The ways of Grays

COMMENTARY
Jul. 06, 2014 @ 02:08 PM

If you're hanging out on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill and happen to bump into those NCAA investigators while they're in town — again — studying and taking notes on how UNC athletes have been studying and taking notes, then have them swing by historically black Hillside High School when they cut through Durham on the way to the airport.

There's something going on with Ovester Grays' basketball program, and the scandal here isn't any wrongdoing by him but instead those parents out there who are under the impression that the only thing going on at Hillside is the grooming of gangsters.

So we have white folks living in Hillside's district but transferring their kids to Jordan High School. Black parents are doing it, too.

But there came Hillside forward Zuri White, hauling tail down the court to crash the boards for Grays this past season.

White actually was at Northern High School the season before last, and she was doing her thing for the Lady Knights.

“Yeah, I was killing it over there,” White said.

But White said she needed the ways of Grays, his discipline, his direction. So she opted out at Northern to play her senior season at Hillside.

Now, that sounds real fishy.

But then I spoke with White's mama, Cynthia, who explained that because Zuri's father is a disabled veteran, Uncle Sam would pick up her tab when it was time for college. So Zuri was cool as far as school.

“But (Zuri) let me know it was beyond that for her. She wanted to earn it,” Cynthia said.

After playing summer basketball for Grays, Zuri said she knew that Hillside is where she needed to be.

“A player knows what works for them. A player knows where they best fit,” Cynthia said.

Yeah, but what Grays didn't need was a headache, and he made it clear that all of that bad behavior Zuri brought to the court at Northern wouldn't be tolerated at Hillside.

Cynthia said Grays, as well as people like Hillside athletics director Bob Hill, showed Zuri how to properly channel her emotions, eventually earning the young lady a basketball scholarship to Morgan State University in Baltimore.

“They saw beyond all of that. They didn’t just throw her away,” Cynthia said. “These are attitudes that are going to take her much further in life, because, keep in mind, I’m not going to college with her.

“Now I can really breathe knowing that this school and these coaches really looked beyond all of that, saw her for what she really is, didn’t criticize her, but they fine-tuned it, and they really loved on her the way people and coaches should.”

And you thought they groomed gangsters at Hillside.

“Coaching is so much about relationships,” Grays said. “It’s just like raising kids. You’ve got to connect with them in a certain way to get them to get the message.

“It’s not basketball. (Zuri) didn’t come here for basketball. She came here for better mentoring as a youngster and how to deal with adversity and how to deal with things she needs to deal with.”

This past school year, Hillside established a student-run bank on campus in order to promote financial literacy. Grays said Zuri was instrumental in getting the bank off the ground.

“We used sports to facilitate that,” Grays said. “This isn’t about basketball. This is about raising kids.”

It's about Hillside's International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, if you ask Todd George. Both of his kids go to Hillside.

The Georges are white folks.

And you thought they groomed gangsters at Hillside.

Charlotte George plays basketball for ol' Grays. Some of her teammates this past season were transfers from Durham Academy and Cary Academy.

And just think about that: Kids whose parents could afford them educations at traditionally strong private schools chose to put them in a public school that's been beaten down by stereotypes. Those parents did it in the name of IB diplomas and some coaching from Grays.

Grays' best player is rising senior guard Justine Lyon. She's headed to Princeton University. Or Harvard. Wherever she wants to go, really.

Grays said 74 of the 75 players he's coached have gone to college on either athletic or academic scholarships.

And you thought they groomed gangsters at Hillside.

“The first school is the home,” Todd said.

Preach, brother!

Some of the neighbors of the George family are among those in Hillside's district who sent their kids to Jordan. Todd said he's not trying to make any kind of racial statement. He just wants his kids in a school where they can learn something. Hillside's that place.

Zuri: “I think I would have did good basketball-wise anywhere I would have went, but for character and discipline and getting my attitude right before I went to college, Coach Grays was the perfect one for that.”

And you thought th…

Never mind.

Herald-Sun sports writer John McCann is on Twitter: @johntmccann. Email him at jmccann@heraldsun.com.