Former Wolves tough guy Gary Trent looms large in school hallways

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 12, 2013 - 6:59 AM

As a Timberwolf, Gary Trent was a fiery competitor. Now he's "putting out negative fires" for kids at Dayton's Bluff Elementary.

Ahandwritten note on a red piece of construction paper hangs on a wall above Gary Trent's desk. It serves as daily affirmation that his guidance and support made a difference in a young girl's life.

You are like a uncle to me and I will remember all the stuff you told me and I am on the right path now and I never told you but I love u like u are my uncle!

Trent plays the role of uncle some days. Sometimes, he's a father figure and stern disciplinarian. Some kids lean on him as a trusted confidant, a friend they can talk to about problems at home or a bully on the bus. And some children just know him as the really tall guy walking the halls at Dayton's Bluff Elementary in St. Paul.

"I've got more hats on than Dr. Seuss," he said.

Most students aren't aware that Trent played for the Timberwolves during his nine-year NBA career. They know him simply as Mr. Trent, the school's cultural intervention specialist. His job description is open-ended because every day brings a different set of challenges, dealing with young kids who are coping with family problems, poverty or emotional issues.

Located a few miles east of the State Capitol, Dayton's Bluff Elementary sets student achievement as an overarching principle that binds its racially diverse enrollment. Trent casts a large shadow -- literally, at 6-8 and 260 pounds -- in the school's push to protect and nurture student development.

Trent walks hallways, pulls lunch duty and visits classrooms to make sure kids are acting responsibly. He disciplines those who require it and counsels kids who need support. He maintains a visible presence so that kids feel safe, and he strives to build personal relationships with students in order to gain their trust so that they will open up on deeper issues.

"There are days I go home stressed because I deal with a lot of negativity," he said. "It's my job to put resolution to it. Everything that I do, I'm going to have to put out some negative fire. But the reward is that I'm putting them out."

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.

Trent made millions as a basketball player but found himself bored in retirement and searching for something that gave him purpose. He started by coaching his son's athletic teams and eventually found his way into an elementary school as an intervention specialist. The one-time drug dealer had needed his own intervention years earlier.

"I tell people all the time that if you knew his story, he shouldn't be alive," said Jeff Boals, Trent's college teammate at Ohio University. "To do what he's doing now and helping kids is just a great success story."

Rough start

Trent felt like a lost soul as a kid. He was surrounded by societal ills, which left him full of rage. He didn't want that lifestyle, but that life held a firm grip on him.

"I felt empty, I didn't feel loved," he said. "I felt alone as a child. What you end up doing is leaning on friends. Those can be good friends or gang-banging friends. That's where you get sucked into something because it's human nature to find a social group."

He broke that chain as a high school sophomore when his mother forced him to move in with an aunt in the Columbus suburbs. Hamilton Township coach Randy Cotner shook Trent's hand in the office that first day and said it felt like a "dead fish." Trent barely made eye contact and trusted no one.

Athletic but raw on the basketball court, Trent played with fury and clobbered anyone who came inside. Cotner quickly realized Trent's potential, but his primary goal was to keep the kid "eligible and out of jail."

Cotner and several school administrators kept close watch over Trent. They gave him rides to school, required him to attend study hall and welcomed him into their homes. They showed him that it's OK to trust others. And they pushed him to embrace responsibility.

The first time Trent visited Cotner's home, he frowned as he looked at the top of his coach's refrigerator. He told Cotner and his wife that they should wipe the dust off. Cotner's wife threw a dish rag at Trent.

"Well, clean it," she said.

Trent was a mess academically, carrying a 1.2 grade-point average as a junior. His grades scared off most college coaches, except Ohio University's Larry Hunter, who took a chance on him -- but not before laying down strict ground rules.

"I wanted to see his reaction," Hunter said. "He didn't flinch. I also told him that I was going to love him."

Trent became a three-time Mid-American Conference Player of the Year who earned the nickname "Shaq of the MAC" because of his imposing physical presence. The No. 11 overall pick in the 1995 draft, Trent provided the Wolves some toughness at power forward from 2001 to '04, averaging 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds mostly in a reserve role.

