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Local product Trent Middleton lands at Ball State after prep year at SPIRE

09/05/2023, 12:00pm EDT
By Rich Flanagan

Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)

At every stage of his career, Trent Middleton has worked on an upward progression. It could have been a move to a new program for an expanded role as was the case when he moved from Bishop McDevitt in Wyncote to Math, Civics & Sciences in Philadelphia. It may have been his plan to postpone college by doing a prep year at one of the premiere programs in Ohio.

While he may have been one of many players committed or hoping to commit to play at the next level, an upward trajectory took on the form of finding a way to not only stay on the court but have success on a loaded roster. Middleton was mindful of the decisions he made throughout his career and how he knew if he kept following the trajectory he had set, it would lead to his ultimate goal.

“Everybody has distinctive things about their game that stand out about them,” Middleton said. “Every level that I played in, I moved up. I started at McDevitt and that was high level being coached by Coach Chavis, who really pushed me. He told me how to be ready for the college level and what it was like.”

After a prep year at SPIRE, former MCS standout Trent Middleton, above, committed to Ball State this summer. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL File)

Middleton was one of the more heralded prospects in the Philadelphia Public League during the 2021-22 season but as college basketball was still reeling with the additional eligible season following the COVID-19 pandemic and the willingness of coaches to build a roster through the NCAA transfer portal instead of in the high school ranks, his recruitment did not take off the way he had hoped. He found an opportunity at SPIRE Academy to play for head coach Jeffery Sparrow and assistant Michael Dooley, and the next step in his natural progression to play college basketball came to fruition.

“I knew it was going to happen, but I needed the right situation,” Middleton said. “Going to SPIRE was a good situation, and Coach Sparrow told me it was going to give me a chance to showcase myself in some high-level basketball.”

The 6-foot-3, 180-pound guard committed to Ball State on Aug. 10, waiting until late into summer to announce his decision and allow the Cardinals to find a place for him on their roster. Middleton took off at SPIRE receiving interest from the likes of Seton Hall, New Mexico State, Cal State Bakersfield, James Madison, Cleveland State, Campbell, Fairleigh Dickinson, Binghamton, Central Connecticut State, NJIT, Youngstown State, Old Dominion, Southern Utah, Radford, Fairfield, Drexel, Monmouth, Delaware State, Lehigh, Canisius and Eastern Michigan. Nebraska Omaha and Roberts Wesleyan University were also in the mix.

His decision came down to Seton Hall and Ball State, both of which were offering him a scholarship, but the Cardinals kept in regular contact throughout the season, even when they didn’t have roster space available.

“What really separated Ball State was how often they were reaching out to me and how I fit into their program,” Middleton said. “They also told me how I will be able to play right away. The connection that the coaches had with me and my family separated them.”

He never visited Ball State and one of his only visits was to Central Connecticut State, but the feeling of how much Ball State wanted him was palpable. Dooley, who has familiarity with the landscape of Pa. basketball from his time doing skill development with Rick Perez, Brooklyn Nets guard Lonnie Walker IV and Reading during the 2017 PIAA Class 6A title season, kept close tabs on Middleton’s recruitment while at SPIRE. 

“Central Connecticut State was on him. A lot of Division 1 JUCOs loved him. Midland College offered him. Campbell University was interested. He had a lot of interest and people were always in the gym asking about him,” according to Dooley.

Like Middleton, Dooley was optimistic about his guard’s future, even if his recruitment went well into the summer after the season and school had ended. The opportunities were there, like Midland College “where we thought he was going to go” but “then Ball State came in around July, offered him in early August and he accepted.”

“They came in after the season and had watched a bunch of film on him,” Dooley said. “They were super interested and seeing how their roster shook out. They were extremely honest about their situation and how it might shake out.”

The first time Ball State saw Middleton play was the All-American Jamboree in Orlando in October 2023, but the Cardinals did not truly reenter the conversation until they began escalated talks in June. Assistant coach Ben Botts was at the helm of the final recruiting push after the 2023-24 roster began to take shape following a 20-12 record and a loss to Ohio University in the Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals. The Cardinals lost their top three scorers from a season ago in Payton Sparks (Indiana), Jaylin Sellers (Central Florida) and Jarron Coleman (Nebraska), which is opening up both roster spots and minutes for a player like Middleton who has remained ready for this moment.

