He’s settled into life at Iowa’s Drake University well and his Bulldogs are travelling beautifully with five wins from their opening six games, but together with head coach Darian DeVries Orange’s Matt Gray explained he’s looking long term.
As a freshman with four years of eligibility, Gray admitted he’s had a few knee troubles and in a bid to ensure he doesn’t waste one of those years and develops as much as possible, he revealed he’ll “redshirt” for all of 2018-19.
For those playing at home that essentially means the 18-year-old big man will practice and travel with the team, but won’t take the court in games.
“It is a long-term decision I made because I want to be a great player,” Gray said, speaking to the Central Western Daily just before his side knocked off North Dakota State 95-88.
“With this being my first year in the program I would be playing behind older, more-experienced guys … so coach and I saw it would be more beneficial to not waste a year of eligibility.
“I know I’ll be a much better player when I’m 21, 22 … this way I can learn from the others and take this year to develop and get stronger.”
With that decision in mind it’s not hard to appreciate the big focus for Gray in 2018-19 has been, is and will continue to be training. As a National Collegiate Athletic Association division one outfit, the Bulldogs do plenty of that too.
They did before the season started too, with Gray giving a unique insight into how hard he and his fellow players work.
“All through October we had official practices, up to six days a week for three hours at a time,” he said, prior to that the squad was allowed just four hours of court time a week under NCAA rules.
“A typical day of practice begins with watching film of our previous practice or games, stretching and warm-up, player development then reviewing and learning plays. Then we’d practice for up to two hours and finish with more player development.
“Now the season’s begun trainings are shorter and are more about sharpening up, correcting and preparing for the next game.
“I lift and work out more individually with the staff, developing my game while preparing the team on the scout team, running the next opposing team’s plays.”
It isn’t just on-court practice though, not by a long shot. Naturally Gray has classes to attend but there’s work to be done before them too.
“I’ve become fairly accustomed to my whole schedule being full and hectic,” the 18-year-old explained.
“My days essentially begin at 7am with treatment and therapy, followed by weights and strength training at 8am four days a week,” he explained.
“Then between 9am and 12.30pm is class. From 1.30 to five is our practice times, then after practice sometimes is a supervised study hall, I have to get six hours done a week.
“Now the season’s begun we are travelling every few days so that takes up time as well.”
It’s a full-on way to live, but it’s something Gray says he and the rest of the Bulldogs squad are more than happy to put themselves through in a bid to achieve their ultimate goal of winning the Missouri Valley Conference, which would give them passage to the NCAA Tournament.
“We were picked in the pre-season polls to finish 9-10 in the conference, so we have a point to prove,” Gray said.
His side’s almost-perfect start to 2018-19 is a big step toward achieving that too considering they’re on top of the conference standings, especially since DeVries was essentially an 11th hour appointment after a big coaching shake-up in the pre-season.
“When [DeVries] was hired there was five players remaining on the roster,” Gray said.
“Since then the team was built and a great group of guys was formed on and off the court. The team plays hard and fast, the core values are that we want to be the toughest, most-disciplined and unselfish team.”
The Bulldogs’ next game, in which they’ll look to pick up a fifth straight win, is on the road against the Milwaukee Panthers later this week.
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