Trent Gay's Comeback 

Trent Gay built a successful career and coached multiple future NBA athletes including Isaiah Thomas and Klay Thompson before his struggles with substance use brought everything crashing down. Today, Trent is training to become a pastor, raising two foster children and uses his coaching skills to help people exiting homelessness find fulfilling employment. This is his story — in his own words.

I was born in Portland, Oregon, and I lived here through 1977 when my family moved to Denver, Colorado, to start a church. I had a perfect childhood. I had two parents at home. I was a preacher’s kid, so I think there was hope in my parents’ minds that someday, I would keep the church going after they were gone.

I was an athlete growing up, and I fell in love with basketball. I dreamed of winning tournaments, titles, championships, and someday making it to the NBA. I set goals, and I was meeting them. I pushed myself. But then I got injured at the University of Portland. So, I never did get my pro career.

I started working at Safeway as a seafood manager, and I put the same drive I had when playing basketball into my work. I went into their management program to learn everything about managing the grocery, deli, bakery dairy, produce, shipping, and receiving. Then, I managed multiple stores.

At the same time, I started coaching kids and teens in basketball. Since I couldn’t achieve my dream of going into the NBA, I wanted to help others get there. Well, my first group of kids gave me all of my dreams. They won all the youth tournaments, and we played for the national title. Out of that group, I was blessed to coach Klay Thompson, Kevin Love, Kyle Singler, and Isaiah Thomas, who all made it to the NBA. I built this tournament for 3rd to 8th grade players called the Presidents Day All American Tournament, sponsored by Nike and we brought in the top teams. Between 2002 and 2009, 45 NBA draft lottery picks were kids who had played in my tournament.

I got to know Ernie Spada Jr., the father of one of the kids I coached. His company, United Salad, donated food for a basketball banquet, and we got to talking about the food business. He was impressed with my knowledge of the industry. One day he said, “I want to show you something.” He wrote something on a piece of paper. It was a salary, a vacation, and I was like, “Hmmm. That looks way better than what I’m doing right now.” And he asked when I could start. I told him, “Give me two weeks.”

United Salad was the last place I worked before everything changed.

It was 2009, and it had been 20 years since I had smoked crack cocaine as a performance enhancer when I was playing basketball. I found myself gaining weight, and I got diabetes. I heard about a drug that you take, sit back, and it would burn the fat off. I thought, “That sure sounds a lot like cocaine.” I thought it was ok since this time, I wasn’t smoking it; I was snorting it. Well, one day, I was pulled over, and I had cocaine on me. I was able to bail myself out of jail the next morning, but it was a costly mistake. I lost my job at United Salad, and my basketball went down the drain. It was a dark time in my life.

I had dealt with roadblocks before. I did whatever it took for me to be able to survive. I did some things I wasn’t proud to find myself doing. My wife and I were having issues and I was thinking of moving to Denver to help my mom with the church. Then in 2015, I ended up in jail again.

I didn’t pay the bail to get myself out this time. I knew I was innocent, so I was like, “I have time.” But I wasn’t used to being locked down. When they threw me in a small cell for 23 hours a day with no books, no nothing, I had extreme anxiety. So, I prayed and said, “God, you know what? It’s time.” I had been resisting, but I finally gave my surrender. I said, “Lord, I give my life back over to you.” Then a few minutes after that, I was speaking in another language, the tears came, and all this happiness and joy that I had inside, just came pouring out. I asked God to open up the roof and all of a sudden, time just started going away.

I got out of jail. The court date was set for a year from then. I was homeless. I stayed with family for a few months, and then my sister urged me to go into the Central City Concern Recovery Mentor program. I was too proud at first, but the Mentor program was the best thing I ever did.

By the time I went in for my court date, my mentor, Torrence, wrote a letter about me for my case. When the judge read the letter, she was like, “You’re at Central City Concern? Are you in the Mentor Recovery program? That is the best program that I’ve ever seen. My son went through Central City Concern.” She put me on probation and told me to send her the paperwork when I was done with the program.

I continued to show myself faithful to God, and he continued to show himself faithful in my career. I graduated from the mentor program, and I was able to get an on-call position with CCC Social Enterprises. It was hard starting at the bottom and it wasn’t a lot of money, but it allowed me to do things that I couldn’t do even when I had a lot of money. I didn’t have all of the bills that I had back then. I bought a car. I was able to purchase new clothes. As I worked on-call, I got to learn about everything CCC does. Eventually, I was offered a job as an Employment Specialist, which was the job that I wanted.

My current work is funded through a grant from “A Home for Everyone” to help homeless people get back on their feet. When I work with clients, I think back to my coaching days. Like I did with my players, I show them I have confidence in them. I tell them, “We need to build on the skills you already have, and I can show you how to transfer those into something positive.” Some of them have excellent skills to survive on the streets. It’s been tremendous to see the successes of people who thought there was no help for them. They didn’t know that they could get a Commercial Driver’s License paid in full. They didn’t realize that they could get trade training. They didn’t think they could get a college scholarship if they took one of our Upskills classes.

I became a minister in the Full-Gospel Pentecostal Church, and I just got ordained to be an elder. I’m in training to become a pastor one day. I’ve kept God first in my life, and he’s been adding all these things. And one of the things he’s added is two foster kids.

I love being able to shape more young people’s lives. They need someone positive. I can show them what it’s like to be in a household where you experience family and learn how to overcome roadblocks. When they first saw my house and cars, they said, “Well you don’t really know.” I told them I was homeless five years ago, and that put it more in perspective for them. They think, “Maybe I can go on to bigger and better things too.”

My five years of being clean are right around the corner. Being able to live a life of recovery has been so good for me. I have this joy. I have this happiness and life continues to be good. When I’m going through something, I have faith that it will work itself out. So, I don’t let it get me down. I don’t get upset. I know that it’s going to work the way it’s supposed to.

It’s just been tremendous to be here at CCC and have the clientele that I have. To be able to help and serve is more rewarding than money to me. I thought nothing would match my prior career, but what I’ve accomplished today is more than I could ever achieve in my previous work life and my home life.

Photo Captions

1. Trent Gay stands for his portrait in front of Black Lives Matter street art in downtown Portland.

2. Trent in 1998 with his first team of youth players. NBA athlete Klay Thompson is first on the left and his brother Michael Thompson Jr., who also played in the NBA, is right behind him.

3. Trent with NBA player Isaiah Thomas, one of Trent’s first youth basketball players

4. Trent coached NBA player, Kevin Love (in blue jacket) from when he was 10 to 16. Love was the first player in Oregon state history to be named high school player of the year three times.

5. In 2019, Trent received the HILLTOP Award (Heroes Inspiring Leadership, Learning, Teamwork, Opportunity and Pride) for demonstrating an extraordinary capacity for helping individuals, families and communities resolve issues of poverty.

Central City Concern is proud to employ people from all backgrounds, walks of life and histories. Around half of our staff identify as being in recovery and have been participants in CCC services or similar programs in the past. Want to utilize your unique life experiences while doing meaningful work for our clients and our community? View our current job listings and apply to join our team!