Gray stood tall for Douglas basketball: Former star passes away at age 66
One line in the April 22, 1971 edition of The Record-Courier described Douglas High School basketball player Jerald “Jerry” Gray as a “tower of strength.”
Gray, a four-year varsity starter and Douglas Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, passed away at age 66 on March 15 at his Carson City home. He is remembered as one of the best athletes to come out of Douglas — he also lettered in track and field, football and golf — and much more than that.
Clark Reid inserted the 6-foot-4 freshman into his first lineup as head coach for the Tigers in 1967.
“I didn’t even think about it,” Reid recalled. “I just put him in.”
All Gray did over the next four seasons was rewrite the school record book, finishing as the school’s all-time career scoring leader with 1,324 points and career leader in rebounds with 1,301. As a senior in 1970-71, he set school single-season records with a 16.9 point average and 18.4 rebound average while leading Douglas to an 18-6 record and runner-up finish behind Fallon at the AA state tournament. Gray was honored as the AA division’s co-Player of the Year along with Don Lattin of Fallon.
“It was certainly an enjoyable experience playing with a guy who had that much talent,” said Cary Olson, a junior on that team and a Douglas Hall of Fame inductee.
At that time, the Northern AA was a highly competitive conference that featured such standout players as Fallon’s Lattin and Lowry’s Mitch Woods (who played for the Nevada Wolf Pack), as well as Mineral County’s Don Orndorff (San Jose State).
“Those were some great players, and Jerry was one of the best of them all,” Reid said. “He could score, he could rebound, and he played good defense, too.”
Gray seemed to play bigger than his 6-4, 210-pound frame. He could dominate a game with his scoring and rebounding when necessary. His statistics, however, didn’t always reflect that domination because of his commitment to being a good team player.
“He was our go-to guy, but he had a lot of good players around him, and he was always very unselfish,” Olson said. “He was only 6-4, but he played like he was 6-8. His jumping ability was super, and back then, you couldn’t dunk the ball, so he’d just go up and softly put it in. But that was frustrating to him because he always wanted to play hard.”
Gray scored 20 points in his final game for Douglas, a 66-59 loss against Fallon in the AA state championship game on March 13, 1971 at the old Centennial Coliseum in Reno. Gray also scored 21 points — shooting 9-for-11 from the free throw line — in the 69-51 semifinal win over Stewart.
One year later, Douglas won the AA state championship and Olson gives some of the credit to lessons the Tigers learned from Gray one season before.
“Jerry didn’t say a lot; he just worked hard,” said Olson, who was also a post player. “He taught me a lot of things about the game. He encouraged me when I made a good play and, at the same time, if I made a mistake, he encouraged me to maybe try something different or to work a little harder.”
As a freshman in 1967-68, Douglas went 14-8 and qualified for the AA state tournament, which was then the state’s large schools division. The Tigers lost their state opener against Valley (Las Vegas), 68-49.
Dennis Godecke and Tom Callahan were among the leaders of that team, however, young Gray showed his potential late in the season. Among his highlights were 25 points in a 73-60 win over Yerington, 19 in a 95-89 win over Stewart and 11 in a 71-60 win over Reno (the Tigers’ first win over the Huskies in 15 years). Gray also scored 19 in the Northern zone tournament semifinals, a 60-58 loss against the eventual champion Sparks Railroaders and 15 points in an 81-45 loss against Fallon in the third-place game.
“My first year as varsity coach I was blessed to have some very good seniors and him,” said Reid, another Douglas Hall of Fame inductee.
Gray was born in Rexburg, Idaho, the oldest of four brothers. Younger brother, Paul Gray, later played for Carson High’s 1975 AAA state championship team, had a successful run as head coach at Reed High and was inducted into the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Hall of Fame on Thursday night in Reno. Jerry and Jan Gray had two children, Jennifer and Jeremiah, who went on to become standout athletes at Carson High. Jennifer Gray also played four basketball seasons for the Kentucky Wildcats.
A celebration of Gray’s life will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at Walton’s Chapel of the Valley, 1281 N. Roop St., Carson City.