Duke-bound Gary Trent Jr. has been schooled by his father on and off the court
Gary Trent Sr. learned to make crack cocaine from his mother, but the former NBA player made a better life for his children
Gary Trent Sr. recalls the clock on his mother’s Cadillac reading 3:17 a.m. when she dropped him off on his first day of work. The former NBA power forward wasn’t starting a job at a 24-hour restaurant. He was selling crack cocaine to help support his struggling and drug-ravaged family.
“Yeah, she drove me around the corner and dropped me off,” Trent Sr. told The Undefeated. “I remember looking at the tape deck on her [Cadillac] Fleetwood and it was 3:17 a.m. And I got out the car. She dropped me off at 3:17 in the morning and said, ‘See you when you get home.’
“I made $180 before I decided to go back home because it was late. By the time I went home it was almost like 5 in the morning. I fell asleep on the porch and everything the first night out. And every night we had to re-up. My mom cooked it, cut it … There were some nights where I didn’t go out, so she would wake me up. My mom used to wake me up — man — 3, 4, 5 in the morning.”
Trent Sr. ensured that such a nightmarish childhood would never be the case for his four sons, including his oldest child, Gary Trent Jr. The Duke basketball signee, who will play in the McDonald’s All-American game March 29, has heard all of his father’s horror stories, which has made him truly appreciate a much easier youth. While Trent Sr.’s NBA career has afforded his kids a better life, the hardworking, grinding reputation he earned as a player has been ingrained in his pro prospect son and other children.
“He talks about his childhood all the time,” Trent Jr. told The Undefeated. “When me and my brothers start complaining about something, he’ll always say I didn’t have this or I didn’t have that. He’ll tell me crazy stories that I still don’t believe to this day. But fortunately I didn’t have to grow up like that.
“He worked hard enough to put his family in the right situation. And I thank him for that.”
Growing like a weed
Gary Trent Sr. was born on Sept. 22, 1974, in Columbus, Ohio to Dexter Trent and Cheryl Gunnell, who never married and were engrossed in the drug life. His “cocaine kingpin” of a father was arrested and sentenced to federal prison, leaving behind an 11-year-old Gary and his younger sister, Tia, on the East Side of Columbus.
Gunnell was a hairdresser by trade, but also was addicted to crack cocaine. Trent Sr. said she became a “zombie to the streets.” Trent Sr.’s grandfather died from alcoholism and his grandmother murdered her own son.
“I’m not ashamed of my family. They just chose to be gangsters,” Trent Sr. said.
Trent Sr. said money was scarce and often used by his mom for drugs when it was available. His mother once bought crack from one of his friends. By ninth grade, he was selling crack after his mother taught him how to make it. Trent Sr. said his mother’s new boyfriend had him selling packs of crack for him.
“So at that point in time I just, I started taking my life into my own hands,” Trent Sr. said. “And when you give an 11-, 12-, 13-year-old kid his life in his own hands … Like I always tell people, ‘A burden is nurtured.’ You talk to the plants, you water the plants, you fertilize the plants and you nurture them. Then there’s weeds. Weeds are still going to grow. They might grow up a fence, up a wall, through the cement crack. They are still going to grow.
“So are you growing like a weed? Or are you growing like a nurtured garden? And I was growing like a weed. Nobody giving you no instruction, no leadership, no mentorship. And the more you hang in the streets and the older guys see ambition in you and toughness, the willingness not to snitch, the willingness of being accountable … A lot of bravado, which is ignorant bravado.”
Trent Sr. said he and his mom and sister lived in a home without gas for two years. Gone were the warm showers and ability to cook on a stove. As a freshman at Columbus Briggs High School, washing up adequately before class was a daily challenge.
“This is when microwaves were still small in ’89,” Trent Sr. said. “Take a Tupperware bowl, run the water and stand at the sink and wash up out that bowl. And I wasn’t able to rinse my body off, so I rinsed the soap out of the rag and just wiped all the soap off. That’s how I was washing up every day. Just wasn’t nothing else for me to do.
“I just couldn’t take it no more. I wasn’t feeling good going to school. I wasn’t fresh going to school wearing the same clothes. So I just eventually quit school my freshman year.”
