VANCOUVER, BC – When Kadre Gray plays basketball, he likes to smile. Whether during his time in U SPORTS or now at the professional level, he knows the sport is supposed to be fun. That’s why he smiles; he just loves the game of basketball.
In his first season with the CEBL’s Ottawa BlackJacks, Gray is showcasing the skills that earned him several accolades while playing for the Laurentian Voyageurs. The former U SPORTS Player of the Year draws fouls and is a focus for every opposing team.
Through five games, Gray leads the BlackJacks in points-per-game with just over 18 and is second in rebounds with 15 so far in 2021. It has been an expectational quick adjustment for the young guard, who had yet to play at a pro-level before this season.
While his Voyageurs were consistently one of the competitive teams in Ontario, the BlackJacks do not find themselves in a similar situation, boasting a 1-4 record, including a recent loss at the hands of the 4-0 Fraser Valley Bandits, who zoned in, albeit unsuccessfully on the former Voyageur.
“For me, the focus is just to have fun, and I think tonight [v Fraser Valley] I did not look like I had that smile on my face, so I have to get back to that,” he said after scoring 20 points in his team’s 92-77 loss to the Bandits. “Just overall, we have to have the overall positive spirit, and we’re going to work on that as the season goes along.”
After getting through the game against Fraser Valley, Gray and the BlackJacks went on to lose against the Edmonton Stingers, while league superstar Xavier Moon set the record for most points in a single quarter with 21.
Although the 23-year-old is only in his rookie of pro basketball, he is adjusting to the next level quickly, without letting his production rate drop. Drawing on his experiences with FIBA Team Canada and in U SPORTS, he has smoothly impacted the CEBL. “I just had to take those experiences and just bring all that learning that I did and bring it to here.”
With a 50% shooting percentage from the field and playing over 26 minutes a night through five games, the 6’1” Torontonian is drawing eyes from across the league, but also from his coach, Charles Dube-Brais.
“He’s been excellent. He is probably adjusting faster than expected. Everything he did in U SPORTS is pointing towards he could be a stud in this league down the road,” Dube-Brais said of Gray, who he has deployed in an integral role on the BlackJacks. “He’s a great kid, he’s coachable, and he wants to learn. So we’re working hard with him to make him better week after week.”
Already more than a third through the 14 game CEBL season, there is a long way to go for the Ottawa club to be considered a championship contender. However, Gray has faced challenges in his career and is bound to bring together the flailing BlackJacks. “At the end of the day, this is a regular-season game, so we need to have it all put together for the playoffs,” he said following the loss to the Bandits.
Despite the unfavourable team results in his young career, opposing coaches are taking notice and planning for the fleet-footed guard. “It’s difficult, you’ve got to show more bodies, and you’ve got to be disciplined because he draws a lot of fouls,” said Bandits Head Coach David Singleton. “It’s not easy. But, he’s amazing attacking the rim, he’s got a really strong build, he’s a very good player, and there’s a bright future for him.”
There is a lot to like about Gray’s game, and even though he has yet to push the BlackJacks to more than a single win, he has experience fighting back from low points in his young career.
Coming off a U SPORTS Rookie of the Year season, Gray broke his foot midway through his second year with Laurentian but still ended up as a nominee for the U SPORTS Athlete of the Year come the spring. With his resilience, positive attitude and skill, it is clear to his coach that he could take on an even more prominent role at some points.
“When you look a the careers other [U SPORTS] Players of the Years have had and are having, I do think he’s a guy who has a nice, lengthy pro career ahead of him,” said Dube-Brais. “Game after game, he’s able to deliver and do it efficiently.”
The Ottawa BlackJacks set out this season to win and to distance themselves from the famed Carleton Ravens program, which had formed the bulk of their 2020 inaugural season roster. Now with a smiling Kadre Gray, they hope to have the pieces to turn their season around before it is too late.