There is a tremendous amount of opportunity for gifted basketball players between Rocky Mount and the western border counties of North Carolina.
Fourteen Division I programs are located off the highways between Nash Central High School and the 355-mile drive to Western Carolina’s campus in Cullowhee, located in Jackson County.
In 2009, former Nash Central boys’ basketball coach Michael Mosley made phone calls to a solid handful of those programs to let them know about Trey Sumler, the school’s alltime leading scorer and program’s most decorated player.
One in-state school did not return Mosley’s call.
Others looked at film or visited and came away with the assumption that Sumler simply was not good enough to receive a scholarship.
“They had concerns whether his body would hold up, if he could he play a college schedule,” said Mosley, who currently is the Bulldogs’ athletics director. “My thing to them was, ‘This young man can play. He will get stronger. He will do everything it takes to be a good college basketball player.’”
Nearly five years later, a handful of those schools know Sumler quite well because he is the centerpiece of their defensive gameplans.
Sumler has advanced from walk-on to one of the top 10 scorers in Western Carolina’s history, and despite the fact that he is successful more times than not against programs that could have signed him to a scholarship, Western Carolina’s best player does not hold any grudges.
“I didn’t want to rush into it (my decision),” Sumler said. “Western didn’t have any more scholarships left and signed me to where I didn’t have to really pay for the first year. It was the best situation for me at the time. I felt like the area we were in, (recruiters) didn’t really seem to come that way.”
His resume will read walk-on, which Sumler did after arriving on Western Carolina’s campus in the fall of 2009, but his legacy will be much larger.
Sumler currently sits in seventh place on the Catamounts’ scoring list (1, 746 points).
This season, he has won the Southern Conference Player of the Week award twice and was named to the league’s preseason first team.
Sumler is third in the SoCon in points per game (19.6). He also averages 4.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists. He scored a career-high 40 points Dec. 30 against Milligan College.
Most important, Sumler and a cast of four other seniors have paced Western Carolina to a 3-0 start in league play.
Sumler’s attitude toward his success is much like his play on the court: Solid and smooth.
“I’m basically in the same role as last year, but this being my senior year, I looked at is as a money year, trying to get ready for the next level and at the same time trying to win,” Sumler said. “We have a good group of seniors, and we’re trying to make the most of it.”
Sumler’s father, Gerald, has given consistent advice to his son about basketball: Work hard and play hard.
Gerald Sumler reminded Trey of that during his senior year of high school when the only scholarship offer his son received came from N.C. Central.
East Carolina and Wake Forest were a pair of in-state schools who knew of Trey but failed to show any more interest than a letter.
When Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter met Trey, Gerald Sumler had one message for the coach.
“I told him, ‘I can promise you he will work hard and do what he has to do to play,’” Gerald Sumler said. ‘“He won’t ever be satisfied sitting on your bench.’”
Sumler earned his practice stripes as a true freshman, and since his redshirt freshman season, he rarely has left the court.
He started the final 21 games of his redshirt freshman season, averaged 11.5 points per contest and was named SoCon Freshman of the Year. His scoring increased to 13.5 points his sophomore season, a campaign where the Catamounts came within a victory of advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
“It just comes from hard work and preparing,” said Sumler, who graduated last month with a degree in entrepreneurship. “You have to have yourself in the gym knowing what you can do and what you can’t do. It comes from hard work and practice every day.”
Extra work never has been an issue for Sumler, who during parts of his junior and senior year of high school would work out at 6 a.m. in Nash Central’s gymnasium before school.
Gerald Sumler said Trey spent six of his seven days at home for Christmas break in the gym, the only exception came on Christmas Day, when there was no gym open.
In Western Carolina’s team photo this season, the honor is small and subtle. Sumler sits on a chair in the middle of the front row of five seniors.
The basketball used for the photo is in his hands, just beneath the No. 5 displayed on his jersey.
Not many overlooked players make it to that position in a team photo of their senior year, but Sumler’s work ethic and skill have made him the centerpiece some thought he would not be.
“There was nothing I didn’t see myself not doing,” Sumler said.
One coach who bypassed Sumler during the recruiting process told Mosley that he is sure a few coaches are “feeling bad” about their decision.
“He was committed to it,” Mosley said. “I’m glad it’s working out for him. I know how much time and effort he has put in.”
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or firstname.lastname@example.org