Sports

Gray wins AP Player of Year

Steven Gray leaves Bainbridge as one of the most lauded players in the school’s history.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Steven Gray leaves Bainbridge as one of the most lauded players in the school’s history.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

The future Bulldog earns his second AP player of the year nod.

The accolades have come in droves for Steven Gray.

After a historic season in which he helped Bainbridge make it to the championship game, the senior guard was named the Seattle Times’ 3A and State Player of the Year for all classifications, the Tacoma News Tribune’s State Player of the Year, the Comcast State Player of the Year, the WICBA 3A Player of the Year and just recently, was named to his fourth straight Associated Press All-State team (he was selected to the 2A team for the first two years) and was also named the AP Player of the Year for not only 3A, but all classifications.

“During the season we do our best to focus on the team, but everyone in this (Metro) league knew what type of high school basketball player he was,” head coach Scott Orness said. “Steven deserves every one of the all-state or MVP awards.

“While other players in the state might do one skill better, Steven is the total player and he also is grounded and willing to give up some points for his teammates and team to reach their highest potential.

“Steven is the best player to ever play at Bainbridge High School or on the Kitsap Peninsula.”

The Review sat down with Gray the day before their win over O’Dea in the 3A Sea-King district championship game in early March for a extensive interview where he discusses his time at Bainbridge and his interaction with the team, what he wants to do with his life and how he feels about being "Steven Gray."

Bainbridge Review: Now, when you decided to transfer to Bainbridge, who first came up with the idea? Was it you or your dad?

Steven Gray: It was just something we talked about. It wasn’t a serious option (at the time), but it was just something we talked about, like it would be nice if we could do it so we could be better prepared (for college.)

Then my dad started looking into it more and seeing if we could afford it, and just thinking about what we could do if we could do it. Once we found out it was a possibility, we did it.

BR: Did you want to continue at Chimacum (High School) or did you feel like – I need to take my game to a higher level, and in order to do that, I need to go to a better school like Bainbridge?

SG: It would have been nice to been able to keep playing with those guys, I had grown up with them, but I knew and they knew as well that if I wanted to get to where I wanted to I would have to try and find somewhere else (to go). We all pretty much understood what was going to happen.

BR: Was there a lot of animosity between you and your friends or you and your coaches about coming over here? Were they mad or did they understand that you wanted to get yourself better?

SG: I actually didn’t say anything to anyone until after the season because I didn’t want them to think “Oh, he’s going to be going after this,” after we went to state. Once I did tell, I told my two best friends first. They understood. They knew what was going on.

But with the people I wasn’t so close to, just within school, they didn’t understand. They thought I wasn’t happy there, but I knew that I had to go somewhere else. The people I was closest to understood. They knew what we were trying to do, but – just the people who kind of knew of me, they might have other feelings about it. But it wasn’t too bad between the people that mattered and everyone else.

BR: So your friends understood what you had to do and the people that were more acquaintances were like, “What’s he trying to do? Does he think he’s better than us?”

SG: Some people were like that. The people that mattered to me, they understood and that’s all we needed was that they understood what we’re trying to do.

BR: Now when you came over to Bainbridge and got yourself acclimated with the team and got more familiar with everything, was there any kind of – was there a rough period of you getting to know them or them getting to know you? Was there any animosity towards you? Because there was a lot of hype surrounding your move.

SG: Not that I saw. I knew Coby (Gibler) from Total Package and I had played against all those guys in middle school, so I knew them a little bit. They welcomed me in as soon as I got here. I think what helped was I wasn’t trying to do everything.

I wanted to do basically what the team needed from me but I didn’t care why or what (way), just as long as we won. I think that helped everyone on the team get comfortable with me. Knowing that “he’s not going to be on some big ego (trip) coming in, he just wants to win.”

BR: You talk about ego; you don?t seem like a guy ?- to me anyway -? that really relishes that kind of media attention that?s been constant in your life and (that's been) even magnified this season. Do you feel comfortable in the spotlight, or do you not worry about being comfortable in, or just know that you?re going to expect it?

