Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett is all grown up, except for the SpongeBob thing

Xavier sophomore Trevon Bluiett has become the high-scoring centerpiece of one of the nation's best teams.

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Here’s something not many people know about Trevon Bluiett, the versatile sophomore wing who is the leading scorer for a Xavier team that feels Final Four-capable in a tough Big East:

He loves – and I mean loooooves – “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

No joke. The sturdy 20-year-old with a Kobe-esque nose for the basket also has a place in his heart for the bizarre Nickelodeon cartoon. Part of it was simply growing up with two younger brothers, one now a high school sophomore and the other a first-grader. But make no mistake: Bluiett’s love for the famous sponge from Bikini Bottom goes much deeper than just putting up with his little brothers’ television viewing habits. In middle school, he got SpongeBob bed sheets and a SpongeBob trash can. All through high school he’d watch the show constantly. Even today it makes him crack up every time, even if it sometimes makes little sense.

“But I definitely couldn’t bring the SpongeBob sheets up to college,” said Bluiett, who is averaging 15.4 points and 6.9 rebounds for a 16-2 team that is ranked fifth in the nation. “I had to grow up.”

Grow up is what Bluiett has done on and off the basketball court since he arrived in Cincinnati two years ago as an Indianapolis prep star who had averaged 35 points per game in high school. It’s a maturation process that mirrors the more mature, more cohesive play of his still-young Xavier team this season compared to last. The Musketeers are more athletic than a year ago, yet the increase in athleticism hasn’t brought on an out-of-control, roll-the-ball-out style of play. These guys have all developed and developed together since last year’s surprising trip to the Sweet 16.

Example A: Look at Bluiett’s frame. When he started at Xavier, he was a stocky, 6-foot-6, 225 pounds. The knock on him was that yes, he could score, but he didn’t have the frame or the athleticism to make it at the next level. Since then, by staying in the gym and watching what he eats (and when he eats it – no carbs after 8 p.m.), he’s dropped 20 pounds and feels much lighter on his feet.

Combine that with a change in mindset and Bluiett has become an NBA prospect who has grown up before our eyes.

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“The biggest lesson for me was to not sulk over the last play,” Bluiett said. “If I get a turnover, or if I get in an altercation with a coach, it’s just that next-play mentality. The game is so fast. You can’t soak in what just went wrong.”

Bluiett has an edgy on-court demeanor. Off the court, where Bluiett is business-like and to the point, it’s no surprise that his parents met when they were both U.S. Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

When Trevon was growing up, his father Ray, who owns a barber shop in Indianapolis, was his main coach. They’d spend hour after hour in the gym together. By high school, the son was getting noticed by big-time college coaches, but his dad would still be getting on him in the gym. One evening, after a long day for both of them, the two weren’t seeing eye to eye when they were working out on the court. His dad was yelling at him. Trevon was pissed, and he walked away. When he came back in 10 minutes later, both of them had calmed down – a maturing moment for Trevon and for their father-son relationship.

“My dad comes across as a hard-nosed, aggressive guy,” Bluiett said. “But that day, he just told me it was all good, explained what was wrong with my shot, told me why he was frustrated. That was a moment we got closer. For me to see him as soft, to be a dad who was loving and caring, that changed something with us.”

His dad loved watching the creativity in his son’s game. It’s not fair comparing a college kid to Kobe Bryant, but the comparison works in that Bluiett can score in plenty of ways.

“He was always a high-IQ kid,” his dad said. “Just had a knack for scoring the ball, creating shots where there shouldn’t be a shot.”

He’s shooting an improved 39.1 percent on three-pointers this season, his mid-range game is solid, and his improved athleticism has helped him around the rim. He’s often paired up against power forwards in Xavier’s system, which creates huge mismatches. His defense has improved dramatically from a year ago, and so has his ball handling, but his bread and butter will always be getting buckets. He can score pretty with his effortless shot, or he can score ugly like a Paul Pierce, inside or out.  Bluiett credits part of that creativity to playing chess when he was a kid – just the ability to process a lot of information quickly and find a solution.

He’s a tremendous scorer. He had a knack for scoring last year, too, as a freshman, but he’s playing a lot harder this year.

Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski

“He’s a tremendous scorer,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said last weekend after Bluiett scored a team-high 18 points in Xavier’s win against the Golden Eagles. “He had a knack for scoring last year, too, as a freshman, but he’s playing a lot harder this year. He’s playing really hard. I admire him taking that leap as a player. He’s a tough matchup. On the perimeter, he’s big and strong and he overpowers guards and wings. When he’s at the post position, he’s hard for big guys to get out there to chase and guard. He’s real good.”

Of course, you could have said a lot of these same things about Bluiett at the same time last season. But toward the end of Xavier’s 37-game season, Bluiett was gassed. His coach could see it. He scored in the double figures only once in Xavier’s final seven games.

“He didn’t play well down the stretch a year ago, and he used that as fuel to have a better sophomore year,” Xavier head coach Chris Mack said. “I just think you grow up from freshman to sophomore year, the experience you gain. Whether it’s positive, whether it’s negative – you carry that into the summer.”

When summer ended and Bluiett came back to Xavier for his sophomore year, 20 pounds lighter and with a more mature view of the game, Mack sat his team down to talk about goals for the upcoming season. They were coming off that Sweet 16 run, and they’d lost only two top contributors from that team. Why not aim higher?

“One of our goals was to make it to the third weekend, the Final Four weekend,” Bluiett said. “Ever since August, we’ve had our eyes set on that.”

It’s an ambitious goal – the most ambitious of goals, in fact, as part of a 10-team conference that has yet to make a Final Four since it was reconfigured two years ago. But for a team that’s reached another level of maturity, it’s a realistic one.

As SpongeBob SquarePants once said, “You don’t need a license to drive a sandwich.”

Wait – that’s not right … let’s try that again …

As SpongeBob SquarePants once said, “Remember: Licking doorknobs is illegal on other planets.”

Nope. That’s not right, either. Ahem…

As SpongeBob SquarePants once said, “I’m ready! I’m ready! I’m ready! I’m ready!”

OK. I think we’ll just go with that one and call it good.

Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave or email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com.