Ohio U. star escapes street life

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ATHENS, Ohio -- Growing up in Columbus, Gary Trent was a football player and diver. He was also a truant, a drug dealer and a thief.

A basketball player? Sorry, no time for hoops.

"I wasn't trying to be a high school basketball player," said Trent, now a standout at Ohio University. "I was trying to do other things."

Most of those things were illegal.

"We'd steal rims off cars," Trent said matter-of-factly. "Not hubcaps, those aren't worth much. We'd go after the rims you see on Blazers or cars you see in Snoop Doggy Dog videos. The rims are 24-karat gold and they cost $3,000 apiece. We'd spin 'em off, just like changing a tire.

"We'd sell them to drug dealers because they were the only ones with a lot of cash. We'd say: 'These cost $3,000. We'll sell them to you for $1,000.' "

Trent was well aware of the drug dealers. Many were family members. Close family members.

His father, Dexter, was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to sell drugs and served 6 1/2 years before he was released last May. His mother, Cheryl Gunnell, also served three months for aggravated drug trafficking. Five uncles also served time, one for murder.

Trent also took his turn at drug dealing. When he was 13. But he said he was never a drug user.

He remembers when the family had money and lived the good life. But he also remembers when their house had no heat or hot water. He remembers eating candy bars for lunch and dinner.

But those days seem like another lifetime. Today, Trent is one of college basketball's rising stars. He is called "the Shaq of the MAC." A powerful 6-foot-8, 240-pound junior forward, Trent is on a collision course with the NBA, either this spring or next.

The last two seasons Trent has been MAC player of the year. Last fall he led Ohio (16-4, 8-1 MAC) to the preseason National Invitation Tournament championship, including victories over Ohio State and Virginia.

In the championship game against New Mexico State, he hit all 12 of his shots for 33 points and grabbed 20 rebounds.

"I think Gary could go to any team in the country and be the dominant player," said Western Michigan coach Bob Donewald.

Not too long ago, the only place Trent thought he was headed was prison. It seemed inevitable. It was all he knew.

Now he is a bright, outgoing, well-spoken 20-year-old who has life figured out. He's far removed from the streets of Columbus, where he once sold crack.

"I was always an average, everyday person," Trent said. "Things I encountered made me do abnormal things."

At one point, he quit school and sold drugs. He never imagined he would be a college basketball player because he never thought he would finish high school.

But one day the Trents received a letter from the Columbus truancy department, threatening Trent's mother with jail if Gary did not return to school. He missed more than 80 days his freshman year.

"They said my mother was going to jail for child negligence unless I went back," he said. "I'm glad I got that letter."

Trent laughed when he recalled how one letter began the transformation in his life. The biggest change came when his mother shipped him out to live with an aunt in Hamilton Township, on the outskirts of Columbus.

It was there he met Randy Cotner, a teacher and basketball coach who turned Trent's life around. The Gary Trent then hardly resembled the Gary Trent of today. He has grown five inches and gained 70 pounds, mostly muscle. His feet -- size 16 -- were the only constant.

"The first time I saw him, I saw a skinny, gangly kid who was 6-3, 170 with size 16 shoes," Cotner said.

"After our first couple of games I knew we had something special on our hands. He played on the junior varsity for our first game and in one half he scored 20 points and had quite a few rebounds. That was the last time he played on the junior varsity."

Trent was special, but it took more than a different address to change him.

"Gary was a tough, street-smart kid who didn't take any guff and was out to prove how tough he was," Cotner said. "Down deep I thought he was a pretty good kid, but which way he went depended on which way the crow flew.

"Given the wrong set of circumstances, he could go down the wrong road. But more than anything, he was a survivor."

By his junior year in high school, Trent showed he had potential to play major college basketball. When he committed to Ohio at the end of the season, it came as a shock.

Ohio State fans were furious that coach Randy Ayers didn't show any interest in Trent, but Ohio coach Larry Hunter said that was understandable.

"Back then Gary was 6-5, 210, played with his back to the basket and didn't have a jump shot," Hunter said.

Trent averaged 32 points and 16 rebounds as a senior while setting a national high school record by making 81.4 percent of his shots.

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