SG: I feel comfortable in it. It?'s not something that I? - it'?s not something that I go out and look for. I?'m not trying to get into the spotlight, but I?'m just in the spotlight and I'?m trying to handle it the best I can, whatever the situation. It'?s not something that freaks me out or anything. It?'s just a part of life. It comes with the wins that we?'re getting and some of the stats I've put up. With hard work you got to take the good and the bad.

BR: This is probably uncomfortable for you but I?'ll hit you with this question: what about (interacting) racially? Bainbridge is predominantly white and you?'re the product of an interracial marriage, but most people look at you and say, ?here?'s a black kid coming onto the team.? Did you find any obstacles in that?

SG: Not really. I mean, you notice it. People notice it -? they'?re not blind. They?'re going to notice. We kinda got that out of the way and just -? (but) people will say ?- a couple of things like, ?so are you gonna (play) and just dunk on us?? Obvious comments at practice ?- clearly he jumps high because he?'s a little bit different than we are. I?m fine with that. There?s a certain point where I?'d have to say ?"That?'s not OK,"? but it hasn?'t reached that point. It'?s been good here.

BR: So nothing that?s (been) subversive in a way that people look at you a little bit differently?

SG: I think that there is subversive (comments) during the season when we play against a lot of inner-city schools, where there are a lot of black kids on the team. So they see ?- they feel when they play Bainbridge it?'s going to be a lot of white kids and one of the 'whitest'? black kids they?'ve ever seen. But it?'s fine. We just play hard.

BR: Do you get comments like that from other teams?

SG: Not usually. It doesn?'t usually happen with the good teams. It'?ll be one of those teams where they want to act big, but the top teams in our league, they'?re just going to go out there and play.

BR: So it?s more (from) teams like a Cleveland -

SG: Yeah, its the teams that are going to try and use other methods to try and win the game (like) get in your head, trying (other things) when things (on the court) aren?'t going their way.

BR: It?'s more of a mental thing to try and take you off guard, but obviously it hasn?'t worked.

SG: Yeah. (laughs)

BR: (laughs) OK. Coming into this season, you knew the team coming in was going to be good, but a lot of the attention was going to be on you. You were going to be ?"the man"? as it were. Has there been much resentment from the other kids?

SG: No, it?s been pretty good. When we went to team camp in Gonzaga this year - it (the attention) started there, just because we?re at Gonzaga team camp and (college) coaches are coming to our games, so you get that sort of feeling. But I think that it helped just to have our team there. There?'s no outside people, there?'s no fans, I mean, there?'s no one at our games besides the college coaches, some parents who made the trip, or other campers just coming to watch basketball.

So (I?'d) rather have it just be our team and them seeing after our games that I'?d just rather play in an empty gym with the 12 guys on our team than have the attention of having other campers and coaches there. I think when they saw that I wasn?'t looking for attention or wanting attention, they were going to feel more comfortable around me. When fans started coming to the games and the media, like Comcast coming and filming the games (for Varsity Sports On Demand), they understand that the media is gonna do what they'?re gonna do. But we'?re going to keep it between the 12 of us on the court.

BR: It?s probably a little nicer for you because it?s not just you and 12 other average kids. You'?ve got Coby whose getting some attention from D-1 schools. There'?s (talented players like) Nick (Fling, Caleb Davis, Austin Wood and) Rudy (Sharar.) So that really helps.

SG: It'?s really nice. People might want to think it?s a one- or two-man team, but it?'s not. We could take our seven guys that really play and put them on any team and they could be a star. But when you take that many talented players and put them together, each person? is going to sacrifice for the better of the team. We? got seven pretty talented players that makes the game a lot more fun and a lot easier for everyone else because there?'s other people out there who understand each other and understand the game.

BR: How about the attention that you guys have gotten this season? From the fans in the stands, from the die-hards to the kids that go just because it?s the thing to do, there?s a lot of attention on you guys. Do you feel like you?ve handled it well over the year? Not just you, but the team as a whole?

SG: I think so. I feel we've handled it pretty well. I think we?'ve gotten maybe a little off track in a couple of spots during the year, but we?'ve handled it really well. Coach makes sure we keep grounded at practice.

