Coach Eddie Gray’s Garner basketball team went out Tuesday and did as it has on other nights, wearing down the opposition with pressure defense, relentless rebounding and by pushing the ball up the floor for 32 minutes. In the end Garner dispatched Clayton 80-59.
But this one was special.
The basketball under Gray’s arm told the story.
This one was career victory No. 500 for the 28-year Garner coach.
“We have been doing a really good job the last few outings with our full-court, man-to-man pressure,” Gray said. “We talked about having a lot of energy tonight and the kids really responded. We’re just playing really good basketball right now. I’m really proud of all the improvement we have made as a basketball team.”
Kenyon Burt led the way for the Trojans with 22 points and 15 rebounds and Demetric Horton added 15 points. Clayton (10-9, 5-5) got 10 points each from McCaleb Robertson and Devin Carter.
Gray’s numbers as a coach are staggering.
A career record – all at Garner – of 500-198, 16 conference championships and one state championship (2015).
Tuesday’s victory was the 53rd straight conference win for the Trojans (18-2, 10-0 Greater Neuse River 4A Conference).
“The most important thing about the 500 victories is I got them in the same place, the same community, the same school,” said Gray, who graduated from Garner, came back to this alma mater and has never left. “It’s just really special to have done it in one place. I’ve really been blessed.”
He continued: “I’m also real proud of the assistant coaches who have come through this program. Kent Bloms, I think he’s got some streak going that he’s won a million JV games in a row. Then to have Jeff Smith, he played and came back to coach with us, Cameron Redd, he came back to coach with us, and then I look up in the stands and see (former Garner and UNC star) Donald Williams. You just can’t put that into words.”
Gray has been blessed some great players over the years.
The first marquee player was Williams, who went on to star at UNC.
“It’s pretty nice when you start you career with a McDonald’s All-American,” Gray said. “There has never been a high school player who could shoot it like he could shoot it. He was our first (NCAA) Division I player. There have just been so many. David West came in the last 90s. That is when we won our first sectional championship. James Mays played at Clemson, and the 2015 team with a little kid named Julius Barnes. ... It’s been tall, short and everything in between.”
Gray has been able to instill a work ethic into his team, his fiery temperament coupled with a caring coach the perfect combination for success.
“It was good to see (Gray get No. 500),” Williams said. “I think he did a great job as a father figure as well as a coach. He sent his players off to be successful young men. I think that is the one thing he is most proud of.”
“The key thing about the kids that have gone on (to play in college), they have all gotten degrees,” Gray said. “Every one of our Division I players have graduated. That is what high school sports is all about. And they have gone on to be successful people in life. I have been truly blessed to have been able to watch them grow up, to be in the same community and see those kids excel in life.”
For the current players, being part of No. 500 is special.
“It’s a special moment,” Burt said. “Coach Gray is an amazing coach but he is a more amazing person. He is always looking out for us and making sure we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. To see something like happen to somebody like that. It’s a special night for him. I’m happy for him.”
The Clayton girls won the opening varsity game, 62-44.
The Comets (11-8, 6-5 Greater Neuse River 4A) took an 18-11 lead after one quarter and were up 38-18 at halftime over the winless Trojans (0-12, 0-9).
Asia Todd had a game-high 27 points to lead Clayton and Endaisha Howard added 19. Garner was led by Sirenna Pitts with 17.