Josh Gray is certainly harder for many people to recognize these days, as the LSU guard is sporting a much different look after chopping most of his hair off.
"I just felt like it was time for a change," Gray said.
And change is certainly the key word for the well-traveled senior entering his final season of college basketball - not only with his appearance, but also from what fans expect from him this time around.
"I feel like last year, I came to LSU with a lot of expectations, a lot of hype. And a lot of media attention. I feel like this year, I don’t have anything like that anymore. I kind of feel like I’m not part of the puzzle. But I kind of like it that way, because it humbles me, grounds me and makes me focus," Gray added.
That notoriety certainly seemed warranted after Gray averaged nearly 35 points per game at Odessa Junior College. The thought of the Lake Charles native torching nets from long range and filling box scores for the Tigers was an extremely exciting possibility for many LSU fans.
"At this level, the coach isn’t going to let you come out and shoot the ball whenever you want, whenever you want to do it. So, I knew I wasn’t going to average 35 points. But I thought I’d average 15 or so," Gray explained.
Early in the season, Gray indeed showed what he was capable of offensively. In an 82-60 win over UMass in Baton Rouge, he hit 11 of 15 shots from the field for 25 points. Certainly, this was just the beginning of a tremendous season.
"I felt like there was going to be a lot of games like that," Gray remarked.
But he was wrong. He averaged just 7.1 points for the season and turned the basketball over 81 times against 118 assists. Gray often struggled to get comfortable in his new role as a distributor, usually conflicted with his decision making.
"That was like the story of my year. I’d get in the lane and normally I’d score. I’d finish it. But last year, I was caught up in ‘Should I pass this?’ or ‘Will coach be mad if I shoot this?’ or ‘Will coach be mad if I don’t pass this?’ I was kind of confused. So this year, my main thing is going to be settling things down. And playing within the offense," Gray said while chuckling.
This season hardly got off to a great start either. While his LSU teammates traveled to Australia for a series of exhibition games against professional and all-star teams, Gray was suspended and left at home for playing in an unsanctioned basketball game. He described the experience as "hurtful."
But now, with yet another disappointing setback behind him, Gray is hopeful for a strong finish at LSU. He is embracing his role as a backup point guard to junior Tim Quarterman.
"Yeah, I’m happy. I’m excited for the year. I have a clear head and a positive energy. And I’m having fun," Gray stated.
Expectations for LSU are extremely high, with true freshman and SEC Preseason Player of The Year, Ben Simmons now aboard. The Tigers are No. 19 in The USA Today Coaches Poll.
"I think we can really be great. I think our practices are hard. I think if we buy in to what Coach Jones tells us every day, we can reach our full potential. And I feel like if we all stay humble and play for one another, the sky’s the limit for us," Gray said.
Gray and his LSU teammates will be in action for the first time on November 6, as the Tigers host Southwest Baptist in an exhibition game at The Maravich Assembly Center.
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