As an eighth grader in the small eastern Oklahoma town of Gore, Trey Slate jotted down his goals.
One of them was to play basketball at the University of Oklahoma. Now the college sophomore can check that off his list -- although he reached that goal in a slightly unconventional way.
Slate has been an OU fan his whole life in a family full of them. He remembers growing up and watching some of the greats play inside Lloyd Noble Center and says he has always wanted to put on a Sooners uniform.
In high school, Slate was a two-time Big 8 Conference MVP and averaged 22.0 points and 7.5 assists per game his senior year. He received offers from multiple college programs as a walk-on, but none of those offers were from the one he really wanted to play for -- Oklahoma.
With no room on the OU roster, Slate had to devise a plan. He could not compromise his dream of wearing the Crimson and Cream.
“I decided that I wasn’t going to give up and that I was just going to keep pursuing and trying to reach my goal,” Slate shares. “That was on my heart that I should because I felt I would regret it if I didn’t. I just kept pushing. Persistence pays off.”
After being admitted to OU for the 2012-13 school year, Slate decided he needed to become involved with the team in some way, hoping it would turn into a chance to make the squad as a walk-on. He determined working in a team manager role would provide him that opportunity, so he kept “bugging” former OU graduate assistant Teddy Owens, who is now on the men’s hoops staff at the University of Nebraska.
“I called that dude 500 times over the spring,” Slate jokes. “I was just trying to get my foot in the door so the coaches could see what I can do, how hard I work and how I could help the team.”
Last spring, after working a full season as a student manager for an OU team that went 20-12 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009, Slate received the offer he had been waiting for. Head coach Lon Kruger offered him a spot on the team as a walk-on.
Elated, Slate’s first phone call was to his dad, who he says is his biggest encourager and fan -- and also the biggest OU fan he’s ever met. He says his dad was “probably more excited than he was” and even let out a loud scream upon hearing the news.
Slate’s passion for the game of basketball was one contributing factor in Oklahoma’s decision to offer a walk-on spot, Kruger says.
“Trey loves to play,” explains the third-year OU head coach. “He works as hard as anyone we’ve got. He spends a bunch of time in the gym. That influences others and rubs off on others, and I think others are in the gym more because of how much Trey’s in the gym. He just loves to play every day and does a terrific job.”
Kruger’s comments have been confirmed by the players on the team. Slate’s own teammates recently voted him as the squad’s “hardest worker” in a team player poll.
“He comes to gym every day willing to work,” senior Tyler Neal says. “He’s here early and stays late. It can rub off on other guys. We learn from each other, and he’s definitely a good addition to the team this year.”
As a manager, some of Slate’s daily duties included rebounding for the players, keeping the coaches’ fridge stocked with Gatorade and helping check in and out players’ gear.
While game days as a player are in some ways similar to game days as a manager -- such as attendance at shootaround -- Slate, who is a freshman eligibility wise, says there is one aspect of being a manager that was the “worst” and that he does not miss at all: game day laundry.
Even if Slate had not received the offer to join the Sooner squad, he says he would still be involved as a manager -- despite the laundry duty. He claims he could have accepted working in a managerial role for his entire time at OU, but he would not have been fine with giving up on his goal.
“It would have been tough, but I would have never given up,” Slate admits. “There’s no doubt in my mind. I said that at the beginning. That’s just one thing that I don’t think I could have lived with if I let myself quit.
“The road I’ve been down hasn’t been the easiest,” Slate continues. “I’ve had to deal with a lot of adversity, including not getting to come play here and just battling a lot of things. I had to keep being persistent and keep chasing my dream, and now actually getting to play here and put on that jersey is amazing.”
Slate has only appeared in four games this season, but he did earn a roar of approval from the OU faithful in his second contest. His basket in the waning moments of the Sooners’ home game against Arkansas-Little Rock resulted in the team’s 100th and 101st points of the night. It marked the first time OU reached the century mark in five years.
To people working toward any goal, Slate offers the advice of just continuing to push no matter how bleak a situation may appear.
“At times it might feel like you’re in a spot where that may never happen, but if it’s on your heart and that’s what you want to do and that’s your goal, don’t give up,” Slate states. “You can’t give in.”
It is safe to assume his eighth-grade self would probably be proud of Slate’s persistence and being able to check off that goal of becoming an OU basketball player.