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Gray has different impact than expected for Spartans

March 26, 2009

Freshman forward Draymond Green, left, and senior forward Marquise Gray hug with head coach Tom Izzo to hug after defeating the Trojans 74-69 at the Metrodome in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis.

During his career with the MSU men’s basketball team, senior forward Marquise Gray has learned a thing or two about dealing with criticism.

A superstar caliber athlete coming out of Flint Beecher High, Gray came to MSU with the world on a string. Jaw-dropping athleticism, brute strength, a soft touch around the basket — Gray had it all.

He was going be the next great MSU big man. He was going to be the next great “Flintstone.” And ultimately, he was going to play in the NBA.

And then, for so many reasons, it never happened.

In his five years with the Spartans, it would be a stretch to say Gray blossomed into the player most experts thought he would become.

Certainly, an array of ankle, knee and foot injuries that forced him to miss two summers thwarted his development. But in the end, those reasons are moot in the eyes of his critics who care about stats, not excuses.

Gray isn’t ignorant — he knows he hasn’t met the expectations that made him a five-star recruit. But he isn’t bitter, either. That’s because through all the hardships he has endured, he has had the perfect remedy for his aches and pains — the support of his teammates.

Whether it was former Spartans Alan Anderson, Kelvin Torbert or Paul Davis — who were veterans when he was a freshman — or senior centers Goran Suton and Idong Ibok, Gray always had a shoulder on which to lean when he felt down on himself.

“It’s always easier when you’re going through something that you have somebody to go through it with you,” Gray said. “It’s a lot easier to go through it with them than to go through it yourself.”

Davis, who starred at center for MSU from 2002-06, said Gray was never shy about approaching the veterans for advice and was always receptive to constructive criticism.

“He was always willing to learn, no matter what,” said Davis, who recently was released by the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers. “He was just soaking up everything he could when he was younger and now he can pass that knowledge onto the younger guys.”

Unsung leader

A 6-foot-8, 235-pound mountain of man, Gray is as amiable as he is physically imposing. He loves to dunk, loves to block shots and loves to have fun while doing it.

Because of his loose, somewhat uninhibited playing style, Gray’s reputation as a “team clown” precedes him across campus. His teammates certainly understand why people see him that way.

“Quise is a guy that can always put a smile on your face,” sophomore guard Durrell Summers said. “When you miss some shots and the coach is on your back, Quise might crack a joke or something or say something to you to get you smiling a little bit.”

Although Gray’s sense of humor is his most pronounced attribute, there’s a dimension to his personality that few people know about. He’s a leader, and according to teammates, a damn good one.

“I try to pass on the things that I’ve been through and the things that I’ve done,” Gray said. “I had older guys that helped me along the way, and I feel like I’m kind of obligated and it’s my duty to give back.”

Before the season even started, Gray made a concerted effort to develop relationships with freshman forwards Delvon Roe and Draymond Green.

But they aren’t the only players who have taken advantage of his helping hand. Throughout the season, Gray has been utilized as a resource by several players who have been struggling or just in need of a good laugh.

“He’s always there for you,” Roe said.

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“A player that has went through so much in his five years here, he always has your back and is always trying to help you no matter what his situation is.”

Brotherly love

Before he even graduated from Saginaw High, Green said Gray had been a “big brother” to him.

Whether it’s on or off the court, Green credits Gray for smoothing his transition to college and helping become a valuable player off the Spartans’ bench.

“I can call him whenever I need something, I want something, or if I just need to talk to him about basketball,” Green said.

“I can call Quise about anything. It’s not just on the court, it’s off the court as well.”

Although Gray’s playing career might be remembered as a disappointment, his presence around the team next year will be sorely missed.

Because while it might not be difficult to replace the four points and three rebounds he averages per game, it will certainly be tough to replace the advice he’s imparted and the camaraderie he’s had with his teammates.

“Quise probably has the biggest heart of anybody I’ve ever met,” Summers said. “He’s willing to do anything for anybody. You can be mad at the world and Quise can turn your day around.”

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