When T.J. Bray started his career with the Princeton University men’s basketball team in 2010, he didn’t see the Ivy League as his last stop in the game.
“Coming into college, I knew that the better players got to play pro,” said Bray. “It was always in the back of my mind.”
After averaging 1.5 points a game as a freshman and 7.2 as a sophomore, Bray’s ambitions seemed far-fetched.
But after scoring 9.9 points a game as a junior with 102 assists and 51 steals to earn second-team All-Ivy league honors, the 6’5, 207-pound native of New Berlin, Wisc. stamped himself as one of the better players in the Ivies last winter. Leading the Tigers in scoring (18.0 points per game) steal (34), assists (133) and field goal percentage, (.537) Bray was a unanimous first-team All-Ivy choice.
“Things worked out well as the seasons progressed,” said Bray. “I had a good senior year and this season, I settled into not going to look for a job but playing basketball as long as I could.”
By the end of his superb senior campaign, it became clear that Bray’s pro dream could become a reality.
“Agents were talking to me saying the same thing, you are having a great year and we can get you into NBA workouts,” said Bray.
After completing the season and turning in his thesis, Bray put himself through some grueling workouts to get ready for his shot at the next level.
“I was going to the gym working with coach [Brian] Earl and coach [Marcus] Jenkins, shoring up my game, playing four-five times a week,” said Bray, who ended up with 1,024 points in his Tiger career. “I did full-court 2-on-2 with the coaches to stay in shape.”
Playing the Toronto Raptors for the NBA Summer League last month in Las Vegas, Bray turned heads.
“I thought I was pretty solid,” said Bray. “I have plenty of room for improvement but I adjusted to the NBA game pretty well. I talked to the Raptor coaches and they said thanks for coming and playing and they told me I was going to be a successful pro.”
Now, Bray is going to get his shot to be a pro, signing last week with Pallacanestro Trapani in Italy’s second-level league, called Serie A2 Gold.
“Trapani seemed to have the best situation, so we negotiated for a week and I signed last Friday,” said Bray, noting that his agent has a colleague from Italy with extensive knowledge of the leagues there.
“It was one of the better organizations in the league in Europe, it is about getting paid and paid on time. They have a good coaching staff, the head coach has coached in Milan and Rome so he has been at a higher level. He likes to develop younger players. The location is great, it is a seaside town.”
Bray’s experience with the Raptors organization should serve him well as he had a number of practice sessions with the team before taking part in the summer league.
“We got to Vegas on Monday and had 2-a-days on Tuesday and Wednesday and a single practice on Thursday,” said Bray.
“The Raptors coaches were high on my Princeton background; they were looking for me to make smart plays. The transition from the Raptors to Princeton went smoothly; they played a similar system.”
Bray enjoyed a smooth debut in summer action, going 3-of-3 from the field, all from beyond the arc, and hitting 3-of-4 from the foul line for 12 points in an 88-78 win on July 11 over the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I told myself to stay calm and make the right play,” said Bray. “I got some shots and I got to the free throw line, I can make that 15-foot shot. It was almost surreal how well things went.
In his five summer games with the Raptors, Bray averaged 4.4 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 18.2 minutes played.
“I played off ball,” said Bray, reflecting on his role with the team. “We had four point guards and a couple of shooting guards and one got hurt. It was anything to get on the court.”
After seeing time on the court at the pro level, Bray said the biggest difference from college is the length of the players.
“Everyone is taller and their arms are longer, the gaps that you see in college are closed,” said Bray. “The speed of the game is not that different.”
In order to get up to speed for his stint in Italy, Bray will be focusing on fundamentals.
“My ballhandling has to get shored up,” said Bray. “I will be working on that a lot in the gym as well as floaters, mid-range jumpers, and the in-between game. At Princeton, it is 3s and lay-ups.”
At Trapani, Bray will be called on to display his versatile game. “I will do whatever they need,” said Bray.
“I am penciled in as the 2 guard, to be a playmaker and score a little, like my role with Princeton last season. I am also the backup point guard. Chris Evans from Kent State is the 3. We are the two pieces that they brought in.”
With Bray leaving for Italy on August 18, he is looking forward to an adventure on and off the court.
“I want to soak up as much as possible from the experience and learn on the court,” said Bray, noting that the team takes care of his apartment and car and that he will be getting Rosetta Stone to learn some Italian.
“I want to get to a higher level. Everything has gone perfectly the last few months; I am very excited to go over there.”