That Sudbury Sports Guy: Gray looks back on landmark season, ponders basketball future

Two-time U Sports men’s basketball player of the year Kadre Gray of the Laurentian Voyageurs carried the maple leaf into the opening ceremony of the 30th FISU Summer Universiade at San Paolo Stadium. Mathieu Belanger/Team Canada photo

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Kadre Gray smiles and bristles, just a little, as talk turns to the challenge of when to assert himself as a scorer, and when to involve more of his teammates.

“I laugh at that question all the time, because I’ve played with guys that are actual scorers,” stated the Laurentian Voyageurs veteran who has taken Canadian university basketball by storm over the course of three illustrious seasons, to date, in Sudbury.

“I can shoot and do a little bit of everything, but I’ve played with scorers, I know what scorers look like.”

A little perspective here, if you please. After all, we are talking about two-time U Sports men’s basketball MVP Kadre Gray, the same player who topped the entire country, averaging 31 points per game, after finishing second in that same category one year ago, at 24.4.

It certainly seems that the Toronto native knows a little something about scoring.

“I think of myself as a playmaker,” confessed Gray, one of four children in the family, who acknowledges a very heavy basketball influence from his older brother, Conrad.

“Sometimes, I come into games and I’m facilitating too much when I need to be more aggressive. It’s a constant thing that I fight with, knowing how to read the game.

“Me and Shawn talk about it all the time.”

In fact, most of the basketball journey that Gray has enjoyed to this point of his life has been something of a voyage of self-discovery. Simply put, the player that he is today is not necessarily the player that was projected, by many, in those developmental years following his initial introduction to the hardcourt in the basketball-rich environment that is the GTA.

“When I was at the age when kids are first getting discovered, I was not really on any teams,” said Gray. “I was just training with my brother in the backyard, not really having a goal, just playing basketball for the fun of it.”

In fact, it was only upon kicking off his high-school career at a veritable basketball factory that that Gray started to garner a greater appreciation for his potential in the sport, and the post-secondary possibilities that lie within.

“When I went to Eastern Commerce (Collegiate Institute), that’s when I got exposed to the basketball world,” he said. “There was a lot of talent, guys that I started to compete with, and I needed to find where I was at. I wasn’t really well known.

“I had a couple of decent years, was doing pretty well for myself, but I was never really that phenom.”

Even when his plans to attend North West Kansas junior college fell through with a coaching change in his final year of secondary schooling, Gray still managed to fly under the radar of OUA coaches. His eventual commitment to the Laurentian Voyageurs was far more good luck than any kind of visionary unearthing on an undiscovered gem.

That realization came later.

The confluence of good fortune for LU bench boss Shawn Swords involved a longtime trio of friends back home in the form of Josis Mikia-Thomas, Hediyeh Karimian and Gray. Together, they all came to exactly the same conclusion upon meeting the Olympian turned basketball coach in Sudbury.

“The three of us were basically a family, and we just loved who Shawn was, not the basketball stuff, but who he was as a person,” said Gray. “I could feel his energy, I could feel all of it. It made it easy to select here. It all fell into place, all of the pieces came together.”

The same could be said of the phenomenal three-year resume which Gray has compiled at Laurentian. A national rookie of the year campaign flowed seamlessly into back-to-back U Sports MVP honours for the 21-year-old, who has also now enjoyed the thrill of competing with the national team.

Talk to those who know him well, talk to the man himself, and you get the feeling that his ability to reach these heights, in terms of his performance on the court, heights that exceed many times over the initial expectations, are rooted in two very key personal traits in the makeup of Kadre Gray: An unbelievable work ethic and a belief that he still has plenty to prove.

“That was always my approach, that you had to come in and show who you are, not only on the court, but who you are, as a person,” said Gray.

Even as the accolades grew, the young man who considers his faith as the stable foundation upon which all else is built is quick to focus on staying grounded.

“To be honest with you, I never wanted to be completely comfortable. As soon as you get comfortable, somebody takes your spot.”

Though his selection to the recent FISU Games team that competed last month in Italy might have been an absolute no-brainer for the folks who compiled the roster of Canadian university talent, his choice as the flag bearer for the opening ceremonies at the Summer Universiade was much-appreciated icing on the cake.

“I was at home when I got the call to be the flag-bearer – I didn’t really understand that it was a big deal,” Gray admitted. “It didn’t sink in until I was out there, walking in front of Team Canada and going around that arena. I remember watching the Olympics and the crowd just looks like dots, but those are actual people.”

With roughly a month to go until the start of a new school year at LU, there is no guarantee, just yet, that we have seen the last of this generational talent in Sudbury. Understandably, Gray is listening to offers to turn pro, relying heavily upon the wisdom of his coach and friend, who also happened to play professionally in Europe before returning to his alma mater to lead the up and coming ballers into action.

“I’ve stressed about it a little,” said Gray. “I’ve come to the mindset to just let God handle that and let Jesus do the rest. Me stressing about it is not going to do anything. It’s not going to speed up the process.”

For as much as Gray has not discounted suiting up for a fourth season with the Voyageurs, he’s also open to much, much more.

“Coming back doesn’t hurt me at all, I can only get better,” he said. “But I know that I am capable of playing in the NBA. “I have to work on a ton of things to put myself in a position to do that. I think, because of what I believe in and who I am as a person, I never shut any door.”

And if his past history proves anything, there are surely still many more doors to be opened for Kadre Gray.     

Randy Pascal is That Sudbury Sports Guy. His column runs regularly in The Sudbury Star.