Former Gonzaga standout Steven Gray was more than just a casual observer of the NBA Finals.
Gray’s college career created numerous connections to the Finals’ premier players. He had several matchups with Klay Thompson when the Golden State sharpshooter sported a Washington State uniform. Gray chased Stephen Curry around screen after screen when the other half of the Splash Brothers was making a name for himself at Davidson.
Gray also took the floor against Michigan State’s Draymond Green, North Carolina’s Danny Green and San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard.
“It’s always interesting to hear guys talk about (the Finals) in the locker room, and to know that those were guys we went up against,” said Gray, who returned stateside last Tuesday after another successful season professionally in Greece.
His encounter with Curry is probably the most memorable for Zag fans. Curry buried eight 3-pointers and scored 40 points as Davidson edged GU 82-76 in the opening round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament. Gray, a freshman, dropped seven 3-pointers and paced the Zags with 21 points.
Curry’s performance was otherworldly because most of his shots were contested by Gray, but it barely interfered with Curry’s quick release and deep range.
“I still get a lot of that, ‘Hey, we were just watching the game with Steph and we saw you were trying to guard him,’” Gray said. “One story I tell a lot, I watched the game several years ago and he had one play where he got the ball by the elbow, pump-faked and drew contact and banked it in left-handed.
“When it happened I thought that was the luckiest shot I’ve ever seen and I shrugged it off, not realizing it was absolutely in his arsenal.”
Gray’s GU teams went 2-1 against Thompson’s Cougars. Gonzaga had the upperhand in 2008 and 2009, the latter with Gray limiting Thompson, who came in leading the nation in scoring at 28.3, to 15 points. Thompson got loose for 24 points in WSU’s 2010 victory.
“The level he’s gotten to, it’s crazy when you look back,” Gray said. “You knew he could shoot and I thought a lot of that was because of the situation, but he’s proven beyond a doubt what he can do.”
Finals MVP Leonard was San Diego’s State star player, but Billy White worked over the Zags with 30 points in a 79-76 win in Nov. 2010. Gray poured in 35 points, including 14 of GU’s last 15.
“Steven was superhuman,” coach Mark Few said.
The Zags came up just short in a 75-71 road loss to Michigan State in Gray’s senior season. Draymond Green had six points and 10 boards while Gray finished with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists. A year later, Green torched the Zags for 34 points in MSU’s win in Spokane.
Danny Green was on a North Carolina squad packed with future pros that cruised to the 2009 NCAA title with six double-digit wins, including a 98-77 victory over Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.
“Their whole roster was something else,” Gray said.
Gray ranks in Gonzaga’s top 10 in career assists, steals and 3-pointers. He’s 19th with 1,432 career points. The statistics are strong but Gray is most proud of the Zags’ four WCC championships and four NCAA Tournaments during his tenure.
The last of those four titles was the hardest. The 2011 Zags lost three straight in conference early and dropped into a tie for fourth place. They rallied to earn a share of the program’s 11th straight conference title and thumped Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament championship game.
“It was so stressful,” Gray recalled. “I remember looking at the standings and thought, ‘I don’t know how we can pull this off.’ We put together an eight-game (WCC) winning streak and it was just a huge relief.”
Gray’s post-GU career began in Latvia, followed by stops in France, Lebanon, France for 2-plus years, Greece, Croatia and Greece again. He’s returning to Athens-based Peristeri next season.
Gray also had four stints in the NBA Summer League along the way, the last in 2015 with Brooklyn.
“I’ve definitely seen a lot of the world and I’m meeting a lot of the world’s people,” Gray said. “It’s been a fun journey and an adventure. Greece has been really nice with the awesome weather, lifestyle and pace of life.”
Gray always attempts to return to Spokane to visit friends and former teammates during Hoopfest weekend. He follows the Zags from afar and takes pride in the program’s rise nationally.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “There were points where the program made a jump. The first one was in 2013 after Kelly Olynyk’s redshirt year and then getting to the Final Four put them at another level. It’s just been constant, steady progress and then maintaining a certain standard and building off that.”
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