When Juwan Gray Knew Towson Men’s Basketball Had Chance For Special Year In 2021-22

Even though Towson graduate forward Juwan Gray wasn’t participating in summer workouts because he was recovering from a torn Achilles, he could tell something was a little different with his Tigers team.

Towson had just suffered through a 4-14 season (along with 13 postponements or cancellations) in 2020-21, and the program was eager to move past that in 2021-22. The Tigers have certainly done that. They’re 15-6 overall and 6-2 in the Colonial Athletic Conference after being picked to finish eighth in the conference preseason poll. Towson hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991, and this team looks like it has a chance to go dancing.

Gray saw it coming. Tigers head coach Pat Skerry brought in transfers Terry Nolan Jr., Cam Holden, Antonio Rizzuto and Chase Paar, all of whom have been part of the rotation this year. Skerry also had Jason Gibson, Nicolas Timberlake, Charles Thompson and Gray returning, though Gibson, Timberlake and Gray were all coming off offseason surgeries.

“I think it just all built from our habits in the summertime … just seeing the way that we played on the court,” Gray said on Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 20. “It seemed like we instantly had some chemistry, and I think that had a lot to do with the veteran guys who we had on our roster prior to the transfers coming in and also the transfers coming in. We’ve all been in big games where we had to make the right plays and all that, and I just think the veteran leadership has really helped us out this year.”

It looks like the best Towson team since 2013-14, when Jerrelle Benimon led the Tigers to a 25-11 mark. This year’s Tigers are balanced and experienced. There’s shooting, with Gibson, Rizzuto, Gray and Timberlake all shooting better than 35 percent from 3-point range. There’s an inside presence, with centers Thompson and Paar combining to average 12.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. There’s certainly some athleticism, too:

Again, Gray saw it all coming.

“The first week of just practicing with the guys, we had everything,” Gray said. “We have playmakers. We have a lot of shooting on the court. We have a lot of versatile guys that can play multiple positions and be impactful on both ends of the floor, and we have big guys who can rebound, defend at an elite level. I 100 percent knew that we had the capacity to make something happen this year.”

The 6-foot-8, 225-pound Gray is averaging 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while coming off the bench for Towson this year. It’s been a winding road to get to this point. He chose to begin his college career at the University of San Diego during the 2016-17 season, but entered the transfer portal in 2018 after former San Diego head coach Lamont Smith resigned.

Gray, a native of Dover, Del., transferred to Towson but had to sit out the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules that have since been changed. In 2019-20, he contributed (7.0 points, 4.3 rebounds) to a 19-13 Tigers team but missed eight games due to injury. Then came Towson’s nightmare 2020-21 season, made even worse for Gray due the Achilles injury suffered last January.

Gray attributed his quick comeback to his support system, including his friends, family and Skerry.

“I learned a lot about persistence,” Gray said of his rehab. “One quote I instilled in my mind and something I still use today is, ‘Control what you can control.’ I can’t necessarily control what happens to me, but I can 100 percent control how I can respond from any given situation. Just having that mentality and mindset throughout my entire rehab process, it’s made me sharper mentally. It made me even hungrier to be out there on the court today.”

Now Gray is trying to help lift Towson to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 31 years. That’s not what he initially thought the future had in store for him, but that’s no problem for him.

“It’s actually funny because in high school [I] would think about where I would be four or five years from now and this is definitely not where I thought I would be,” Gray said, “but there’s beauty in the journey.”

All statistics are entering Towson’s game against Delaware Jan. 27.

For more from Gray, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: ENP Photography

Luke Jackson

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