Brown Sugar

A high school hoops phenom comes home a pro

"We've had a lot of athletes whose physical skills compare with Gerald's," says Rhymes. "But as far as dedication and knowing what you want to get out of life, he stands alone.

"When I look at Gerald, I don't see a pro player. I see an outstanding student, someone I would love other students or my own son to be just like. He would be successful no matter what he did."

Rhymes never had to worry about Brown keeping on top of his studies to stay eligible. An honor roll student, Brown worked as hard in the classroom as he did on his free throws. That kind of discipline is something Rhymes wishes all his players possessed.

"Gerald's first objective was an education and getting his degree--basketball was second," he says. "He loved playing basketball, but it was just a means to get his degree. A lot of kids go to college just to play ball, don't get their degree, and then wind up on the streets."

To emphasize his point, Rhymes showed the basketball documentary Hoop Dreams to his players. In the film, two high school kids who think they're destined for the NBA find the road to college--let alone the pros--harder than they thought.

"[The players] still didn't believe me," says Rhymes. "They were saying, 'Oh, he just messed up. I'm much better than he is.' They don't realize that college is a different level. A kid hitting 30 a game in high school sometimes can't do anything in college. There's so many great players in the country, you have to be awfully great to make it."

Antrone Gray listened to what Rhymes was preaching. Unlike Brown, Gray didn't get much guidance or support from his family.

Gray admits that his freshman year he didn't let going to class interfere with his education. He lived outside the Carl Hayden attendance area, and his mother wouldn't help out with rides or money to take the bus. It didn't take a catastrophe to convince him to skip school.

He remembers the day his new clothes were stolen. All he had to wear to school were ratty old threads and shoes with holes. In high school, that's the quickest way to get clowned on. He decided to go to the park and shoot hoops instead.

"Rhymes rolled up to the park in his van," Gray recalls. "I kind of waved to him, but I was thinking, 'Aw, man, he's going to make me go to class.' He walked up and said, 'What you doing out of school?'

"I almost started crying right then. I told him about the bus, my clothes, my shoes. He took me out and bought me some new clothes and then brought me to his house. He told me that if I was out on that corner every morning, he'd take me to school. After that, he picked me up or had somebody else pick me up every day."

Whether it was transportation to school or the knowledge that he had someone looking out for him, Gray became a regular at Carl Hayden. He started taking the same classes as Brown because he knew his friend was a good role model.

"What separated Gerald from everyone else was he worked hard," says Gray. "He was dedicated to basketball and school. He had to be because his daddy would kick him in the butt if he didn't. I barely ever saw my daddy."

Gray built a supportive environment around his teammates and coaches. Before every road game, the team would meet at Reggie Hill's house. They warmed up by playing games on Hill's lowered goal, dunking on each other and slamming bodies into the concrete.

"That's why we were so close," says Gray. "We did everything together."
On senior night, it's tradition that the seniors are escorted onto the floor by their parents. Gray's folks hardly ever came to see him play. Senior night was supposed to be special, and Gray's parents were no-shows.

"I had Gerald's parents walk me out on the floor," he says. "They were like my second parents."

When he looks back on his four years as a member of the Carl Hayden Falcons, you can tell Gray got more out of the experience than a state championship trophy.

"It really felt like a family," he says.
Carl Hayden's talented guard tandem of Brown and Gray were given First Team All-Metro honors. Then Gray's surrogate family had to disband. Brown left for Malibu, California, to play at Pepperdine and Gray went to Central Arizona College.

"I was the first one in my family to go to college," he says. "I was proud of that."

But Gray struggled to fit in. He bounced from Central Arizona to New Mexico Highlands to Cal State-Chico. Along the way, he gave up the dream of playing in the NBA.

Gray says he's three semesters short of graduation. His major is secondary education, but he's considering changing it to criminal justice so he can help kids who come from the same background he did. He's in Phoenix, working at Norwest Bank and playing pickup ball four times a week. There's no next level for Gray. He plays for the love of the game.

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