Jent’s Heart Led Him Home
By Brandon Castel
Chris Jent had a job. He had a career. He was living the dream he always wanted, coaching basketball at the highest level.
As an assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jent was esteemed by his colleagues and respected by his players. He was at the top of his profession, working for an organization that had just recently drafted a franchise point guard.
Everything was headed in the right direction, but internally Jent could not shake the feeling that something was missing.
“I'd go to work every day and I'd be like, 'Man, this is fantastic, I'm an NBA coach,’” Jent told reporters Wednesday.
“I'd be on my drive home and my stomach and my gut kept pulling me back to Columbus and I couldn't deny that.”
Although he was born in California and grew up in New Jersey, Columbus had become home for Jent during his playing days at Ohio State. Known for his soft shooting touch and propensity for floor burns, he had become a fan favorite for the Buckeyes in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
His playing career would eventually take him all over the world, but Jent seemed to have found a home in Cleveland, where he had been for the last five seasons. He had served as the personal shooting coach to LeBron James before his decision to leave for Miami, but Jent was ready to start working with former Duke point guard and No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving before he received the call from OSU Head Coach Thad Matta.
“Everyone I would talk to said, 'Go with your gut,’” Jent said Wednesday.
“Outside of real life decisions, this is the hardest decision I have ever had to make in my life. For me to leave, it could have only been this type of situation. I am basically going back to home. I bleed scarlet and grey. That was it right there.”
The Buckeyes had tried to recruit Jent once before. It was back in 2006 after Jent had just been let go from his role as interim head coach of the Orlando Magic. Matta, who had taken over the Ohio State program two year earlier, thought Jent would be a perfect addition to his staff, but he was also being courted by second-year Cavaliers coach Mike Brown.
“It's no secret Chris was one of the best in the NBA at making players better,” Matta said Wednesday during Jent’s introductory press conference.
“To have that now on our staff and like I said with type of kids we're trying to recruit and where we're trying to get them and to make them as players and to make them as teammates, I don't know if I could've gotten anything better in the country than what he's going to bring to the table in that regard.”
Despite their close relationship, Matta admitted he was a little nervous to make the call after OSU assistant coach Brandon Miller resigned to spend more time with his family.
“I didn't know if he would ever have an interest and that's why I reached out to him and drove up (to Cleveland),” Matta said of Jent.
“I told him this could be the biggest recruit I've ever gone after.”
As a player, Jent scored more than 1,000 points for the Buckeyes between 1988-92, helping them to three-consecutive NCAA tournaments and back-to-back Big Ten championships. He averaged a career-best 12.6 points per game as a senior during the 1991-92 season, but went undrafted that summer and has bounced around the world of basketball ever since.
He played for obscure CBA teams like the Rapid City Thrillers and the Columbus Horizon and had a brief stint in Spain before finally catching on the NBA.
Jent won an NBA championship ring with the Houston Rockets in 1994, scoring a total of 31 points in 24 games as a little-used backup but quickly found himself back in the CBA. After one more stint in the NBA—he played 27 games with the New York Knicks in 1996—Jent spent the rest of his career in Italy and Greece before retiring from basketball after the 2001 season.
His knowledge of the game and pure shooting stroke landed him a job as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers for the 2003-04 season. The next season he would serve as interim head coach of the Orlando Magic for the final 18 games.
Jent’s claim to fame would come as an assistant with the Cavs when he worked with one of the biggest superstars in all of basketball. James even tried to recruit Jent to join him in Miami, but he was not ready to leave the Cavaliers.
“It allows me to expand my experience in coaching. I've never coached in college before and to learn from these guys and that facet of coaches, it's almost like another world for me and I'm obviously intrigued by it,” the 41-year old Jent said.
“The fact that it's my alma mater and a place I have a strong tie to, a strong gut feeling towards and a great amount of passion to, it made (the decision) easy. It helps you to grow as an individual to be at a university that takes such pride in its athletics.”
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