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Monday, November 19, 2018

Football

Exiting the gray area, junior looks to become star


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Junior guard Rob Gray Jr. led the Cougars in scoring last season with 16 points per game. | Reagan Earnst/The Cougar

Just three years ago, one member of the basketball team couldn’t even find playing time on the Junior College level. Now entering his second season as a Cougar, third-year guard Rob Gray Jr. is playing an important part in UH’s revamped basketball program.

In his first season after transferring from Howard Junior College, Gray had an impressive year statistically. At 16 points per game, he was the leading scorer on the team and the second highest scorer in the American Athletic Conference.

The junior guard says that the speed of the Division One game came as a surprise initially, but he is getting more comfortable as he gains experience.

“I learned a lot about Coach Sampson’s culture and how the Division I game is, as far as its way more athletic and played at a faster pace,” Gray said. “I think as far as last year it’s definitely going to help me as far as knowing the game and slowing it down to pay attention to the minor details.”

Gray proved to be instrumental in a season where the Cougars had one of the NCAA’s most improved records from the year before.

Despite the season ending prematurely with a disappointing loss to Tulane University in the first round of the Conference Tournament, head coach Kelvin Sampson is happy with both the teams and Gray’s improvement.

Gaining experience

Sampson inherited a team with just five players on the roster when he became head coach in 2014.

Although it’s been a struggle to have experience on the court, Sampson says that now having returning players like Gray is what will help get the program to where they want to be.

Even with just one season at the D-1 level under his belt, Gray will be looked at guide the younger players on the team. With this expectation comes greater responsibility.

“Finally in year three we have some returning players,” Sampson said. “Not only do we have good returning players; we have really good returning players. I’m excited to have a lot of veterans back that we can use to teach our new guys, whereas before we couldn’t do that.”

Attention to detail

Sampson and his coaching staff have put in numerous hours in the film room in order to see what their players need to work on in every aspect of the game.

Like his coaches, Gray is spending his time watching film of himself to see where he could improve in order to help the team win. The Forest City, North Carolina native is trying to become a more round player by paying special attention to his fitness.

“This particular offseason I’ve been working on my body and my conditioning,” Gray said. “(I’ve been) watching film from last year so I can know the mistakes and really understand the decision making in what I was doing wrong so I can be better for the team this year.”

Gray is not alone in this endeavor.

In the blistering summer months before classes were in session, Gray and his teammates could be seen running laps at the Carl Lewis Complex early in the morning. Before heading back inside, the team typically hung around for a few minutes to watch football go through their fall workouts—a team whose sudden success basketball will try to emulate.

Room for improvement

Sampson and onlookers can see the talent and potential that Gray possesses and how valuable he is to the team. Even with this, they are aware that Gray still has a lot to prove in his second year on the team.

“Improve his maturity,” said Sampson. “Just because you put up good numbers doesn’t mean you had a good year. I think Rob’s got to improve his shot selection, his discipline, his defense.”

Even though Gray led the team in scoring, he struggled to fill the stat sheet in other areas. Gray averaged just 1.5 assists and 2.2 rebounds last season which are both marks that he will try to increase in 2016.

Sampson says that he needs to improve his court awareness in order to become a more effective distributor and defender. Gray will have plenty of opportunities as he is expected to be both the team’s starting shooting guard and back-up point guard.

Many are ready to see what Gray can do this season with full utilization of his raw ability.

“Rob’s a talented kid,” said Sampson. “He’s one of those kids that’s a joy to coach. I love him to death and I’m excited about the year I think he can have.”

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