Steven Gray drops out of professional career to make a difference as athletic director at tribal school

Steven Gray was so sure that he would return for another season of professional basketball in Greece that he left many of his belongings in his apartment during the season.

That was still Gray’s intention when he went on vacation this summer. Gonzaga’s former standout guard had pitched his name for the athletic director job at Muckleshoot Tribal School in Auburn, Washington, but he didn’t think he had much of a chance.

In fact, Gray planned to play another three years. He was putting up good numbers and the offers kept coming, but his mentality began to change when his team in Greece changed coaching staff. He knew that he would be entering a new situation.

“My wife has been the curriculum director at the tribal school since COVID started. She was asked: ‘Is Steven going to retire?’ Gray remembered. “The job offer was still open and they didn’t have anyone else qualified yet, so I put my name down. So I finished working out, it was July and we were going on vacation.

“They arranged an interview (Zoom) while I was in Cabo. On Friday, the day before we left, I had an unofficial offer. In a week of vacation, he had gone from training to return (to Greece) to everything done. It was crazy how it all happened.”

It would go even crazier. Within a few weeks, Gray was the one conducting interviews, of potential trainers, and logging long hours to learn the job as he went. His extensive duties include scheduling, setting up game venues, and handling issues between students and athletes.

Gray, 33, was nervous when he told the team president, who was listed on his resume as a reference for the AD job, and his agent that he was retiring. He had to inform his father that a planned trip to visit his son in Greece would not take place.

“All these things that we had planned, I had to go back,” said Gray, a two-time All-WCC first-team selection who scored 1,432 career points between 2008 and 2011, No. 21 on the program’s all-time list. . ready. “My dad said to me, ‘What’s three years of basketball if you can get into something you want to do and it can make an impact?’ “

The former Zag shares the same perspective. Gray, who is African American and a member of the Nooksack Tribe, felt AD’s appointment “was meant to be.”

“I thought I wanted to do something in track and basketball,” Gray said. “I wanted to create some youth basketball programs for the tribes in the area because I felt like it was a missed opportunity when I was at Gonzaga, being a voice for the indigenous community.

“When this came up, I thought, ‘This is pretty close,’ and I would have a lot of responsibility. It’s a little weird (being on the administrative side), but the fact that I’m around these kids who are just starting their journey in athletics… I’m trying to make this the best experience possible.”

Gray said that most of his experiences abroad were excellent. He especially liked his time in Greece. He knew the area well enough to drive back roads to practice. He took his US teammates to the beach to relax after two days of practices. His daughter Bailee, who just turned 8, is fluent in Greek.

“It’s my favorite place,” he said.

Gray can’t remember the last time he didn’t play basketball this time of year, but he guessed it was in elementary school.

“I’m going to miss him,” he said, “but there’s so much energy to put elsewhere.”

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