It began with a crossover dribble.
Moments later, following another crossover, a Charles H. Flowers High School guard’s knee buckled and the brace protecting it came undone.
As the boys’ basketball player reached down to rip off the brace’s remaining straps and discard the now-useless contraption, Bowie’s Jared Gray began his next move. Gray lured his opponent over to the right half of the court, faked a spin before driving back towards the hoop. The defender had bit on the spin, lunging forward, hoping for a redeeming steal only to dig himself into an even deeper hole.
In a county full of top-flight guards — recently in the past and present — Gray has established himself among the elites. In the first two games this winter — a 71-39 win over Arundel and a 66-54 win over Flowers — the point guard combined for 43 points on just 25 shots. Teams seemingly could not guard him no matter what style of defense they played.
“I feel like I have a mismatch every time,” said Gray, who scored 24 against Flowers on 8-of-13 shooting. “I can go by every guy that guards me. That’s why I feel like I can score whenever. I can get in the paint and dish it to my teammates.”
His unwavering self-confidence may sound hubristic given that the year is still young, but Gray is technically right until proven wrong. Nobody in the 2013-2014 season has been able to stop him and that includes, as coach Cedric Holbrook would point out, a strong Flowers team.
“We just played a high quality opponent,” he said. “Flowers has an outstanding team. Clint (Robinson) is good, the kid, (Devin) Shuler, is outstanding. They have a very good team with great size and great athleticism and we basically played toe-to-toe with them to try and win the game.”
This is what Gray loves. He invites the best to guard him. He welcomed Flowers’ backcourt with a smile on his face that belied the ruthless crossovers to come. He can’t wait to potentially play Potomac guards Dion Wiley and Walter Broddie.
Defensive presses might fluster some guards. The opposite rings true for Gray.
“I’m not really fazed by it, I like when teams pressure me,” he said. “I can just pick them apart, get by my man, and kick it out.”
Flowers coach Mark Edwards found this out the hard way early in the Dec. 12 game. He began the night with a zone press, a 2-2-1 that funnels teams to cross halfcourt at either corner where they spring a trap, using the midcourt line as an added defender. It worked in the opener against Battlefield, a 71-59 win, but Battlefield did not have Gray.
The senior guard has seen dozens of presses in his life. He knows how to beat them and his handles and court vision are more than capable of doing so. The defenders charged with forcing him to the sideline couldn’t stick with him and the traps were broken before they could be sprung. The usual result was an open layup. Edwards wasted little time in removing the press, only reinstating it when Flowers was down double-digits in the second half and needed to force Bowie into hasty turnovers, which didn’t happen.
“It’s pretty tough because he’s strong with the basketball,” Edwards said. “He’s smart and crafty enough to get off the ball, to stay out of the positions that will get him in trouble and he’ll set up his teammates. That was a big part of their win. They trust each other. They drove and kicked and hit open [3-point shots] and they play good basketball, they play good team ball.”
Added Holbrook: “[Gray] just having the opportunity to really flourish when there’s nobody else there, where he doesn’t have to be subservient to anybody else, where it’s really his show. He knows that it’s his show to run. It’s really given him an opportunity to really blossom and to show what a talent he is. You have to pay attention to him. You really have to respect his game.”