Gray to NBA? Hornet star eyes draft

Kendall Gray is seeking to become the first Delawarean drafted into the NBA since Laron Profit from Caesar Rodney High was picked by the Orlando Magic in the second round of the 1999 draft. Delaware State has never had a player drafted. (Delaware State News file photo)

Kendall Gray is seeking to become the first Delawarean drafted into the NBA since Laron Profit from Caesar Rodney High was picked by the Orlando Magic in the second round of the 1999 draft. Delaware State has never had a player drafted. (Delaware State News file photo)

Kendall Gray says he never traveled too much growing up.

He’s getting to do a lot of that now.

His itinerary this week was a pro-day in Las Vegas Friday, a workout with the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday before a flight back to Las Vegas at night. Up next is a trip to Denver to work out with the Denver Nuggets followed by a flight to Detroit to visit with the Detroit Pistons.

“It’s a steady grind,” Gray said. “It’s something I’m not used to because I’ve never got to travel a lot, but I’m doing what I’ve always dreamed about.”

Gray, from Polytech High and who recently wrapped up his senior year at Delaware State University, is currently making the rounds ahead of the upcoming NBA Draft on Thursday, June 25.

He is seeking to become the first Delawarean drafted into the NBA since Laron Profit from Caesar Rodney High was picked by the Orlando Magic in the second round of the 1999 draft. Delaware State has never had a player drafted.

Gray has also worked out for the Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs, Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Hornets, Utah Jazz, Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers since the end of the college basketball season.

All this for someone who was relatively unknown outside of Dover and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference a year ago.

“He went from nobody knowing him to MEAC Player of the Year,” said DSU coach Keith Walker. “He did that in one year. You got to hold onto your seat because he’s still got a ways to go.”

‘He just kept growing’

John Pierce Jr. still can’t believe it.

Gray didn’t make first team All-State as a senior at Polytech. He wasn’t even named on the second and third teams either as he settled for an honorable mention.

This was despite averaging a triple-double in points, rebounds and blocks.

“I knew his rebounding and blocked shots would help us win and he didn’t get credit for it,” said Pierce, Polytech’s coach. “I couldn’t believe he wasn’t getting any credit for it. To average a triple double, and the last double was blocks, that’s unbelievable.”

Pierce remembers what he first thought when he met Gray at Polytech.

“Wow, we finally got some height,” he recalls with a laugh.

But that was just the beginning.

Gray never stopped growing. He grew year by year at Polytech until he was 6-foot-7 by his senior season.

His senior year was when he put it all together.

“He would get used to his body and then grow some more,” Pierce said. “Then he would grow some more. Then his knees would be hurting because he wasn’t used to the extra height. Then once you think he was done, he’d grow some more. He just kept growing. It would take him awhile to get used to it but senior year he was actually set.”

Delaware State was Gray’s only scholarship offer out of Polytech.

“He came in with a lot of athletic ability,” Walker said. “But he definitely had to be refined in a couple of ways. One, he had to be better on offensive side, and two he had to be made aware of where to be and what to do on the floor.”

The one thing Gray always had, though, was his shot-blocking ability. It also helped that he eventually grew to be 6-foot-10.

He was ninth in the nation with 54 blocks as a freshman before he went down for the year with a knee injury.

That injury served as a wakeup call for Gray.

“That motivated me because it showed the game could be taken away from you,” Gray said.

A rebounding machine

Before Gray’s senior season at DelState, Walker, who had just gotten the head coaching job after Greg Jackson was fired midway through the 2013-2014 season, made a few things clear to his senior center.

One was if Gray concentrated on his rebounding, a lot of doors would open for him. The second was he needed to step up the intensity of his workouts in practice.

Gray did those things and heads started to turn.

His coming out party was when the Hornets beat Wake Forest 72-65 on Nov. 28 in DSU’s first ever win over an ACC opponent. Gray recorded 16 rebounds, 14 points and blocked eight shots.

Then came an 11-game stretch of double-digit rebound totals that was highlighted by 22 against Morgan State, which Gray topped a week later with 23 against South Carolina State.

“Every team loves rebounders,” Gray said. “That’s when the calls started coming.”

NBA scouts at DSU home games during MEAC play were a fairly common occurrence. Walker said he had plenty of injuries from agents and calls from about 10 NBA teams regarding Gray.

“He can certainly be a shot-blocker and rebounder,” Walker said. “I tell the NBA scouts that’s he’s definitely one I would keep even in the 11 and 12 spot.“

Then there was the game where Gray was able to truly thrust himself into the national spotlight.

In the regular season finale against Coppin State, he netted 33 points and grabbed 30 rebounds. Both numbers were career-highs and he was only the second player since 1970 to have a 30-30 game. It got him featured on ESPN’s SportsCenter and all of the national sports websites.

At the end of the year, Gray was rewarded with the MEAC Player of the Year award and was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Only one other player has ever won both those awards in the same season. That’s Kyle O’Quinn from Norfolk State, who was drafted by the Orlando Magic in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft.

Gray finished as the second-leading rebounder in the nation, averaging 11.8 a game.

Gray, 23, understands he’s not likely to be picked in the first round.

He said he’s heard from teams who could pick him in the second round. They all like his rebounding and shot-blocking as a rim-protector in today’s NBA in the same role as Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers or Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers.

“As a sleeper pick coming from a small school, they see all my energy and effort with defense and rebounding,” Gray said. “All teams see the potential I have. I just need someone to pull the trigger on me.”

“I know a lot of people who like him,” Walker said. “A lot of people were following him throughout the season and look at him as a guy who can help down the road. They see the same thing that I do. All you can ask for is a chance.”

Even if he isn’t drafted, Gray is likely to get a shot in a summer camp as a free agent. He could possibly join Emanual Davis as former Hornets to have made the NBA. Davis played for the Houston Rockets, Seattle Supersonics and Atlanta Hawks in six NBA seasons and last played in 2003.

There have only been three players drafted who played in the Henlopen Conference, with Profit being the most recent. The others are Jimmy Allen (Cape Henlopen), who was selected by the Boston Celtics in the 1979 draft, and Charlie Rayne (Indian River), picked by the Phoenix Suns in 1985.

Polytech has had a player drafted in the WNBA Draft. Tyresa Smith was drafted in 2007 out of the University of Delaware by the Phoenix Mercury.
But it’s the first time Pierce has been through this process with a former player. The other week he spoke to a member of the Detroit Pistons’ staff who was inquiring about Gray.

“That was pretty cool,” Pierce said of that phone call. “Some kids dream and talk about this and he’s going out and doing it. It’s a win-win for us at Polytech. Kids can see that if they work hard then these types of opportunities will be available to them.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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