As a player, Gary Trent was a bad dude. Other members of the eventual Portland Jail Blazers, like Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire, achieved “bad dude” status for (this is not a joke) being caught in a yellow Hummer with pot and empty Smirnoff Ice bottles in their plush SUV, but Trent was the sort of guy that could make a wussified bottle of Smirnoff Ice shatter just by glaring at it.
He also achieved his bad dude status by banging in the paint, even at a listed (but dubious) 6-8, for several NBA and international teams between 1995 and 2007. Retired from the game, he’s now taken his formidable glare and still NBA-trim frame to Dayton's Bluff Elementary in St. Paul, MN. Trent is working as a “cultural intervention specialist,” aiming to help children dealing with all manner of at-home or in-school complications at the low-end elementary school that features kids from ages five to 13.
Trent, for various reasons that go beyond his time in the NBA, seems uniquely qualified for the role. From Chip Scoggins at the Minnesota Star-Tribune:
Trent can relate to his students on a personal level because he survived an unfathomable childhood that exposed him to death, drugs and crime in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. His father served time in federal prison for drug trafficking. His mother became addicted to drugs. His grandmother murdered her own son. His grandfather drank himself to death. Other family members were incarcerated. Trent briefly dropped out of high school as a freshman and began selling crack cocaine.
"It's generational dysfunction," he said. "It's the people before you that don't lay that groundwork properly for you to succeed in life. You think life is all about dysfunction and drama and just being ignorant to the world."
Trent found a different path, determined to break that cycle. He credits former coaches, teachers and teammates for saving his life. Now he wants to reciprocate that, though he never envisioned counseling as a second career.
It’s true that Trent was a member of the nascent days of that infamous Trail Blazers squad, pairing with Isaiah Rider and Rasheed Wallace in 1996-97 and part the next season before being traded in a package for Stoudamire in Feb. of 1998. And though Trent was arrested on a (very, very serious and not to be taken lightly) domestic dispute charge in 1997, that is the extent of his NBA-era rap sheet, and it hardly contributed to Portland’s woes.
In the feature, Trent went on to credit his high school coach in a suburb of Columbus, OH for helping him work his way out of the fears and burdens placed on him by a rough upbringing.
Hamilton Township coach Randy Costner recalls meeting a highly distrustful and shy Trent, and attempting to mold the potential prospect into the sort of student athlete that could both impress college scouts and somehow eke his way to a grade point average that could lead him to a college scholarship. As a result of their partnership, and the help of a support system put around Trent by the school and the aunt he was living with, Trent did just enough in school to earn a Division I scholarship, while shooting 81.7 percent from the field – a high school record that still lasts to this day.
Trent starred at Ohio University, earning the nickname “The Shaq of the MAC” (Mid-American Conference) while working his way up to the NBA lottery in 1995. Trent was selected 11th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks and immediately shipped to Portland, but for a while that early jump from Trent seemed to cost him an honor that seemed so obvious back in the mid-1990s. In 2011, while writing for SLAM Magazine, Nick Piotrowicz was gobsmacked to learn that Trent’s jersey hadn’t been retired by the Ohio University Bobcats, despite his status as the most productive player in the school’s history. From his feature:
[Bobcats coach Larry] Hunter stressed how Trent always learned from his mistakes, on-court and off, which is one thing about him that hasn’t changed. Now living near Minneapolis, Trent is working toward getting the degree that he didn’t get from Ohio. “ACC and Big Ten schools, they’re used to players leaving early,” Trent says. “Nobody’s ever done that in the MAC, so I don’t think Ohio University was prepared for that type of situation. I wish my degree could say ‘Ohio University,’ but the odds are looking real slim.”
As it turns out, Trent can never belong to the Ohio Hall of Fame because his diploma won’t be from OU-online classes are what Trent needs, and the school doesn’t offer a full program. As a husband, father of two and coach of his son’s AAU team, Trent can’t uproot and move to southeastern Ohio.
During the ’07 season, Ohio, under former Director of Athletics Kirby Hocutt, established eight criteria to have one’s jersey honored by the school. Trent immediately meets seven; his one transgression in the eyes of the school is that he did not graduate.
“Our understanding is Gary Trent has not received his bachelor’s degree. His candidacy would be off the table until that would occur,” Associate Athletic Director for External Operations Dan Hauser says. “We understand… how people leave college and aspire to those dreams and want to go ahead and start their professional career. We wanted to create a system that allowed student athletes to do that but didn’t totally limit their capability to graduate and be honored.”
Piotrowicz went on to point to several NCAA legends – Michael Jordan, Jim Jackson, Paul Pierce and Drew Gooden – all had their jerseys retired despite not earning a degree – backing up Trent’s assertions that bigger schools that churn out NBA players with regularity are used to handling such jumps. Then again, as Piotrowicz mentions, the MAC’s own Kent State had retired two jerseys of their own featuring players that don’t have a degree from the school.
This all changed nearly a year after the SLAM column, as Trent’s jersey was retired in Jan. of 2012 after he earned a degree in business management. This was around the same time Trent started at Dayton Bluff. From NBA.com Steve Aschburner’s interview with Trent, following the retirement ceremony:
"Sometimes they just need to come to the office and vent about what they're struggling with. When there's kids in trouble two or three days in a room, you'll call home and find out there's some divorce going on or Dad just went to jail -- there's just so much drama going on. A lot of times, kids run up and just want to hug you."
"I'm sure some of them are going to end up in jail," Trent said. "Some of these kids are going to end up on drugs. Some of these kids are going to wind up with teenage pregnancies. But because these kids are still young, we still have an opportunity to reach them and change their lives.
"If you decide to stab somebody with a pencil or get in a fight or steal something from the store, if you go to jail or get put in one of those 'gladiator' behavior schools, you get so sucked into that environment that you might never be able to come back to normality."
As the school’s principal Steve Flucas pointed out to Aschburner, even Trent’s name-recognition as a longtime banger for the Minnesota Timberwolves is worth its weight in influence:
"There have been so many unintended positives since Gary joined us," Flucas said. "He has a gift for connecting with kids. But he has helped so much in connecting with fathers, because many of them had their own 'hoop dreams.' We never have to worry about getting a call back when Gary leaves them a voicemail."
Those return calls might just be to avoid the negative reinforcement that Trent seems averse to. As a father that once harbored his own hoop dreams, I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of the penalty for ignoring a Gary Trent voicemail.
In all, this is tremendous post-NBA news. One we’d love to see more ex-players commit to, instead of vying for those few and far between coaching or broadcasting roles.