Gary Trent: A Big Boost Off The Bench
A healthy Gary Trent has given the Wolves solid production
by Charles Hallman
It's been a long time since Gary Trent felt this way — his body, mind and spirit finally in sync.
The 6-8, 250-pound forward came to the Minnesota Timberwolves, his fourth NBA club, as a free agent before the 2001-02 campaign. It was a calculated risk for the Wolves since Trent had spent most of the previous two years in Dallas on the shelf with an assortment of injuries. "I sat out with so many injuries — I played 33 games one year (2000-01) and 11 games (the previous season)," Trent recalled. "In my first year here, I was just getting my body back. So I was really mentally rusty. I was trying to get my mechanics and my rhythm back. When you have layoffs like that, it really tends to hurt you."
Trent also was trying to get used to Flip Saunders' system. At the same time, the Wolves' head coach was trying to determine how Trent would fit in the overall scheme. "Flip didn't really know me well," Trent said, "and I didn't know his coaching style. I was just getting acclimated to a whole lot."
What frustrated Trent the most was his inability to do more to help the Wolves be successful. "I never was a non-worker," he said. "It was that my body wouldn't allow me to work."
Slowly but surely, his body was returning to full strength. Trent said he could feel it after his first Minnesota season, when he appeared in 64 games. This was the most he'd played in since his second year in the league, 1996-97, when he played in all 82 regular-season games for Portland. He averaged just under 11 points a game in 2001-02 and finished 10th in the NBA in field goal percentage.
"I went home and played in two summer leagues, and it was the first summer in many a year that I actually got to work on my game," Trent said of not having to rehab.
Last season, Trent saw action in 80 games, starting 22, and shot 53.5 percent from the floor, his second-best marksmanship as a pro. "I felt real productive and things were coming back to me," he said.
This past offseason, he again competed in two summer leagues and reported to training camp in tip-top shape — body, mind and spirit. "This is probably the healthiest I have been in about four years," Trent said proudly.
Now in his third year in Minnesota, the eight-year NBA veteran has been a key force for the Timberwolves. Whether at forward or as an undersized center, Trent has been consistently solid this season. He admits that he's taken advantage of untimely injuries to frontline players Michael Olowokandi and Mark Madsen and some of the many offseason roster changes.
"There were a lot of times (last season) when Flip would put Joe (Smith) into the game, but now Joe's not here and they handed me the role that he had," Trent explained.
Furthermore, Trent says that he feels he has finally secured the confidence of the Wolves' coaching staff. "A couple of years ago, sometimes I felt like Flip would put me in the game, but he would put me in the game because somebody had foul trouble or somebody was rolling," Trent admitted. "I think now when he calls my name and looks at me, he has confidence in me and in what I can do."
This season, Trent is hitting over 50 percent of his shots. And at home he's even better, shooting nearly 60 percent from the field — including a 7-for-7 performance Dec. 18 vs. Dallas, tying a team record for most field goals without a miss. Currently fifth on the team in scoring, Trent is chipping in around eight points and grabbing four rebounds per contest. But he knows he can do better, especially defensively.
"I need to sharpen up my defensive awareness," he surmised. "I'm trying to lead the team in charges. I'm trying to keep loose balls alive, whether I get the rebound or not. I want to do the little things."
And for the first time in recent memory — at least since he donned a Wolves uniform — Trent is playing pain-free and without worries. "I'm not scared when I'm running up and down the court, wondering if I am going to pull or tear something," he said.
Even so, Trent, a perfectionist, is still not satisfied. "My biggest frustration and my biggest problem is I am too hard on myself," he says. "At times, I put pressure on myself to try to play the perfect game. I have a high expectation of myself to perform and go hard. Coaches don't have to tell me or players don't have to tell me. Every time I go home (after a game), there's (questions of myself): Did you do well or did you do bad? Could you have done better?"
Now, Trent believes his body is ready for his second wind. "I'm only 29," he says. "I feel that I can be able to go another five to seven years in this league."
Trent's top priorities — hoops and fatherhood — keep him occupied. "Basketball and being a father," he pointed out, "those are the two biggest things in my life. A career and my son." His face glows when he speaks of four-year-old Gary, known as J.R., who's learning to read and write and speak Spanish. The younger Trent is also becoming adept at playing video hoops. "He knows how to sub me in on the NBA Live game now," Trent said. "But I think his favorite player might be Kevin (Garnett)."
This season, the Wolves are very happy to have Gary Trent to rely on each night. This is what the third-year Timberwolf always wanted since he arrived two seasons ago. He says that he wants to leave Minnesota fans with a lasting impression of his on-court performances. "I want them to see that I went hard," Trent says. "Thank God I'm still healthy."
Trent photo gallery
Trent's NBA.com playerfile
2003-04 Timberwolves feature stories