I just know we?re not as good as people want to say or we?'re not as good as the fans may think or the community for that matter. It?'s true; we?'re not that dominant of a team. We?'re getting our wins, but those wins could easily go the other way. A couple of plays and the outcome is different. We always have to get better and always want to work hard.

BR: So with the attention, (do) you? guys feel that you?'ve handled all the pressure and the number one ranking because that (ranking) makes you guys a target.

SG: Anytime your name and your team?'s name is in print you're going to be a target. We know that, so we come in every day and work hard. We work like we?'re one of the bottom teams because we can get better every game and there'?s room to improve that much. That?s the attitude that we've got to have...

BR: You?'ve talked about handling the pressure. With you and Charlie (Fick) being team captains, do you feel like you have to step up and say ?OK, we have to play this way.? Do you try to be more of a vocal leader or do you let your play do the talking? How do you handle that?

SG: I try and establish at the start of the game what we’re trying to do. Like in the Bellevue game (when they played them in the district tournament) we wanted to get out and run, so the first play of the game, we get it and drop it off to Wood and he gets fouled. So that set the tone for the quarter.

So if I see things that aren’t going right, I’ll tell people what I feel they should do. I’ll get input from them also, but I’ll try and do a little bit of both if I can. I’d love to just go through a game without having to say anything, but if I have to, I’ll step up and say something.

BR: Have you always been a quiet kid growing up?

SG: I've always just (been quiet). I really don't say much in class. Talking's never really been my thing. It's been tough when we play another team and not be able to say anything, but it's worked out so far.

BR: When did you know that basketball for you? When did it become "the" sport over other sports that you might have had an interest in?

SG: Probably (my) freshman year. That's when I really realized that basketball was something that I wanted (to do). I think the success that I had individually as a freshman really helped, because if I had struggled freshman year, I might not have been as confident (or) felt good about it.

I had surgery (on his right knee to shorten it) after the basketball season, so that took baseball away from me. Then my sophomore year came and we went to state and that was when I started to talk to (Total Package head coach) Craig Murray about really traveling and going to big tournaments and getting some experience and playing against some competition. So I had to go to practice for that and that took baseball (away) sophomore year. So after that year I felt that if I put this much time into basketball (now) I might as well go all out for this and see where it gets me.

BR: So was it freshman year that you discovered 'hey, I can be good at this' or was there one moment (while) learning how to play basketball that you said 'OK, this is going to be my sport and I can be good at this and get a scholarship to college?'

SR: I remember freshman year I was just hoping to have a good season. My dad would say "You have to try and get a scholarship because we don't know if we can put you through college." I didn't really understand what that meant at the time. I didn't realize how hard it is to get one. I just said, "OK, I have to get a scholarship somewhere." I kept working hard.

Even now, I don't think I understand what's happened. Just because it's been so - it hasn't been easy, but they haven't always been (hard). I've put in the hard work and just the right things have happened. I don't really know if I even understand exactly - even with the team, I don't know - I don't think I understand exactly (that) we're going to state. It hasn't hit me yet. This was supposed to happen. And in a few months I'm going to be at college taking summer classes. That's the next part of a story. You're following the chapters in what's supposed to happen. It's just sort of like following a timeline, really.

BR: So do you feel like your life's been predetermined in a way? You feel like "OK, this is supposed to happen here?"

SG: Kind of. You want to get better at basketball and want to improve overall every year, then get a college scholarship. It's been like (following) a checklist. Things have just come so eas- I mean, I've been in the right places at the right times and met the right people. It's just crazy just to think how things have worked out.

BR: Talk about those people that you feel that helped you along the way to get to this point.

SG: My parents, of course. Then there was a guy in Port Townsend - we played against Port Townsend in a sixth grade basketball game. His kid was a year younger that I am, so he's a junior this year - Aaron Gifford. We beat them 90 something to 20 something, so he asked if he could come play with us. So he quit - well, he didn't quit, but once our season wrapped up for Chimacum, he went to start doing Total Package, so that's how I met Craig Murray through him and his dad.

