TP TALKS TO... Trevon 'Trey' Jenifer

by Travelling Peach

I started playing wheelchair basketball age 4 and played for Air Capital in Washington DC until I was 8. I always loved sport. I wrestled for 2 years in high school and participated in a bunch of school clubs, but basketball was the one that stuck. Edinboro University recruited me straight out of high school for a scholarship. I thought ‘Right, this is my opportunity to pursue this as a career, to take it to the next level.’

‘It’s really interesting that you knew how to do that from such a young age. Steve Serio [also on Team USA’s wheelchair basketball team] didn’t even realize that wheelchair basketball existed until he was 16, let alone that there was a team 10km away from his house. It’s crazy.’ I was lucky. My Dad Eric Brown (came into my life when I was 4) was encouraging. My brothers and sisters played football, basketball, cheerleading. I kept saying ‘That looks fun. I want to too.’ My Mom was hesitant but he persuaded her. He contacted Bill Green and that’s where it all started.

You experience so many emotions when you play. Excitement at the beginning or if you’re winning, anxiety if you’re losing or there’s an important shot. Being able to control those emotions is vital. You need to learn how to mediate them, to use them positively and not let them affect you, regardless of if you’re winning or losing. Playing with Team USA, my number one feeling is excitement because I’m playing with the best against the best, and trying to beat out the best to become the best. That feeling when you’re on top of the world – like when we won Olympic gold at Rio 2016 – there’s nothing like it.

Creating a legacy that lasts and strong foundations for the future of the sport. I want potential wheelchair basketball athletes to know the sport exists, to create a wider platform for it so that it’s easily accessible to them, to let them know that it’s a great community and that competitively it doesn’t matter what disability you have (or even if you’re any good at it initially), you can do it too. Honestly, when started playing wheelchair basketball again in college I was the worst player on the team, but I had the opportunity to learn and the work ethic; I never gave up. That put me in the position I’m in today. I don’t know how many times since then I’ve heard people say ‘You know what Trey, you’ve gotten a lot better. I saw your videos on YouTube, they’re exciting.’ *rolls eyes* *smiles*

I’ll never forget Paul Shulte – one of my mentors and one of the most well-respected and talented Team USA players in history. I was a rookie on the team and I didn’t know where I fitted in. I felt like everybody was so much better than me and, at times, didn’t feel like I belonged. Paul took me aside and said ‘Listen, if they were better than you then you wouldn’t be here. If you didn’t deserve to be here, you wouldn’t be here… You’re here for a reason so go out and do the things you know you can do. Control the game the way you know you can control it.’ To hear that from him was one of those awe-inspiring moments. If I’ve ever been star-struck in a situation where someone has given me a compliment that was it. I needed it.

But it’s bittersweet… It took a long time for me to believe him. It really only hit home when Ron Lykins (a different coach, 2012) brought me in. That was huge; no longer was it one coach saying that, now it was 2 and the players were backing me too. All of these people who I respected, who I knew were harsh critics, it really built my confidence.

If you talk to my teammates, even my friends and family, they’ll say I’m one of the quiet ones. I like to stay focused. That is unless I’m playing video games. Since Rio, I’ve opened up a lot. It was our downtime to relax; we didn’t get much free time so when we did, we’d play Call of Duty. I get so animated when I play and that was the first time the guys saw me in my comfort zone. I love Call of Duty. They saw a completely different side of me so to be able to play with them and open up was quite special and funny. Let’s just say there were a few choice words. It was one of those things where the guys never saw me in that light; they’d never heard me talk like that before. It was awesome. I felt like our relationships grew and it’s exciting that we experienced that together.

Our affiliation with the NBA and MSG is weird – and that’s the right way to put it because we have certain teams that are linked with the NWBA and NBA and others who aren’t. My club team, the NRH Punishers, is sponsored by the National Rehab Hospital (based in Washington DC), not NDBA or NWBA. They also sponsor teams like The Wizards, The Mystics and The Capitals among others so in order to create those relationships we’d have to mend our relationships with The Wizards. Unfortunately, due to previous experiences we’ve been unsuccessful, but I know The NY Rolling Knicks are planning to play some of the pro teams in Germany this Autumn so never say never. 

It’s crazy. Before we had our daughter, my partner Laura used to spend countless hours with me in the gym shooting free throws etc. I spend so much time in the gym so the girls tend to too, just to be with me. One time, out of nowhere – and I hold this near and dear to my heart – my daughter pretended she had a whistle. She was like ‘Woooo’ and pointed to the baseline so I pushed and then came back, just playing around. Then she did it again so we went back. We did this for a good 10-15 minutes. I was drenched in sweat, saying ‘No, Dadda’s done.’ Unperturbed, she walked over to the basket and pointed so I started shooting the ball. Then she did it again. They’re definitely my 2 toughest trainers.

‘It’s good because if it’s a coach telling you to do something, it can get irritating, but when it’s your child, most people have a much higher limit of what they’ll accept… so you’ll run a lot more…’ That’s entirely right because if Ron tells me to run, I’m like ‘Oh God Ron, oh ok…’ but if she tells me, I feel like I have to. I have no words coming back to her.

We spend a lot of time training alone. You have to overcome the idea that because wheelchair basketball is a team sport, we train together. We don’t get that luxury so it requires a lot of commitment on your part and a lot of trust on your teammates side to believe that everyone is working hard to improve and that everything will gel when you come together. That’s where psychology comes it. We’re constantly guilt-tripping ourselves and eachother without realizing it. That’s what keeps us going, especially when it’s freezing cold and rainy or you’re tired. In those moments, you assume that everybody else is training hard and you don’t want to let your teammates down. They’re working hard and, at the same time, players from different counties are potentially getting better, trying to beat you or your team.

Definitely the Team USA guys. Team USA practicing is great, but the best games are when our DC team plays the NY Rolling Knicks because I know what they’re going to do and they know what I’m going to do so we have to do our best to stop each other. It’s so much fun. It’s awesome playing against those guys and with them. I was told that one of the best compliments you can ever give someone is: you are so awesome to play with, but I hate playing against you. It’s true.

Outside of Team USA, Team Canada’s Pat Anderson. To me, he’s the all-time greatest and when you play against the greatest, you become better. It doesn’t matter if it’s a win, loss or draw, you improve from the experience. Playing against him is awesome. I look at him and – I’m not going to lie there’s frustration there because in Philly he made this one shot where he was underneath the basket and just flipped it in – that’s frustration right there. But there’s also a lot of respect.

He’s always been a big role model of mine, especially growing up. My Mom and grandparents would tell me ‘You know what, that guy’s blind, but look at what he can do.’ He was able to overcome that, drug addition, to change people’s perception and make them see him for his music, not the colour of his skin or that he was blind, and all during a time of immense segregation and racism. He never let any of that stop him, becoming an entertainment industry mogul. That was huge.
I wanted to be someone like him, someone who has the strength to overcome obstacles and show others: you can do it too. 

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