In hopes of making clean money, Trent Sr. took a job at a Long John Silver’s fast-food restaurant in Columbus at age 14. He lied about his age, saying he was 16 in order to get the gig. With an hourly salary of $3.35 before taxes, Trent Sr. said, he ended up making about $275 after a month’s worth of work.
Trent Sr. said his mother took that money and bought cocaine to chop and sell crack. Trent Sr. initially would hold the crack in his hand before selling it in the wee hours. But at 14, his adolescent hand began tingling after the cocaine began to be absorbed into his pores. He next used pill bottles and bags to sell.
“She went and bought seven grams of powder, took a Miracle Whip jar, some soda, whipped it up in the microwave,” Trent Sr. said. “She sat me down at the table. When it dried, cut it up like, ‘This is a 20, this a 20 [$20 worth of crack], this a 20, this is a 15 in the day, a 20 at night.’ I remember the whole conversation. This is before digital scales. This is triple beam scale times. There ain’t nobody else out there to cut it all up.
“And I remember her asking me — my nickname is ‘Bump’ — she was, like, ‘Bump, can I have these crumbs?’ It was because my mom was getting high. So when you cut it, you know the shavings just like when you break a cracker. Gave her the crumbs, that was our thing. I cook my dope. I’ll let you have the crumbs.”
Trent Sr. said he grew tired of living in a “crack house” with no gas, watching his mother do drugs daily in front of his sister. After Trent Sr. and his mom started fighting physically, he said, he departed to the suburbs about 30 minutes away to live with his aunt in Obetz, Ohio, during his freshman year. His aunt had the same drug problems that his mother had. The difference, however, was that this home was not in the ‘hood.
“When I stepped outside, there was less trouble potential,” Trent Sr. said. “There was no four or five of my homeboys standing on the corner. There was no strip to stand on that was the drug strip where everybody came and bought dope. There was none of that environment.
“So, even though it had the same spirit and attitude of the ghetto I came from, I couldn’t act it out because there was no way for me to act it out, like a basketball player with no basketball court.”
Shaq of the MAC
Trent Sr. ended up going back to school his freshman year at Hamilton Township High School after receiving a letter for truancy. He said the letter stated that if he didn’t return to school, his mother would go to jail. That’s when Trent Sr. first discovered playing basketball after a coach from his high school saw him on a playground. With a grown man’s size and strength, he quickly became a high school basketball standout and shot a national high school record field-goal percentage of 84 as a senior.
Trent Sr. didn’t play AAU in the summers because he had to go to summer school to fix his horrible grade-point average. The diamond in the rough accepted a full basketball scholarship to Ohio University after one phone conversation with then-coach Larry Hunter. Trent Sr. was so eager to get away from home that he took the first scholarship he got.
“So I was going through something at home with my aunt one night, she was getting high. She used to always take my probate check and food stamps, and smoke them up, and get high and stuff,” Trent Sr. said. “So we were arguing one night and I was crying, and coach Hunter called me. I had never met him. Never talked to him. I get on the phone with coach, and I said, ‘Coach, are you Division I?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Do y’all play schools like Ohio State and Michigan?’ He said yes. I said, ‘Can y’all play in that tournament [NCAA]?’ I didn’t know what it was called. I said, ‘You know that tournament that everybody plays in at the end of the season?’ He said, ‘Gary, we can win a national title if we get the right players.’
“I said, ‘Y’all play on TV?’ He said, ‘If we get to the tournament.’ I said, ‘I’ll come to OU.’ Right there on the phone. Never even met the man. I didn’t know where the campus was or nothing.”
The 6-foot-8 Trent Sr. was a star from the time he stepped on the college campus in Athens, Ohio. He realized he had NBA potential when USA Today named him to its All-Freshman team in 1993. The brawny, undersized power forward earned Mid-American Conference Player of the Year honors three times and was nicknamed “The Shaq of the MAC.” Ohio would later retire his No. 20 jersey after he averaged 22.7 points and 11.3 rebounds during three seasons. Trent Sr. was drafted with the 11th overall pick in the 1995 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, who dealt his rights to the Portland Trail Blazers.
