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18 December 2007
JSU’s Bray Leads with Assists, Heart

Al Muskewitz
Star Sports Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

JACKSONVILLE — In this day and age, if you’re a singles hitter who all of a sudden starts knocking the cover off the ball, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually be drawn into a steroids investigation. If you’re a player who used to hit home runs and suddenly find yourself a deadly singles hitter, you’ve become DeAndre Bray.

The Jacksonville State junior point guard finally is getting noticed for something other than being the smallest guy on the floor.

Going into tonight’s game with Murray State (4-3, 1-1 OVC), Bray is among the Division I leaders in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio. Bray is second in the nation in assists (8.0 per game) and third in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.8)

“He’s maximizing his strength,” JSU coach Mike LaPlante said. “He knows going into it that he might be at a disadvantage size-wise a lot of times, so we’re not asking him to score a lot of points. We’re asking him to be accountable for a lot of points, and he’s been able to do that.”

Bray, listed at a generous 5-feet-6 in the program, has had at least six assists in each of the Gamecocks’ nine games this season and has recorded 10 or more twice, including a Division I school record 13 in JSU’s past game, 10 days ago at UT-Martin. Most impressive, however, is he’s had six games with two turnovers or fewer — including both double-digit assist games — and hasn’t had more than three in any game.

And he’s averaging almost 32 minutes of playing time.

“We’ve asked him to be a higher-percentage player,” LaPlante said. “He’s always been a guy who’s had a chance to be a good assist guy; (but) he’s done a good job of minimizing his turnovers and really maximizing his assists. Assists are important, but that assist-to-turnover ratio is even more important.

“He’s not making as many high risk-low percentage plays, because he’s not putting himself in many bad positions. He’s hitting a lot more singles and maybe less home runs, but he’s not turning the basketball over … Is he capable of making the trickier play? Yeah. If it’s the appropriate pass, then that’s fine, but we don’t want him making the low-percentage play or the high-risk play unless he’s forced to.”

And he’d probably have even more assists if the Gamecocks (2-7, 0-2) shot the ball better — they’re only shooting .428 as a team. Even though it doesn’t show up in the stats, the JSU coaches give out what they call “Gretzkys” (homage to the NHL great) — passes that make or produce a good shot that doesn’t fall or leads to a Gamecock going to the foul line. LaPlante figures he’d average another two or three assists a game if you counted those.

Bray doesn’t get overwhelmed by the stats, but he did say that his current standing nationally is a strong motivator.

“It means I know I’m doing something right and I’m helping my team out,” he said.

Bray has always been a good distributor of the ball — he had 156 assists last year — but had less than a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio a year ago. The only difference in his game this year is he’s learned to go with the flow and gotten better at anticipating where his teammates are going to be.

“I really know what’s going on more,” he said. “Last year I knew what was going on, but the playing time was like in-and-out a little bit and I had to calm down (when he went back in the game). Now, I know my role more and I’m just playing.

“That’s why I think I’m not making many mistakes right now; it’s more like reflexes now. When I start thinking is when I mess up, like the Samford game. I was thinking too much.”

He certainly has changed his opponents’ opinion of him. UMass players marveled at his play in last year’s game at Pete Mathews Coliseum. Opposing fans single him out because of his size, but he learned to tune that out a long time ago. Besides, his teammates know how big he plays.

“My whole life people looked at my size, but every coach I had doesn’t see that,” Bray said. “My AAU coach says I’m 6-7, really. My high school coach says I’m 7-foot. It really doesn’t matter. It’s about your heart, and I think I have a lot of it.”

To go with a lot of assists.

Today: JSU vs. Murray State, 7:30 p.m., 91.9 FM, 97.9 FM

About Al Muskewitz

Al Muskewitz covers golf and Jacksonville State University sports teams for The Anniston Star.

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