Whatever Happened to Justin Gray?
In college basketball, the faces of a program are sculpted in sand, not stone.
At best, fans will get to see a supremely talented player for only four years and most times, that tenure is even shorter.
While the select few get their mark forever etched in history, most fade away from the loving limelight of their college.
I began this journey when contemplating an article of the greatest ACC players of this decade.
Three names came to me almost instantly.
First you have the most recent great Tyler Hansbrough, the all-time UNC scoring leader and national champion.
Second is J.J. Redick, the scoring sensation that made ACC coaches want to tear their hair out.
Third is Chris Paul, one of the greatest point guards in ACC history.
However, when thinking of Paul the college player, you cannot help but think of his back-court mate.
Justin Gray was one of the greatest basketball players in Wake Forest history.
The Oak Hill product had a strong freshman year but his breakout sophomore year came when he played alongside freshman Paul in 2003-04 en route to a Sweet Sixteen berth.
Paul may have stolen the spotlight, but Gray was a first-team All-ACC selection and averaged over 17.0 points per game at the end of the season.
Indeed, even ESPN, a program based on stars, began to wonder if Gray was really the best Deacon.
The two were an amazing tandem. They were roommates, teammates, gold medalists at the U21 Championships, and now they were poster boys for a resurgent Demon Deacon program.
That is until Paul left Wake Forest after an early NCAA tournament exit his sophomore year. With all the hype and buzz of a difference maker for an NBA team along with an impressive defensive game, Paul was destined to make his name known throughout the world.
Gray had some buzz of his own but he made the decision to stay at Wake Forest for his senior year, even without his wingman.
Gray still had something to prove to the critics. Those NBA experts that said his scoring was streaky and his defense was suspect.
Could Gray even play point guard or was he simply coasting off the greatness of Paul?
Well, Gray's senior year certainly had ups and downs.
Having defenses focus solely on Gray made him shoot his worst percentage from the field in all four years at Wake Forest, but he was still able to average a career-best 18.2 points per game.
Only J.J. Redick had more three-point field goals that season.
Gray's assists skyrocketed from 74 his junior year to a 141, fifth-best in the ACC.
In total, Gray finished in the top ten in six different conference categories for a second-team All-ACC honors.
However, while Gray had bright moments, his team struggled to a 17-17 record due to a 3-13 mark in the ACC.
Gray may have been shooting nearly 20 points per game in the ACC, but inexperienced teammates and poor defense made Wake Forest a joke until a surprising ACC tournament run in which the 12th-seeded Deacons made it all the way to the semi-finals before losing to Duke.
In total, Gray left Wake Forest with some impressive numbers.
Gray finished his campaign as a Demon Deacon re-writing the school record books, finishing in the top ten for career points, assists, steals, free throws, games started, three-pointers, and eight other categories.
Sure, Gray was not the defender of Chris Paul, but he did draw 32 charges over his career and last time I checked, other great ACC shooters have landed high on draft boards despite not playing defense.
Gray came back in 2006 and surprised the draft experts with his improved ball-handling. That point guard prowess matched with a deadly shot had to foretell NBA dreams, right?
Go ahead and google Justin Gray. It's okay, I will wait.
It might be easy to think that Justin Gray disappeared from the face of the Earth (or became a musician).
Gray does not even have a wikipedia page to his credit. How the mighty have fallen.
After not being drafted, Justin Gray has been shipped around Europe.
After two years in the Belgian League, Gray recently joined the Czech Republic team Nyburk, which were league champions last season.
Gray may never have his NBA dreams fulfilled, but he has one intangible quality which few players ever possess.
Gray had a knack for putting up big-game performances.
Even at the 2009 Eurocup, Gray's scoring, three-pointers and assists all went up during that six-game stretch than during the regular season.
While at Wake Forest, Gray's points per game were higher three out of four seasons in the ACC than in the out-of-conference games.
Gray still holds the school-record with 10 assists in an ACC tournament game against N.C. State.
In the Sweet Sixteen game against St. Joe's, Gray had 23 points, nearly double that of Chris Paul.
However, those great performances were also mired by head-scratching games where Gray simply disappeared.
That inconsistency may keep Gray out of the limelight, but those amazing performances earn him a spot in the heart of every Screamin' Deacon.
Good luck to Mr. Gray as he continues what one can only hope to be a long and productive career playing basketball.
Now let's work on getting him that Wikipedia page!
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