A day after former St. Frances basketball star Devin Gray died of a heart attack in Atlanta, longtime Panthers coach William Wells talked about the 1991 Baltimore Catholic League Player of the Year's dedication to the sport.
"When I first met Devin, he couldn't hold a ball. By the time he was a senior, I knew he could have been a pro," Wells said Sunday. "He had special talents from the 10th grade on because he could go up and get it."
Gray died in Atlanta on Saturday after suffering a heart attack, according to his cousin Zeke Marshall (St. Paul's), The Baltimore Sun's 1989-90 Basketball Player of the Year. Gray was 41.
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Friends told Marshall that Gray had played basketball Saturday morning and complained in the afternoon of chest pains. He was driven by friends to a fire station and later transported to WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, Ga., where he was pronounced dead.
"Devin showed that a kid that people might think couldn't make it to college could do it," said Marshall, who attended Cornell. "He gave hope to Baltimore players that they could do it. We were fortunate in trying to make it out of the inner city. And he went out like any soldier would want to, doing what they do best."
Marshall said Gray moved to Atlanta three weeks ago to work as a manager at a nightclub. Before he left, Wells said Gray visited him and talked for a long time about wanting to get away from Baltimore.
"Everybody liked him," Wells said. "He was a very kind, nice kid. His senior year, he actually stayed with me at my home, so he was like a son to me. He was close to my whole family, he was in our family. He never really forgot what we [had] done for him and he was grateful."
Gray, a powerful, high-leaping, 6-foot-7 center-forward, averaged 25.6 points, 14.0 rebounds and 6.0 blocks while leading St. Frances to a 19-8 record and the No. 5 ranking in The Sun's final Top 20 in 1991 before playing in college at Clemson.
Former BCL commissioner Jim "Snuffy" Smith discussed Gray's impact at St. Frances, which he led to the 1990 BCL championship.
"He gave St. Frances legitimacy to compete in the Baltimore Catholic League from the time he played varsity his sophomore year and on," said Smith, who was BCL commissioner from 1988 to 1993. "He was a power forward. He'd get the ball inside and he was wide and strong and athletic and from 15 feet and in, he was really tough to handle."
Gray suffered a heart attack in April 1994, during his junior year at Clemson. Gray led the Atlantic Coast Conference in field-goal percentage during that season at 57.2 percent and had a combined 65 points and 25 rebounds in three National Invitation Tournament games. He finished the season with averages of 14.4 points and 6.0 rebounds, both second-best on the team.
He was cleared to play by doctors after the heart attack and returned for his senior year, but played just seven games, averaging 14 points and six rebounds before being declared academically ineligible.
Although Gray was not drafted, he played in the NBA from 1996 to 2000 with the Sacramento Kings (1996-97), the San Antonio Spurs (1996-97) and the Houston Rockets (1999-2000). He also played abroad in France, Spain and Venezuela.
Gray is survived by his mother, Patricia, and a sister, Sharnette.
A viewing for Gray will be held Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. at Phillip's Funeral Home, 1727 N. Monroe Street, Baltimore, MD 21217. The funeral will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, preceded by a wake at 9 a.m., at St. Frances, 501 East Chase Street, Baltimore, MD 21202.
An account has been set up at Wells Fargo bank to help the family with funeral costs. Contributions can be made by contacting Casey Ring at Wells Fargo's Owings Mills branch at 410-654-6207.
Baltimore Sun staff contributed to this article.