Former Salem standout chasing his NBA dream, of sorts

George Browning

Trent Pennington always knew he wanted to have a career in the sports field. Originally he thought he’d one day be a sports agent. After an internship allowed him a glimpse into that industry, he decided to shift gears, and now he is working as the assistant general manager for the Lakeland Magic, which is an NBA G-League team for the Orlando Magic.

After graduating in Salem in 2013, Pennington went to Indiana University for five years. He was pursuing a degree in law and public policy.

“I wanted to do law school, but decided not to,” he said. “I stuck around for another calendar year to get my masters in sports administration.

“I knew in college I wanted to work in sports and I wanted to help out athletes off the court. Initially, I thought it made sense to be an agent. That’s why I went back to school for the extra year, because to be a certified agent you have to have a graduate degree.”

While he was in grad school Pennington interned for a firm in Indianapolis and got a chance to see what the world of sports agency was all about and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the path he wanted to take.

It was another internship, this time with the Indiana Pacers that sent him down the path he is currently taking.

“I had a great experience at the agency, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would,” Pennington said. “After that, I was back at ground zero trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I was fortunate enough to land an internship with the Pacers in their front office. That was kind of my launching pad into pro basketball.”

Pennington, who is the son of Roger Pennington and Susan Zollman, said his primary role with the Pacers was helping the team focus on the 2018 draft.

“I helped them out with a lot of their pre-draft process,” he said. “I helped them put together their team draft book as well as assisting players in and out of the market for draft workouts. I did routine intern tasks, as well, from filling up inventory stuff to working on side projects with other front office personnel.”

He said after his summer spent with the Pacers, he realized that was the route he wanted to take.

“Being with the Pacers and part of a team made me realize this was the side of the industry I wanted to be on,” Pennington said, “I kind of missed the team aspect of it when I was at the agency.”

Pennington said a parting gift provided by the Pacers was a list of all the former interns who had previously worked for the Pacers and where they are now and he used it to reach out to them.

“That list was like gold,” he said. “I took advantage of having that and started reaching out to people. There was an individual on the list who worked for the Orlando Magic and I reached out to him to just make contact. At the same time I was doing that I was sending e-mails and cold calling people and reaching out on LinkedIn. I simultaneously connected with another individual from the Orlando Magic and formed a relationship with them that summer.”

Pennington said one day he was looking online and saw the Lakeland Magic had an opening and he reached out to the people he connected with earlier through that list.

He eventually applied and ended up getting the position and he is thrilled things worked out the way they did.

“This is my fourth season with the team,” he said. “I was hired as an associate, starting from the ground up, filling up water bottles and doing laundry and driving players around. I love being in Florida, even though I am always a Hoosier. I miss the seasons from time to time, but when I come home at Christmas, it’s not so hard to leave knowing I am coming home to 80 degrees and sunshine.”

Pennington said he primarily works for Lakeland, but once in awhile he might have a few smaller duties for the Orlando Magic.

“I might have a few duties with Orlando, that is still to be determined, but my primary focus is with Lakeland - I am committed to making sure we are promoting a winning environment in Lakeland before anything else,” he said. “Orlando shows us a tremendous amount of support. They invite us to their training camp and have us observe and learn. We are just down the interstate. They come to our games a lot and are very resourceful for us.”

While he is happy with the road he is on, Pennington is cautious about making too many future plans.

“I always tell people that I’ve learned very quickly in this business you can’t plan out what next year is going to look like. I wanted to be a sports agent, then I got in on this side of things. It’s been good to me, but I know it could end with the snap of the fingers. For me, I just want to keep doing what I am doing. I have a passion and a love for the G-League. Maybe it’s not as flashy or as well known as the NBA, but you get to wear a lot of hats and because it’s a grind you get to know a lot of the staff and players and form meaningful friendships. Plus, helping players and staff take that next step, wherever it may be, is very rewarding.

“Right now, it’s just cool being a part of those players’ journeys. Maybe one day I will be a scout or a general manager, but I know I will be grateful doing whatever it ends up being!”

For now, Pennington just finished a busy draft season helping to compile the Lakeland Magic’s roster. He said while he stays pretty busy, he checks in with what’s going on back home.

“I love getting back home to Salem and visiting and keeping up with the sports around there,” he said. “I feel like every time I am on the phone with my dad catching up, we are talking about Salem sports and how the teams are looking and things like that.”

For anyone who would like to follow Lakeland, all of the games are streamed on, ESPN+ or NBATV.


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