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October 3, 2013It's against the unwritten rules to turn down Harvard. The school is synonymous with the best when it comes to education.
Harvard versus a FBS state school for someone who can go on academic standing alone? Forget it. It's the rule.
So, some people will do a double take after Justin Gray's decision Thursday to attend Texas Tech on a basketball scholarship rather than taking a chance with Harvard's consistently good team.
Gray, however, thinks it would have been the wrong decision to pick his fellow finalist in favor of Tech.
"When I visited Texas Tech, I wasn't sure what to expect," the three-star prospect said. "I knew that Tubby Smith was there. I was kind of preparing for the worst. I had no idea what Texas Tech was or what they were about, but as soon as I stepped on campus it was amazing. The campus was beautiful. I kind of just fell in love with it as soon as a I saw it."
That opened the door for Tech to make an argument it could compete with Harvard and Stanford plus South Florida and Central Florida academically.
Gray, a 6-foot-4 small forward from Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep wants to study exercise sports sciences on his way toward orthopedics after he's done playing basketball, and Tech has reputable programs in both regards.
"Harvard had the same thing, but Texas Tech was willing to pay for it full-ride and Harvard said it wasn't guaranteed," Gray said. "I didn't really want to want to take a chance on that so I felt a lot more comfortable with Texas Tech than I did with Harvard.
"No disrespect to Harvard. It's a great school. Fantastic academics, great students and stuff like that. But Texas Tech is where I wanted to be."
It wasn't an economic decision though. That was simply a bonus.
While Tech was able to sell itself academically, the current Red Raider players rallied together to make Gray feel at home.
A lot of credit goes to the current roster. Every recruit we have talked to, whether they committed to Tech or went elsewhere, has envisioned being a part of the cast.
"They acted like I was already on the team," Gray said. "I was watching them workout and encourage each other, always having each others' backs, to get one last rep or one last sprint. Just to see all of that, the encouragement and leadership, really spoke volumes to me. I didn't want to stop watching them workout. That's how much I loved it there."
"That's what I wanted. That's what I love."
The small forward knows the situation he's about to enter.
Tech finished the past regular season with a 3-15 Big 12 record. The program also has had a different head coach in each of the past four years.
"They explained it all to me," Gray said. "I'm really excited to see how this first season goes. When I get there next year, they said to me they want me to be the face of their rebuilding program and their future program. They said they're going to turn me into the best player I can be and have a great chance of playing at the next level while also getting a free and great education. That's exactly what I wanted. That deal was hard to not turn down. That's why I did it."
There is, however, a new buzz around the program with Smith's hire.
Outsiders seem to be optimistic about the program's future with a proven head coach at the helms. Commitments like Gray's keep it that way.
"It feels surreal that where I came from to now that I'm about to play for one of the best coaches to coach ever in NCAA history," Gray said. "I'm excited. I can't wait. I'm definitely blessed to be in this position. I feel Coach Tubby is going to turn me into the best player I can be simply because he cares about my skills as well as me as an individual person. He's also very religious.
"All those things played a part. He's just a great, first-class type guy I wanted to play for."
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