OKLAHOMA CITY – The flushed face, glazed over eyes, and low energy feeling being exerted from Gary Trent Jr.’s face was what his teammates witnessed at their team meeting Saturday morning in OKC.
Trent Jr. not only played, he dropped a 30-piece.
“There’s no way I thought he was playing today,” Carmelo Anthony chuckled when thinking about how Trent Jr. was barely moving at the team meeting.
With injuries and a trade that sent Kent Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver to Sacramento, the Blazers had the required league-minimum of eight players on the active roster.
One of those eight was Trent Jr. who was still dealing with a “flu-like” illness.
Fortunately for the Blazers, he was feeling a lot better by tip-off.
“When you’re sick, the morning is always the worst,” Trent Jr. said postgame. “You’re groggy, you’re tired, you’re sore and obviously playing that night before, but like I said though, the medical staff made sure I was well prepared for the game. So, I’m fortunate they were there for me."
Portland fell to the Thunder 119-106 despite Trent Jr.’s career-high and Damian Lillard’s 34-point performance.
The short-handed Blazers clearly ran out of gas Saturday night.
But, even though it didn’t look like Trent Jr. had any gas left in his tank after dealing with the worst of the illness Friday night in Dallas, he wasn't about to take a sick day.
There was no time when I didn’t think that I wasn’t going to be good to go. You know, your job is to play basketball. Some people go to work still sick, you still have to work, you still have to do your job in a sense. I was always going to be available no matter what my state was. -- Trail Blazers shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. said postgame
And hey, “just be great,” right?
That mantra is found all over Trent Jr.'s social media accounts whether he’s posting a photo to Instagram or tweeting out a highlight video with the ‘love-you gesture’ emoji hands, he says he not only plays by that motto, but also lives by it.
The now 21-year-old says he was trying to come up with a saying since LeBron James coined the ‘strive for greatness’ phrase and once he came up with ‘just be great,’ he “has been running with it ever since.”
“I’ve been saying that for a while now, since like high school,” Trent Jr. said.
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts reminded the media before the game that it was Trent Jr.’s 21st birthday. After the game, he gave praise to the birthday boy.
“I was very happy Gary Trent had a good game. Obviously, it was one of the best games of his career. Particularly coming off an illness, I thought that was a great game by him."
Anytime a professional athlete has a career night and doesn’t get the win, they’re obviously not satisfied.
“We came here to win,” Trent Jr. said. “I’m not here to get numbers, but it was a great thing for my birthday. But we lost, so we have to go back to the drawing board, and a good thing about the NBA is that we have another game Monday to redeem ourselves.”
A person's 21st birthday is usually one they remember forever. The best year in a long string of birthdays. That may not be the case for Trent. Not only was he sick, but his 21st birthday has some stiff competition.
“My 21st birthday I was sick, so nothing can beat five-year-old, six-year-old at Chucky Cheese,” Trent Jr. said with a smile. “It’s second to that,” he laughed.
Even with slightly glazed over eyes still late Saturday night, the second-year player grinned from ear to ear when talking about his birthday's of the past.
“There was a place that I used to love growing up in Columbus, Ohio called Magic Mountain. It was super fun. It’s an arcade mixed with a thirty-foot jungle gym. You should really check it out.”
While Magic Mountain is going to have to wait until the offseason, right now the Blazers are forced to battle through injuries and then work to integrate their new players on the roster.
Portland’s All-Star point guard Damian Lillard is going to continue to be proud of what Trent Jr. did on Saturday night, but also what he’s been able to do to improve this season.
“He’s battling the flu. He’s tough for lasting through two nights playing through the sickness, and he had a great game. He was aggressive. He shot the ball well. He played a great game,” Lillard said. “We knew he could fill it up coming in. In training camp, he was scoring and was able to get baskets, I think his understanding of the game has improved from last year to this year as far as recognizing plays calls, remembering coverages, knowing personnel, knowing where to be, knowing how to make plays and be in positions.”
Trent Jr. knew he could not call in sick with his team so undermanned. He has always said he is here to do whatever he needs to do to help his team win and with no CJ McCollum because of a left ankle sprain, Trent Jr. was doing his best to pick up the slack.
January 18th, 2019 will always be known as the Gary Trent Jr. Birthday Flu Game.