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Steven Gray retires from pro career to make difference as athletic director at tribal school

Oct. 29, 2022 Updated Sat., Oct. 29, 2022 at 5:12 p.m.

Steven Gray was so certain he would return for another professional basketball season in Greece that he left many of his belongings at his in-season apartment.

That was still Gray’s intention when he went on vacation this summer. The former Gonzaga standout guard had thrown his name in for the athletic director position at Muckleshoot Tribal School in Auburn, Washington, but he didn’t think he had much of a chance.

In fact, Gray was planning on playing another three years. He was putting up good numbers and offers kept coming, but his mindset began to change when his team in Greece changed the coaching staff. He knew he’d be walking into a new situation.

“My wife has been the curriculum director at the tribal school since COVID started. They asked her, ‘Is Steven going to be retiring?’ ” Gray said. “The job posting was still open and they still didn’t have anyone that was more qualified, so I put my name in. So I finished working out, it was July and we were going on vacation.

“They set up a (Zoom) interview while I was in Cabo. On Friday, the day before we left, I had an unofficial offer. In a week of vacation, I’d gone from training for going back (to Greece) to all done. It was crazy how it all went down.”

It would get crazier. Within a few weeks, Gray was the one conducting interviews – of prospective coaches – and logging long hours to learn the job on the fly. His wide-ranging duties include scheduling, setting up venues for games and handling student-athlete issues.

Gray, 33, was nervous when he told the team president, who was on his resume as a reference for the A.D. job, and his agent that he was retiring. He had to inform his dad that a planned trip to visit his son in Greece wasn’t going to happen.

“All these things we’d planned, I had to go back on,” said Gray, a two-time All-West Coast Conference first-team selection who scored 1,432 career points from 2008-11, No. 21 on the program’s all-time list. “My dad told me, ‘What is three years of basketball if you can walk into something you want to do and can have an impact?’ “

The former Zag shares the same perspective. Gray, who is Afro-Indigenous and a member of the Nooksack Tribe, felt the A.D. appointment “was meant to be.”

“I thought I wanted to do something in athletics and basketball,” Gray said. “I wanted to build some youth basketball programs for the tribes in the area because I felt like it was a missed opportunity when I was at Gonzaga, being a voice for the Indigenous community.

“When this popped up, I thought, ‘This is pretty close,’ and I’d have a lot of responsibility. It’s a little weird (being on the administrative side), but the fact that I’m around these kids that are just starting their journey in athletics … I’m trying to make this the best possible experience.”

Gray said most of his experiences overseas were great. He was particularly fond of his time in Greece. He knew the area well enough to drive back roads to practice. He brought U.S. teammates to the beach to unwind after two-a-day practices. His daughter Bailee, who just turned 8, is fluent in Greek

.

Gray can’t remember the last time he wasn’t playing basketball at this time of year, but guessed it was elementary school.

“I’m going to miss it,” he said, “but there’s so much energy to put elsewhere.”

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