Almost four years ago, senior guard Johnny Gray was watching his team play from behind the bench as a manager. Last year, he earned himself a regular spot on the floor. Now, he is an everyday starter, a vocal leader and a go-to player offensively for the squad as it looks to return to the top of the Ivy League.
“It’s been quite a journey, going from nothing to something like that,” Gray said. “It was a very humbling experience.”
As a freshman, Gray spent the first half of the year trying to make his name known by just being around the team.
“I wanted to be part of the team in any way, shape or form,” he said. “So I took everything in small steps.”
He was added to the team in December of that year and joined a roster of talented, big-names. “When I walked on to the team in the middle of the year, I made that last step,” Gray said. “I made it known that I could actually play basketball, and then I really wanted to try to stand out.”
According to Gray, watching the cohesive unit of players like Jeff Foote ’10, Louis Dale ’10 and Ryan Wittman ’10 was an inspiring experience. It gave him the opportunity to understand what it takes to make a great basketball team.
“It was awesome getting the chance to see how great a team could be when they work together like that. Practice was always really intense…I’ve never seen a team play basketball at that level, which is what we’re trying to do here now,” he said. “It kind of helps to understand the amount of work it takes to get to that level.”
Gray only played in four games that year, but surprised everyone sophomore year by averaging 4.7 points and 2.3 rebounds in only 13.4 minutes per game.
After solidifying his spot in the starting rotation junior year — averaging 12.3 points per game in conference games and scoring in double figures 12 times — Gray took the next step in his game, this time to the professional level. Last summer he made the U.S. Virgin Islands National team, a squad that competed in the FIBA Centrobasket Championship in order to try to qualify for the Olympic games in London. Although his team went 1-4 in his time there, the opportunity to play high-level basketball against overseas and NBA players was a lasting experience for Gray.
“It was a great chance to travel, to get out of the country and play against top-notch competitions” Gray said.
Now, in his final season with the Red, Gray is embracing his role in the future of Cornell basketball.
“Being a leader means taking accountability for my mistakes, but at the same time correcting the freshmen’s mistakes...whatever I can do to put them in the right direction when I leave.”