Josh Gray‘s journey of getting his chance in the NBA wasn’t traveled on a smooth road. In fact, the 6-foot-1 point guard faced many trials and tribulations of having to prove his worth as a basketball player. However, after experiencing two 10-day contracts with the Phoenix Suns this February, Gray is finally starting to see his hard work pay off.
“I had to let the world know who I am and what type of player I am,” said Gray. “I had to bet on myself.”
The success story for highly touted prospects in high school often follow the same sort of narrative: nationally ranked during successful high school seasons, signs a scholarship at a well-known university, competes at a high level for a few seasons, and then enters the NBA Draft.
Then there is Josh Gray’s story.
He was always a standout player when his two feet touched a basketball court, but difficulties off the court caused him to attend three different high schools from his sophomore year until he graduated, forcing him to constantly adapt to new surroundings and situations.
“All that I have been through in the past — transferring, moving from city to city, and everything that struck me and my family during those times — really molded me into the man I am today,” he said.
The trend continued during his college years, taking him to three different schools. After committing to Texas Tech, Gray was the starting point guard for the Red Raiders as a true freshman in the widely respected Big-12 Conference. After a solid year averaging 26.7 minutes and 9.3 points per game, Gray decided to transfer to junior college powerhouse, Odessa College in Odessa, Texas. There, Gray really stepped up his level of play, averaging 34.7 points per game, a mark that led the country, earning him First Team Junior College All-American honors.
Riding that success, Gray chose to commit his final two seasons to LSU. However, they didn’t go as he had planned. Gray didn’t get the opportunity to truly flourish as he never fit in with the playing style and had to back up eventual No. 1 overall pick, Ben Simmons, for an entire season.
“People didn’t realize that my two seasons at LSU put blindfolds on my skill set and potential,” said Gray. “They forgot that I led the country in scoring and was the No. 1 player in the country, winning a scoring title at junior college just a season before.”
He had always been out to prove people wrong and after his last two seasons of college ball not going as planned, Gray was on to the next; focused on making it to the NBA.
“I always knew that I was good enough to be an NBA player,” said Gray. “It was all about opportunity for me, and those two seasons at LSU turned people off. So after college, I just needed to bet on myself and see where it would take me.”
After going undrafted in 2016, Gray was overlooked by scouts and general managers across the league. In fact, he took money out of his own pocket to try out for a few NBA G League teams, just to showcase himself.
After successful tryouts with the then-Los Angeles D-Fenders (now South Bay Lakers) and the Austin Spurs put him on the radar, Gray impressed the Northern Arizona Suns enough in their tryout to earn a training camp invite. The Suns acquired him in the beginning of the 2016 season, finally giving him a taste of what professional basketball is like. Yet he was never able to put his stamp on the team, again serving mainly as a backup floor general.
With his dreams in reach, Gray approached summer offseason training with a new mindset.
“This past summer I didn’t work out with any trainers. All summer long, it was just me and my three little brothers. We trained four times a day, literally,” said Gray. “We were just in there with raw talent, and just investing in myself, and those guys never took a day off with me.”
Family support has always been the backbone for Gray throughout his life. They’d been there through the struggles and the triumphs, every step of the way: “My mother and father, my grandmother and fiancee, they just always have believed in me. They kept pushing me, and we all had the same mindset that I belonged in the NBA, and they helped me so much to get to where I am today.”
The offseason changes have paid off immensely for Gray. In 31 NBA G League games this season, including 14 starts, he has averaged 17.9 points to go with 6.0 assists. Those totals, as well as some injuries to the backcourt in Phoenix, resulted in Gray getting called up to the Phoenix Suns on a 10-day contract on Feb. 1.
Cody Toppert, head coach of the Northern Arizona Suns was elated when he heard the news of his point guard getting the Call-Up, commending his work ethic all the way back to last season, before he took over as coach.
“Last year I coached against him, and he was more of a role player. This year we started off with the same dynamic,” said Toppert. “Even when he is not starting, the guy is still such a diligent worker staying true to the process. Then we implement him into the starting lineup, and not even a month goes by and he is in the NBA.”
Gray’s big league debut came just one day into being a signed NBA player, during a game against the Utah Jazz. He recorded seven points in eight minutes played. Although being thrown into a new system with new coaches and teammates, Gray has taken all of it in stride, and credits Phoenix teammates Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis and Tyson Chandler on helping his transition to the NBA game go smoother than expected.
“I am learning a lot. I am adjusting to the playbook, to the pace and terminology, and those little things,” said Gray speaking on the transition to the NBA game. “It was extremely fast for me at first in my debut game. But then in the next couple of games, it really started to slow down a lot.”
While Gray was replaced by Northern Arizona teammate Shaquille Harrison after the expiration of his second 10-day, his breakout sophomore season is enough proof that his hard work has paid off. And if his past is any indiciation, it won’t be the last team we see Josh Gray on at the highest level.