It was clear from the very first time that Trevon Bluiett stepped on the floor that he was going to be a major player for Xavier. In the season opener against Northern Arizona last year, the 6-foot-6 swing man from Indianapolis hung up 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting, setting a program record for points scored in a freshman debut.
Four days later, Bluiett topped his initial effort, scoring 20 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists in a 97-74 victory over Long Beach State.
Anyone that followed Bluiett in high school was far from surprised watching the Park Tudor High School alum, who netted 35.7 points per game as a senior, tear up the college ranks. After all, he was a three-time state champion and remains the all-time leader in scoring at Park Tudor (2,568 points).
However, it took three games for Bluiett himself to finally realize that he might just have a future in college basketball. In that contest, Bluiett dropped 16 points in an 81-63 win over Stephen F. Austin, a program that had won 32 games the previous season.
"With how the flow of the game was going and how I was playing and how my teammates were showing confidence in me, I think I realized at that time that I might not be a bad player after all,"says Bluiett.
By the end of the year, no one could possibly think Bluiett was ever in danger of being a bust for Chris Mack and the Musketeers. Bluiett, who was a unanimous selection to the Big East All-Rookie team, ranked second among Big East freshman in scoring (11 ppg), throwing up at least 15 points 12 times, while appearing in all 37 games. He wasn't just one of the best freshman in the league, however, as he proved to be Xavier's go-to scoring option on the wing time and time again. He finished the season ranked third on the team in points produced (401), falling behind only Matt Stainbrook (449) and Dee Davis (411). who, as seniors, had plenty of experience on their side.
Studying players like Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, who Bluiett names as influences, has clearly helped him become a dynamic offensive threat. Specifically, Bluiett says he tries to emulate the footwork of Anthony and Pierce, while maintaining a smooth and consistent shooting stroke like Golden State's Splash Brothers.
While scoring was Bluiett's most obvious contribution as a freshman, he prides himself on his ability to improve on the defensive end.
"I really didn’t have a good enough concept of (man-to-man) and during early practices I would get blown by left and right," says Bluiett, who played zone almost exclusively in high school. "I really wanted to focus on that, and throughout the year I think that’s something I really improved on."
While he may not ave been the type of lock-down defender that Kris Dunn of Providence was, Bluiett was far from a liability on that end of the floor. He had a defensive win share of 1.1, which ranked fifth on the team and helped contribute to his 3.5 total win shares, which ranked third.
Even with such progress, Bluiett still thinks he has a long way to go to become the player he'd like to be. This off season has featured a steady diet of step ladders and plyometrics for Bluiett, whose to-do list is lengthy, as he hopes to boost his lateral quickness, his first step and explosion as well as his ability to finish at the rim. Playing in practice against a fearsome rim protector like Jalen Reynolds is helping him towards that last goal.
"Most definitely. He has like a 7-4 wingspan so he’s definitely helping towards my weaknesses," Bluiett says of Reynolds impact on his game.
In addition, with a year under his belt, Bluiett should have a better understanding of the grind of the college season and be better able to finish strong. He got lost in the shuffle down the stretch last season, scoring only 11 points combined in the last four games and finishing in double figures just once in the final six.
As much as Bluiett has his eyes set on getting better at an individual level, his expectations remains minor for himself, especially in comparison to the lofty targets he sees for Xavier, a team that has been to the Sweet 16 in five of the last eight years, including last season, when the Musketeers hung with No. 1 seed Arizona far longer than anyone anticipated.
"It just shows that we’re tough and despite what happens during the regular season, the postseason turns into a whole different monster, "says Bluiett. "We were sixth place in the Big East and no one really expected us to go to the Big East championship and we did that. We just never put our heads down and kept fighting because we knew there was going to be something positive for us."
It is that never-say-die type of attitude that has Bluiett taking aim at not just a Big East title, but a national one as a sophomore despite losing players like Dee Davis and Matt Stainbrook. The consummate teammate, Bluiett's confidence has little to do with himself, but with the players around him, many of whom he expects to make strides with added responsibilities.
"Our whole team is ready to take that next step and take responsibility for everything,"says Bluiett, while tagging Reynolds, Myles Davis, Larry Austin and Evan Sumner as players that will be getting much more of the lime light in 2015-16. "As far as for me, I haven’t come up with any expectations for myself. I just want to help and just play it out."
If he keeps helping and improving like he did last season, Bluiett's lofty expectations for the X may not be so far fetched.