cadre of family and friends is sure to be there to cheer him on.
He admits that the thought of finding a place where he could play bigger minutes wasn’t entirely new to him when he finally decided to change scenery in the offseason.
Shaw says that he picked up his phone one day in the offseason, and on the other end was one of the game’s most recognizable and successful collegiate coaches.
“Mark Few called me,” Shaw said when asked how he connected with Triano. “He said ‘We have a guy here who has been a part of our program for four years and is looking for a different role.”
For Triano, also an excellent student, his academic prowess actaully helped him change schools without having to sit out a year.
“I had already graduated so it made it easier,” he says. “ I wouldn’t have to sit out a year. It seemed like the right time. I was graduated, I went to the Final 4 and that was an incredible experience, and I found a school where I would be able to get my master’s degree.”
But might he look to begin a coaching career anytime soon?
“I just want to finish this season and have a good year,” Triano says. “I tend not to think about all of the longterm stuff, but coaching is something I would definitely be interested in.”
It starts when a little kid stands on the edge of the floor of a big gym they used to call The Garage, watching the likes of hometown NBAers like Mike Bibby, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Michael Dickerson go through their paces.
It continues with talks with dad.
It swells within an epicentre like Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center, and it reaches another level when the collegiate chapter, within a few months, will come to a crossroads with the professional world.
Whatever is in store next for Dustin Triano, he can rest assured that he has skipped no steps along his journey.
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