Lewiston native Trever Irish is in his second season playing Division I basketball at Long Beach State University in Long Beach, California. John Fajardo photo

Former Lewiston High School player Trever Irish is in his junior season with the Long Beach State basketball team. John Fajardo photo

After helping to lead Lewiston boys basketball through its most memorable season and one of the most remarkable tournament runs in recent memory, Trever Irish dropped under the radar for five years.

Last year, the 7-foot center re-emerged at Long Beach State, although only family and his many friends and diehard college basketball fans back home knew where to find him.

Unfortunately, Irish’s followers only got a brief glimpse at the junior’s continued development this month before the pandemic struck the Beach. On Tuesday, the school, a member of the Big West Conference, announced that it was putting the men’s basketball team on pause for two weeks due to a positive COVID-19 test.

Irish, who spoke to the Sun Journal before the announcement, braced himself for a disruption for the season long before Tuesday’s news.

“I didn’t know until we were literally until on the bus to go (to Los Angeles for the season-opener again Loyola-Marymount) that we were going to be able to play,” he said. “But we just had to do our best to be prepared and be ready, and just prepare for everything.”

The announcement of the season pause came the same day the Beach were scheduled to host UCLA. That game was canceled along with four others scheduled through Dec. 28.

It also came on the heels of Irish’s best game of the season, and one of the best of his career, last Thursday. He matched his career high with eight points and grabbed three rebounds and a steal in 13 minutes off the bench in a 107-62 loss to San Francisco that dropped the Beach to 1-2 on the season.

In three games this season, Irish is averaging 11.7 minutes, four points and three rebounds per game in a reserve role.

Given that his recovery from a herniated disk in his back has been slowed by a lack of rehabilitation options due to the pandemic, Irish is pleased with his recovery but added that it’s still ongoing.

Lewiston’s Trever Irish, right, and Carlos Gonzalez (34) team up to defend Oxford Hills’ Dalton Rice (15) on his drive to the basket as Lewiston’s Carlos Gonzalez (34) and Trever Irish (32) during a boys basketball game in 2013. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“I’m at a point where I can build from here,” he said. “We still don’t have access to a weight room (but) I feel like I’m at a point where I’m healthy. I’ve been able to establish a base and I’ll be able to start there once we’re able to do more, like get weights in. I feel better than I have in the past couple of years. My biggest issue is that I don’t feel physically strong enough.”

Listed at 230 pounds, Irish has bulked up considerably since he was a gangly 6-foot-10 center for the Blue Devils.

He was one of 11 seniors on the 2014-15 Blue Devils, the only Lewiston team to reach a regional final in the past three decades. That team, which also featured future NCAA track and field champion Isaiah Harris, won seven of its last nine games and upset rival and top-seeded Edward Little in the regional semifinals before losing to Hampden Academy, which won its fourth regional title and went on to defeat Portland for the state title.

“We weren’t supposed to make the playoffs and then we ended up beating No. 1,” he said. “That’s still my favorite thing from high school, is we ended up beating EL in the playoffs.”

Lewiston’s Trever Irish, right, blocks the shot of Lawrence’s Brad King during a game at Lewiston High School in 2014. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“I’m still adamant,” Irish added, “that if we could have gotten past Hampden we could have won states that year. I’m still a little sad about it.”

Irish has regrets about what happened after the tournament, too. He stopped attending school. Just two credits shy, he never got his diploma at Lewiston.

“I just didn’t like going to school,” Irish said. “I went every day for basketball season, and then after that, it was, like, as long as I kept myself eligible for the next year, that was the goal.”

“My senior year, I didn’t have that (incentive) anymore,” he said. “It wasn’t my smartest idea. It made things a little bit rougher for me, but I figured it out eventually.”

Irish continued playing AAU basketball, and used his connections through basketball to meet coaches at Central Arizona Community College. They helped him finish his schooling and earn his diploma at a prep school at Tempe.

