The Long Odyssey of Ray Pender: a Q&A session with a Hidden Gem

By David Cordova

In this day & age, the public tends to focus a lot on the marquee names & the ones that are supposedly bound to play professional basketball. But there are those that have had to work hard for everything that has come their way.

Ray Pender is no exception to that sentiment. He is a 6-6 forward from the Bronx, NY that is bound for Division II Dominican College. He went to three high schools & also went thorough the junior college route to reach his dream of landing that athletic scholarship that many youth in the urban community desire.

Here is his story:

What makes you want to be successful in the game of basketball?

What makes me want to be successful in the game of basketball is my family and all the doubt. My mother and father were always behind me 100 percent and did everything possible to make sure this basketball thing could happen for me, and I feel the only way to repay or say thank you for everything they is to be successful with the game of basketball. Also, I was doubted as a player, so I just want to do what they said I couldn’t, and that’s just who I am as a person. I want to be successful at what ever I do.

How long have you been playing basketball?

I’ve been playing basketball since the age of 5, but really started taking it serious and playing AAU in the 7th grade after I saw how good my role model Curtis Kelly (Rice HS/UConn and Kansas State) was at it and everything it was doing for him as a player and person.

What made you decide to play for the famed Gauchos AAU team as a youth?

What really made me decide to play for the Gauchos at a young age was the fact I wanted to be the best I could be and travel and play against great competition and that’s what the Gauchos was all about, and also at a young age, I understood how much of a historic program it was with a lot of the greats that played for them, so I just wanted to be apart of that and have the best chance to become the best I can be.

Talk about your experience at Rice High School as a freshman.

My experience at Rice was one of the best feelings just knowing that I was attending such of a great high school. I wish it had never closed down. It was more of a learning experience just showing that if playing basketball at any level was what I really wanted to do, I really had to stay focused, due to the amount of talent I was surrounded by, but overall, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I enjoyed every moment of it. I played on the freshman team, which had a great season and made an appearance in the Catholic League semifinals.

How did you feel when Rice closed?

When Rice closed, I felt as if a part of me went with it, just because of how much it helped me grow on and off the court. It was a brotherhood and it still is. It was just one big family. Rice will always be apart of me.

What made you decide to transfer to the rival school, St. Raymond’s, as a sophomore?

The reason I decided to transfer to St. Ray’s was mainly because I still wanted to play for a powerhouse and at the time St. Rays was one of the top three schools in the city and had big-time players like Kerwin Okoro (Iowa State, Rutgers and Norfolk State) & Daniel Dingle  (Temple) that I could learn from and would push me everyday to get better and also, I wanted the best chance I could possible get to win a city championship before I graduated high school.

How did you feel being a part of that 2011-12 city championship team?

I mean, at the time that was the best feeling, being a sophomore on varsity and from people saying that I wasn’t really going to play or even make varsity and not really playing at the start of the season to the start of City of Palms in Florida, I was the seventh to eighth man in the rotation and winning a city championship just made everything better and showed that my hard work paid off and that I had to chance to help my team win a city championship.

What made you ultimately leave St. Ray’s after your junior year & transfer into Wings Academy?

The reason behind me leaving St. Ray’s was because I felt going to Wings would be best for me and would give me the best chance at playing on the next level and I felt that Coach Billy Turnage could help me become a better man and basketball player and he did just that by helping me get to the next level and he really gave me a second chance at basketball when people counted me out. I just felt at home and that’s why I transferred to Wings.

What’s the difference of playing in the Catholic schools vs. the Public schools?

I feel there’s a big difference playing the Public schools/PSAL than Catholic schools/CHSAA. I say that because the PSAL is just tougher and more physical and it made me better and tougher as a player and being at a powerhouse like Wings everybody was coming for us so every night was a tough game for us and just the vibes at the games were different like the crowd and like the feeling like you knew you had to bring your A game every night and that’s what the big difference is just the environment.

What was your college recruitment looking like during your senior year of HS?

After I transferred to Wings, my recruitment picked up a lot with interest, but I picked the JUCO path so I could develop more as a player.

What made you decide to go to Sullivan County Community College?

I picked Sullivan due to their past history and success they had with having an NBA player such as Cleanthony Early (Wichita State/NY Knicks), so I felt that Sullivan would really put me on a big stage to perform and help me get to where I want to go. Sullivan really speaks for itself.

How do you feel about the time you spent there?

I don’t regret anything that happened there, there were a lot of ups and downs, but I felt my time there was productive and I feel that I got better over my two years there and learned a lot.

How far did you guys go in the playoffs in your two years there?

In my two years at Sullivan, we lost in the first round of the NJCAA Regional tournament both years and that was really tough for me to take in, because I’m use to winning but that really just make me hungry to win going into next season.

What made you decide to go to Dominican College?

What really made me decide to go to Dominican College was really after my visit in March, I felt at home. Coach Jim Sayre and Coach Jason Armstrong and the rest of the coaching staff made it clear that they wanted me to be apart of their family and their style of play fits my game with the way they get up and down. They also know how to get the bigs involved and it’s not that far from home, so my parents could make it to my games.

Do you still wish that you could be playing Division I basketball?

To be very honest in the beginning of college, I did. That’s every ball players dream, but now I realize that you don’t have to go Division I to become a pro or to go overseas. If you work hard, they will find you. I’m happy right where I am now. God planned it out this way for me and I am going to take full advantage of my opportunity. My path is different and I am okay with that.

What advice would you give the young kids nowadays?

I would honestly tell them to do what’s best for them work hard everyday and to also never give up. The main goal is to go to school for free and if I could do they could do it. Just to do what makes them happy and just to be a “HumbleKilla.” Be humble off the court and kill everything on the court and just grind, simple.

What’s next in the future for Ray Pender?

What’s in the future for me is just getting on campus and working hard everyday to help the team win an NCAA championship. I want a ring before I leave college, but who knows what the future holds for me. I am just worrying about what will happen now and that’s working hard in the classroom and on the court, so that I could continue to become he best student-athlete I can become. But I see nothing but great things in my future if I continue to work hard.

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