Basketball Recruit’s Goal: ‘Show’ People
New Recruit Has ‘Big Chip’ On His Shoulder
HARRISONBURG – Winston Grays is used to being doubted.
As a kid growing up in Cleveland, the James Madison basketball program’s newest recruit was almost always the shortest player on his AAU team.
To counteract that height deficiency, Grays – under the direction of his coach, a self-described perfectionist and disciplinarian who also happened to be his father – locked in on the facets of the game he could control: shooting and decision making.
“Winston could make a jumper before he could tie his shoes,” Grays’ father, who shares the same name as his son, said with a laugh. “People still joke with him about that.”
Grays, whose nickname is now “The Marksman,” eventually hit a 10-inch growth spurt early in high school. His sweet stroke and high basketball IQ were on full display the past two seasons at Cincinnati State, where the 6-foot-2, 175-pound combination guard departs as the junior college’s third all-time leading scorer.
Now, Grays, who said he expects to sign his letter of intent today after giving his commitment to JMU on Sunday, is hoping to make an instant impact on a Madison offense in desperate need of scoring punch.
Grays’ only other offers came from IUPUI of the Summit League and Ohio Valley Conference tournament champion Eastern Kentucky. And despite his major recent accolades — he won the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year award in addition to being named a first-team Division II junior-college All-American – Grays wasn’t included in 247sports.com’s list of this year’s top 50 JUCO recruits.
That, Grays said during a phone interview Monday, is just more motivation.
“I feel like a lot of teams, they don’t give me the credit I deserve,” he said. “So going into JMU, I got a big chip on my shoulder because I want to show people that they were wrong about my game.”
Today’s expected signing comes more than three weeks after starting wing Charles Cooke became the third Madison player this offseason to decide to transfer and be granted his release from the program. Grays said he’ll come to Harrisonburg with the expectation of filling the scoring void Cooke left behind (14.3 points per game, second-most on the team).
Grays’ father said his son enjoyed the campus so much during his official visit last week to JMU that he canceled a trip to George Mason, a higher-profile school that plays in the Atlantic 10.
When asked if Grays can provide an instant impact at the Division I level, Cincinnati State coach Andre Tate chuckled before responding, “Scoring ain’t gonna be no problem.”
Working mostly off the ball within the confines of the Surge’s screen-laden offense, Grays averaged 20.2 points per game this season – shooting 45 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3-point territory.
“I ran him off of everything, and he’s got one of the quickest releases that you’re gonna probably see,” Tate said. “It’s in and out of his hand quick. If he gets hot, he can really, really drill ’em.”
However, Tate said he believes Grays may be even more effective as a floor general.
Grays said he intends to enroll in summer classes at JMU and in the meantime plans to work out in Cleveland with friends and current Division I guards Desmond Ridenour (Duquesne) and Curtis Oakley (Bryant) when their respective school semesters end.
The road to Sunday’s commitment was by no means an easy one for Grays.
Despite drawing interest from Division I schools Cleveland State, Central Michigan and St. Francis (Pa.) during his time at Benedictine High School, Grays was forced to go the junior-college route due to subpar grades.
Early in Grays’ sophomore season at Benedictine, his aunt – Kimberly Westerfield – unexpectedly died at age 42 due to complications caused by a blood clot. Grays described Westerfield as “a second mom,” and said his depression in the wake of her death coincided with a plummeting performance in the classroom.
By the second semester of his sophomore year in high school, Grays’ dad said his son was ruled academically ineligible. Grays returned to have breakout years as a junior and senior but wasn’t able to boost his grades enough to play immediately in Division I.
“It came out of nowhere to my whole family,” Grays said of his aunt’s death. “And to be honest, when that happened – my whole mentality, I just shut down. I just stopped caring about school. … It took a while for me to actually get back on track.”
Grays said his final GPA at Cincinnati State was a 2.8.
The roots of Grays’ competitive basketball career begin in third grade, when his father said his son started to play on the AAU circuit under the elder Grays’ direction for the Ohio Basketball Club in Cleveland.
Now working as a probation officer in Cleveland, the elder Grays said they’d start their daily routine at 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning, and hours of shooting, cone work and training in mental toughness would follow.
If three jump shots were missed from the same spot, Grays said his son would be subject to push-ups or he’d have to gather in “hard passes” against a wall.
“Sometimes, looking back, I did push him too hard,” said Grays. “But I wouldn’t change anything because now he appreciates why I pushed him so hard.”
Through all the tough times, the younger Grays can now indeed say it was all worth it.
“At times, he was just a coach. And I wasn’t really getting a father side,” Grays said. “So me and him would just bump heads a lot, and it was hard. But at times he would still tell me that he loved me and he was there for me. He just wanted to push me. And I think that’s what – at first, when I was younger – I didn’t really realize. … Just yesterday, when I committed to JMU, he was probably the happiest person in the world.