Maturation Over Time Has Kept Trey Mckinney-Jones(Gunma Crane Thunders Japan-B2 League) Level Headed In Difficult Times

Trey Mckinney-Jones is a 29 year old 198cm guard that will be playing his seventh professional season and first with the Gunma Crane Thunders (Japan-B2 League). He played the 2019-2020 season with the Telekom Baskets Bonn (Germany-BBL) playing 17 games averaging 7.9ppg, 2.6rpg, 1.2apg, FGP: 60.3%, 3PT: 38.7%, FT-9 (95.8%). He has extensive professional experience having played in countries like France, Israel and Hungry. He also played in the D-League/G-League for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants for parts of 4 seasons and played 1 NBA game with the Indiana Pacers. He began his basketball career at South Milwaukee High School where he was a 2 sport star. As a senior on the basketball team he averaged: 15.0ppg, 5.7rpg, 6.0apg. In track he won back-to-back Wisconsin state triple jump titles in 2007 and 2008; and was State runner-up in the long jump in 200, after finishing sixth at state meet as a junior. He then played 2 seasons at UMKC (NCAA) playing 61 games and finished at the University of Miami (NCAA) playing 66 games and as a senior played 36 games averaging 9.2ppg, 3.4rpg, 1.6apg, FGP: 44.0%, 3PT: 39.3%, FT: 85.1%. He spoke to during the 2020 COVID-19 crisis. 

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber interviewing Trey Mckiney-Jones at the 2019 Gezeiten Cup in Rhondorf

Trey thanks for talking to Before we get to basketball Trey, I am curious about another sport that you excelled at. You won the Wisconsin state triple jump titles in 2007 and 2008; and was State runner-up in the long jump in 2008, after finishing sixth at state meet as a junior. Do you ever wonder where you might be today had you not stuck with basketball and stayed with track and field? Were the chances of making money and the overall success rate better with basketball than track and field?

I LOVE track but don’t really wonder where I would be if I picked that over basketball. I guess I just understand the number of opportunities that basketball presents greatly outweighs track and field. If you think about all of the different leagues in all of the different countries it’s not even close. With track and field you have to be the best of the best at your respective event in order to make the Olympics, and even then someone else will most likely take your spot come the next Olympics. Not to mention basketball allowing me to have a full scholarship in college while track and field was only a partial scholarship because there are so many more track athletes. Every once in a blue moon I may think about how good I may have been at triple jump if I had stuck with it, but that’s about the extent of it. I made the right choice! Haha

It was a surprising and tough season for the Telekom Baskets Bonn. Before the season there was a lot of faith and confidence in the new coach Thomas Paech. A new era for success was supposed to happen. Why did the season go in an opposite direction?

Its tough to say. Obviously if there was an easy answer, we would have done whatever needed to be done to fix it right away. You never like to see someone who was so invested in the success of the team day in and day out be let go. As they say, pressure busts pipes, and I think after losing the amount of games that we lost and being towards the bottom of the league, that pressure began to build. Then the way we do things to start the season begin to change naturally . Schemes change, strategies change, mindsets change etc. but I feel like the main thing for us is that our team is looking forward and in the right direction.

A big problem this season in the BBL had been the defense where Bonn haveraged giving up 91 points per game. Could you explain why the team had such difficulty to defend? It had very athletic and strong defensive guards, but that wasn’t a help either. Do you feel the guards let down the team a bit on the defensive end?

When I think of what has ‘let the team down’ defensively, I wouldn’t say that it is any specific position. Defense is played with all 5 players on the court. If you want to get even deeper, communication from the bench (calling out plays, yelling coverages etc.) is part of our team defense as well. So while I feel like it needs to improve, I would say it is more of our mindset as a whole that needs to be changed, which is in the process of being done as we speak.

New head coach Will Voigt came in with no real European experience. What was your impression of him?

While he may not have European experience, he has plenty of international experience (NBA, G League, FIBA, China Etc.). I would say learning from all of those experiences and taking pieces of them all is more valuable as a coach because he has needed to, and had success adjusting to each situation in the past. Not to mention that there are a number of players who come to Europe without any European experience and have success. I will say WITH CONFIDENCE that he would have helped us turn this thing around. for us.

He is a coach that seemed to rely and trust a number of players for heavy minutes and likes to let the players play to their strengths. What other aspects did Will Voigt have to his coaching style?