“When [Ball State] saw me in Orlando, they saw how I could get downhill and get my teammates involved,” Middleton said. “They saw me as a scorer at all three levels and they think it will translate to their program. Head coach Michael Lewis told me he likes his guards to play downhill, kick the ball out and score at all three levels.”

Middleton began his career under Chavis – now an assistant at Drexel – alongside Robert Smith Jr. (West Chester University), Jamil Manigo and Alassane Amadou (Marquette). He was part of two Philadelphia Catholic League and PIAA state playoff appearances there. He made the jump to Math, Civics & Sciences where he was second on the team in scoring at 11.0 points per game behind Miami (Fla.) guard Nisine “Wooga” Poplar during the shortened 2020-21 season. He was part of two District 12-3A titles while at MCS and avgeraged 13.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 2.3 steals as a senior on a team featuring Aasim Burton (Rider), Khalif Crawley (Kentucky State University) and Jaheim Bethea (East Stroudsburg). He also made All-Public League First Team with Justin Edwards (Kentucky), Rahmir Barno (Florida Gulf Coast), Ahmad Nowell (UConn), and Jacob Beccles (Cornell).

With only an offer from Lincoln University upon graduating from MCS, a program like SPIRE liked what he brought to the table and the skillset he possessed. Dooley knew there was something to work with here, and Middleton just needed to take his game a step further.

“His instincts defensively, such as getting in front of passes, really popped off the page, but offensively he’s a three-level scorer,” Dooley said. “He has a really mature offensive game as he can shoot the three but also a unique mid-range game with floaters and pull-ups. He’s really special in terms of bursting into it but then he can also slow it down, pull up and make it.”

“He’s elite and electric in transition. His bread and butter was getting out in transition and that really benefited us as we played about nine or ten guys. We were very deep and liked to press, and Trent was one of the main reasons we could do that. It was a combination of all three of those things, but his offensive game took a nice leap when we had so much talent. The one thing we were always really proud of him for was he found his shots in an efficient way.”

He arrived at SPIRE and immediately experienced a drastic change both in preparation and dedication to off-the-court work. “The weight room is what took me to the next level. The access that we had was great and Coach Sparrow would keep us active in the weight room, getting our bodies ready for college,” as Middleton noted. He avg. 12 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 51 percent from the field and 38 percent from the three-point line. He posted a triple-double with 14 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists in a victory over TPLS Academy (Va.). He helped SPIRE finish with a 34-6 overall record and win the 2023 Ohio Prep Conference Championship.

Scoring came naturally to Middleton just as it did at MCS but another facet in his game took off. It even became an appealing quality to Ball State.

“Coach Sparrow and Coach Dooley taught me a lot of things about how to rebound,” Middleton said. “They like their guards to rebound so they can push it early in transition. I fell in love with it because I knew once I had the ball, I could push it in transition and play fast.”

He stood out on a team loaded with talent as evidenced by nine of his teammates who are also moving out to play college basketball in Xavier Tubbs-Matthews (Elizabeth City State University), Marat Belhouchet (Roberts Wesleyan), Xavier Martinez (University of Colorado- Colorado Springs), Max Markgraf (Cornell College), Abdoulaye Fall (Cloud County Community College), Sam Marbury (Central Wyoming College), Emondrek Ford (Eastern Florida College), Julian Green (Penn State-Beaver), and Riley Melvin (Peru State College).

Even while surrounded by skilled players, including those who played the same position, Middleton thrived and elevated his game along the way, as Dooley described.

“His biggest jump was learning how to play and fill a role,” Dooley said. “In high school, he was one of the top dogs and with us, we didn’t have one guy but rather five to six guys who were in double figures every night. For him it was big to learn how to play within a system and a role. His understanding of the game took a huge jump, especially with him not gambling as much defensively and staying in front of his man.”

As he begins his career in Muncie, Ind., Middleton is no stranger to moving to new areas or finding his place on a crowded roster. He knew this was the road he wanted to take and from Wyncote to the City of Brotherly Love to Geneva, he adapted and kept his feet in front of him to realize this dream. Despite not having met the full team and coaching staff prior to arriving on campus, he knows where he fits in at Ball State and what is expected of him.

“They see me as a point guard,” Middleton said. “I played both point and shooting guard but going into my senior year, I knew I had to go into a mode of being a point guard because at the next level I wanted to take it as far as possible. A 6-3 point guard is what the next level is looking for and I needed to change my game. I like to get my teammates involved, so it has made the transition easier.”

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