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Apple Valley's Gary Trent Jr. (Matthew Hintz, Special to the Star Tribune)
Apple Valley sophomore-to-be Gary Trent Jr. seemed surprised by the question.
“Do I feel any pressure?” he repeated. “No, not really.”
Not from expectations that come with sharing the same name — and sport — as his nine-year NBA veteran father, former Timberwolf Gary Trent?
Not from being one of the key returning pieces for the Eagles, who need to replace national standout and future Duke Blue Devil point guard Tyus Jones?
Well, what about being ranked as the No. 20 prospect in country for the 2017 class by ESPN?
“You can’t think about what other people are saying,” Trent said. “I just love playing. When you love playing so much, it just kind of comes naturally that you can block it out. I just want to play ball.”
Trent, a 6-3 shooting guard who prefers to go by “J.R.,” has tools to eventually become the new “it” player in Minnesota. He’s an athletic, quick and still-growing scorer with refined basketball skills beyond his age, Apple Valley coach Zach Goring said.
This summer he’s playing with his Apple Valley teammates in a South Suburban Conference league and AAU basketball with Howard Pulley.
Goring is equally unconcerned about the expectations for Trent.
“It’s been really neat to see his maturity going from an eighth-grader on JV to now being a 10th-grader this year. He’s grown a ton,” Goring said. “He’ll be a big part of everything we’re doing this year.”
Apple Valley has compiled a 58-3 record over the past two seasons. The Eagles have won 40 consecutive games in the South Suburban Conference and captured a Class 4A title in 2013.
The program’s success stems from a talented core of players.
“High school coaching is about the kids,” Goring said. “When you get the kids that can really play, every coach tends to look good.”
The focus of many — and rightly so, Goring said — has been on Jones since he first burst onto the national scene several years ago. But the Eagles had plenty of players in waiting.
Jones’ younger brother, Tre, will be the team’s starting point guard this season as a freshman. Brock Bertram, a 6-11 junior, will be one of the team’s captains, and senior Steven Christiansen and junior Cameron Kirksey will also play big roles.
Then there’s Trent. He averaged 10.4 points per game as a freshman last year, and cemented himself early into the starting lineup.
“He’s one of those kids who always seems to play better against the best teams,” Goring said. “His first start, against a really good DeLaSalle team, he scores [a career-high 18 points] and helps us to a big win. He’s a pressure player.”
There’s that word again, something Trent brushes off. He said he’s not worried about college recruiting or expectations.
“My only focus is on being successful in the classroom and win as many state championships as we can,” he said. “We’re excited about this year. I just love playing, and I can’t wait to get going again.”