On the court, he ruled by intimidation and played with the same temperament as a mixed martial arts fighter. He wanted to pound opponents into submission. That inner rage occasionally manifested itself inappropriately. He earned an NBA suspension as a member of the Dallas Mavericks after he stormed into Golden State's locker room to confront two players. One day in college, Trent became so enraged by Boals banging on him in practice that he promised to take a swing at him if he didn't stop.

"My response was, 'Do what you've got do,' " said Boals, now an assistant coach at Ohio State. "Silently I was praying that he didn't swing at me."

They remain close friends to this day. Trent's upbringing hardened him, but that gruff exterior also serves as a protective shell for a guy who has "a lot of layers," former Wolves teammate Chauncey Billups said. The Wolves honored Trent for his community involvement and work with kids before a game last week.

"The thing about Gary is, he's extremely loyal," former Wolves coach Flip Saunders said.

Finding a calling

Trent peered into a classroom through a window to observe student behavior one day last week. Everything looked normal so he continued his rounds. He visited every fifth- and sixth-grade class to congratulate students for showing exemplary behavior on a field trip that morning. As he made a loop toward his office, he spotted a fourth-grade boy dancing in the hallway.

"Why aren't you in class?" Trent asked. "This isn't 'Dance Fever.' "

They both laughed. Sometimes it's small things that require his attention, too.

"Bad behavior needs to be corrected with positive reinforcements," he said.

Trent doesn't know how long he'll continue in this role because his life is hectic already with his wife and four children, all boys. He also dreams of becoming a coach, either in college or the NBA. Trent participated in the NBA's coaching developmental program, and the league invited him to its symposium to talk to the 2012 rookie class about potential pitfalls that players encounter.

Trent believes he has a lot to offer as a coach. But he also finds fulfillment in helping those young kids who walk into his office every day in need of help. He looks back and sees himself.

"I had so many positive people intervene in my life and help me along the way," he said. "I really got into this because I needed to be a part of something to keep growing. And I found so much innocence and I found so much truth in the children, the love that I got from them."

