Tuesday, January 29, 2013

CMH grad TJ Bray profiled

from today's Waukesha Freeman -

Bray’s star keeps shining
Former CMH standout balances books and basketball at Princeton
Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA – T.J. Bray had a rare feeling of being overwhelmed recently.

It was in the middle of exams for the Princeton University junior, and he had a rough night prepping himself for some difficult tests.

“It was the first time where I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I’ll get this work done,’” Bray said. “I had to tell myself to keep plugging away and make it happen.”

That he hasn’t felt overwhelmed before that moment is no small feat for Bray, a 2010 Catholic Memorial High School graduate. He’s studying economics at one of the premier academic institutions in the country – and he’s doing it while trying to find time to play basketball at the NCAA Division I level.

“Time management is a crucial thing,” Bray said. “After practice, you have to put your nose to the grindstone. It’s hard, but it’s definitely manageable. You try to stay on top of your work, and the professors and academic staff really help.

“As long as you stay on top of it, it’s manageable – but it is hard.”

Bray is on pace to graduate next
summer, and he’s been impressive on the basketball court as well. He recently earned the Ivy League Player of the Week award and ranks third on the Tigers with 8.4 points per game.

“He’s really grown in terms of confidence,” said Catholic Memorial coach Dean Bellanti, who coached Bray and the Crusaders to the 2010
WIAA Division 2 state title. “He’s rebounding, passing and he’s becoming more assertive offensively.”

Versatility has always been a staple of Bray’s game, and he’s continued that at Princeton. He is averaging 3.9 rebounds per game, and his 49 assists rank second on the Tigers. He also has a team-high 25 steals.

“Things just fell into place well for me,” Bray said. “Freshman year we needed a guard, and last year they needed a guard to step into a starting role. I’ve tried to capitalize on that and do what the coaches ask me to.

“Being bigger has helped me a lot, too. Being 6-4 helps me get in there against bigger guards who can rebound. I’ve been able to play defense, and that’s how I got minutes freshman year. My offense has expanded as the minutes have come.”

Bellanti has noticed Bray’s increased offensive production, and he sees Bray playing a similar role at Princeton as he did at CMH.

“He spent time over the summer working on his shot and getting to the point where he felt confident enough to stretch the defense,” Bellanti said. “You can tell he’s playing very well just from the number of minutes he plays.

“They’re having a hard time taking him off the floor. ... It just shows the confidence they have in his ability to make people around him better.”

Bray scored a career-high 23 points in the Tigers’ victory over Penn on Jan. 12, the Ivy League opener for Princeton. It was only the first step in what Bray hopes is a return to the NCAA Tournament, where Princeton lost to Kentucky in Bray’s freshman season.

“It was one of the best experiences of life,” Bray said of the tournament. “The Ivy League has no conference tournament, so it’s not a matter of one team getting hot at the end. We call it a 14-game tournament. Every night matters for seven weekends.

“It’s a very different experience, but also a great one. I enjoy the Ivy League a lot.”

Bray has aspirations beyond college. In line to graduate next summer, Bray said he may pursue a professional basketball career overseas.

“I’ll try to see if I can continue playing,” he said. “The best part of Princeton is all the opportunities open to me whether it’s grad school, a job, maybe coaching or I’ll keep playing. Princeton definitely offers a lot of options, but playing is my first option.”

Bellanti feels blessed to have an example such as Bray to refer to when talking to his players.

“He’s been able to dedicate himself to play at that high level, but also maintain a high standard in the classroom,” Bellanti said. “That’s what we’re trying to strive for with all of our athletes. I have to be careful as to how often I bring it up, because I catch myself using him as an example quite often. I don’t want to have the current players and athletes thinking, ‘Here we go again with that story.’ “It’s such a struggle to get kids to be leaders nowadays, and certainly T.J. was an outstanding leader for us. Not only was he a leader on the floor, but he was a leader in the classroom and a leader in the hallways. He made other people around him better, and that’s an example of his kind of leadership. It’s remarkable to see those qualities.”


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