Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
In New York City, there are plenty of unknown, or under the radar type of talents, playing the game of basketball. It’s always cool when someone that people don’t know comes out to the hardwood and plays up to par against the elite players.
Isaiah Gray is one of those under-the-radar players that are is on the rise from obscurity and will be a Division I player next season in the Ivy League. But just recently, he finished a postgraduate year at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, in his final year of high school ball before he gets involved with the rigors of Division I basketball.
But as a city kid, he is not afraid of challenges, but rather embraces them. On what motivates him to be successful on the court, he replied, “Really, just, I work hard a lot and I really want to go somewhere with it. You just have to love the game, it just motivates you to go places with it, [to] play in college, play beyond that, and all the places it can take you, so that’s what motivates me, the places basketball can take you.”
A native of the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, he is player that thrives on toughness. When asked about the basketball culture in his borough, he replied, “It’s a big basketball culture there, New York is considered the Mecca of Basketball, but a lot of the time, Brooklyn and Harlem are what’s considered the heart of it, so you know, growing up, playing in parks, you’ve got to be tough. You’re not going to get away with being soft and taking things. It just brings a lot of toughness out of you, and a mental toughness too.”
Throughout his time at Martin Luther King High School in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, he was a scoring force. As a junior, he averaged 19.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, and as a senior, he averaged 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game for the Knights.
When asked about his time as a Knight, he replied, “Yeah, so I played at Martin Luther King High School for four years, you know, the PSAL hasn’t been as best as it once was throughout New York City history, but you know, I was able to get better there.”
During his high school years, he also played for an independent AAU program called the Pro Level Titans, which played in city tournaments such as West 4thStreet and also in AAU tournaments, such as Hoop Group and the former Adidas Gauntlet Silver Division.
When asked about the Titans, he replied, “Playing with them was a good way to get started in basketball, they helped me get better as a player, and it was a gateway into like, higher-level basketball. It wa s a good way to start my career, and the coaches really cared for me, developed me a lot.”
Last summer, he would get a chance to play on the Adidas Gauntlet Gold Division circuit with the New York Jayhawks, and held his own on the circuit in front of the college coaches. On playing against elite competition, he replied, “Yeah, it was definitely different for me, you know, we traveled all over the country, playing against the best players in the country, in front of hundreds of college coaches at all levels, so you know, it’s good for me, and it helped me prepare, it helped me open my eyes to you know, what high-level basketball is like, and you know, helped me with my recruitment, and a lot of college coaches were with me, it was important for me.”
On the strengths and weaknesses in his game, Gray replied, “Right now, adjusting to playing at the prep [school] level, it’s a lot harder, so I want to look to shoot at a high level, because the other guys are bigger, you know, so I think consistency is what I want to work on. Strength, I think I’m aggressive, once I get down the court, I think I’m hard to stop, but yeah, that’s what I think my strengths and weaknesses are.”
On why he decided to make the move to Cushing after graduating from MLK, he replied, “Yeah, you know, after a strong AAU season, I decided doing a postgrad year would help me out, help me out recruitment-wise, and getting a year to develop more, getting a year before college, so that I’m ready to play at the next level.”
When asked how much Cushing has helped him on & off the court, he replied, “It’s been great, it’s been different than anything else. I’ve only been there for a few months, but I’ve gotten better, you know, I’m learning to play at a higher level, I feel like my game is able to reply more to a college setting, which is important, that way I can get there and play right away, if the situation is right, so yeah, I think I’m getting better and working hard.”
The season at Cushing was a success, as he guided the Penguins to a 23-7 season. On playing in the NEPSAC, one of the toughest high school leagues in the country, he replied, “Yeah, it’s super-tough, it’s better than any other league that I played in, you know, seven-footers, 6-10, 6-11, so it’s different and I think it’s really preparing me for college. These guys are all Division I athletes, [and] if not, they’re playing somewhere in college that’s high-level, so it’s really preparing me mentally, physically, you know, I think I’m getting better and the NEPSAC, it’s one of the best leagues in the country for basketball.”
But big things are on the horizon for him as he will be moving on to play for the Big Red next season. Cornell, who finished this current season at 7-20 overall and seventh in the Ivy League will definitely benefit from Gray’s playmaking ability.
When asked about signing to Cornell, Gray replied, “So, the coaches were recruiting me really hard, and I felt like I made a good relationship with the coaches from day one, they told me that I was a priority, and down the line, it was the same way. You know, I visited and stuff, so I thought I could get in there, and obviously, Ivy League, [the] education will be worth something. The Ivy League is one of the top-tier leagues in the country, it’ll help prepare me for a future basketball career.”
On what he’ll bring to the Ivy League next season, he replied, “You know I think I could bring a high-motor on offense and defense, someone who can lead a team, and someone who’s just going to work hard. If all else fails, just work hard, and you know, keep up academically too, you know that’s a big part of the Ivy League, academics. So I think I can be someone with a high-motor, someone that works hard.”
Next season, the kid from Brooklyn will do wonders in upstate New York. And when he comes back to the city to face Columbia at the Levien Gymnasium in Harlem, he will only be a better player.