On Saturday January 9, 2021 Brad Gray earned his 300th career victory as Tri-Village girls basketball coach, a milestone that took 15 years to reach and still climbing.
To understand the story on how he reached this elite mark let’s go back in time to uncover Brad’s Journey to get to this point, it’s a story that almost never happened.
Brad started at TV as the freshman boys’ coach in 2000-01, movedup to JV from 2001-03, then due to his schedulewhile pursuing his Master’s degree he coached Junior High from 2003-2006.
Gray always had a vision of being a varsity boys basketball coach and never considered girls basketball but there were forces that worked on him over a period of time that eventually changed his mind.
It all started with girls’ basketball coach Jim Maples back in 2003.
“I remember the first time he approached me about considering coaching girls’ basketball – I shot him down quick because I always had a vision of being a boys’ varsity coach,” Gray said.
“Jim, didn’t take no for an answer, he came and talked to me again saying it’s what he also thought he wanted to do too … but he really enjoyed coaching the girls and thought I would enjoy it too, and had the right personality, but I still kind of blew it off.”
But other forces started to come into the picture a year later Maples again approached Gray, this time it was a much more serious conversation.
“I heard him a little more … but still I wasn’t feeling it was the path I wanted to take,” Gray stated.
By thenGrayhad started watchingmore girls’ basketball due to his niece Shaye Thomas playing as a 5th grader, what he saw was a group of young kids along with a 6th grader by the name of Kayla Linkous that caught his eye.
“I could really see this group of young kids coming up was going to be something special and it sparked my interest,” Gray said.
That same year Jim Maples stepped down from coaching after having a had a good run that saw his teams win 198 games and garner 3 Cross County Conference Titles in his 14 years.
Gray’s dream of coaching boys’ basketball was still in the back of his mind and there were a couple of boy’s position that came open in the area he was considering applying … but nowhe was wrestling over what to do.
“I had such a special bond with Shaye Thomas, kind of like big brother/little sister and I began to get excited about the opportunity to coach her,” Gray beamed.
The final sign that coaching the girls’ basketball team might be a good idea came from boys’ basketball coach Lee Falknor.
“Lee said you need to be very selective of your first head coaching job, because if it’s the wrong job it can damage the rest of your career. He convinced me that it might be more of a hinderance than help,” Gray commented.
“All the signs were there, the girls’ basketball program was established, it had experienced success under Jim Maples and was going to have good continuity with Mike Fisherback wanting to stay on as an assistant, so it was going to be a smooth transition,” Gray added
So, the persistence of Jim Maples and the prospect of coaching his niece with a great group of girls coming through, plus the advice by a veteran and highly successful coach Lee Falknor, were just the forcesneeded to convince a young coach to take a leap of faith.
“I want to thank Lee Falknor for the great advice and looking back, the decision to take the girls basketball coaching job was the best decision I ever made,” Gray said.
As it turns out it was the right job at the right time for coach Brad Gray.
Coach Gray couldn’t help but reflect back on who helped him get to that point in time.
“There are so many people to thank for the awesome opportunity that I was given,” Gray said.
“The guys who were willing to give me my first chance as a basketball coach way back in the 2000-2001 season. Lee Falknor allowed me to be a part of his boys’ basketball staff as a young kid straight out of college along with Bill Moore and Matt Renfro. Those guys allowed me to feel like a valued member of the staff who could bring something to the table and it was huge for my growth. They got me to a point of feeling like I could actually lead a program as I learned so much from them on how to do it,” Gray stated.
“I am also so grateful for the leap of faith the administrative team and BOE took in deciding to hire me ashead coach of what was already a great program despite having no head coaching experience. Jim Maples, who was the AD and outgoing head coach at that time trusted me enough to take over a program he grew and had a tremendous passion for. He is the guy who built the culture of our program. Tony Thomas, our Superintendent at the time was also instrumental in convincing me that I could do the job. And finally, our BOE at that time took the chance on me by voting for a young kid with no experience. Kevin Harrison, a BOE member at the time, was as instrumental as anybody in convincing me to take the job and I am so glad he expressed that confidence in me,”
But even prior to that Brad Gray was shaped by many as a young boy growing up in Wellsville, Ohio from names nobody would know around Darke County.
