Blazers' Trent Jr. still has chip on his shoulder
One might say that Gary Trent Jr. was born into greatness, and there's a measure of truth to it.
But it takes work ethic to make it in the NBA, a trait the Trail Blazers' second-year guard has shown since he was a kindergartner.
Gary Trent Sr. played 10 years in the league, a 6-8, 250-pound rough-and-tumble forward who spent his first 2 1/2 seasons with Portland. The senior Trent's NBA career ended in 2004, when his oldest son, Gary Jr., was 5 years old.
About that time, father and son had a talk.
"My dad asked me, 'Do you want to be ordinary or extraordinary?'" Trent Jr. said.
At 5, the younger Trent probably wasn't sure. But he mostly went along with his father's workout routine.
"We did nothing but dribble around the court for the first year," the younger Trent said. "We would dribble a mile's worth doing different drills — between the legs, crossing over ... every 100 meters, we'd do 10 pushups and 10 situps. That's about 160 pushups and 160 situps. We did that every day.
"When I got to 7 or 8, we'd go to the court and do footwork, post work, catch and shoot, right to left, over the right shoulder, over the left shoulder. ... as I got older, it got easier and felt more natural. And we were always doing conditioning. We kept building, adding, growing and developing."
Fast forward to today, with Trent Jr. — who turned 21 in January — going from benchwarmer at the start of the season to a valued member of the Blazers' rotation. Over the last 23 games, he averaged 12.2 points while shooting .460 from the field and .398 from 3-point range. He also provided Portland's best backcourt defense.
"At 21, you hope your career is just starting to blossom," Portland coach Terry Stotts said before the NBA suspended play due to the coronavirus. "Most young players come into this league thinking they can have a long career. Gary has shown that he should have a long career."
Trent Jr. was born in Columbus, Ohio, to Gary Trent Sr. and Roxanne Holt. His mother continues to live in Columbus. Gary Trent Sr. and his wife, Natalia, gained custody of young Gary and moved to Apple Valley, Minnesota — a suburb of Minneapolis — when he was 9. Gary Jr. lived with his father until he left for Prolific Prep Academy in Napa, California, as a high school senior, but the Blazer guard said he was raised with "shared parenting."
"It was a perfect balance," he said. "When I was living in Ohio, I had to get her say-so to move (to Minnesota). She knew what my dad could do for me basketball-wise, and in raising a son into a man. It was hard for her to let me go, but she came and visited me often, and I went back for holidays.
"My mom's like my dad in a sense, but calmer. She'll talk to me. She'll get on me. She has taught me a lot. She made sacrifices to help me get to where I am today."
Gary and Natalia have three sons together — Garyson (12), Grayson (8) and Graydon (7). They were raised in Apple Valley, where their older brother had already made a name for himself on the basketball court. Today, despite the age difference, Gary Jr. is close with his siblings.
"I talk to them by phone almost every day — twice a day sometimes," Trent Jr. said. "They watch everything I do. They talk about my games constantly, and tell me about their games. They tell me their favorite players.
"It's cool for them to be able to see me in the limelight of the NBA. It motivates them. They play basketball and train every day with my dad. They're doing the same exact things I was doing. One of my happiest moments in life is try to motivate and show them."
It can be difficult being the son of a professional athlete, especially as a namesake. There's a burden to perform and live up to the family name. Trent Jr. felt only motivation.
"There was never extra pressure," he said. "It was a positive. My dad always preached to me, 'Son, don't try to be me. Be better than me.' If I wanted it, I could go get it. He never told me, 'You need to go train.' He wanted me to chase it naturally, and that's what I did.
"I saw what the game of basketball could do for your life — the doors it can open for you, the hearts you can touch. I was all in for the challenge of working hard. Sometimes you don't want to, but you still gotta go to the gym. My dad would tell me, 'When you're waking up at 8 a.m. on the West Coast, there's somebody already working out on the East Coast.' "
Trent Sr. — now 45 — is training his three youngest as he did Gary Jr.
"To be honest, I always put drills out in front of all my kids and players that are difficult," Trent Sr. said from his home in Minneapolis. "You need to make practice harder than games. That way, when you get to the game, it's not as hard. I know what it takes to make it in sports.
