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 team.
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 coaching it.