Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
12/12/2006 10:07:00 AM
Blog Q&A With ... Pittsburgh's Aaron Gray
Aaron Gray helped Pittsburgh to a close win over Buffalo last Saturday.
As part of an ongoing series of Blog Q&As, I chatted with Pitt's 7-foot man in the middle, Aaron Gray, on Monday. After declaring for the 2006 NBA Draft, he opted to pull out in June and return for his senior season. It's gone well thus far: He's averaging a double-double (16.8 points and 10.8 rebounds) for the nation's second-ranked team, which is 10-0 heading into a Saturday duel with No. 7 Wisconsin.
Luke Winn: You're just starting finals week at Pitt right now. What do you have left to do, degree-wise -- and do you plan to use it for anything?
Aaron Gray: I only have a few classes I have to take next semester to finish up my degree, and then I'll be graduating with a major in communications and a minor in history. I did the communications classes because I kind of want to be in broadcasting, and history was just something I really liked. As a fall-back sort of thing [to pro basketball] I could become a history teacher and coach at the high school level.
LW: So what's your area of historical expertise?
AG: Well, since it's a minor we don't have to have a concentration, but I'm mostly doing American History. I'm more into the back-in-the-day stuff, like how the country got started, from the revolution up to the Civil War.
LW: Your Panthers had quite the scare against Buffalo on Saturday, rallying from 10 points down in the second half to beat the Bulls 70-67. How did you guys pull off the comeback?
AG: We just stayed together as a team. Guys didn't start pointing fingers or yelling at each other. We kind of always had the belief, in the back of our minds, that, 'Hey, we're going to get this one.' We have a pretty good team, with a lot of experienced guys who had been in games like that before.
LW: That had to be a pretty wild scene in Buffalo, though. It's not very often that a major-conference team -- much less the No. 2 squad in the country -- travels to a good mid-major's home court.
AG: It made a real exciting atmosphere. It was the third-largest crowd in the history of [Alumni Arena], I think the fans saw a pretty good game. Of course they were doing all of their chants, and making derogatory remarks, but that's fine -- our motto has always been, 'They don't chant at the bad players.'
LW: Did the Buffalo folks give you anything good? I mean, you had 19 points and 11 rebounds in that one …
AG: It was actually kind of funny. It started off with guys saying things like, 'Oh, you think you're good enough for the NBA?' and then, 'You don’t have a chance!' But at the end, someone actually from their student section came up and shook my hand. He said, 'You're the truth, and you're going to make a lot of money.' He didn't have to say that -- because he was an opposing fan -- so I think it he meant it.
LW: You're shooting a pretty stellar 64 percent this year from the field, as opposed to 52.6 percent last season. Where are you picking up that 12 percent? New moves? Easier baskets?
AG: I think I've always had good touch around the basket, and always been able to shoot it a little bit. The reason the percentage was down last year was due to me not being in as good a shape as I am this year. I've continued to work a lot on my strength and conditioning in the offseason. It's funny, because I took easier shots last year -- far more of them right inside, near the basket, and I'd rarely ever fade out to 10 or 15 feet. This year I'm out to 10, 15, even 17 feet and my percentage has risen.
LW: Did you have some kind of specific training regiment that resulted in the new, fitter Aaron Gray?
AG:Ronald Ramon's pops actually came out and put us through a boot camp for the last six weeks of the summer, to get us ready for the season. We'd wake up at around 7 a.m., and start doing a bunch of conditioning and agility work, running hills, running on the track, and doing cone drills for lateral movement. Then we'd work the basketball camps here for the little kids, which ran from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. -- and we'd lift weights during the lunch break. After camp, we'd do all of our on-the-court stuff, with everyone working together on their ballhandling, shooting and everything else.
LW: You're playing with a point guard this year, Levance Fields, who has a 3.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. How much has that helped the team, having a floor leader who so rarely coughs up the ball?
AG: Levance has been a great asset for the team. He's a really good point guard who loves to pass the ball, and it makes our offense run smoothly. He's also able to score at times, when we need a big lift. He had a big steal to put us up for the first time against Buffalo -- that was huge. Levance is still a young guy, too, but he plays a lot older.
LW: I know you never got to play for Ben Howland at Pitt -- although he recruited you -- but how cool is it to see his new team [UCLA] and Jamie's team at Nos. 1 and 2?
AG: It's something that the media loves -- they get to play it up. What I think is, it shows that programs are not always built entirely on head coaches, but also on the guys they had around them. Coach Dixon was here with coach Howland for pretty much all of his career, and was able to learn so much from him. That's sort of repeating itself here, with coach Dixon as the head coach and his assistants growing to the point that they're getting Division I head-coaching jobs. I'm really excited to be No. 2 in the country, but right now we're trying not to focus on the ranking.
LW: Your parents, Mike and Sandy, make the long [four-hour] drive from Emmaus, Pa., to Pittsburgh for every home game. Are you going to reimburse them for the mileage when you get to the NBA?
AG: They're at all of the games, even on the road. They book their tickets at the beginning of the year for every away game, they drive out [to Pitt] for every home game, even the scrimmages, and they make team functions, too. We've had picnics, we had a Thanksgiving dinner the day after the Florida State game, and they were out here for that. They love it -- and a lot of my success is because of them, the fact that they're around at every game. So as for the payment, I don't think all the money that I'll make could really pay them back for the support.
LW: It says in your bio that you once shattered a backboard in high school. Can you tell me how that went down?