During nine NBA seasons, Trent averaged 8.6 points and 4.5 rebounds for the Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors and Minnesota Timberwolves. He made $11 million during his NBA career and also played professionally in Greece and Italy before retiring in 2006.
“I played against, Shaq [O’Neal], Kobe [Bryant], against or with [Kevin] Garnett with Rasheed [Wallace],” Trent Sr. said. “I played against Magic [Johnson]. I played against [Michael] Jordan, [Charles] Barkley. Karl Malone was playing. Shawn Kemp was playing, [John] Stockton. The guy that I really, really was, like, ‘Wow,’ was Gary Payton. Guys I really looking at before the game like a damn Dennis Rodman. Not only those guys, but I had a chance to play against LeBron [James], [Dwyane] Wade, Melo [Carmelo Anthony], all the guys that the kids love today.”
Trent Jr. expressed respect for his dad’s journeyman NBA career that included 506 games.
“Every year he had one-year or two-year contracts, where he had to earn it every year so he had to bring it every day in practice. He had to bring it every game. I remember him being a hard worker. Just being a big bruiser,” the 18-year-old Trent Jr. said.
Trent Sr. somehow stayed out of major trouble as a child and his occasional fights at Ohio with classmates were handled privately, but there were a few bad incidents during his NBA days. He had a 1997 domestic violence charge for assaulting his then-girlfriend Roxanne Holt. That same year, Trent was involved in a fight in a Portland nightclub in which he hit a man over the head with a pool cue. There was also a suspension and $10,000 fine while with the Mavericks in January 2000 after he stormed into the Golden State locker room and challenged Warriors guard Vonteego Cummings. His NBA career ended in 2004.
Looking back, Trent Sr. offered regrets and growth.
“I didn’t realize what I meant to society and to people at that time,” Trent Sr. said. “I’m looking at hooping as hooping. I didn’t know if you beat somebody up, they would sue you. I didn’t know that existed. I thought you could only sue somebody if you got in a car wreck. I didn’t know if you beat me up, you could be sued and all that. I done been sued. I didn’t know that existed.
“So I was ignorant to a lot of things. And I took a few lumps. And that’s why I been telling my son, like, I’m your sacrificial lamb from God that I went through everything so you didn’t have to.”
Best of both worlds
Trent Jr. was born on Jan. 18, 1999, in Apple Valley, Minnesota, to Trent Sr. and Holt. Trent Sr. wanted to be the father he never had. He was available during the birth of his first child because of the NBA lockout that ended two days later. The 1998-1999 season was shortened to 50 games.
Trent Sr. would often stretch out his son’s arms and legs when he was an infant, to create “muscle memory.” After retiring from basketball, he moved back to Columbus in 2006 with his main focus to spend time with his son. He said Trent Jr. moved in with him and his wife, Natalia, full time when he was in the fourth grade. An excited Trent Sr. would pick up his son from school and have a Subway sandwich waiting for him. After his son studied, he would take him to his football and basketball practices and be there to watch or coach. Pops also drove him to AAU tournaments, where they enjoyed long talks. Trent Sr. also became a mentor to many of his son’s teammates.
As important as it was for Trent Sr. to spend time with his son, it was just as important on the flip side.
“My son was my best friend,” Trent Sr. said. “I used to wait for my son to get out of school to hang out with him. My life was so dark. When I retired, I was going through so much turmoil with my family about money. I lost my career to help my physical health, which wasn’t good. It was to the point where the only joy I had was my children. Like, my life was in such a sad place.”
Trent Sr. said he has been described as “Joe Jackson” by his friends because of the way he coached his first son. Trent Sr. had Junior run with a basketball on a track and do push-ups and sit-ups at age 6. After the youngster’s youth league games, they would go somewhere to eat afterward and go over the game film on a camcorder. Pops pushed his son to be a well-rounded, skilled basketball player. And when Trent Sr. was giving too much tough love, his wife, Natalia, would be there to be nurturing.
Trent Jr. accepted it all.