He's (Murray) helped a lot. The way he had his program has helped so much with offense. I went in- I wasn't a very good scorer. I could spot up and shoot, but to score in all the different (places) like behind the basket, I didn't really do that (well.)

He just throws you right in there. He gives you a little bit to work on and then he just throws you in there against other players and you've got to fight for it. He's been a huge help talking with the Gonzaga coaches about going to the state tournament.

Then getting advice from Scott and Stu(art Mitchell) and Mr. (Brad) Lewis also - they've been a big help. Not just with basketball, but handling certain situations, handling media or people in the community, (talking about) what I plan to do in college or after college. I've really been blessed to just have so many people in your corner.

BR: How about people like Scott and Stu and your parents and Craig helping you handle all the pressure, because I'm sure you get a lot of attention at school. And I'm sure some of it's good and some of it's bad. Has there been a situation where people have said "Hey, you want to come to a party?" or "You want to come and do this or that?" and you know it might be wrong? Has it been hard to keep those situations at bay?

SG: When I first got here, people would ask if I wanted to go party or whatever. But I told them no, because we don't do that in Chimacum when I was growing up. We just sit around and play video games all day. They were like "Wait, what?" and I was like "I don't think I'm going to go." So when you do that the first few times, they leave you alone because they know that you don't want to. It was easy (to say no), that's how I was brought up. You do certain things and then there are things that you don't do. You don't put yourself in a bad situation. That's just what I've done, but people have left me alone for the most part. I'm not going to put what I have in jeopardy.

I'm lucky that they understand the pressure that I'm under so they've just backed off. It's been good.

BR: So when you look at what happened with Josh Heytvelt and Theo Davis from Gonzaga (getting suspended indefinitely from the team for their arrest on drug possession charges), you know that those situations are going to come up in college too, and you're not going to have that support system there. You're not going to have Scott and your parents there. It's just going to be you.

SG: When I go to Gonzaga, I'll have a key to the gym-

BR: (Laughs)

SG: - I'll be in there so much. Just sitting there and looking at it, it's amazing being in there, just looking around. But I know there are going to be (those bad) situations out there. They're going to present themselves. I think I'm prepared. I think my parents have prepared me enough to make the smart choices out there, so I'm not worried about it...

BR: So what do you think about the future (after Bainbridge)? Does it excite you? Does it scare you?

SG: I'm a little nervous. Just because I've sort of had this routine for 12 years. You have winter and summer break and you go to school with kids that you know. You have your classes, you have your lunch, you have your breaks. You come home and go to basketball practice. You come home and your parents have dinner made. So I'm excited just because it's something new, but because it is new it's a little nerve-wracking. I don't really know what to expect.

BR: Do you feel that window of being a kid is starting to close, that you're starting to step into adulthood?

SG: Kind of, (but) I want to hold on to - I don't want everything to become so serious. I still want to have fun, but I know as I get older I'll have more responsibilities too. I got to to get my priorities straight. I hope I can get them squared away - I know my dorm room will be a mess because I can't keep my room clean to save my life. I think I'll be able to handle it fairly well.

BR: Growing up, who was it that you first looked at on the basketball court - NBA or college - that made you say "Hey, I want to do this. I want to be a basketball player."

SG: Everyone's a Michael Jordan fan growing up. I remember I'd watch hours and hours of tapes (of him.) I'd look at him and say "I can't believe - no man can do this with a ball and a hoop." I just thought that if I could have just a small feeling of what it must feel like to go out there and be able to do what he does every night, I'd be a happy kid.

BR: Do you feel that same way when you've got kids in the stands that probably think about you the same way when you get the ball in your hands that they say "Oh, it's going down to Steven and he's going to score?"

SG: Kind of. Maybe not to a certain extent. You know little kids are looking up to you and you know that you're a role model, so you have to go out and sort of watch what you do when you're on the court too. That's why I try to have a good time with them. During halftime, give them a high five and talk to them for a little bit, because I know if I was a kid that age and I had someone like that was right here to look up to I'd enjoy that.