AG: It happened in practice, right before my junior season started. We were just working on getting up and down the floor, and I got an alley-oop thrown to me, and the next thing I knew, I was in the hospital. I kind of broke my ankle, and I had to get about 65 stitches in my face and down my arm. It wasn't pretty … but at the same time it was pretty cool. The bad thing is that I had to miss my first 13 games of that season. I think we went 1-12 during that stretch, and then once I came back we won 17 or 18 in a row.
LW: So you just blacked out after it shattered, or what?
AG: Well, I remember laying on the ground, and it was like I was in a pile of shattered glass and a puddle of blood. It was pretty crazy.
LW: I hope they didn't make you pay for the board.
AG: No, they didn't. But they did try to add something into our code of conduct after that -- it said that if you broke a backboard, you'd be responsible for it. I never signed it.
LW: Got a less gory, more historic hoops question for you. Who's your favorite big white guy of all-time?
AG: I don't really know. I guess I don't really look out for big white guys. The guy I grew up liking was Shaq, and one of the most underrated big men ever was Charles Barkley, who was only 6-6 but was banging against 7-1 guys every night, and he led the league in rebounding. He was real tough -- and that's how I like to play. I love rebounding the ball, and I love to play D. As for white guys, though, right now I like Pau Gasol's game. I'm also sort of a Mark Madsen fan. He's always going, always hustling. Maybe he needs to work on his dance moves, but he's a tough player.
LW: NBAdraft.net lists your pro comparison as Felton Spencer. Any thoughts on Felton Spencer?
AG: I don't even know who that is.
LW: Ha. I like that. Moving on ... I asked Kansas' Julian Wright this question a few weeks ago. If you had to pick a college all-star team -- four guys to surround you on the floor -- but it couldn't include any other Panthers, whom would you choose?
AG: Wow, that's tough ... [pauses] At the one, I'd probably go with Dominic James from Marquette. He loves to pass but can also score a lot. At the two, I think I'll take Arron Afflalo [from UCLA]. He's a good shooter and he plays great defense for them. My three would be Kevin Durant from down at Texas. He's only a freshman, but he's averaging 22 and 10, he can really shoot the ball, and he's so long that he can play D and also be a great help as a rebounder. With a 6-10 three-man like him, the other team's second-chance opportunities would be slim to none. Finally, at the four, I'd go with Tyler Hansbrough from UNC. He's such a hustler. He's giving 100 percent on every single play, has a knack for scoring around the basket, and he can also step out and shoot as well as knock down his free throws.
LW: Finally, I know you said you didn't care that much about your ranking, but if you guys go and beat Wisconsin, do you think you'll have a good case to be No. 1?
AG: I think so, definitely. I think we can make a strong case right now. We were ranked ahead of UCLA at the start of the season, and they jumped us. They've played well, but I think we haven't doing anything to relinquish our ranking. Obviously we've got a few tough games coming up. Wisconsin barely ever loses at their place [they're 69-5 under Bo Ryan at the Kohl Center], and then after that we go to Oklahoma City to face an undefeated Oklahoma State team, and they're also really good. We're going to be facing some very tough crowds away from home.
The Blog will return in the middle of next week after a brief hiatus. In the meantime, chat amongst yourselves ...
I'm a Pitt alum and huge fan, but if Gray likes to play "tough", as in the mold of Barkley, I certainly haven't seen it. His softness under the rim and his (sometimes) half-hearted effort on rebounding will cost this team, maybe even this Saturday at Wisconsin. Let's face it: Last year in the tourney, Gray had his lunch (and heart) taken by O'Bryant. That shouldn't happen to a (supposedly) elite player. Prove me wrong, Aaron. Prove me wrong.
Hahahahaha Felton Spencer, good call on that (whoever put it in his draft profile) Mr. Gray seems to be a good kid and he certainly is big and bright. However he is not going to be a star at the next level, too slow and unathletic. He matches up well against some people in college simply because of his size. Right now he is the 2nd best center in the big east, which is no small feat (I put hibbert at #1) However by the end of the season, he may be number3 (That UConn freshman monster gets better every game on the offensive end, and is already the best defensive center in the conference)
Nice kid, will make alot of money, but is almost to the point of being "Dukerrated" (ie: Trajan Langdon, JJ Redick, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Cherokkee Parks, etc.) when it comes to his ability at the next level and his status within his current level. Oh also, I hereby copyright the term Dukerrated by the way.
What car is Aaron's parents driving that they can get from Emmaus to Pittsburgh in 4 hours? I grew up in Bethlehem (near Emmaus) and went to school at Pitt, and the best I ever did was 5 1/2 hours -- with no food or bathroom breaks.
Anyway, Aaron's doing a great job this season, and he's improved his post game every season. And I bet that he'll be a better pro than Felton Spencer was. At least I hope so for any team that drafts him.
I saw him play in high school and he was not impressive at all. But I knew that with hard work, he'd be able to be a force in college. Just didn't expect it to be at this level! Way to go Aaron, you've worked hard and become an incredible player (and person) and best of luck at the next level from everyone in the Lehigh Valley (PA).
I give Pittsburgh a lot of credit for upgrading their non conference schedule which in past years has been very soft. They are a fun team to watch and their game in Madison this week should be very enjoyabe to watch.
Wisconsin loves to shut down big name players. Expect Grey to get a couple of bruises on Saturday. I think they will frustrate him and get him in foul trouble early. After Wisconsin wins will they get the respect they deserve? Probably not!
Tennesse pounds Memphis by 20, beats a Tourny team in W. Kentucky, beats an undefeated Oklahoma State team, then Texas in a four game span with a record of 10-2. Nope, still not in top 25! Are these coaches ignorant or just plain idiots?