How Louisiana basketball point guard Trajan Wesley fought through depression after lost season
Trajan Wesley knows trying circumstances.
Now he’s started 11 straight games this season and is back to helping lead UL (9-9, 4-4 Sun Belt Conference) as it concludes a four-game homestand Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN+) against Georgia Southern (9-9, 2-5) at the Cajundome.
Wesley has done it by putting his mental health at the forefront.
“I actually talked to a therapist … to help,” he said, “and I just talked and expressed myself.”
He spoke with coaches. He spoke with his father Donald, a former coach and now administrator at Navosta High in Texas. He even spoke with his mother Monica, who died of cancer in 2007.
“I talked to her a lot,” Wesley said, “and … I just thought about what she would say if (she) was here.”
And what would be her message?
“ ‘Just keep pushing,’ ” Wesley said. “ ‘Hard times don’t break you; they make you.’ ”
'A tough road'
Wesley, from Cypress Falls High in the Houston area, knows hard times.
He was only 6 when his father delivered news that Monica, a teacher by trade, had succumbed to cancer.
“He’s had a tough road for a very long time, and it starts with (that),” said Mike Murphy, UL’s director of basketball operations.
“The number of injuries he’s had here has been significant. It’s worn on him mentally and physically, as it would anybody.
“The only thing you can do,” Murphy added, “is accept the help you’re given – be coachable, be open to new ideas and show up every day.”
Murphy was among many sharing advice throughout Wesley’s time of need.
“Live in the present. Don’t live in the past. Don’t try to guess what’s going to happen in the future. Be present, today,” Murphy said. “What can we do today to effect tomorrow? That’s how you have to approach it. That’s how he has approached it.
“He very easily could have given up on this because of the injury situation, and he’s shown a lot of fortitude by showing up in the present and working on today."
Injuries 'took a toll'
Wesley started 10 of the 20 games he played in as a freshman but missed 11 due to injury.
After rehabbing his recurring foot injury, he didn’t play more than 10 minutes in any of UL’s first six games this season – and logged just two minutes in a Nov. 27 loss to Jackson State.
It wasn’t just the foot, though, that’s set him back. On the first day of practice, Wesley took an elbow to the head. He missed three weeks.
But with three other UL point guards dealing with injuries of their own, Wesley was much-needed during a Dec. 3 win over New Orleans.
Wesley, who’d been running UL’s scout team, scored a season-high 16 points in 25 minutes. He was in the starting lineup against McNeese the next game, and he’s stayed there since.
Wesley is averaging 5.4 points and a team-high 2.2 assists.
“He didn’t get a single rep with the first team all of (the) week leading up to the prep for the New Orleans game,” Murphy said, “yet when his time came he was prepared because of the work he had done.”
“Him just having determination to come back and perseverance through all the injuries … he’s showed me a lot over the past few weeks and past few months, for sure,” said guard Kentrell Williams, who lost his starting spot to Wesley.
“I think (playing now) means a lot to him,” forward Kobe Julien added, “because no one wants to miss out – and missing last year, that really took a toll on him.”
'A different dynamic'
After losing the 20 pounds he gained while injured, he is back to pushing the ball hard. Yet Wesley also brings a sense of calm to an offense that needs it.
“He understands that’s his strength,” Murphy said. “He (also) brings a little bit of a different dimension to us in terms of his speed and quickness and his ability to play with pace.”
The style comes naturally, but also is a product of pent-up frustration from sitting so long.
“He’s really using that aggression … and it’s helping us in a really good way,” Julien said.
Wesley, generously listed at 5-foot-9, plays larger than his compact frame.
“He brings a different dynamic in terms of pace, bringing the ball down the floor and getting into the lane, which forces teams to collapse defensively; or, if you’re on the wing and you’re in front of the ball, he’ll find you and get the basketball,” Murphy said. “He is fearless going to the basket. He’ll throw his body around trying to play at the rim.”
'A strong man'
Wesley needed to return, and not just to fulfill Monica’s wish he use basketball to pursue a college education.
The gym always is refuge, the court a place to prove one need not be 6-10 to succeed.
“He’s always been the shortest guy on the floor,” Murphy said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t be the toughest. That doesn’t mean you can’t be the most effective.”
Playing again hasn’t coming easily, but those who know him well aren’t surprised he is.
“It’s been a tough go for him,” coach Bob Marlin added, “but you know what? He’s a fighter. … That’s why I brought him here, is because he had that fight in him.”
Wesley showed that in high school, when on the 10th anniversary of his mother’s death he scored 20 points as Cy Falls beat Wagner to win the Texas Class 6A state championship.
He’s showing it again now too, but only after opening himself up to what was needed to overcome another round of adversity.
“Last (season), the (season) before, I … was going through a lot of depression and stuff like that,” Wesley revealed in December. “I was kind of in a hard place, and I feel like now I’m in the best place I’ve ever been.”
It’s apparent in the confidence Wesley has exhibited in recent weeks.
“The mental aspect of it is something I don’t think a lot of people pay close attention to,” Murphy said. “Mentally, injuries are more draining than the physical part. I think that gets lost a lot.
“He’s had a hard time, but he’s accepted help. We’ve given him help. We’ve given him all the resources we can possibly give him. He’s taken advantage of that.”