Trent Jr. Makes The Most Of A Miss In His First NBA Practice

by Casey Holdahl
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While players in today’s NBA show up for training camp in relatively good shape — the days of using the first week of practice to regain the conditioning lost during the offseason went out canvas sneakers and pickle juice — the first few days of practice still tend to be physically grueling, even for professional athletes. So as the Trail Blazers neared the end of their first training camp practice last week, the players were justifiably gassed. But before practice could end, there was one last drill to get through.

That final drill consists of four lines of players, one at each corner of the court, with four coaches standing on the court at the extended foul line. The drill starts with a player throwing a ball to one of the coaches, who then passes it back to the player, who then passes it to the other coach standing on their side of the court, who passes it back to the player, who then sprints down the court for a layup, which is rebounded by a player who then starts the process all over. If they combine for 80 layups in two minutes, the drill is almost over. All that’s left is for one player step to the free throw line. A make ends the drill, a miss starts the drill all over again.

“After we real tired, worn out and stuff, basically ready to get off the court after we have practice and do that, Coach will say you get one free throw to be done,” explained Damian Lillard of the routine. “Basically once the line ends it's either make a free throw or you gotta go one more round.”

As career 88 and 84 percent free throw shooters, respectively, either Lillard or CJ McCollum are typically called upon to take the free throw which will bring practice to a close. They’re also the most likely players to have the ball in their hands at the end of games, so getting them reps at the free throw line while worn out from full practice just makes sense. In this particular instance, with the team feeling the effects of their first official practice of the season, Lillard figured he’d do the honors.

But another player had other ideas.

“So the past few years, when Coach say that everybody be like 'Dame, go shoot it' and I'll go shoot it and we'll be done or whatever,’” recalled Lillard. “This time, the same thing happened and they was like 'Dame, go shoot it' and I was walking down there. I looked at the ground, I looked back up and Gary Trent was at the free throw line. And I was walking and I was like 'I think he gonna shoot it.’”

Now to be clear, any player who steps up to the line in that situation is cleared to take the shot, but to have Gary Trent Jr., a rookie participating in his first NBA practice, call him own number might have raised a few eyebrows. But with nobody stepping up immediately after Stotts’ initial call to put somebody at the line, Trent Jr. took it upon himself.

“I always believe in myself,” said the rookie guard out of Duke. “In college, at one point in time, I was shooting like 93 percent, finished the year at 89, so I feel like I'm a good free throw shooter. So when Coach asked us who wanted to go up and shoot, everybody was taking too long, so I just went up.”

The only problem? Trent Jr. missed the shot, resulting in the entire team having to run the drill again and a significant amount of grumbling from his new teammates, especially the veterans. But the move also earned the rookie a level of respect for his willingness to put himself in that situation on his first day.

“Out of every free throw I make, that one just so happened to roll in and out,” lamented Trent Jr. “I heard about it for a little bit but after that people were saying they liked the attitude to step up, step forward, confident in myself. I've shot so many free throws, I'm very comfortable with myself on the court, so I just went for it.”

“Afterwards I told him ‘I like it,’” said Lillard. “He ain't afraid. It would have been the easy thing to do to say 'Alright, Dame or CJ, go shoot it.' That's what everybody expects. But when he stepped up I respected it because there might come a time where Moe is in foul trouble or fouled out of a game, ET is hurt, you just never know what can happen.

“He might be in a situation where I can't get a catch at the end of the game and he gets the ball and he's got to go up there and shoot some free throws with something on the line, the game on the line. In reality, you don't always get the chance to put the ball in your best player's hands at the end of games. It's important for other guys to be, not only ready to step up, but willing to step up. I think he showed that just in a small situation, a small example.”

“I thought it was a toughness thing,” said Evan Turner. “I thought it was really tough, he wasn't scared. I didn't expect anything different. It's big, I think he gained a lot of respect. He just really set the tone, showed up to compete and do what he needed to do.”

That one small example in the first days a long season also exemplified Trent Jr.’s willingness to shoot any shot at any time, something he has shown in his fledgeling days with the Trail Blazers at the Las Vegas Summer League and in the Trail Blazers’ first preseason game versus the Raptors, which saw the rookie take a game-high 11 shots in 20 minutes.

“He aggressive, he's bold. We play pickup sometimes and he'll shoot three, four times in a row and won't think about it,” said Lillard. “That's how you know when somebody has genuine intentions. If a guy is shooting a lot and he know he being selfish get gonna be like 'My bad, my bad.' He gonna trying to cover up for it so quickly. But this is just who he is. He's aggressive, he's fearless. It's going to help out the team.”

Though the situation earned Trent Jr. the respect of his new teammates, it also create one disagreement. When retelling the story, Lillard said he could tell the rookie was a little nervous, as he had to stand at the foul line for a few moments as he waited for someone to offer up the ball, perhaps due to everyone expecting one of the backcourt starters to take the shot. Not so, says Trent Jr., who swears it was a simply bad luck, not nerves, which caused him to miss what would have been the practice-ending free throw.

“Hell no, there was zero nervousness,” said Trent Jr. “I was not nervous at all. I was going to make the shot and it just so happened to roll in and out. It happens.”

After Trent Jr.’s miss, the team went through the drill again, after which Lillard reclaimed his status as the designated shooter and hit the free throw to bring practice to a close. But should Trent Jr. find himself in the same situation again, he plans on playing it the same way.

“Didn't get the outcome I wanted, but if the opportunity presents itself, I'll do it again,” said Trent Jr. “And I’ll make it.”