I try and show them that I'm not anything special. I'm just a regular old high school kid. I like to have fun, I like to play video games. I don't want to think of myself like a distant figure that's mysterious, I want them to know who I am. I like to joke around with them. I like having that closeness, that friendly relationship with the fans and the people.

BR: Do you try to do the same with your sister Brittany? Is there more of a sibling rivalry?

SG: I try and help her out. But I don't want her to feel that she has to compete with me in any way. I want her to create her own identity. I'll give her tips on what I see at the games to handling different situations and maybe feel the same bit of success that I have felt in high school. I just want the best for her.

I try and give her little pointers every now and then, but I'm not going to try and force anything on her. If she has a problem she can come to me and I'll help her out.

BR: Is there a lot of sibling rivalry stuff? Because when we talked at your letter of intent signing party (in October) that she's more outgoing like your dad while you're more reserved like your mom. Has there been a clash of personalities?

SG: Not really, because we're so different. I'm going to let her do her thing and I'll sit back. I let her have the show. When her and my dad - when you get their two personalities together, that's when the rivalry starts. But it's all in fun.

BR: I remember when I was walking back to the locker room after the Chief Sealth (playoff) game, I saw you sign an autograph for a little kid. Was that the first one you've signed?

SG: Oh no. I've done them before. I remember at HOOPfest - I can't remember what I was doing - oh, I was playing and I was sitting there talking to Molly (Dwyer) our bookkeeper, because she was doing the books or the clock for one of the games. We were sitting there talking and 5 or 10 little kids come up with their HOOPfest t-shirts (to sign).

It's always fun to give back to the community and the kids. That's why I've enjoyed Spartan Camp. Once you get to interact with the kids that come to our games, it's fun. You get to mess around with them.

BR: When you talk about the future, what do you see yourself doing? Do you see yourself in the NBA or saying "OK, if that doesn't work out, I'll find some other interest that I like and maybe I can make a career out of it?"

SG: I'm still trying to figure that out. It'd be nice to go to the NBA, but if it doesn't, it's not going to be the end of the world. I'm going to work hard to try and get to that point, because things would be a lot easier when you have that much money. I want to try and evaluate what I enjoy doing and what things are important to me and I what I feel are important to me.

I'm not really sure what I want to do, what I'm thinking - because I was talking to Mr. Lewis and he did PeaceCorps. He went to Africa for a couple of years. You have one tree, a mud shack and he's teaching in the school. He said it was one of the most interesting (experiences) and it changed him.

I'm thinking of some way you can give back. There are people out there that have it a lot worse than we do. I just want to help in someway - I don't know what exactly that is yet, but something along those lines.

We learned a lot about Africa in Contemporary World Issues with Mr. Zarling and he's showing us - have you seen Invisible Children?

BR: I don't think I have.

SG: It's a documentary and it shows kids that run - they have to commute in large groups (in Northern Uganda) because they have people come and take kids in the middle of the night and become child soldiers.

It's crazy just to think there's 12, 13, 14-year-old kids going through (this) and I come out and play basketball every day. It makes my life so much more - I don't know. It just makes things a lot easier for me just to know that I'm just out here playing (basketball). I don't have to worry about anything. I can just come out and play basketball. It's helped to relax me a lot. Thinking there's so many worse things going on (so) I have nothing to worry about with this basketball game. It doesn't matter who we're playing. It's just a game.

It's helped having my eyes open to what's going on outside this little community.

BR: When you talk about stuff like that, helping you relax and thinking "It's just a game," does things like that to take the pressure off of you being "Steven Gray" as it were? There's the name and people see you in the paper and see all the attention you get.

SG: I would have loved to just be able to go, just go somewhere and have no one know who "Steven Gray" is. I just want to be able to go somewhere and help someone and have them remember Steven Gray as someone who is a good person and a good guy. Who just came in and did something for us just because. Maybe not someone who (thinks) of Steven Gray (as) "oh, he's a 6'4" guard who's averaging, duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh. It could help. If I could make money with basketball then maybe I can do somethings outside the that interests. I think it'll all work out in the end.

It's been crazy but I'm enjoying it.

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