No sane individual expected Tubby Smith to resurrect a
moribund Texas Tech basketball program overnight and make it an instant Big 12
competitor. But with the addition of power forward Aaron Ross to a group of
veteran talents such as Jaye Crockett, Jordan Tolbert, Dejan Kravic, and
perhaps most important, Josh Gray, there was reason to believe Smith’s first
Texas Tech team would at least be a handful for most opponents. With Gray’s
declared intention to transfer, however, and seemingly minimal prospects for
recruiting talent that can help immediately, hopes for the immediate future
have taken a major hit.
We will likely never know the reasons for Gray’s departure,
if indeed it comes to pass. Gray made no secret of his loyalty toward former
interim head coach Chris Walker, and reportedly threatened to transfer if
Walker was not named permanent head coach. It is possible that Gray is merely
following through on his declared intentions. It could be as simple as that.
But then there could be more to it. Hence, Gray did not
formally announce his transfer immediately after Smith was hired. The
announcement came over two weeks after Smith landed in Lubbock. This leads one
to believe that there was a period of extensive communication between coach and
player before the latter made up his mind to leave.
What transpired in those conversations? What convinced Gray
that he had to go?
Smith’s credentials obviously were not the problem. If
you’re willing to go to bat for an interim coach who won all of four conference
games, you’re certainly not going to look askance at Tubby Smith’s body of
work, an oeuvre matched by only a
handful of coaches in the entire United States.
It is entirely possible, on the other hand, that
generational and personal difference constituted an obdurate wedge between the
two. Smith, aged 61, is easily old enough to be Gray’s grandfather. And Gray, a
flashy, even somewhat cocky street baller with a checkered past, may not have
meshed well with the gentile, courtly Smith.
If the generational and personal differences are what made
Smith and Gray hopelessly incompatible, then the decision for Gray to leave
Smith’s program may well have been a mutual one. Gray perhaps had no desire to
play for a coach with whom he could not relate, and Smith had little use for
point guard he felt he could not totally trust.
That is, of course, speculation. Far more concrete is the
damage Gray’s absence does to the immediate prospects for the Tech basketball
It is safe to say that Gray was the most talented player on
the roster. His quickness and ball-handling ability were elite level. His
on-the-ball defense was the stuff of incipient legend. His floor generalship,
weak in the first half of the season, was improving significantly by season’s
end. And the reality was, that despite being a freshman, Gray was the leader of
the team. His confidence, on a team that lacked it, was charismatic. Gray had
the toughness and mental composure you love in a point guard. And these things
are almost impossible to replace unless you coach at Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina or Kansas.
Making matters worse, the Red Raiders are not exactly
stocked with options at point guard. The only pure point guard on the roster is
senior Daylen Robinson. He is a limited player, but
regardless, and barring an unforeseen recruit of tremendous magnitude, the onus
is squarely on him. The show belongs to Robinson and he must now work like a navvy to improve his game in every facet.
The only players who can provide Robinson with some relief
are Jamal Williams and Toddrick Gotcher.
Williams and Gotcher are much larger than Robinson,
and may be better options for defense. And, indeed Williams did run the point
some last season and was credible in that role.
But no matter how Tubby Smith tries to stick the pieces back
together, the absence of Josh Gray will leave a gaping hole in what this team
could have been. If Gray can avoid trouble and keep his head clean, he may be
playing the game of basketball many more years than Tubby Smith will be