Playing on the road in the Atlantic Coast Conference can be more than a little intimidating to most freshmen. The boisterous crowds. The experienced, and often superior talent. The big-game tension.
Devin Gray has encountered all that in his first season at Clemson, and will again tomorrow afternoon when the Tigers visit Cole Field House to play Maryland (12:30 p.m., Ch. 45). But Gray, who starred at St. Frances-Charles Hall in East Baltimore, doesn't seem to be intimidated at all.
He has already faced an even bigger pressure: trying to qualify for Proposition 48. It took several attempts for Gray to get his SAT score above the required 700, but in the heat of a Baltimore classroom last spring, Gray finally passed.
"There was pressure when you weren't taking the test, and pressure when you were," Gray recalled yesterday by telephone. "I had signed with Clemson before I took the last test and Coach Gordy [Clemson assistant Len Gordy] called me when they got the score. He tried to joke like I hadn't passed. When he told me I had, it was a big relief."
Gray, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound forward, has made a fairly smooth transition, both in the classroom and on the basketball court, from high school to college. He is averaging 10.4 points and 4.3 rebounds while playing 21.4 minutes a game.
"Devin Gray has a tremendous amount of potential," Clemson coach Cliff Ellis said earlier this week. "He's still learning the game. He's providing a great spark defensively. We knew that he could be a scorer. In time, Devin's going to be an excellent ACC player."
With the Tigers' frontcourt depleted by the season-ending knee injury to Wayne Buckingham, Gray has gotten more playing time than initially expected. He has shared the power forward spot with another Baltimore-area player, junior Corey Wallace of Severn.
Gray has started four times. Wallace suffered a separated right shoulder in Wednesday night's 51-48 upset win over Virginia, so Gray might be in the starting lineup against the Terrapins. If so, Gray will likely match up against his former summer-league teammate Evers Burns.
"We played a lot of ball together growing up," said Gray, who scored a career-high 26 points along with 10 rebounds earlier this season against Oral Roberts. "We played at the Canfield Rec Center and we got to know each other pretty well. Evers has really picked up his game this season."
Gray and Burns nearly became teammates at Maryland. Exactly what happened between Gray and Maryland depends on who is talking. At least one university official said last spring that Gray would not have been accepted academically, regardless of whether he met the Prop 48 guidelines.
His coach at St. Frances, William Wells, doesn't believe that to be the case, and said that things started to go sour when two newspapers incorrectly reported that Gray had called a news conference to announce his intentions of signing with the Terps.
"He had not made any commitment," Wells said yesterday. "Somebody at Maryland was leaking that information out, and it was wrong."
Said Gray, "Their assistant coaches started telling other recruiters that I was coming to Maryland, so the other schools backed off and it kind of messed up my recruiting. After that, I didn't care to go to Maryland."
Considering Maryland's lack of depth overall -- especially at power forward with Garfield Smith out for the season because of a broken leg and Geno Soto awaiting another appeal of his academic eligibility -- the Terps definitely could use a player like Gray right now.
"He's strong and quick," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "When we were recruiting him, I thought he could really play. He's done a good job for them."
Though there are areas of his game that need improvement -- particularly his free throw shooting, which is a dismal 13 of 38 -- Gray has exceeded expectations. But Ellis said that he is even more impressed by Gray's work ethic away from the court.
"He hasn't created any problems," said Ellis, who had his share of them with former Baltimore high school stars Sean Tyson and Michael Brown. "He's done well."
Gray said the adjustments he's had to make in the classroom have been bigger than those on the court, having come from a small high school. But the preparation is nearly the same, whether it's getting ready to play against the likes of North Carolina State's Tom Gugliotta or writing a term paper on short notice.