BALTIMORE, MD — It was well after midnight when Elizabeth City State head coach Andre Gray got to the podium to speak to the media, but the first-year head coach maintained his sense of humor.
After knocking off Livingstone College in the first round of the 2023 CIAA Tournament in a 74-69 nailbiter, Gray opened up with speaking about what an honor it was to coach in a tournament that has been won by legends like Clarence “Big House” Gaines and John McLendon.
“I was so excited I was bouncing off the walls before the game. So it was awesome to get a first win,” Gray said without a pause. “I should go ahead and retire while I’m undefeated.”
Gray may be a rookie head coach, but he’s a long-time fixture in the North Carolina basketball scene. He started as a middle school coach in the Raleigh area before moving to the high school level and returning to Methodist to start his college career back in 2001. From there he went to Wingate then Gardner-Webb and Western Carolina. He spent three at UNC-Wilmington and had a cup of coffee as an assistant at Winston-Salem State before stops at UNC Greensboro, and UNC Charlotte. A year ago he was an assistant to LeVelle Moton when the Elizabeth City State job came open.
ECSU Director of Athletics James DuBose was looking to shake up the basketball program after taking over as interim AD last fall, and he made Gray his first hire as interim baseball coach in less than 60 days into his new job.
After taking the job in May, Gray was given the task of rebuilding Elizabeth City State University basketball. Considering that he’d been the lead recruiter at most if not all of his stops as an assistant, that was right up his alley.
“Well, I’m a relationship guy. I think the only reason I’ve been able to survive in this business for so long,” Gray said at the podium on Wednesday morning. “I started the year with 22 guys on the roster and not one of them I met before we stepped foot on campus. It was our first time — our first team meeting. That was the first time we each met face-to-face for the very first time. So to build a culture and build a program — everyone I took — I didn’t know these guys individually, but I knew people that I trusted that had relationships with them.”
One of those players was Amadou Faye, a 6’11 big man who might as well be 7-5 in the CIAA. He played at St. Petersburg Community College before being pulled into Gray’s orbit.
“My old from JUCO introduced me to Coach Gray and after the first phone call and he just convinced me. Sometimes you just smell something good and I just followed my intuition.”
Monday, Faye was named the CIAA Men’s Defensive Player of the Year after finishing the regular season ranked second in Division II in blocks per game (3.4). His 7.4 rebounds per game ranked third in the CIAA and the sophomore from Dakar, Senegal also averaged 7.1 points per game for the Vikings in the regular season. He recorded at least five blocks in six games, including six in Tuesday night’s win to go along with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Another JUCO find, Tre Richardson, had a big game for Elizabeth City State University as well. The 6’4 junior from Louisville, KY by way of Odessa Community college scored a team-high 15 points off the bench for ECSU, who will play no. 1 seed Virginia Union on Wednesday night.
“That’s kind of by design. We want the other team not to know who’s going to kill them that day,” Gray said after the game. “So the guys sacrificed a lot, stats-wise. So we don’t necessarily get all individual awards, but that’s by design. We’re playing for something bigger than that.”