"Every sport Gary played, he worked hard. I pushed him. There were days he loved it, but there were days when he couldn't understand the two-a-days, when he wondered why he had to get up at 8 in the morning to work out instead of playing with his friends. It was difficult at times, but he embraced it and made it work. And there were days where I had to lighten up. I didn't want him to be stripped of his childhood and resent what I was putting in place for him."
It must have worked. Gary Jr. made it to the NBA, and he has a strong bond with his father.
"I would say he's my best friend," Gary Jr. said. "He's one of the funniest people in the world. We play video games together. We can talk about anything, from crazy things to the most serious things. It's a close relationship.
"It's been like that since I was little. When he stopped playing, I was the only thing he had at the time. When basketball went away, it was just raising me. He coached every team I played for when I was young — football, basketball, soccer. He'd be my tutor, do all my homework with me. He was super hands-on."
Told that his son considers him his best friend, Trent Sr. paused, then said, "I agree with that."
"Since he was born, (Gary Jr.) was my little best friend," he said. "I got custody of him when he was about 8, and he's my first child. I didn't have another one for (nine) years, so we spent numerous hours together. I had just retired (from pro basketball), so it was a perfect match for both of us.
"I needed his pure love, the innocent love of a child. In the NBA, so many people want things from you — your time, your money from you. They all have some ulterior motive. With your children, the love is pure. That's what drove me into coaching all his teams. My child, whose love was so pure, became my best friend. He got every drop of love, every minute of the day from me."
Trent Jr. was a star right away at Apple Valley High, averaging 21.5 points as a sophomore. As a junior, he averaged 26.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while leading Apple Valley to the state 4A championship and earning Gatorade Minnesota Player of the Year honors. After that season, he chose to transfer to Prolific Prep.
"Apple Valley is a great program," Trent Jr said. "It was a powerhouse at that time. But Minnesota basketball wasn't developing me into the player that I wanted to be. I felt like I needed more of a challenge. At Prolific Prep, I was going against another Division-I player every day in practice."
At Prolific Prep, Trent Jr. averaged 31.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game while leading his team to a 29-3 overall record against some of the nation's top talent. Following the season, he was selected to play in both the Jordan Brand Classic and McDonald's All-American Game. By that time, he had signed a letter-of-intent to play for coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, which beat out UCLA and Michigan State for his services.
"When I set foot on Duke's campus, I knew where I was going," Trent Jr. said. "There's no way you can turn it down. When 'Coach K' gets you into his office, you see a USA Basketball ring, pictures of him hugging Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. ... The facilities are second to none. I liked the environment on Duke's campus. You walk around and it reminds you of Harry Potter. It's a surreal place, a crazy place. The only way to get that experience is actually being there."
Trent Jr. played his freshman season at 80-year-old Cameron Indoor Stadium, capacity 9,291, one of the most hallowed arenas in college basketball.
"You have to be there to understand what it's like," he said. "It's small and confined and compact, and it's 10 times as loud as what you'd expect, with everybody screaming at the top of their lungs. That's the beauty of it. The seating is above the floor, so everybody is looking down on you. A lot of victories and great memories have come in that place."
Trent Jr. enjoyed playing for the legendary Krzyzewski, the winningest coach in Division I history, who coached the U.S. to Olympic gold medals in 2008, 2012 and 2016.
"He reminded me of my father in a sense," Trent Jr. said. "He's tough. He's gritty. If you're not picking up your work load, he'll let you know it. He's a great teacher and motivator. That's like my dad, who can always get the most out of you."
Trent Jr. started all season for Duke, averaging 14.5 points while shooting .415 from the field, .402 from 3-point range and .876 from the foul line for the Blue Devils. His 97 3-pointers were a school record for freshmen, breaking J.J. Redick's previous mark by two. Krzyzewski called him "the best 3-point shooter in the ACC."
NBA scouts weren't much impressed. Sacramento took him in the second round for Portland with the 37th pick overall.
"It was super shocking to me," Trent Jr said. "I always thought I was a first-rounder, if not a late lottery guy. I came into college rated the No. 1 shooting guard in America and the No. 7 player overall. I played with five other pros at Duke. I knew I'd have to sacrifice something to play with those great talents. I don't know what happened. I don't know what else I could have done."
