Archdeacon: Shaq of the MAC’s son one of brightest stars at Flyin’ to the Hoop

Gary Trent Jr. of Prolific Prep (shooting) tallied a game-high 33 points in a 66-64 loss to Huntington Prep during Day 3 of the Premier Health Flyin’ to the Hoop at Trent Arena in Kettering on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF
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Gary Trent Jr. of Prolific Prep (shooting) tallied a game-high 33 points in a 66-64 loss to Huntington Prep during Day 3 of the Premier Health Flyin’ to the Hoop at Trent Arena in Kettering on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

Although it was offered as a quiet aside, you could hear the pride in his voice.

“I was there for the birth of my son,” Gary Trent Sr. said of that special moment when Gary Jr. was born 18 years ago this Wednesday.

“I was playing for Portland then, but it was the year of the (NBA) lockout. He was born January 18th and the lockout didn’t end until the 20th. So I was back in Columbus at the hospital.

“I cut his umbilical cord.”

That action – the normal procedure of any birth – had some added symbolism with it when you consider just what Gary Sr. has done for his oldest son. It could be seen as cutting familial ties so the boy could turn into the embodiment of promise he has become today.

Gary. Jr. – bound for Duke University next season – was one of the brightest stars of the Flyin’ to the Hoop Tournament at Trent Arena over the Martin Luther King weekend.

The 6-foot-5 senior shooting guard for Prolific Prep – a top-talent basketball training program in Napa Valley, Calif. – he scored 33 points in Monday’s 100-83 victory over a feisty Trotwood Madison team that entered the game 10-0 and ranked No. 2 in Ohio’s Division II.

The day before Trent Jr. also scored 33 in a 66-64 loss to national power Huntington Prep from West Virginia.

And on Sunday, he was named a McDonald’s All American.

That’s a pretty good weekend and his dad – who lives in Minnesota now with the family – was there to watch it.

After playing his prep ball at Hamilton Township High School in Columbus, Gary Sr. – a 6-foot-8, 250 pound package of muscle and swagger – became a standout at Ohio University, where he was known as the “Shaq of the MAC.”

A three-time MVP of the Mid-American Conference, his number is now retired at OU.

The Milwaukee Bucks made him the 11th overall pick of the 1995 draft and he ended up playing 10 years in the NBA – Portland, Toronto, Dallas and Minnesota – before spending four years as a pro in Greece and Italy.

And yet the thing I thing I think for which he should be most commend is not his glorious hoops career or how his son is now blossoming on the basketball court.

Gary Trent of Ohio against Toledo in 1994. Jamie Sabau/AllSport
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Gary Trent of Ohio against Toledo in 1994. Jamie Sabau/AllSport

The most important thing Gary Sr. did for himself, as well as his four sons – Gary Jr. has three younger brothers – is cut the ties with the past.

Or, as he put it Monday, “break the cycle of generational dysfunction.”

Back in the mid-1990s I wrote about him a few times when he played at OU. I was there the night in Athens when he almost single-handedly dismantled Wright State. I saw him do the same to Miami at Millett Hall.

Once during that time I sat down with him and we talked about his past, how he had been a teenage drug dealer, had made money stealing the rims off fancy cars and had skipped school so much as a freshman — 80-some days – that authorities threatened to lock up his mom (again.)

He told me how his dad had been in federal prison for 6 ½ years for drugs (trafficking) and his mom had been locked up for drugs, as well.

He detailed his past even more for a Knight Ridder reporter: His grandfather drank himself to death. His grandmother murder her son. Five of his uncles served time, one for murder.

“Generations of dysfunction,” he said Monday. “The generations before you have to lay the proper groundwork for you to succeed. I’m talking emotionally, mentally and goals-wise for society.

“To change, you’ve got to raise your children in a different environment, under different beliefs and aspirations.”

He didn’t have that advantage and so there were those missteps as a young teen and a couple of other glitches as a pro.

But look what he has done now.

Now 42, he’s worked for years as a behavioral intervention specialist at a middle school in the Twin Cities. He said it pays dividends all around:

“It’s great to do it. I study children and get to understand them better and on top of that, it helps me understand my own children and what they go through at certain ages.

“ My goal in life – with my wife’s help – is for my son to be better than me on the court and off the court.

“So whatever I could read when I was 10 years old, I wanted him to be able to read when he was seven or eight. I wanted him to be better in every phase of life.”

He has been hands-on with his son’s basketball development.

Gary Trent Jr. (middle) of Prolific Prep has signed with Duke. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF
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Gary Trent Jr. (middle) of Prolific Prep has signed with Duke. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

Gary Jr. played two years at Apple Valley High School in Minnesota, leading the team to a 60-4 record and two trips to the state tournament and the title in 2015.

After AAU stardom in Minnesota, Gary Jr. – with dad’s guidance — decided to play at powerhouse Findlay Prep, just outside Las Vegas this season. But that transition fell apart almost immediately.

As soon as Gary Jr. signed on, the coach jumped to a college job.

“The coach lied to me,” Gary Sr. said. “He told me no matter what happened after July 1st — no matter what deal came on the table – he was gonna stay.”

He said there were problems with the school founder too and so they decided to leave.

Gary Jr. transferred to Prolific Prep, where he is teamed with several Division I prospects, including Paul Scruggs, who has committed to Xavier and Abu Kigab, who is Oregon bound.

Over the summer Gary Jr. was ranked the No. 8 prospect in ESPN’s top 100. He signed with Duke live on ESPN. During this season he’s writing a blog for USA Today.

Gary Trent Jr. has signed to play at Duke. USA BASKETBALL PHOTO
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Gary Trent Jr. has signed to play at Duke. USA BASKETBALL PHOTO

At Trent Arena on Monday, he was mobbed by kids and adults wanting autographs and photos.

He got just as much attention from Trotwood Madison, who had someone shadowing him through the game.

“I get that every game,” he said. “There’s been sometimes, for example, where I won’t even have the ball and they just let my teammate go straight down the lane and get a lay-up. Rather than move over, they stay on me just so Gary Trent doesn’t score.”

Prolific Prep coach Billy McKnight said that’s nothing new: “Everywhere he has gone, he’s been the show.”

After the game, in a hallway outside the dressing room with dad talking to well-wishers a few yards away, Gary Jr. was asked how he would have fared against the “Shaq of the MAC.”

“I still could have scored on him,” he grinned. “He was a big man. He couldn’t move his feet that well. He just couldn’t move as easily as me.”

But that’s only natural.

His dad was stuck carrying the past.

He is not.

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