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Zags vs. USF: An ode to Steven Gray

One thing I love about writing for this blog, and especially dealing with the SBNation format, is the ability to look back on what I have written over the past 15 months. There are some things that I am very proud of writing and make me look like the next Jerry Sloan, while there are also things that make me look a guy who has never seen basketball played, One guy who I wrote about on multiple occasions is Steven Gray. Like many people on this blog who contribute with Fan Shots and comments, I have not always been supportive of Gray. I think one reason for the way I felt was the fact that he never seemed to be having fun on the court and it just appeared that basketball was more like a chore or just something he did because he is extraordinarily gifted.

As I mentioned in the game chat, with his size, strength, and freakish athleticism (reported 40 inch vertical), Steven has every physical gift that an NBA team could want. I have had the privilege to watch Brandon Roy about 20 times in person this season with the Trail Blazers, and I will tell you that I think Steven has every tool to be that good. The main difference between what some of these elite guards in the NBA possess, and what Steven used to play like, is the demeanor and passion on the court. However, Gray has given this fan base one of the most remarkable changes in demeanor and passion that I  can recall. So while this is technically the USF preview for Saturday, I hope many of you will continue reading why I continue to be blown away by Mr. Gray.

Lets go back together and look at the Duke game. After the game, many people demanded lineup changes for this team. One of the main guys that many people were disappointed in, or wanted benched, was Steven Gray. I think there was such a genuine sense of frustration about how a guy with his skill set could struggle so badly. These feelings came across even more after the close win at Portland, when Steven struggled with his decision-making and foul trouble. At this point, I had officially reached the level where I thought that all this physical ability would be wasted, because frankly, it didn't seem like Gray cared enough about the game of basketball. However, if you look back at his season, the Portland game is the outlier since the loss to Duke.

Since the nightmare that was the Duke game, Steven has scored in double-figures in eight of the nine wins, and shot over 50% in every game except for EWU and Portland. However, the most glaring change, and the reason that I have done a complete 180, is the court demeanor. Basketball is unique in that with only 10 guys on the court, every emotion and sense of passion is captured and seen. Football doesn't have this luxury because of helmets, and baseball is too boring and slow moving for a real sense of excitement and passion to be displayed. I will openly admit that I am a fan of raw emotions on display. I am a Kevin Garnett fan, and I adore watching him scream in passion, pump his chest, and play every minute like it could be the last of his career.

I don't claim to know what brought this change out in Steven Gray, but I will argue that it is the most important development this season. With Gray playing at this level, this Zags team now possesses a three-headed monster with Bouldin, Gray, and Harris. While I am an avid fan of the NBA, one of the beautiful aspects of the NCAA game is the growth and maturity you can see develop in a player over three or four years. Seeing this development in Gray is what makes college basketball so special.

Seeing Steven sprinting down the court with a huge smile after his late layup against Santa Clara was a chilling moment. Watching Steven get in the face of a referee, scream after a big play, and frankly play like he is having the time of his life is what I will always associate this season with. This guy is a special talent, and whether it was an individual change, or a talk from the coaching staff or teammates, I am ecstatic at the display we have seen from him. Keep having fun on the court Steven, because when you have a good time, I can assure that your teammates and all of Gonzaga nation is smiling.

As for a prediction for about a 77-63 Gonzaga win.