Growth spurt helps Gray’s basketball quest
It’s been done before — putting salt in your sneakers to help you grow and become a better basketball player.
So that’s what redshirt sophomore forward RaiQuan Gray of the Florida State men’s basketball team did for an entire summer.
“Turk wanted to be tall like his older brother,” said his mom, Valarie Gray, referring to Gray by his nikname. “His uncle Reg told him to put salt in his shoes like Michael Jordan did, and that would make him grow taller.”
A well-known along Tobacco Road, says that Jordan went to his mother because he feared he would never grow tall enough to become a basketball superstar.
His mother, Deloris Jordan, shared with him the ideals of what really makes a champion — patience, determination and hard work.
The salt must have worked, too, as Jordan grew five inches between his sophomore and junior seasons in high school, became an All-American at North Carolina and a World Champion with the Chicago Bulls.
Gray, affectionately known as “Turk” by family, friends and teammates, first picked up a basketball when he was 9 years old and in the fourth grade. He had been a little league football star until then and had grown up around football in a family of gridiron players.
“I feel that basketball is a much more fun game to play than football,” said Gray, who started 24 games for the ACC Champion Seminoles during the 2019-20 season. “Something exciting happens every time down the court, unlike football.
“I also wanted to create my own legacy from my family which, was for a long time, known for football.”
Gray immediately began to make his mark on the basketball court and certainly created his own legacy as a high school standout.
“I’m continuously impressed how much RaiQuan Gray has improved from year to year,” said Wes Durham of the ESPN-ACC Network. “I think he is the most productive redshirt Coach Hamilton has ever had. RaiQuan’s skill set is such a tough matchup for opposing defenses, and his size makes him formidable when the Seminoles defend, too.”
As a senior at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, he led the Panthers to a 28-5 record and a No. 20 national ranking. He averaged a double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds and was selected as a member of the 2016 and 2017 All-Broward County First-Team by the Miami Herald. Gray totaled nine points and 10 rebounds in the Panthers’ state championship game victory over Largo High School. As a junior, he earned All-State Class 6A First Team honors.
Many of the top colleges in the nation came knocking on his door, hoping he would become their next star. His suitors included Florida State, Baylor, Miami, Florida, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Maryland and Memphis — all NCAA Tournament regulars who competed at the highest level of college basketball.
The biggest decision of his early life wasn’t really that difficult at all, as he picked Florida State.
“I had great relationships with Coach (Stan) Jones and ‘CY’ (Charlton Young) beginning in my ninth grade year,” said Gray. “They felt like family. My mom trusted Coach (Leonard) Hamilton and his staff most. So, really, my decision was a very easy one.”
His Seminole career took a bit of a detour when the coaching staff approached him about taking a redshirt year as a true freshman.
“Coach Hamilton felt ‘Turk’ needed a year to improve his body and adjust to the pace of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball,” said Young. “His talent, athleticism and basketball IQ have always been off the charts. Coach Ham wanted to give him a year to learn the Florida State system, and that proved to be one of the many great moves by Leonard Hamilton. It was Coach Jones who was critical in his development because he taught ‘Turk’ how to show up every day in both practice and games.”
Gray didn’t initially take well to the idea.
“I was upset,” Gray said. “But once I sat down with my mom and Coach CY I realized that was the best thing for me at the time. I’m glad it happened and thank Coach (Dennis) Gates for helping me get through that year.”
While redshirting, Gray was still a big part of Florida State’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight team in 2018 and took advantage of his many opportunities throughout the season. That included practicing each day against future NBA players Mifondu Kabengele and Terance Mann, as well as future pros Phil Cofer, Braian Angola and Christ Koumadje.
It also meant being tutored by Florida State’s assistant coaches – including Jones, who is considered to be one of the top big-man mentors in college basketball.
“I’m a big fan of redshirting because it allows kids to work on their complete games,” said Jones. “With RaiQuan, we were able to help him improve his shooting mechanics, his conditioning and his mental approach to the games. He has been able to realize quite a few big moments in his career, and we expect him to realize many bigger moments as his career continues to progress.
“Every guy we have redshirted in our system has gone on to do great things. We expect RaiQuan to be one of those players as he continues his basketball career at Florida State and as a professional.”