When Mike Gray Jr. arrived at Blue Ridge School last summer, it took some time to learn to balance the rigorous workload of academics, basketball and conditioning.
Gray never doubted he’d learn to thrive at the all-boys boarding school in Saint George, a town 20 miles outside of Charlottesville.
But the presence of a familiar face at a preseason scrimmage victory helped alleviate any concern he could compete at that level.
The former James Monroe star guard was in opposition once again with ex-Battlefield District counterpart David Ware, a Caroline alumni playing a postgraduate season for Fork Union Military Academy.
“It was good to see a familiar face from the other side,” Gray said. “I wouldn’t say we had a rivalry, but we’re always going to compete when we get out there. When you see somebody you know on a different team, it’s a ‘What’s up?’ type of thing. Then you’ve got to put your game face on and play hard.”
Gray and Ware haven’t stopped playing hard since as they’ve navigated living away from home for the first time and excelling at demanding basketball programs.
Gray, who reclassified and is still a sophomore, is averaging 12 points, four rebounds and four assists per game for the Barons (20–6). Ware is averaging 11 points, eight rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes per contest for FUMA (14–8).
Gray, a 6-foot-2 combo guard, has scholarship offers from Virginia Tech, Old Dominion, Drake and Hampton. He’s receiving interest from N.C. State and Minnesota.
Ware held offers from IUPUI and Liberty entering Fork Union, and is now being recruited heavily by Central Connecticut State, Virginia Military Institute and programs in the Big East, Atlantic 10 and Big South.
Each is confident they’ve chosen the right path to secure a Division I future.
“When I first got here it was a transition but I knew it would pay off in the end,” Ware said. “You make a lot of sacrifices but when you’re playing for a great coach like coach Donohue, it opens doors and gets you prepared for the next level.”
PICKING THEIR SPOTS
Gray and Ware have had to become selective offensively on teams with talented college recruits all over the floor.
Blue Ridge coach Cade Lemcke noted that the Barons have eight potential scholarship players on their roster, including Gray.
Lemcke said it took about 10 games for Gray to learn he didn’t have to do it all. He discovered that at a tournament in England and responded with an efficient season-high 29 points.
“On this level you have to make smarter decisions,” Gray said. “You can’t really make instinctive decisions. You have to think it through more.”
Gray was a first-team all-Battlefield District and all-Region 3B selection last season as he averaged 21.1 points per game for the Yellow Jackets.
Lemcke said it’s been beneficial for Gray to be surrounded with “like-minded” players at Blue Ridge who are equally capable of carrying the load at various times.
“When he was back at James Monroe, every shot for him was a good shot for the team,” Lemcke said. “He had to do a lot on both ends of the floor to put the team in a position to be successful. Now being in a college preparatory environment he has to take the correct shot. He has to make the correct play. He has to make the smart play on defense. He doesn’t have to make the superstar play. He has to make the game-winning play which I think is preparing him really well for the college level.”
Lemcke said it’s much easier to get a talented player like Gray to dial back their game than it is to encourage a less confident player to turn up their intensity.
Ware has been encouraged to do the same. He led the Fredericksburg area in scoring his senior season at Caroline with 25.6 points per game. He scored a career-high 51 in a win over King George.
Ware also averaged 13.4 rebounds per contest and was named Free Lance–Star player of the year.
Donohue said the 6-foot-4 small forward is attractive to college coaches because of his well-roundedness.
He can score inside and outside as evidenced by a 5-for-7 effort from 3-point territory in a recent win over the Chowan (N.C.) junior varsity team. Donohue said Ware also rebounds well for his positon and has the strength and athleticism to be a capable defender at the next level.
Ware’s adjustment—in addition to cutting his short dreadlocks and living without a cellphone on campus—has been taking less shots and still being involved in the offense.
“I think physically he was ready. Athletically he was ready,” Donohue said. “He’s an excellent defender and he has a real nice feel for the game. He’s a good shooter. Those are things he already had … He’s been working on when to attack and how to pick and choose the right times to attack. So just thinking through the game has been something he’s learned to do and he’s getting pretty good at it.”
Gray and Ware are now aiming to finish the season on a high note. The Barons host Bishop Sullivan on Saturday at 4 p.m. before closing the regular season at home against Miller School and Benedictine.
Fork Union has four regular season games remaining before it takes part in the Hargrave First Piedmont Invitational Feb. 22–23 in Chatham and the National Prep Showcase March 6–7 in New Haven, Conn.
Ware plans to orally commit to a college program by May, while Gray is in no rush. He said he likes the Hokies but wants to see what other schools extend scholarship offers.
Ware said he’s willing to consider “all options” when he makes his commitment. Gray said the wisdom he’s gained so far at Blue Ridge will serve him well going forward.
“I’ve learned this game can take you very far,” Gray said, “if you put in the work.”