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sports

A25 Dan Kinvig 604-851-4527

sports@abbynews.com

ABBOTSFORD NEWS I Saturday, October 23, 2010

JOHN VAN PUTTEN

Abbotsford News

Zeon Gray was tempted by offers to play professionally in Europe this season, but decided in late August to return to the University of the Fraser Valley.

Gray gets the point Point guard mulled pro offers, but returned to his Cascades family Dan KINVIG Abbotsford News

In conversation, Zeon Gray is apt to draw basketball-related analogies. Attempting to explain what it was like growing up in South Central Los Angeles, an area notorious for its gang violence, the University of the Fraser Valley point guard leans on the game that has taken him far away from there. “It’s like basketball,” he said. “You have to keep your head on a swivel, because you don’t know what’s around the corner.” *** That’s a skill all good point guards have mas-

tered, and Gray is a good point guard. When the 24-year-old blazes up the court, with some hapless opponent in his wake, he’s not staring at the ball. His eyes are up, surveying the scene, evaluating all his options. That mentality nearly drew Gray away from UFV this past summer. After earning Canada West first team all-star honours in his first season with the Cascades, Gray had two concrete offers to play professionally in Europe – one from a team in Hungary, another from Austria. Gray wasn’t being offered

NBA dollars (or Euros) by any stretch of the imagination, but it was still an opportunity to make a living playing the game he loved. And that was tantalizing. With the school year looming, Gray still wasn’t sure whether he’d be coming back to Abbotsford. His absence was conspicuous as the Cascades hit the hardwood for mid-August exhibition games against NCAA foes San Diego and Idaho State. Ultimately, the deci-

sion came down to money versus family. Yes, family. That’s how strongly he feels about his Cascades teammates, and the entire UFV community. “I feel like in one year, UFV really took me in and treated me like their own,” Gray says. “I wasn’t ready to break that bond yet.” *** Family is a recurring theme in the fascinating basketball journey that led Gray to Abbotsford. He learned the game from his uncle, Sean McFarland,

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who started him on dribbling drills when he was six years old. “He’d never let me shoot,” Gray recalled with a chuckle. “He’d just make me dribble – stare at a wall, stare at a tree, and just dribble. “He always said I’d appreciate it some day, but I’d be so furious as a kid.” Gray’s greatest asset is his competitiveness – an utter lack of fear. Gray says he got that from his mother, Renee Smith. “She was a single parent, and I saw her struggle and constantly compete to survive, compete to stay alive,” he said. “She did

whatever it took. She was the epitome of hard work. I saw her work multiple odd jobs and sacrifice. “She told me, ‘Stay hungry. Don’t let anyone take anything away from you.’ And that’s like basketball. Either you get it done, or somebody else will.” *** Gang activity in South Central was brought to the cultural forefront in the late ’80s and early ’90s by rap albums like N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” and movies like Boyz n the Hood. “We have our bright spots, but it is what it is,” Continued on A27

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Cascades open Oct. 29 *** The victory in Victoria sparked the Cascades to Gray said. “It’s not a pretty place at all. I don’t want to glorify anything about it, but I learned a a third-place finish in the tough Pacific Division, and they gave the eventual national champion lot growing up where I grew up.” Saskatchewan Huskies a run for their money in *** As a teen, Gray immersed himself in basket- the first round of the playoffs. Gray is eager to push the Cascades to greater ball. Any time a game was on TV, be it NBA or heights this season, but he’ll have to make do NCAA, he’d tape it and watch it over and over again. It’s a habit he continues to this day. Tapes with less help. Both of UFV’s starting post playfeaturing New Orleans Hornets point guard ers, Jasper Moedt and Kyle Grewal, will be sidelined all year after tearing knee ligaments. Chris Paul seem to get the most play. Their absence places plenty of pressure on the “My collection of VHS tapes is in the hunlikes of James Elliott and Josh Kufske to step dreds,” he said. “I wanted to figure out what made guys so good. They weren’t born that way. up and give the Cascades a credible presence So I watched to pick up whatever I could from in the paint. It also ratchets up the pressure on perimeter stars Gray, Sam them – body movements, body Freeman and Joel Friesen. language, anything.” Craddock believes the talentAfter high school, Gray A big part of ed trio might be as good as found his way up to Whatcom any backcourt in the nation, Community College in coming back was the and they’d better be – the Bellingham, Wash., where he spent two seasons. It was chance to be a part of Cascades really can’t afford an off night from them. there that he was spotted by something special. “Now they have to produce UFV head coach Barnaby on a nightly basis,” Craddock Craddock, who lured him furZeon Gray acknowledged. “Maybe they ther northward in 2009. don’t have to score each night, Gray’s first season with the Cascades was a hit. He led the team in points per but they have to play very solid basketball.” Gray says Grewal and Moedt “can’t be regame (15.9), assists (59), steals (35) and minutes placed,” but he’s not one to fret about their per game (32.8). His signature moment came on Jan. 30. On absence. It’s now or never for him this season the road at Victoria’s McKinnon Gym, Gray led – Europe is beckoning, and he’s planning to forgo the Cascades all the way back from a 23-point his fifth and final year of eligibility. “It’s going to be the perfect ending to my halftime deficit, netting 16 of his game-high 23 university years,” he predicted. “A big part of points in the second half as UFV edged the Vikes coming back was the chance to be a part of some79-77. Craddock said Gray “put the team on his thing special.” Q The Cascades women’s and men’s basketball shoulders.” teams open the Canada West regular season Gray called it “the best feeling in the world. next weekend, Oct. 29-30, against the Manitoba “That was probably the best game of my life – the intensity, the emotions running,” he said. Bisons. The women tip off at 6 p.m. on Friday, “Nothing else mattered except us leaving that followed by the men at 8 p.m. Game times are 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday. gym and taking the air with us.” From A25

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Abbotsford News I Saturday, October 23, 2010

A27

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BCYCNA - Sports Writing Award, Dan Kinvig  

BCYCNA Ma Murray Community Newspaper Awards Canadian Sport Centre Pacific Sports Writing Award Abbotsford News - Dan Kinvig, Gray gets the P...

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