Well the first thing he talked about when he got here was the importance of communication. How we needed to fully trust each other to be able to handle and figure out any and every situation we are faced with during the games. Sometimes a player will have a question on how to handle a certain action, and most of the time his answer is ‘what will handle that?’ And our answer is always ‘communication.’ I think that was a big help for us and it helped to show us that what we were doing before as far as communicating on the court, wasn’t enough. The other thing he’s did was help give us our mojo back. Talking us up, not in a way that we approach games overconfident, but just reminding us of the kid of players we are. A number of losses can sometimes let a negative mindset seep into the locker room and he’s removed that right away. With the team we have assembled over the course of the season, we can beat anyone we play and once we are all on the same page with Coach Voigt and his schemes, I think that would have started to show.

Let’s talk about your game. If you had to compare your game to an NBA player who would best fit the description?

Thats funny, I have always had trouble answering this question. There isn’t just 1 person I could choose. I feel like I do a little bit of everything so its hard to pinpoint a certain player who I remind myself of. Maybe you can answer it better than I could haha.

As a professional you have mostly always averaged double figures in scoring, but this season it wasn’t the case. How difficult was last season for you and what kept you going?

It was very difficult but I would say just maturing over the years has kept me pretty level headed. Earlier in my career I feel like I would have let it totally consume my daily life, but my mental growth over the years is to thank. Constant ups and downs, injuries, different coaches, different teams helped groom me to remain calm, yet anxious and hungry to show what I was capable of. 

When I heard last summer that you would be on board, I figured you to be one of the central scoring options, but that didn’t happen. Did head coach Thomas Paech not believe fully in your abilities?

I would not say at all that Thomas didn’t believe in me. Whats funny about the game of basketball is that a lot of the success players have is solely based on situation and opportunity. Guys will have great success with one team and maybe won’t with another. People on the outside may get upset or wonder why you aren’t producing or aren’t playing as well as you may have with a previous team, but that’s just not how the game of basketball works. Players success are situational and it’s the players job (along with our agents) to find the team that best fits us as a player and the teams job to find players they believe best fit their system. It’s just the nature of the sport that those don’t always go as planned. If it did, every team would win every game, and that’s not how the game of basketball works. I don’t think it takes anything away from the player or anything from the coach, it’s just life.

Your turning 30 this summer and have seen a lot in your career. On what things are you working on most now at this stage of your career to keep being able to improve your shot?

Haha! That’s funny reading that. Good thing is I don’t feel 30 yet. I think my focus in the summer at this point in my career is to work smart, while working hard. I have learned the hard way in the past that just going 100% all summer may result in injuries. Rest days, diet and sleep are just as important as your workouts at this age.

Last season you played with the Chiba Jets (Japan-B League) playing 12 games averaging 12.1ppg, 3.3rpg, 2.1apg, FGP: 48.8%, 3PT: 47.8%, FT: 82.4%. What kind of experience was it playing and living in Japan?. How did the culture impress you most

My time in Japan was absolutely amazing. It was definitely a culture shock at first since it was the biggest language barrier out of all of the places I have played. Having a translator to help communicate with the coach or even other players was new to me. But after a couple weeks it was quite normal and I was really able to form some great relationships with Coach Ono and his staff as well as all of the players who didn’t speak great English. The culture is unlike anything I have experienced before, but in a good way. I tell everyone that Japanese people are the nicest and most respectful people in the world. The fans also were very respectful of the players space and extremely loyal. To this day if I post something on twitter most of my likes come from Chiba Jets fans.

In the summer of 2018 you played some World Cup qualifyers with Team USA. There were a number of current NBA players on board like Alex Caruso and Nick Johnson. What kind of experience was that for you and is that extra exposure helpful for getting that extra NBA look?

It’s amazing seeing all the success these guys who I was able to form relationships with are having. Alex Caruso is a fan favorite on one of the best teams in the world. Crazy! All in all I was just extremely grateful to be able to learn from some very knowledgeable and legendary coaches and obviously putting your country’s name across your chest is just an honor. Something you never forget. I think adding that to your resume can only help! By the way, Nick Johnson is in Turkey

After three professional seasons you finally reached the NBA in the 2017-2018 season getting signed to a 10 day contract with the Indiana Pacers. Did you even realize what had happened in that 10 day period or have you reflected more about your time there after it happened?