“The saying from back home is you can take the boy out of Wellsville but you can’t take Wellsville out of the boy. So much of who and what I am is ingrained in me from growing up in there,” Gray said.
“My parents obviously taught me the importance of being a coachable kid and also fighting my own battles. If I ever came home complaining about anything regarding athletics, the response was always “Sounds to me like you need to work harder.” That resonated with me and I would like to think my coaches growing up would all say that that was my greatest attribute,” Gray commented.
That work ethic is something coach Gray expects out of his players even today.
“It’s what I try to get our teams to do every day, outwork everybody else.
Other impactful influencers in Grays life started with his youth coaches, some who may not even realize the impact they had on his life.
“I was coached by youth coaching legends back in Wellsville in a variety of sports that have all had the biggest impact on me from an athletic standpoint. Guys like Fuller Murphy, Jim Bright, Bob Taggert, and Frau Carter. Those guys gave me my first memories of athletics and instilled in me the passion that I have. And the guy that impacted me more than anybody from a basketball standpoint is Bugs Thompson, and he likely doesn’t even realize that. I am a coach because of that man!! He gave me all the inspiration and drive that I needed as a kid. It wasn’t always in a pleasant way but he just knew how to press those buttons that I needed pressed and did it in a way that I knew he saw something in me.”
All that influence led a little scrawny, blonde headed kid back in Wellsville to where he’s at today and something Brad is very thankful for.
“People back home would be able to tell you how obsessed I was with the game from an early age. So, to be able to still be involved with this child’s game, at the age of 44, and hopefully helping to impact others the way that I was impacted by it is just a special thing to me,” Gray smiled.
Brad Gray takes over the reins in 2006-2007 and reflects on the first season.
“That was a young team; Kaley Stahl was our only senior and we had a good group of juniors with Tina Allison and Amelia Frazier but finished 10-11 on the year.”
Ironically that would be the only season below 500 with Brad Gray at the helm.
The following season 2007-08 with Allison and Frazier as seniors and quality group of younger kids, Kaila Burns and Hillary Frech as contributors resulted in the Patriots 18-6 record which has since turned into 14 straight winning seasons for Gray now in his 15th year.
Successis the expectation at Tri-Village, something coach Gray didn’t shy away from.
“It’s just something I don’t think you even consider as a young guy just getting started. I mean, I have always had a tremendous amount of confidence in myself, so failure isn’t something I ever really let enter my mind. But to say I thought we would be able to achieve the things we’ve achieved on consistent basis … I’m just not sure it ever entered my mind when I started,” Gray confessed.
That success would betested due to Miami East joining the Cross County Conference in 2006-07 where they would win 7 league titles in 8 years.
“I really think east coming into the league forced us and other teams to have to figure out how to compete. Our league prior to that didn’t have a team as dominant as they were, Gray said.
Miami East became the standard after going undefeated in the conference 4 straight years and Gray recalls the game he believes got them over the hump and believing they could complete andbeat elite team like East.
“I think the game that got us over the humpwas the conference game in 2010 against Miami East. They came into that game having never lost a conference game since they joined the CCC in 2006 and quite honestly never been tested but once against Covington during that span.”
“They had beat us the prior year by a score of 93-37 at their place. I remember telling our kids after the game that kind of score was never going to happen to us again and we were going to beat East on our floor next year.”
“I can’t say I really even knew or, if I truly believed it at the time. I think it was more out of frustration of losing to them more than anything else, but it set something in motion for all of us.”
Remember the group of kids that helped Gray’s decision to take the job? Well they were about to pay dividends.
“I mean, it helped knowing KJ (Kayla Linkous) was a freshman that year and wehad a really good group of 8th graders led by Shaye Thomas,Teha Richards, and Jordan Hill joining her next year. Plus, we had a great group of leaders, kids like; Kaila Burns, Hillarie Frech, Kylie Thomas, the Abney twins and Adriana Finkbine.”
“I remember telling my wife on the day of that game in 2010 as I left the house these kids were going to knock East off, and I mean it was something I truly knew was going to happen.”
“She thought I was nuts but I was absolutely convinced and we ended up dominating the game, winning by 14 points.”