While he was developing better study habits at the junior college, he was also developing into a force in the paint. In his first season at Central Arizona, he averaged 14.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and two blocks.

His play earned him an invitation to a summer JUCO showcase where he impressed a number of college coaches. He returned to Lewiston preparing for a recruiting onslaught, then shortly after he returned to Arizona for his second year of junior college and just before the battle for his services was to heat up, he herniated the disk in his back.

“For a little while I was still playing with it,” he said. “We’d practice in the morning, so I’d wake up fine, but by the end of the day I was hunched over walking around.”

He played in three games with the injury, but the pain was too intense to continue and he was sidelined the remainder of the season.

“When (recruiters) saw that, I got a lot of, ‘Wait-and-see,'” he said.

One school continued to actively pursue him, though: Long Beach State.

“They could see that I can’t move and they were willing to work with me,” he said. “They knew that I struggled academically and they still were willing to help me through it. So why would I wait-and-see when there’s a school that already wanted me despite my academic struggles and my health at that point?”

He enrolled at Long Beach before the 2019-20 season and began stepping up rehab for his back injury.

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Arizona guard Nico Mannion (1) draws a foul on Long Beach State center Trever Irish, who played at Lewiston High School, during a November 2019 game in Tucson, Ariz. AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

“For a whole year, I couldn’t touch my toes on my right side. Well, when I got cleared to play I immediately tried running and it didn’t go too well, so I had to sit out about another month. And I was still dealing with it for a while, probably right up to after the season got shut down due to COVID,” he said.

He still managed to play in 31 games, including one start, and averaged 2.2 points and 1.7 rebounds per game before the coronavirus brought the season to a screeching halt in March.

He came back to Maine around spring break for about three weeks, returned to Long Beach for the remainder of the spring, then returned to Lewiston until flying back to California in September.

“The only thing I really wanted to do over the summer was play basketball,” he said. “I’m not really the most social person, so that hasn’t affected me at all, to be honest. But being able to get in the gym was the hardest thing.”

“I didn’t really have a gym the whole summer. When  I was home, we couldn’t get to Kennedy Park because it was blocked off the whole time, so we were at the Gully (in Auburn) a lot,” he said. “It was pretty much just cardio and doing whatever I can with the stuff that was around me.”

Intensive physical therapy and “a lot of stretching” have helped fill in the gaps from not being able to lift weights. Team workouts were held outside and segregated by cohorts until about two months ago.

Hardly ideal conditions for someone coming off of an injury and looking to prove he deserves more playing time, but Irish isn’t dwelling on it.

“I’ve told the coaches I just want to be able to do my role and do my job,” he said. “That’s what I try to do to the best of my ability, whatever they ask me to do.”

He added: “My goal is to just get better every day. Obviously I want to win our conference, the Big West. But we’ve still got a month or two for that. I focus on just trying to make myself better and do what I can to help.”

A Consumer Affairs major, Irish is attending classes remotely and still working on his study habits.

“It’s still not my strongest point, but I’ve gotten better at acknowledging I’ve got work to do. I’m still procrastinating a lot,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little bit better about it.”

On the court and in the classroom, Irish is working towards a future in basketball, whether it’s playing, coaching or in a behind-the-scenes role.

“My plan is to go as far as I can with (basketball). If I get good enough to play overseas,  I’ll do it,” he said. “But even if it means coaching high school basketball, I’d like to do that.”

He said he still keeps in touch with some of his former Lewiston teammates and enjoys occasionally bumping into his old rivals from Edward Little at summer pick-up games. But he doesn’t mind if he continues to otherwise fly under the radar here in Maine, especially if it allows him a little more sleep.

“I’ve got a lot of nieces and nephews, and a lot of them are rather young, so they don’t get the three-hour time difference,” he said with a laugh. “I have one who’s 2 years old and he’ll call me at five in the morning just because he got ahold of his mom’s phone. I need to put mine on, ‘Do Not Disturb.'”

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