Gay gets his cautious nature from his mother--"I'm more or less a background person," Rae says--but as Rudy's basketball talents evolved he couldn't help but move front and center. However, the spotlight sometimes treated him harshly, as it did when he transferred from Eastern Tech High to Archbishop Spalding, a private school in Severn, Md., early in his junior year. Gay made the move for academic reasons and was eligible at Spalding immediately, which caused such a ruckus that the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association changed its rules to require students who transfer from a non-MIAA school to sit out for one year from the date of the transfer.
Then there was the spat between Calhoun and Maryland coach Gary Williams following Gay's commitment to UConn. A week before he signed the letter of intent, the Huskies played an exhibition at home against a team of former college players who had played for Lewis, Gay's AAU coach at Cecil-Kirk, with UConn paying a $25,000 appearance fee to the rec center. One week later Maryland lost an exhibition game to an NBA minor league team, and Williams cracked, "We could have scheduled an AAU team and given them $25,000 like some schools I know." Within a few months the NCAA had passed a rule forbidding colleges from playing exhibitions against teams sponsored by AAU programs. Thus did Gay earn the distinction of indirectly spurring rules changes at the high school and college levels.
IT TOOK Gay all of five games to become a starter at UConn, but he admits that throughout last season he was "playing to stay on the floor instead of playing to dominate." Calhoun is notoriously intolerant of such timidity, but in Gay's case the coach took a gentle approach. "You can do a lot more harm than good to Rudy if you really ride him, because he doesn't like to be singled out," Calhoun says. " Reggie Lewis was the same way. One time he said to me, 'Coach, I don't mind you yelling at me, but I would appreciate it if you didn't do it in front of the guys.'"
Still, Calhoun's patience with Gay could wear thin if it appears the forward's diffidence is hurting the team. UConn will be tested early, in the Maui Invitational beginning on Nov. 18; the field includes four teams ranked in the top 10. "If we go to Hawaii and don't play well, some responsibility is going to be placed on Rudy," Calhoun says. "He usually defuses me when I get angry with him just by giving me that great smile, but at some point I'm going to have to explode. I know he has greatness in him."