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Cleveland 26 FINAL
Atlanta 24
Tennessee 24 FINAL
Philadelphia 43
Detroit 9 FINAL
New England 34
Green Bay 24 FINAL
Minnesota 21
Jacksonville 3 FINAL
Indianapolis 23
Cincinnati 22 FINAL
Houston 13
Tampa Bay 13 FINAL
Chicago 21
Arizona 3 3rd Qtr 12:48
Seattle 9
St. Louis 10 3rd Qtr 12:39
San Diego 6
Miami 21 3rd Qtr
Denver 17
Washington 7 3rd Qtr
San Francisco 10
Dallas 7:30 PM
NY Giants
NY Jets 11/24/14 6:00 PM
Baltimore 11/24/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 11/27/14 11:30 AM
Philadelphia 11/27/14 3:30 PM
Seattle 11/27/14 7:30 PM
San Francisco
LA Clippers 5:00 PM
Portland 5:00 PM
Charlotte 5:00 PM
Golden State 6:00 PM
Oklahoma City
Denver 8:30 PM
LA Lakers
St. Louis 1 2nd Prd 12:35
Winnipeg 1
Montreal 6:00 PM
NY Rangers
Arizona 7:00 PM
Chicago 8:30 PM
Coll of Charleston 61 FINAL
George Mason 60
Massachusetts 75 FINAL
Florida State 69
Youngstown St 76 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 67
Wofford 64 FINAL
Sam Houston St 53
Ark-Pine Bluff 43 FINAL
Central Mich 75
Southern Ill 67 FINAL
Ill-Chicago 60
Drexel 61 FINAL
Cornell 59
American Univ 51 FINAL
Morehead State 46
CS-Northridge 88 FINAL
Ark-Little Rock 94
Bethune-Cookman 65 FINAL
Central Conn St 60
Columbia 54 FINAL
Lehigh 44
Texas A&M 64 FINAL
New Mexico 51
Saint Louis 56
Merchant Marine 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 89
South Dakota 72 FINAL
Fairfield 80
Longwood 48 FINAL
Eastern Mich 79
Providence 75 FINAL
Notre Dame 74
Jackson State 50 FINAL
UAB 58
Coppin State 54 FINAL
Denver 80
Northwestern St 68 FINAL
Oklahoma 90
Catawba 52 FINAL
Radford 88
Newman 57 FINAL
Wichita State 105
Yale 66 FINAL
Kent State 59
St Katherine 47 2nd Half 0:16
UC Riverside 102
NC Central 41 2nd Half 3:06
Creighton 59
South Florida 51 2nd Half 5:38
NC State 60
USC 57 2nd Half 0:46
Penn State 60
Nichols College 70 FINAL
Holy Cross 101
Dayton 38 2nd Half 15:15
Boston College 35
Wagner 32 2nd Half 17:21
Hofstra 54
Towson 41 2nd Half 13:52
Monmouth 51
NC A&T 21 1st Half 0:37
Bradley 33
Eastern Ill 24 1st Half 1:05
Cincinnati 22
Fla Atlantic 27 2nd Half
Georgia 35
Presbyterian 21 1st Half 1:32
Louisiana Tech 35
St Francis-NY 28 1st Half 2:25
Rutgers 39
UMKC 21 1st Half 5:00
Samford 32
Binghamton 12 1st Half 12:44
Navy 12
USC Upstate 5:00 PM
UMass Lowell 5:00 PM
Montana State 5:00 PM
Iona 5:00 PM
North Texas
Gardner-Webb 5:00 PM
Seton Hall
Akron 5:30 PM
South Carolina
Connecticut 5:30 PM
West Virginia
Hood College 6:00 PM
Sacred Heart 6:00 PM
Ohio State
Tennessee St 6:00 PM
Delaware 6:00 PM
Mercer 7:00 PM
Colorado State
SD Christian 7:00 PM
Loyola Marymount
Northern Ariz 7:00 PM
Ole Miss
Manhattan 7:00 PM
Pacific 7:00 PM
Miami-Florida 8:00 PM
Old Dominion 8:00 PM
Illinois State
UC Irvine 8:00 PM
St Marys-CA
Long Beach State 9:00 PM
Montana 9:30 PM
Char Southern 9 FINAL
(8) Georgia 55
South Alabama 12 FINAL
So Carolina 37
Rutgers 3 FINAL
(10) Michigan State 45
(22) Minnesota 28 FINAL
Nebraska 24
Northwestern 38 FINAL
Purdue 14
(19) Marshall 23 FINAL
UAB 18
Kansas 7 FINAL
(20) Oklahoma 44
Indiana 27 FINAL
(7) Ohio State 42
Penn State 14 FINAL
Illinois 16
(16) Eastern Ky 3 FINAL
Florida 52
TX-San Antonio 7 FINAL
Western Ky 45
UCF 53
Tulsa 28 FINAL
Houston 38
Virginia Tech 3 FINAL
Wake Forest 6
Washington St 31 FINAL
(13) Arizona State 52
Louisiana Tech 27 FINAL
Old Dominion 30
Western Mich 32 FINAL
Central Mich 20
New Mexico 20 FINAL
(21) Colorado State 58
Eastern Mich 30 FINAL
Ball State 45
Appalachian St 35 FINAL
