The Shaq of the MAC
For Ohio University sophomore forward Gary Trent, life is like a bowl of cereal. "Society says you have to eat it with milk, but some people like to use orange juice," he says. "What's wrong with that? See, society is all about norms, but norms aren't always what's right for everyone."
Trent knows a thing or two about being unconventional. If he were a run-of-the-mill player, he wouldn't have shot 81.4% from the field while averaging 32 points as a senior at Hamilton Township High in Columbus, Ohio, a figure so absurd that it has to be a national record. (It is.) Nor would he have led the Mid-American Conference in scoring (19.0 points a game) and shooting (65.1%) last year to become only the fifth freshman ever to be named Player of the Year by a Division I conference.
This season the 6'7", 230-pound Trent has taken his game even higher, which is no mean feat considering that he has a legit vertical leap of 45 inches. Despite almost constant double-teams, he was averaging 24.9 points and 11.4 rebounds through Sunday for the 10-5 Bobcats, a team that dealt Connecticut its only defeat this season, 85-76 on Dec. 29.
"You cannot stop Gary," says Ohio coach Larry Hunter. "He's so quick from the floor to the basket it's unbelievable. And if you put your arm in the way he'll just break it off."
Besides, how can norms serve as guidelines for Trent, when his 19 years have been marked by so much antisocial behavior? He has a father who was sentenced to life in prison for drug trafficking, a grandmother convicted of killing her own son, two uncles doing time for robbery and murder, respectively, and a brief history of his own as a small-time crack dealer. Trent is still trying to sort it all out, and when asked about his life, he neither smiles nor frowns but leans forward and gently says, "You want me to start at the beginning?"
Growing up in Columbus, Trent had been told what to say when teachers wanted to know his parents' occupations: His mother was a beautician and his father owned a nightclub. Cheryl Gunnell did do hair, it was true, but Dexter Trent was a drug dealer and had been since he was 14. As a kindergartner Gary heard buyers pound on the back door to purchase marijuana; in time Dexter moved on to selling cocaine. "My dad was doing it to provide for me and my younger sister [Tia, now 14]," Gary says. "Sometimes they gave us too much. One Christmas my mom was yelling at us, 'We spent over $10,000 on you kids, and you don't appreciate it.' "
"We tried to give them the world," Cheryl says. "We ended up giving them two worlds, the best of the best and the worst of the worst."
Gary's parents were devoted to their children, but their own relationship could be incendiary. After one fight Cheryl fired a .357 magnum at Dexter while he was in the shower. "I don't know how I missed," she says.
When Gary was in the eighth grade, his dad was arrested and convicted and started serving his life sentence at a federal prison in Milan, Mich. "He was the disciplinarian, always on me about my grades," Gary says. "Once he went away, I thought I could do what I wanted." That included skipping 80 days of school his first year in high school and earning $300 a day peddling crack, though he says he never used drugs himself. "People would tell me I could get killed dealing drugs," Trent says. "I looked at it like, if I die, then I have no more problems."
When Trent and his mother had a falling out, he moved from Columbus's inner city to its outer belt to live with an aunt, Rosalyn Terrell, who had a no-nonsense attitude about child-rearing that was much like his father's. Terrell made Gary go to school every day, and he began immersing himself in basketball. "I loved the attention I got, and that made my love of the game grow," Trent says.
His low grades scared off most recruiters, but Hunter stuck with him and Trent repaid his faith by committing early to Ohio. While most freshmen struggle to adjust, Trent attacked the game headlong, his instinct for doing whatever it took to survive now channeled onto the court as well as into the classroom, where he had a 2.8 grade-point average. His sharpened sense for street hustlers also steered him clear of middlemen who, he says, approached him last summer offering cars and cash—$3,000 in one case—to transfer to schools in the Big Ten and ACC. "I was tempted," he says, "but I talked to my dad, and he said, 'That's the fast lane, and you know where that ends you up.' "
So instead of bailing out, Trent buckled down. He added a midrange jumper to his surefire short game, and for the first time his free throw shooting (75.5%) is far outstripping his accuracy from the floor (59.9%). His loyalty has also endeared him to his teammates, who gently defuse his temper when it threatens to get the best of him. "Sometimes Gary looks for immediate success, and he gets frustrated if he doesn't get it," says senior guard Chad Estis. "We try to get him to step back and look at the big picture."
Trent has reconciled with his mom and remains close to his dad. After successfully appealing his sentence last spring, Dexter got his life term reduced, and he is scheduled to be released from prison this May after 614 years in jail. Dexter has never seen his son play, but over the years Gary has mailed all his press clippings to his father. "I've been down a long time, but I wake up every day and he makes me smile," Dexter says from prison. "I haven't seen him play, but I've imagined it. That's why I walk the straight line now, so I can finally see my dream."
DAVID LIAM KYLE
Trent (20) survived a crime-ridden past to make it to the court.
Players of the Week
Connecticut's Donyell Marshall, a 6'9" junior forward, had 20 points and 11 rebounds in a 75-67 win over Syracuse and 42 points and 13 boards in an 85-81 defeat of St. John's.
Lisa Leslie, a 6'5" senior forward at USC, averaged 28 points, 18.5 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 4.5 steals as the Trojans beat No. 16 Washington 81-70 and Washington State 101-70.
Senior Dennis Adams, a 6'4" forward for Division III Muhlenberg, totaled 62 points and 20 rebounds in an 87-72 victory over Allentown and an 87-68 win over Gettysburg.