“To this day, I remember everything about that day from going to Starbucks that morning, getting a green tea, to finishing the night celebrating the win (my wife might claim it was to celebrate Valentine’s Day … but this is my story) by going to Galo’s in Richmond with my siblings and in-laws,” Gray stated.
From there, that season just finished as a magical ride and ended up being the first team in the history of Tri-Village girls’ basketball to win a district championship and advance to a Regional final after starting the year with a 3-4 record.
Coach Gray was fortunate to have the right kids coming through; Shaye Thomas, Kayla Linkous, Teha Richards who believed they were as good as anybody when they stepped out on thefloor and had the mentality they could compete with anybody.
“East forced us to raise our ceiling, had they not joined the league at that time who knows if we would have been able to achieve some of the accomplishments we did.”
“From there success kind of bredsuccess, winning paves the way so kids comingup want to work hard to have that same kind of experience,” Brad said.
Up to this point Brad has had a lot of memorable teams but when asked about memorable wins, one that stands out the most will obviously be the 2011-12 team.
“Getting to Columbus is obviouslyspecial when you accomplish that as a group, you just don’t forget it. Winning the regional final in 2012 against Fort Loramie that secured our first, and to date, only trip to a state tournament is unforgettable. We played unbelievably well that night and shot over 70% from the field in that game.”
Brad also recounted another memorable win in a game played on a big stage.
“The 2016-17 team was the year we went to “Classic in the Country”for the first time with Allie Downing, Danika Mann and Rachel Miller as seniors and we played Orrville, it was an unreal performance and at that time the largest margin of victory for a game at the prestigious event,” Gray beamed.
But the team he feels accomplished the most was the 2012-13 team.
That team with Shaye Thomas and Teha Richards as seniors and Lexie Bruner a junior was the year after KJ graduated, she was our leading scorer and the state player of the year and we knew it was going to be anunreal challenge. We weren’t sure how theteam would respond, but we made it back to the Regional final. Lexie Bruner hit a huge shot in the corner against Mechanicsburg. We were up one at the time with under a minute to go and she’s shooting a shot deep in the corner and the look of surprise on my face and the people behind me is one I’ll never forget.I always love the crowd pictures where you can see people’s emotions. Seeing the faces of the crowd as she is shooting and ends up hitting it, those are memories you remember forever.”
Reflecting on that moment Brad also wanted to recognize the great support received from the community and Patriot faithful.
“It’s not normal. It really isn’t. When we go on the road we almost always have more fans than the team that we are traveling to, and here at home, it’s a tough environment for visiting teams to walk into. Our fans are so passionate and extremely knowledgeable about the game, which is a big reason of why we’ve been able to sustain success here. I hope our fans know how much their support means to our kids and also to me. They often times make the difference in close games,” Gray praised.
One of Brad’s most memorable coaching moments came in the 2010-11 season.
“We lost at National Trail in a miserable game 26-25, Shaye got fouled at the end of the game and missed the front end of the one-and-one and was so upset with herself for missing the free throw. I remember our conversation after the game, I told her you’re going to win a lot more games in your career at the end of the game then ever going to lose, and boy did that ever come true. So many games she had the ball in her hands at the end of the game where she protected it, didn’t turn it over and went to the free throw line and sealed games for us,” Gray smiled.
There have been so many memorable moments for Gray, with too many to recall in this story and more than enough to write a book.
When asked how it feels to reach 300 wins he was quick to point out these wins are a reflection of the kids, the community, coaches and support received by so many people.
“It honestly just makes me think how lucky I’ve been in my career to land in the right place at the right time. There are so many people that are a much bigger part of this success than me. I think all coaches who have done this for longer than a minute know great players have a way of making average coaches look pretty good. I’ve been blessed with a lot of really great players. We’ve had 17 kids who have received All Ohio recognition during these past 14 years. But we’ve had some even better collective groups.”
“It makes me look back on how lucky I’ve been to have people in my life who have had such great impacts on me. I have been so fortunate to have assistant coaches who have been extremely dedicated and supportive to myself and our players. Mike Fisherback, who was with me for 14 years, was the perfect fit to balance out my personality, and also had such a great impact on our players. I think he kept all of us balanced throughout those years. Greg Eley also played such an important role in my earlier years as well as a volunteer assistant. He was such a great energy giver to me and our players. He had a great way of always finding the positive, which again, was a great balance to my personality.”
“Our current staff is comprised of what I believe is one of the best young staffs in the state. Caleb South is as passionate about the game as any young kid I’ve been around. Mackenzie Taylor brings a wealth of knowledge to our program from being a player at Wright State our young ladies can relate, and Laden Delawder is one of the best basketball minds I have ever been around. He challenges my thinking more so than anybody else I have ever talked basketball with and I think that has allowed us to take big strides in the three years that he has been here,” Gray summed up.
Gray also acknowledged having Josh Sagester the varsityboy’s basketball coach is a great resource and friend who has been a big help in his journey.
“Josh came in as another young coach with the same passion and drive to do special things here. From a basketball x and o standpoint and player development he has been a great guy to learn from. I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a guy who has been as intelligent about basketball as he is. Obviously the impact he has had and someone who is essentially next door to me all day, every day, is something I’ve been blessed with,” Gray complimented.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the most important people to me and that’s my family,” Gray said.
Brad is married to the former Brooke Bietry and they have 3 kids; daughters Delaney and Taytum and son Brecken. Delaney currently is a junior guard on the varsity basketball team
“My childrenhave no idea what it’s like to have a dad who doesn’t coach, their whole lives have been spent as a coach’s child. And without questions, my most loyal and true supporter is my wife. She has made the biggest sacrifice of all. She spent 21 years supporting me as I chase this dream of being involved in the game, she knows how much value it has to me. She “gets it” more than anybody else in my life. I really outkicked my coverage in landing her as my life partner.” Gray lovingly said.
Currently coach Gray has 301 wins and 65 losses for an incredible 82% winning percentage. The 301 wins is the most in school history boys or girls. To go along with that Gray’s teams have won6 Conference Titles, 8 District Titles, 1 Regional Title and 1 State Final 4 appearance.
But there is still one boyhood dream that eludes him and that is a coveted state title.
“That is something from a personal perspective, I have dreamed of being a part of ever since I was a young kid back in my hometown of Wellsville.
So, obviously it would mean a great deal to meto achieve that. But, I don’t want our kids’ self-worth and our staff’s self-worth to be determined by it. That is the goal we are working towards every year since I’ve been here. Sure, it would be an awesome feeling if we are fortunate enough to do it,” Gray added.
That opportunity may be within reach over the next few years as the current group of kids have a high expectation of doing great things.
“The team we have right now is a special team and talent. With Morgan Hunt and Riley Sagester both having an opportunity to play division 1 basketball that’s not something we’ve had here before. I think the ceiling is very high for this group and we are hoping this team can get us over the hump, we’ve come close but just haven’t got over that final hurdle,” Gray stated.
The game coach Gray reached 300 wins was a good example of what this team is capable of doing.
“We went out and beat Trotwood a D1 school, that was just our kids going out and playing a game plan to a “T” and kids making plays. Sure, we try to guide them with a game plan … but they took the plan and executed it. That was a game we could have lost,” Gray said.
“So many of our teams in the past have done just that. They were selfless, willing to set everything else aside because they wanted to win. I’ve been so blessed, I wish I could talk about every kids I’ve coached, there are so many who have made such an impact whose names aren’t in the record books but I love and value all of them.”
That’s why Gray refers to the 300 wins as a celebration that many share a big part.
“As I reflect on this accomplishment of 300 wins, it’s not something I look at as belonging to just me. The 300 wins belong to the players we’ve had and the coaches who worked their tails off. The administrators and BOE that truly value the importance of athletics.Those who shaped me and to the best high school basketball fans this state has to offer, and of course my family. These are the people that run through my mind when I reflect on how lucky I have been to land at a place like Tri-Village at just the right time,” Gray concluded.
It’s been quite the journey for Brad Gray who now has a storied pastto 300 wins as the Tri-Village girls basketball coach.
It’s a story I’ve written about many times over the last 15 yearswith more wins to come,and possibly one that ends in Columbus.
It’s a story that almost never happened.