STILLWATER, Okla. — Poring through highlights of Josh Gray’s time at Houston Wheatley High, it was easy to detect the team’s game plan: Give the ball to Gray and get out of the way.
The strategy helped Gray gain confidence that he could make plays at any point in a game, but it also had its drawbacks for the talented point guard. Among them: The intricacies of running an offense took a back seat.
“I was never coached in high school by a really good coach, so I came in not knowing everything,” Gray said.
“Coach Walker has really taught me a lot and showed me different things. So I’ve learned everything about the game, really. I’m still learning.”
Gray’s evolution will continue at 1 p.m. Saturday as the Red Raiders (8-7, 1-3 in Big 12) face Oklahoma State (11-4, 1-2) with hopes of breaking a three-game losing streak.
The point-guard position will be a point of emphasis as Tech tries to contain do-it-all freshman Marcus Smart, the only player in the Big 12 who ranks in the top 20 in five major statistical categories — steals (first), assists (fifth), scoring (eighth), blocked shots (11th) and rebounding (19th).
Gray lacks the McDonald’s All-American pedigree of Smart and hasn’t produced the same gaudy numbers — few anywhere in the country have — but Tech’s own freshman point guard has quietly made significant strides in recent weeks that have provided glimpses of his high potential.
To wit: After turning the ball over six times in the Big 12 opener against TCU, Gray has coughed it up only four times combined in the last three games. Though his scoring average is down in league play thus far (7.3 points per game compared to 10.4 in non-conference action), he has been more efficient running Tech’s half-court sets.
“It’s really just slowing the game down and listening to my coaches,” Gray said. “When I came in, I didn’t know anything about how to play the point-guard position. That’s what I didn’t know in high school.”
At Wheatley, Gray was an attacker and high volume scorer. Tech coach Chris Walker, who like Gray played his prep ball in Houston, knows firsthand how difficult the transition is from that role to one of facilitator.
“I tell him, ‘Hey, I struggled with the same thing during my freshman year at Villanova,’” said Walker, who played that position during four seasons with the Wildcats. “It’s part of the process.”
Still, Walker said Gray is “light years” ahead of where he was when he arrived on campus this summer. The coach has been most pleased with the ball control. He has forced fewer bad shots, too.
“It’s just something we continue to harp on every single day,” Walker said. “He has his days just like anybody else, but he’s been a joy to coach.”
One difficult part of the transition, Gray said, is explaining to loved ones that he can’t be the same kind of player in college as he was in high school. Gray said he usually talks to his beloved grandmother, Elaine Robinson, twice a day. Those conversations often end the same way. With Robinson telling her grandson to shoot more.
Gray just grins.
“She sees my games on TV and wonders why I’m not shooting the ball more,” Gray said, “and everybody in my (home) city (of Lake Charles, La.) wonders why I’m not shooting the ball more. They saw what kind of player I was in high school, but they don’t understand that it’s a different level. You can’t come out and just shoot the ball all the time. I’m a point guard, and I have to come out and run my team.”
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