Did it put a chip on his shoulder heading into the NBA?
"You could say that," he said. "There's always been a chip, for sure, just me wanting to prove that I'm better than what everybody thought I was."
Trent Jr. played only 15 games for Portland as a rookie, averaging 2.7 points while shooting .320 from the field and .238 from the 3-point line. He played six games with the G-League Texas Legends, averaging 33.3 points in 34.3 minutes. Then he went to work. He stayed in Portland all summer, working on his game.
"It was the first time in my life I wasn't playing," Trent Jr. said of his rookie season. "It's the first time that I'm preparing teammates for their game. I took it as motivation."
Ana Paz, Gary's girlfriend from Duke, flew out to spend the summer with him at his condo in the Pearl District.
"Besides my dad, she is my best friend," he said. "I'd work out in the morning, rest, sometimes come back later in the day. Other than that, I'd spend time with her all day."
Fellow second-year guard Anfernee Simons was higher in the Blazers' plans than Trent Jr. heading into the current season. Playing behind Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Simons in the backcourt rotation, Trent Jr. sat out 13 of the first 24 games. With Lillard ill, Trent Jr. started in a 122-101 loss to Milwaukee, scoring 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting, including 3 for 4 from the 3-point line. Other than that, he was averaging 4.2 points through mid-January.
"I'm a competitor," Trent Jr. said. "I'd have loved to play more, but I didn't have a problem with it. CJ is a great talent. I took it as an opportunity to learn, to be a sponge. I tried my best to watch everything he does.
"The same thing with Damian, a future Hall-of-Famer. He's done some things I'd never seen on the basketball court. I'm doing all I can to prepare, because when it's my time, I have to be ready."
Trent Jr. was ready on Jan. 18, when he came off the bench for a career-high 30 points — hitting 12 of 18 shots from the field, 5 of 9 from 3-point range — in a loss at Oklahoma City.
"I had the flu," he said. "I was sick as a dog. We played in Dallas the night before and I got lightheaded and felt like I was about to pass out. I had to leave the game and get an IV. I had a headache, wasn't feeling good.
"When you're sick, the last thing you want to do is fly, but we had to fly to OKC. I just tried to prepare and lock in on the task at hand. Our health and performance team did a perfect job making sure I was ready. When you're tired and you're sick, the first thing that goes is your mind. I just played off my adrenaline."
When a strained calf sidelined Lillard for six games in late February, Trent Jr. started and made strong contributions on both offense and defense.
"Going into October, nobody knew how much he was going to play this year, but the opportunity was there, and all the hard work he put in paid off," Stotts said. "He was ready. He has played really well. He has an impact on the game with his defense. When he takes a 3, you think it's going in. In some ways, he reminds me of (ex-Blazer guard) Wes Matthews.
"His attitude has been terrific. He never sulked when he didn't play last season. His work ethic hasn't changed now that he's playing. He's still working. He wants to get better. He knows he has room to grow."
Trent Sr. said his son will help get the Blazers back on the winning path, something he has known all along his basketball path.
"He won the national AAU championships in second, third and sixth grade," Trent Sr. said. "In high school, he won a state championship and two gold medals with Team USA. He has always been a winner."
To Trent Jr., winding up in Portland "is God's plan."
"It's crazy that I started my career where my dad started his career," he said, "but it's a blessing. I'm thankful that the Blazers believed in me and drafted me. I'm going to try to give 110 percent energy and effort any time I can for this organization."
Trent Jr.'s individual goals are mostly on the defensive end.
"First-team All-Defense is a goal of mine," he said. "I hope sometime in my career I can make Defensive Player of the Year. A lot of guys can score; not a lot of guys can play defense. But all the greats play two ways."
Trent Jr. enjoys the city of Portland.
"Great places to eat," he said. "It's different. Weird. Lots of art. Everybody goes around wearing tattoos. I fit right in."
Trent Jr. is soft-spoken with fans and the media. Is that his personality?
"Depends on who you ask," he said, smiling. "If it's close friends or family, I've been told I play around too much, that I'm too crazy.
"But in a professional setting, I'm not going to be joking around. I love video games. I love family time. When it's time to lock in and accomplish something, though, I have no times for games."
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