CHAMPAIGN — For one former Illini, Wednesday’s game was a matchup between his alma mater and his first college coach.
Trent Meacham began his college career at Dayton, playing for Brian Gregory, who now is in his second season at the Georgia Tech helm.
“I believe Brian Gregory will have success at Georgia Tech,” Meacham wrote Wednesday in an email to The News-Gazette from Paris, where he is playing professional basketball. “He’s a tireless worker and great with people.
“It’d be interesting to see his approach now as opposed to when I was with him because (then) it was only his second year as a head coach. He’s very intense and going to preach defense and rebounding.”
Champaign native Meacham played one season at Dayton, in 2004-05, before the lure of playing for the school he grew up rooting for proved too strong. Before his sophomore year, Meacham left for Illinois, where he played the remainder of his college career after sitting out one season under NCAA transfer rules.
“It wasn’t easy to leave Dayton,” the Centennial graduate said. “It’s a good school with a great basketball tradition and following. ... For me, I just felt like there was an opportunity to come back home and play for the Illini.
“It was very difficult and a risk for sure because I had no guarantee of anything, and I was leaving a good situation.”
Gregory tried to convince the 2004 News-Gazette All-Area Player of the Year to stay — “We had a few lengthy discussions before I made the decision to transfer,” — but Meacham says his departure never caused a rift between the two.
“I’ve seen him just once since my season in UD at a former teammate’s wedding,” Meacham said. “He’s a stand-up guy and has always been kind to me. The last we spoke was after his Flyers beat Illinois in the NIT and I sent him a congratulatory e-mail.”
At Dayton, Gregory had a 172–94 record and guided his last four Flyers teams to postseason tournaments. Gregory’s first Georgia Tech team went 11-20.
“It’s all about getting players in college ball,” Meacham said. “He’s a proven recruiter and coach. It won’t be easy in the ACC, but I think he’ll make that program into a consistent winner.”
This is Meacham’s fourth season of playing pro ball in Europe. After the third, the 6-2 guard had every intention of retiring and permanently returning home.
“But after a couple months away from it, I realized I wasn’t done,” he said. “It’s good to be back. As an athlete you only have a short window to play, and I want to take advantage of it.”
Meacham is playing for JSF Nanterre in the LNB Pro A league. Rantoul native Blake Schilb was the league’s MVP last season. One of Meacham’s current teammates is former Ohio State standout David Lighty.
“I’m in a great location,” Meacham said. “I drive 15 minutes down the street and I’m on the Champs-Elysees — one of the most famous streets in the world.
“It’s a great experience but also tough in some ways. As long as I’m healthy and my wife and I are enjoying our time overseas, we’ll continue with it.”