Updated Thu, Jan 19, 2012 2:55 pm
Larry Hunter coached the Bobcats in one of the best eras ever for Ohio men's basketball. The 12-year head coach also coached Gary Trent, one of the most dominant players that Athens or the Mid-American Conference has ever seen.
Trent, a nine-year NBA player and the only three-time MAC "Player of the Year," will see his jersey rise to the rafters of the Convocation Center on Saturday. He will be the fourth Bobcat basketball player to have his jersey honored by Ohio University, joining Frank Baumholtz, Dave Jamerson and Walter Luckett. The only coach to have his jersey honored is Jim Snyder, who won 355 games over 35 years as Ohio's coach.
Hunter, now the head basketball coach at Western Carolina University, was 204-148 in his 12 seasons in Athens, and boasts the third-best conference winning percentage (58.6 percent) in Ohio history. Trent had plenty to do with that from 1992-95, when the "Shaq of the MAC" dominated the conference and became the third-leading career scorer in the Bobcat record books.
"He was just an unbelievable physical specimen and athlete," Hunter said. "He had over a 45-inch vertical jump. In college, his bench press was well up over 400 pounds, and a few years later in the NBA it was up over 500 pounds. He had great hands and quickness for a man of his size, combined with that unbelievable power and explosiveness and strength."
That strength made Trent a traveling sensation, as Ohio set an all-time attendance record (113,427) in the forward's junior season.
"It was electric. It wasn't only in Athens and in the Convocation Center, it was on the road too," Hunter added. "You don't want to say he was a freak athlete, but he was unusual. [People] heard so many stories and heard about the career he was having and wanted to get a look at him. Our team was pretty good, too."
The 'Cats were ranked as high as 14th nationally during Trent's junior year, which was his last as a Bobcat before becoming only the second Ohio player to become an NBA lottery pick (Jamerson, 1990).
Trent finished his three-year Bobcat career with 2,108 points (22.7 ppg), a 57.3 field goal percentage and an average of 11.3 rebounds per contest.
"It's hard to say someone was an intimidating force but [Gary] had that quality about him," Hunter said. "He would have people double-teaming him in the low post, hanging on both arms and he would go up and dunk it with two people hanging on his arms. He would come down and land on the floor and stare at them. It was a pretty great spectacle."
"He was a man, When I first saw him I was like, 'Who is this guy?'" current Miami (OH) head coach Charlie Coles said. "He just was one of those kind of guys you don't see in our league. Boy, I was so glad when he came out after his junior year. Just think what he could have become on the collegiate level if he had stayed his senior year."
In fact, Trent's sophomore season may have been his best statistically. He averaged 25.4 points and 11.4 rebounds per game, shot 57.6 percent from the field and 72 percent from the foul line. That season (1993-94), Ohio won the MAC regular season and tournament titles and went to the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Bob Knight's Indiana team by 12 in the first round.
Hunter's staff recruited Trent, a Columbus, Oh. native, and the head coach knew in Trent's high school days that he'd be a special player.
"He was a man among boys in high school, that's for sure," the 1994 MAC "Coach of the Year" said. "He wasn't overly skilled coming out of high school. He basically would just turn at the basket and dunk it. In fact, that's kind of what he was as a freshman and was still MVP of the league. As his career unfolded, he really worked on ball skills. He improved his shooting form and jump shot and shooting range and became a lot more versatile, that's why he was a lottery pick as a junior."
Trent was selected 11th - highest ever for a Bobcat - by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1995 NBA Draft and was traded to the Portland Trailblazers as part of a draft-day deal. He averaged 8.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in his professional career, but, in 1998-99, he averaged 16.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a member of the Dallas Mavericks.
One aspect of Trent's game that was consistent throughout his career was his ability to rebound. He was a two-time MAC rebounding champion and one of only three players to amass 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career.
Because of Trent's size and athletic ability, Hunter sometimes instituted a "law" that was controversial to some of his players.
"Sometimes his teammates would get mad at me, but I would say in the huddle that the 'Gary Trent Rule' was in effect," Hunter said with a chuckle. "You couldn't shoot the basketball offensively until Gary Trent touched it. They'd say, 'Well he's double-teamed, we can't throw it in there!' I'd say, 'Just throw it in the area code, he'll catch it.'
"He had such great hands. He always wanted the basketball. That's just how it was. You didn't have to have a great angle to pass it in there. You didn't even need to make a good pass. If you just threw it up in the air in his area he'd go get it. The Geno Ford's and Gus Johnson's still tease me a little bit about the 'Gary Trent Rule.'"