“One day my dad was like, ‘Do you want to play basketball? Do you want to be good at basketball?’ I was just a little kid. I was like, ‘Sure.’ So, we went to the track, and he was, like, ‘All right, you’re going to dribble the basketball around the track.’ I’m like, why am I dribbling a basketball? I’m like, ‘Why can’t we go shoot or something?’ He’s like, ‘Well you can’t get your shot over, if you can’t even dribble so …
“I was, like, that’s true. So, for the first year we did nothing but dribble around that track,” Trent Jr. said. “I would dribble a mile’s worth and at each 100 meters I would do 10 push-ups and 10 sit-ups. So that ended up being 160 push-ups and sit-ups. So we just continued to do that for about the first year.
“Then, we went into the gym, then we just started working on my game. I was about 6 or 7. We just started working on jump shots, and stuff like that. I got older like 8 and 9, he started putting harder footwork and stuff like that. So we just continued to keep working and grinding to where we are now.”
While living in Minneapolis and Columbus suburbs, Trent Sr. also ensured that his son had a diverse and healthy upbringing.
Trent Jr. lived in a stable, suburban home with a father, mother and everything he needed. He got a quality education at private schools and elite public schools in Minneapolis and Columbus. But Trent Jr. also was able see what it was like to struggle when spending time with many of his underprivileged teammates or with less fortunate family members.
“I did live in the suburbs with my dad,” Trent Jr. said. “But my grandma and my aunt and everybody was still living in the city, so I was always at their house, too. It’s always great to have the best of both worlds. In a sense, I’m able to connect with both worlds and network with kids in the suburb neighborhood, but still able to operate with kids in the inner city as well. So, it’s really great. It helps with who I am today, and being able to interact in different environments …
“That can’t do nothing but benefit your life in many ways, being able to talk in the corporate field, being able to just play and talk in the streets, it’s really great. That’s all up to my dad for putting it in me early.”
Trent Sr. eventually got a business degree from the University of Phoenix. And whether it was on or off the court, he constantly pushed his son to be hardworking and humble.
“When I was younger growing up, he always just talked about, if you want something, you got to work hard for it whether it’s in the classroom or on the basketball court,” Trent Jr. said. “He always emphasized, ‘You got to work hard. You got to be smart and always stay humble.’ That’s some of the things he just always, constantly kept saying to me.”
Trent Jr.’s hard work has made him one of the nation’s top high school basketball players.
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound guard is ranked as the eighth-best senior in the country by ESPN 100 and the top shooting guard. He averaged a team-high 31.8 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 39.3 percent from 3-point range through 18 games for one of the nation’s top prep basketball programs, Prolific Prep in Napa, California. Trent Jr. has a 3.1 grade-point average this year at Napa Vintage High, according to his coaches. The NBA prospect also signed a letter of intent to play for Duke on Nov. 10, 2016, and will be playing in the McDonald’s All-American Game, the Jordan Brand Classic and the Nike Hoop Summit.
“Gary is physically mature already,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said on the school’s website. “He’s strong and can score the ball. But he can also defend. That’s the thing that impressed me during the summer circuit, is his willingness to cover the best perimeter player on another team while still putting up points.
“He works at his game. He wants to be an outstanding basketball player. He wants to do the process that gets there. He likes the process of becoming better, and that’s a key thing if you want to become a really good player.”
Said Prolific Prep founder Jeremy Russotti: “Gary Trent Jr. is the epitome of what you want an all-around leader to be. Good student, elite worker, unbelievably focused, talented, unselfish and mature. A flat-out stud on and off the court. He simply gets it because he was raised so well.”
Trent Sr. called his son’s decision to sign with Duke “the greatest decision of his life so far.”
“I told my son, ‘First, go to a basketball school. Secondly, don’t make it a basketball decision.’ Since everybody [is going to] use you the same way basketballwise, this a business decision,” Trent Sr said.
Trent Jr. said his dad didn’t let his upbringing define him, but it helped him become the man he is today. He said his father deserves credit for the man he is becoming.
“My dad means everything in the world to me,” Trent Jr. said. “Without him I wouldn’t be where I’m at today in no phase of life. Whether it’s academic, whether it’s basketball talent, he’s taught me everything on and off the court. And without him I don’t know where I would be. So I’m thankful for him.”