Of course! First of all I will never forget receiving that phone call. Just the feeling that I had was indescribable. Spending the next couple hours calling and letting my closest family and loved ones know just kept a smile on my face. Its safe to say that that was a good day haha. I was actually in LA during All-Star weekend that weekend preparing to play with team USA in one of the qualification rounds when I got the call. My dad was arriving the next day coincidentally and we were just able to really enjoy the weekend. Perfect opportunity to celebrate a memorable accomplishment. But as far as the 10 days I just wanted to soak up as much as I could about the experience in general as well as learn as much as I could. That 1 minute will forever put me in the record books as an NBA player and nobody can take that from me, so although the ultimate goal is to get back somehow some way, I am super appreciative for the opportunity from the Pacers.

What was the best example you have seen in your G-League, NBA and NBA Summer Leagues that has shown you that no matter what the NBA will always be a business first before anything else?

I guess there isn’t just one instance that has shown me that as much as just experiences through my career. I guess there were two other seasons in my time in the G League where I thought I was definitely deserving and close to getting a Call-Up and never got one. Then you see other guys get called up that you feel you are better than or out-performing. It’s just a reminder than you need a mixture of playing well, good timing and some luck. There are so many players capable and deserving of being the guy getting called up, but at the end of the day you have to just keep being professional and keep grinding. It’s not always a straight road to the top.

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber and Trey Mckinney-Jones in March 2020 after his last game as a Telekom Baskets Bonn player after the BCL loss to AEK Athens

What memories do you have of that first NBA training camp with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013. Were you in awe of certain Bucks or had you already seen enough big time schools and players in the NCAA?

That training camp was my first taste of professional basketball. Honestly it was kind of a whirlwind and I felt like I was on the court moving 100mph. It both showed me that I had a lot of learning to do as well as showed me that I was capable of playing at that level. I wouldn’t say I was in awe of any of the players, but it was cool being able to put on a jersey for my hometown Milwaukee Bucks even if it was just the preseason.

With so much G-League seasons and NBA Summer League experience, how big is your desire and reality that you could return back to the NBA despite the fact that your getting older?

I don’t think I have given up on my desire of making it back to the NBA yet. I’m not sure how, considering the G League is the best route to the League and I don’t have it in my plans to go back, but you just never know. Maybe they raise the salary. Maybe I go to training camp with a team etc. Two seasons ago when I ended up getting a call-up to the Pacers, I didn’t plan on going back to Fort Wayne (G- League) that year but an injury placed me there. So I guess that just shows you, never say never.

You began your college career at UMKC (NCAA playing two seasons and 61 NCAA games. How did your game develop there and was the lure of playing at the big University of Miami to big to remain there?

It was actually never my intention to leave for a bigger school, I just didn’t find that UMKC was the best fit for me. So when it was time to start looking for another school it just so happened that based on how I played paired with my potential, there were a good amount of ‘big’ Universities interested in me.

You then played two seasons at the University of Miami. Was the 87-77 win over top school North Carolina in the ACC tournament where you had 20 points and had a school record 6 three’s your fondest memory there or was it reaching the tournament in your senior year?

It’s safe to say that is my fondest memory from college for sure. Having that kind of game to help bring my school it’s first ACC Tournament Championship in school history was memorable. Also having a good amount of family in town for the game made it even more special. We had a very special team that year.

How challenging was it the daily grind in practice with Shane Larkin. What do you remember impressing you most with his game then?

I wouldn’t say it was challenging as much as it was fun. He’s a special player as you can see. Back then he had that same competitive drive, speed and ability to make his teammates better. But now seeing how all of those are coming together with both experience and maturity, as he is proving this season, he’s a rare talent.

Your were teammates with Julian Gamble who made a name for himself in Bonn playing some seasons here. Was there a favorite play you remember having with him? That guy lived on the rim

My guy Julian! Yea there are too many so it’s hard to pick just one, but I would have to say his dunk late in the game in that same ACC Tournament Championship game. Shane drove to the basket and passed it to Julian for the dunk. Not only was it impressive, but it was a critical play in the game and it helped us to secure that Championship.

How did head coach Jim Laranaga groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?

Coach L was the ultimate players coach. A very likable guy who is amazing at what he does. I think the college level is the perfect level for him and that’s why he’s had a legendary coaching career. His ability to teach the game as well as the wisdom he teaches from the multitude of books in his office, is a great balance. You often hear people say about their college coaches that you hated them while you where there, but you appreciated and loved them more after you are gone. He’s the kind of coach you love when you are playing for him, and appreciate and love even more when you are gone.

Thanks Trey for the chat.

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