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Men's basketball forward Josh Gray finds spot in rotation after limited playing time in collegiate career

<p>FILE — Senior forward Josh Gray hangs on the rim of the basket during South Carolina’s game against LSU at Colonial Life Arena on Feb. 17, 2024. Gray scored 4 points in the Gamecocks' 64-63 loss to the Tigers.</p>
FILE — Senior forward Josh Gray hangs on the rim of the basket during Թϱ’s game against LSU at Colonial Life Arena on Feb. 17, 2024. Gray scored 4 points in the Gamecocks' 64-63 loss to the Tigers.

Senior forward Josh Gray has not seen much playing time throughout his career, but a recent impressive performance against a top-10 opponent has earned Gray a spot in the Gamecocks rotation.

Gray joined the Gamecocks in 2021 after originally staring his career with LSU.

During his freshman season at LSU, he did not see the court often.

He appeared in just 10 games for the Tigers, averaging 3.3 minutes, 0.8 points and 1.2 rebounds per game. Despite his lack of playing time, Gray was able to gain some NCAA tournament experience, as LSU reached the second round, where the team ended up losing to top-seeded Michigan 86-78.

Gray then decided to enter the transfer portal after the tournament and landed at Թϱ, where he fit into the team's style of play better, he said.

Former Թϱ head coach Frank Martin led the efforts to recruit Gray. Martin's physical style of play intrigued Gray and made him want to transfer to the Gamecocks, he said.

"(LSU) just wasn't the right fit," Gray said. "For a person my stature, and the system that they run, and the actions that they do in terms of basketball, (it) just wasn't the right fit, and I did a lot of homework on Թϱ coming in, and I feel like it's the exact opposite. I feel like this is the right fit for me, the way how I play."

Gray spent most of his first season with the Gamecocks coming off the bench. He appeared in 25 games and averaged 11.3 minutes per game.

But that changed during Gray's junior season when head coach Lamont Paris' took over for the Gamecocks in 2022.

Gray played in all 32 games in the 2022-23 season and had 15 starts. His playing time increased to 16.8 minutes per game, and he led the team in rebounds (6.3) and blocks (0.8) per game.

His individual success did not translate to team success, however, as the Gamecocks finished the season 11-21.

Gray's upward trajectory in terms of playing time did not continue into the early parts of the 2023-24 season, though, as he seemed to not be part of Paris' plan.

Before the 2023-24 season began, Paris and his staff brought in multiple transfers to help turn the team around after its disappointing season the year before.

Gray, who had been the team's starting center for much of the previous season, was replaced in the rotation by graduate forward B.J. Mack. Mack has started in all 23 games for the Gamecocks so far this season.

Gray only eclipsed 10 minutes twice  in the first 15 games of the season and saw very little playing time, while Paris' new-look system had the Gamecocks 12-3 to start the season. 

Gray did not let that lack of playing time deter him, and after an impressive defensive performance against one of the SEC's top men's basketball team, his role with the team has expanded in recent games.

Gray was efficient in the 11 minutes he played against then-No. 6 Kentucky, scoring 9 points and grabbing six rebounds. His biggest contribution, though, came through his physical and defensive presence that helped stifle the Wildcats' offense throughout the game.

Paris said he was looking to use Gray's size to Թϱ's advantage and was impressed with his performance.

"I thought there were a couple matchups that we could take advantage of," Paris said. "I though if we put Josh, in particularly, I thought if they threw (Kentucky's freshman forward Zvonimir Ivisic) in the game, that we would try to sub in and have Josh lay his mass against his body and see how that turned out, and Josh did some good things."

Paris wasn't the only person impressed with Gray's performance against Kentucky. Graduate guard Ta'Lon Cooper said he was proud of how Gray performed for the team.

"(He was) unbelievable," Cooper said. "I mean, we been on Josh lately about just being Josh, you know, being aggressive and dunking it, and just try to dunk everything. And I'm just proud of my team, proud of Josh, he played really well tonight, gave us good minutes."

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Paris has increased Gray's playing time since Թϱ's win over Kentucky.

Gray had another notable individual performance on Feb. 3 against Georgia, where he recorded season-highs in points (15) and rebounds (8), while shooting 7-9 from the field. 

Թϱ is now in a position where it could reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017.

But Gray said he is not focused on that yet, though, and wants to take things game-by-game rather than looking too far ahead.

"We just focus on one game at a time," Gray said. "I know we have the SEC tournament before March Madness and all that, so we're just focused on the teams that are yet to come that we have to play.”

Gray will look to continue his good run of play when the Gamecocks travel to take on the Ole Miss Rebels on Feb. 24. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network, with tip-off set for 3:30 p.m. 


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