Thankfully for the Blue Devils, Stuart Gray played basketball and not volleyball. Otherwise the former NBA center’s daughter, Christiana, might not be where she is today.
“My dad played professional basketball and got every award imaginable,” Gray said. “I figured I couldn’t compete with that, so I had one basketball game in my whole career. I quit after that game. I tried everything from gymnastics to soccer to softball, but nothing really worked for me until I found volleyball.”
Despite being recruited by Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, Stuart Gray attended UCLA, where he played for three years before being selected as the 29th overall pick in the 1984 NBA draft by the Indiana Pacers. After spending five years with Indiana, Gray moved on to the Charlotte Hornets. It was in North Carolina where his first daughter was born.
“My dad never pushed me to play basketball,” Christiana said. “Thank goodness, because I was actually awful. But there was pressure to be an athlete. I have so many athletes in my family. Growing up my parents knew that I was going to be tall. My dad is seven feet and my mom is 6-foot-2, so they wanted me to put it to use I guess.”
Duke head coach Jolene Nagel has certainly put the 6-foot-5 Gray to good use in her three and a half seasons playing for the Blue Devils. Through the first 12 matches of the season, the standout middle blocker sat third in the Duke record books with a career .367 hitting percentage. In 2011, Gray’s hitting percentage of .396 tied for second highest in the program’s history for a single season. Gray also ranks eighth and ninth, respectively, in career blocks per set and total blocks.
For Christiana, her father’s decision to go to UCLA indirectly influenced her choice to become a Blue Devil.
“He was an army brat so he grew up everywhere,” Gray said. “He ended up in [Los Angeles] and went to UCLA. But it’s funny because Coach K flew out to California, sat in his living room, and said ‘I want you to play for my basketball team,’ and my dad just totally blew him off. He didn’t want to go south and ended up going to UCLA. I don’t think he liked it there very much, so when I visited [Duke] my dad said, ‘This was the worst mistake I ever made, not coming here.’ The campus was so great, and the coaches were so great. And it was just another thing that I could put on my resume that my dad doesn’t have.”
Gray didn’t choose Duke simply to go in a different direction than her father, though. In fact, she came dangerously close to not coming to Durham at all.
“I picked up the phone to call the Wisconsin coach,” Gray said. “I was looking at Wisconsin, and I had the number dialed twice and then just hung up because it didn’t feel right.”
For Gray, choosing a college came down to more than just athletics. She is focused on more than just winning volleyball matches, as evidenced by her selections to the All-ACC academic team in each of the past three seasons.
“My parents have always taught me that whatever you are doing, do it to your best,” Gray said. “Never slack—whether that’s playing volleyball or in school. Even meeting people don’t give them some crappy handshake and then leave. Anything you do, do it to your best. That’s just what I translated from volleyball into the classroom. And that’s why I came [to Duke].”
Combined with her work on the court, Gray’s efforts in the classroom and in the community have been noticed. In September, Gray was nominated for the Senior CLASS award, which recognizes student-athletes excelling in four different areas—community, classroom, character and competition. Thanks to her involvement in multiple community service projects while pursuing a degree in psychology, Gray was one of 30 seniors put up for the award.
Gray relishes her multiple responsibilities as a senior co-captain and leader on the volleyball court, student, community servant and role model.
“When you’re young and playing volleyball you see all these girls on the court, and they’re your idols,” Gray said. “I didn’t realize until the past few years that now I’m there, and girls look up to me now. You have to do good by those girls and set a good example. They really do look up to you, and it really does impact their lives what you do on and off the court.”
Thanks to her parents’ incredible genes, Gray gained the natural ability to become a fantastic volleyball player. But it was the insight from her parents and hard work that brought Gray to where she is today.
Looking back at her father’s athletic career, Gray believes she learned the right lessons and made the correct choice with her own career.
“He mostly talks about it in terms of regrets, saying, ‘I wish I had of done this,’” Gray said of her dad. “He was not involved in the community—that just wasn’t really something that you did. I think he is so proud that I was able to find a school where I could be a student, be an athlete and impact other people, which is something he never got to do. He went to UCLA, where you are a Bruin for four years. But you’re a Dukie for life.”
With half a season left to play in her senior year, does Gray have any regrets in her accomplished Duke career?
“Not at all,” she said. “I loved it, and I would do it over again.”