With the 2015-2016 Texas Tech basketball season now in the history books, it is time to assess how each member of the team performed on the court. Today we analyze the season of sophomore forward Justin Gray.
As a freshman, Texas Tech basketball forward Justin Gray made an immediate impression on his head coach, hall of famer Tubby Smith. The second-year Texas Tech head coach went so far as to state that Gray had become the team’s best player as Big 12 conference play neared.
Unfortunately, Gray would only see action in three conference games playing a total of 33 minutes and scoring seven combined points due to knee tendonitis. His return to health this season was one of the reasons the Texas Tech basketball team made its first NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years.
"“The biggest mental hurdle was probably just trusting in my knee to do certain movements, jumping exercises and fully trusting that it won’t give out or won’t be the same was a big thing for me. With the help of Chris Williams, the trainer, he helped me overcome that. It was difficult, but I feel a lot better now and a lot stronger.” Justin Gray told Krista Pirtle of the Lubbock Avalanche Journal in December 2015."
The sophomore forward from Tampa, Florida saw in an increase in key statistics such as points, steals, rebounds, free throw percentage and field goal percentage in year two at Texas Tech. But the most important stat in which Gray improved was games played as he missed only one of the 32 Texas Tech basketball games this year.
Earning a starting role in the middle of the season, Gray was a more confident and aggressive player in 2015-16. He averaged 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game and flashed some moments of amazing athleticism.
Twice Justin Gray scored 20 points in a game this year putting up a career high 23 at Kansas State and 20 at Oklahoma. He also had 12 more games of double-digit scoring to be the team’s fifth-leading scorer.
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But, there were too many times that Gray seemed to disappear in games. He is far too talented to have 16 games scoring fewer than 10 points (including two games in which he went scoreless).
Gray did most of his work in two ways. First, he was a fantastic rebounder from the small forward position and on numerous occasions he was able to grab offensive rebounds and score on the put back.
Second, Gray became adept at driving the ball to the basket. Aside from forward Zach Smith, Justin Gray is the best leaper on the Texas Tech roster and he used his athleticism to score around the rim and finish on the fast break.
Still, Gray is nowhere near reaching his full potential. The pre-med major who received academic scholarship offers from Ivy League schools seems lost defensively at times.
While his quickness and long arms allow him to deflect a high number of passes, Gray too often plays defense without the big picture in mind. For example, he is prone to double-teaming the ball leaving a good perimeter shooter open on the wing.
Other times, he seems to focus too intently on his man and the ball becoming susceptible to losing his man in the flow of the offense or failing to provide help defense. When Gray is tasked with guarding the ball-handler, he is an above average defender but he must develop a better understanding of team defense.
Overall Grade: C+
Gray’s best accomplishment this season was staying healthy and overcoming the mental hurdle that arises after a serious knee injury. He earned a starting position this year and at times proved to be one of the best athletes on the team.
However, Gray must be more aggressive offensively on a nightly basis. With the loss of the team’s two top scorers from 2015-16, Toddrick Gotcher and Devaugntah Williams, Justin Gray must become a more reliable offensive threat next season.
He must spend time this off season developing a consistent outside shot because far too often this year defenders sagged off of him to keep him from driving to the basket. In addition, he must improve his understanding of Tubby smith’s defensive system and improve as an all-around defender.
Justin Gray is a player with all the athletic tools to become an all-conference player. But for this season, his inconsistency on both ends of the court limited him to being an average Big 12 player. Next season, Gray will need to elevate his play to help Texas Tech meet what will be elevated expectations for the entire team after this year’s improbable NCAA Tournament run.