Chris Walker is always looking for motivational nuggets from every corner of the sports world to inspire his players.
Whether it’s drawing lessons from an underdog San Francisco Giants team that battled from the brink of elimination to win the World Series, or illustrating that the Oregon football team’s high-speed offense thrives on the same controlled chaos the Red Raiders strive for, the Texas Tech basketball coach is always looking for new ways to spread his message.
Finding words of wisdom to bestow upon freshman point guard Josh Gray can be as easy as a few quick texts or a call to Walker’s close friend Ed Pinckney, an assistant coach with the Chicago Bulls and former Final Four most valuable player at Walker’s alma mater, Villanova.
“(Gray’s) favorite player is Derrick Rose, and I tease him all the time,” Walker said, “because (Pinckney) is an assistant with the Bulls. I always get nuggets from him and tell (Gray), ‘Derrick Rose wouldn’t do that. Derrick Rose wouldn’t do this.’ It’s just to make him understand, if this is where you’re trying to go — and this is a guy you emulate — if he wouldn’t do that, why you do that? But Josh has been great.”
Regardless the method of delivery, Walker said he has been pleased with the way Gray has accepted coaching and shown an ability to learn in a short time on campus. Key to that evolution has been the realization that he doesn’t always have to be the one with the ball in his hands to make an impact.
“From where he was when he came here in the summer to now,” Walker said of Gray, “it’s like light years. We come from a “Me” culture in basketball, where AAU and high school is centered on the best player. When you come to a place where everybody is recruited and everybody is good, and he’s in a situation where he has to blend his talents in, that’s hard for a kid to learn, especially if he’s highly recruited by a bunch of schools. I think Josh has a great attitude, and he’s gotten exponentially better.”
Gauging Gray’s improvement from his first career game to his second is a good place to start. He scored 10 points in the opener against Prairie View A&M, but he needed 14 shots to get there. He also turned the ball over five times against four assists, appearing at times to force the action.
In last week’s win against Nebraska-Omaha, Gray used better shot selection (6 of 13; 3 of 5 from 3-point range) to score 15 points. He also added four assists to just one turnover, while grabbing seven rebounds — including a team-high four on the offensive end.
“Translating from high school to college,” Gray said, “slowing my game down, that’s what I’ve learned. ... Game one, I had never experienced a college basketball game, so I didn’t know what it was like. I’ve been doing better every game, and I’m learning every game. Once I get the ins and outs about it, I’m going to be all right.”
Gray and the Red Raiders (2-0) host Grambling State (0-4) at 8 p.m. Tuesday, insisting they’ll treat a game against one of college basketball’s worst programs as another opportunity to improve.
“We’re going to approach it,” Gray said, “like we’re playing North Carolina or Duke.”
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