I believe when I crossed the stage and received my degree, I kinda felt like, ‘OK, I’m in better hands now. Because I don’t have to depend on ball anymore, which is all I have because of my passion. It’s what I want to do. —LSU's Josh Gray
SALT LAKE CITY — They’re long shots to be drafted by the Utah Jazz, let alone make the NBA, but Josh Gray and Brannen Greene have some crazy stories to tell.
Gray, a point guard from LSU, among many other schools, is hoping to earn a living through basketball so he doesn’t have to return to his hometown in Louisiana — where he ran afoul of the law as a teenager and was in the presence of danger he’d rather avoid.
In the midst of attending six schools in six years, wrapping up with LSU with a two-season stay, Gray was arrested multiple times. On one occasion, he was caught in possession of an AK-47 rifle, leading to a judge suggesting that he move away from St. Charles and completely out of Louisiana, according to NOLA.com.
Making matters much worse, Gray’s mother unexpectedly died at the age of 35 when he was just 16.
Through all of those trials, he bounced around from school to school in Louisiana and Texas — high school, Texas Tech, Odessa Community College — before ending back up at LSU where he was able to pull things together and graduate this past spring.
“I believe when I crossed the stage and received my degree, I kinda felt like, ‘OK, I’m in better hands now,’” he said. “Because I don’t have to depend on ball anymore, which is all I have because of my passion. It’s what I want to do.”
Gray averaged 5.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists for the Tigers last season, but he’s hopeful that he can make a career out of basketball either in the NBA, the D-League or Europe.
If that doesn’t pan out or when it ends, Gray plans on using the life lessons and tough experiences to help mentor younger boys. It frightens him to think of returning to his roots in Louisiana because, as he explained it, “The only thing you can do is probably die or go to jail.”
He hopes to create a new option for boys, though.
“I like to work with kids who grew up kind of like me,” Gray said. “If I would’ve had a role model, I probably would’ve taken different roads. I just want to get back to my city and show the young kids the way not is not to kill or rob. You can go to school, (get) 9-to-5 jobs. I’m not counting on ball. I got a degree. That’s a blessing.”
As for Greene, the 6-foot-7 wing player left Kansas after his junior season despite rarely starting and only averaging 12.4 minutes a game. He did shoot 42.2 percent from 3-point range in three years and 49.2 percent beyond the arc as a junior with the Jayhawks, which Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin called “an NBA skill.”
But Greene’s displeasure with his playing role and his bickering with Self led him (and his coach) to decide to cut his college career short and look for a fresh start in the NBA.
“It’s something that all NBA teams have asked me about it,” Greene said. “(If) you talk to guys and they understand what the situation was, it’s something you can work through. The NBA gives you a second chance. It’s all about just working hard, staying in the gym, keeping your mouth closed.”
Greene said Self would give him a good recommendation even though they had some difficult times.
“He should. I am a good guy,” Greene said. “I think everybody, the coaches at Kansas will say that. I’ve got a great heart. I care about all of my teammates. I care about everybody. I think it is something he would say.”
Greene was in the headlines this spring for an entirely different heated situation.
In May, Greene was returning from West Coast workouts with three NBA teams when the Uber car he was in as a passenger was involved in an accident.
Greene said the harrowing experience began when a car hit them from behind.
“We went flying, hit the bridge, hit the pillars, the car caught on fire,” he said. “(Then) the semi hit us and that’s when it caught on fire. It was scary, man. But I’m just glad I’m through it.”
For a terrifying moment, the 6-foot-7, 215-pound Greene found himself trapped in the burning car.
“I had to kick the door and then I helped the driver get out. He was a little shook up,” Greene explained. “ It was definitely (like) a movie, for sure.”
Greene took off running and looked back after about three seconds only to see what he described as 20-foot-high flames engulfing the vehicle.
“I took off running a little bit more. I looked back and the car was just, ‘Boom! Boom!’” he said. “All the cars just started pulling off the side. People were yelling. It was crazy. It did blow up. It did explode.”
Perrin said a stomach virus and the altitude adversely affected Greene’s performance in Wednesday’s pre-draft workout, which also included Gray, Stanford wing Rosco Allen, West Point wing Tanner Plomb, Louisville guard Trey Lewis and Boise State wing James Webb III.
The team will have another workout on Thursday, a solo session for potential lottery pick Deyonta Davis, a 6-foot-10 wing from Michigan State.
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