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2010-2011 Player Previews: Is Steven Gray ready to lead?

Watching Steven Gray's progression at Gonzaga University has been nothing short of fascinating. 

For three years, Steven has been a player that has consistently kept Gonzaga fans guessing.  Gray entered Gonzaga as a clean-cut, sharpshooter and he's going to leave the university as an accomplished stage performer with dreadlocks.  This is status quo for Gray, however, who's game on the court has changed as much as anything he's done off it. 

As a freshman, Gray came with plenty of hype from the Seattle area.  After sitting out a handful of games with a broken wrist, Gray dazzled GU fans with his impressive outside stroke which culminated with a 7-12 performance in the first round of the tournament which was nearly enough for Gonzaga to take down Steph Curry and the Davidson Wildcats.  Gray hit a pretty major sophomore slump in the following season.  Battling transfer wing Micah Downs, Gray saw inconsistent minutes and his efficiency dropped off severely.  As a junior, Steven had a tremendous season.  Averaging 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists a game; Steven showed flashes of becoming a complete player.  He showed the ability to do a little bit of everything including becoming an outstanding defender.

As we look toward Steven's senior season, many are wondering if he can take that next step from "solid player" to "team-defining player".  I don't think you'll find many Gonzaga fans who would question the guard's talent level.  He's an offensive threat with range who also showed a great ability to slash to the hoop last year.  What is and will be questioned throughout the season is whether or not Steven can be a consistent force for the Zags. 

What we must see is...can he lead this team and maximize their huge potential?

When I think about Steven leading a team, I can't help but get excited.  Everyone has their own definition of what a leader should look like.  Many have visions of Adam Morrison banging a basketball against his head, Jeremy Pargo tomahawk dunking on someone, or Ronny Turiaf running up the court screaming.  While I don't think you are ever going to see Steven do any of the things listed in the previous sentence, I know that he can be a leader on this team.  As someone who is calm, cool, and collected, I envision Steven adding great balance to the more vocal guys on this team like Robert Sacre and Demetri Goodson.  

A big part of being a leader and being a senior on this very talented is team is that there will undoubtedly be games where Steven is asked to go above and beyond and put this team on his back.  While he does have great teammates around him that are more than capable, I would imagine that, along with Elias Harris, he will be the guy Mark Few calls on when things are tight.  Watching Steven's maturation over the past few years, I am confident this is something he can handle.  One of the most outstanding individual efforts I've seen in person was Gray's performance in Seattle against Connecticut.  Gray was just a sophomore at this point but was called on to step up as four Gonzaga starters battled foul trouble (three ultimately fouled out) and the fifth starter, Jeremy Pargo, battled leg cramps.  Gray answered the call and finished the game with 23 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals.   While #2 Connecticut proved to be too much in overtime, it was a remarkable effort from Steven.

That game against Connecticut was, in my mind, the best game of Steven's career at Gonzaga.  This can be a bit frustrating because you can see that he has such skill, now it is all about bottling it up and putting it into a consistent effort night in, night out.  The great thing is that Steven is no longer reliant on the three point shot.  Many still want to paint him as a sharp shooter but that just isn't true.  He's skilled from outside, shooting 33% last season but he was much more promising attacking the hoop and creating his own shot. 

The interesting thing this season will be to see how Mark Few decides to use Steven.  Many believe that Kelly Olynyk will be Gonzaga's opening night starter at the power forward.  If that is he case and Elias Harris slides to small forward, Steven is going to have some pressure on him to be efficient from the three point line.  With a big lineup likely starting, most defenses will pack the middle to stop GU's frontline and Demetri Goodson isn't the type of player to start lighting things up from outside.  If a guy like Manny Arop starts, Gonzaga can play a little further out on the perimeter and that will give Steven more chances to operate like he did last season. 

I couldn't be more excited to watch a player than I am to see Steven Gray.  While a number of question marks linger with his role this season, I expect him to embrace being a leader on this team.  The defensive presence of Gray, Demetri Goodson, and Mangisto Arop should also be one of the best in Gonzaga's history.  If this backcourt can step up on the other end of the court and stay consistent, this team could be poised for a very deep run in 2010-11.