Louisiana 16
(12) Arizona 42 FINAL
Utah 10
North Texas 17
(18) Ole Miss 0 FINAL
Arkansas 30
(24) Louisville 31 FINAL
Notre Dame 28
Maryland 23 FINAL
Michigan 16
Texas Tech 34 FINAL
Iowa State 31
(14) Wisconsin 26 FINAL
Iowa 24
Syracuse 7 FINAL
Pittsburgh 30
Boston College 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 20
Georgia State 0 FINAL
(23) Clemson 28
Tulane 6 FINAL
East Carolina 34
Stanford 38 FINAL
California 17
Western Carolina 14 FINAL
(2) Alabama 48
New Mexico St 17
So Florida 20 FINAL
Memphis 31
Colorado 10 FINAL
(3) Oregon 44
Fla Atlantic 34 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 35
Samford 7 FINAL
(15) Auburn 31
Miami-Florida 13 FINAL
Virginia 30
Vanderbilt 0 FINAL
(4) Miss State 51
(17) Missouri 29 FINAL
Tennessee 21
Oklahoma State 28 FINAL
(5) Baylor 49
(9) UCLA 38
Cincinnati 41 FINAL
Connecticut 0
(25) Boise State 63 FINAL
Wyoming 14
Oregon State 13 FINAL
Washington 37
Fresno State 40 FINAL
Nevada 20
Hawaii 37
Ohio U 11/25/14 6:00 PM
LSU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(6) TCU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(19) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
New England 2 FINAL
Red Bull New York 1
Seattle 0 1st Half 5:00
Los Angeles 0
Montreal 24 FINAL
Hamilton 40
Edmonton 4 1:01
Calgary 22
Alabama 58 FINAL
Temple 51
Massachusetts 46 FINAL
Florida State 74
Creighton 60 FINAL
(1) Connecticut 96
Bryant 79 FINAL
Boston College 90
Robert Morris 84 FINAL
Sacred Heart 59 FINAL
Maine 58
Virginia Tech 72 FINAL
Providence 69
Coll of Charleston 61 FINAL
George Mason 71
Hartford 59 FINAL
Lafayette 74
William & Mary 80 FINAL
High Point 87
Western Ill 88 FINAL
Florida Atlantic 90
Pittsburgh 64 FINAL
James Madison 80
Toledo 48 FINAL
(24) Purdue 66
Western Mich 47 FINAL
Michigan 74
Cleveland State 73 FINAL
FIU 65
San Diego State 38 FINAL
(2) South Carolina 89
Mount St Marys 62 FINAL
Davidson 67
(15) Michigan State 64
Illinois State 49 FINAL
Colorado State 70
Incarnate Word 49 FINAL
Indiana 85
Cincinnati 54 FINAL
Iowa State 85
Furman 69 FINAL
Clemson 79
VA Commonwealth 86 FINAL
Ohio State 96
Marquette 51 FINAL
(7) Duke 83
Bethune-Cookman 42 FINAL
East Carolina 71
Coppin State 54 FINAL
Wake Forest 65
(24) Georgia 64 FINAL
Georgia Tech 57
Ball State 56 FINAL
(12) Louisville 69
Auburn 51 FINAL
Virginia 66
Utah 43 FINAL
(16) Nebraska 66
Minnesota 68 FINAL
Memphis 62
Georgetown 42 FINAL
Kansas 55
Northwestern St 30 FINAL
Arkansas 78
TX-San Antonio 72 FINAL
Lamar 40
Southern Miss 55 FINAL
McNeese State 57
Air Force 51 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 86
IUPU-Ft Wayne 73 FINAL
USC Upstate 85
Morgan State 57 FINAL
Texas Tech 65
Western Ky 77 FINAL
Miss State 88
Southern U 42 FINAL
Illinois 62
Eastern Illinois 59 FINAL
North Texas 57
Alabama State 61 FINAL
South Alabama 64
Wisconsin 77 FINAL
Drake 89
Seattle 61 2nd Half 1:00
Montana State 74
UC Santa Barbara 49 FINAL
Northern Ariz 67
Hofstra 58 2nd Half 3:14
Norfolk State 46
Iona 49 FINAL
Pacific 64
Middle Tennessee 58 2nd Half 5:41
Ole Miss 54
Portland 67 2nd Half 0:17
Cal Poly 76
(10) Texas 62 2nd Half 6:47
Fresno State 23 2nd Half
USC 29
Ave Maria 17 1st Half 0:10
Fla Gulf Coast 55
Holy Cross 16 2nd Half
(3) Notre Dame 46
Chicago State 5:00 PM
(11) North Carolina 5:00 PM
Harvard 6:00 PM
Princeton 6:00 PM
American Univ
Missouri 8:30 PM
(14) California
Yale 9:30 PM
UNLV 10:59 PM


question of the day

Poll: Grade the Vikings offense

Weekly Question





Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters