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Dating back to his time at Laurentian University, Ottawa BlackJacks guard Kadre Gray has managed to exceed expectations.
With a punctuating quarter-final performance in which he scored 33 points, the final two of which sealed Ottawa's upset victory over the Hamilton Honey Badgers, the Toronto native proved again why he's among the league's brightest young stars.
When Gray signed with the BlackJacks in April, general manager Jevohn Shepherd may not have envisioned him evolving into his current role so quickly.
"That performance was everything that we are about here," Shepherd said. "When we first signed him, we had a conversation with Kadre and said, 'look Kadre, you may not play this year, you may play a couple games, you may play a couple minutes here and there. You may be on [the] inactive [list] back and forth.' But, he took that challenge.
"He far exceeded expectations we've had this early."
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Gray, 23, who is also signed with Club Básquet Coruña in Spain for their upcoming season, has averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in 2021.
Originally drafted by Hamilton in 2020, he came into the season a year removed from his U Sports career where he won the 2017-18 U SPORTS Athlete of the Year award. Further, he was a two-time National Player of the Year winner and three-time OUA Player of the Year winner.
Growth and adaptability
Laurentian wasn't his original plan for university hoops either.
After his hopes of playing college basketball in the United Stated failed to materialize, he initially planned to attend one of Ryerson, Brock or the University of Toronto. Tagging along with then-teammate Josis Mikia-Thomas on a recruiting trip, he re-routed and sided with Laurentian head coach and former Canadian national team member Shawn Swords.
The decision resulted in the beginning of his development toward a professional career.
"I give a lot of credit to Shawn Swords who kind of helped mold my game so that I was able to, when I get to this level, be able to adapt quickly," Gray said.
"A lot of times during our workouts at Laurentian, he would teach me — simulating as if I was at the pro level and what I would be able to do and what I wouldn't be able to do. I think it made coming to this [CEBL] level ... so much easier."
Having also competed for Canada's senior men's national team at the FIBA World Cup 2019 qualifiers, being surrounded by professionals and former professionals allowed his confidence to grow.
"It was an honour because it's like, 'you know what, your country sees you as one of the better basketball athletes here in this country,' he said.
"They nominated me to come and play with them. That was something that really turned my confidence up to another level. [And] really just seeing the hard work, all the pieces, all the people around you are starting to grow with you and how that all plays a part."
In the eyes of his general manager, Gray's made important steps forward this season.
"He's come in, he's matured as a player, matured as a person — he's developed so fast and adapted to the pro game," Shepherd said of the young guard. "He's going to be a big time player and we definitely want to be a part of that."
'Run with every opportunity I'm given'
Carrying a level of maturity, remaining adaptable and having the ability to stay level-headed through ups and downs in the CEBL has helped him impress from early in the season when he was Ottawa's leading scorer.
"For me, it wasn't getting caught up in words," Gray said. "At the end of the day, this is basketball. If you go out there and you're one of the better players on the court, odds are you'll play more minutes.
"[I] just take that in and run with it, run with every opportunity I'm given. At the end of the day, it's all about helping the team win. I'm just happy to be a part of it."
The next opportunity that awaits, is the BlackJacks' semifinal showdown against the reigning CEBL champion Edmonton Stingers for a chance to move on to Sunday's title game.
Having already adopted the idea of "David versus Goliath" in the previous round against Hamilton, Gray sees a similar narrative heading into the game against Edmonton.
"We know that we're the underdogs, we don't believe that anybody thinks that we're supposed to be here. For us, continue to be the underdogs [and] never waver in our faith — God's going to put us on top Sunday, and we believe that.
"I never got a national title at Laurentian University, but man ... this is an opportunity to do something amazing, so I'm ready for it."