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Bulls thinking big with Gray

Bulls thinking big with Gray
Selected with the 49th overall pick, the 7-0 center earned third team All-American honors as a senior at Pitt

Aaron Gray "My biggest fear has always been letting my teammates down," said Gray. "That’s what’s been my motivation—I don’t want to let my teammates down and keep any of us from reaching the goals that we’re trying to achieve."
(Adam Fluck/Chicago Bulls)
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    Posted July 10, 2007 | By Adam Fluck

    Chicago’s need for size in the low post has been well-documented this summer.

    While there’s a good chance that GM John Paxson will address that issue with some, if not all, of the team’s mid-level exception in the coming weeks, he may have found a reliable back-up center in the second round of the 2007 NBA Draft in Aaron Gray.

    The former Pittsburgh standout, who checks in at seven-feet and 270 pounds, led the Big East in rebounds as a junior and corralled nearly 800 boards over his four-year collegiate career.

    He’s quick to acknowledge he needs to keep improving his offensive game and most importantly, his speed and agility, to succeed professionally. Those are among his top priorities as Gray takes the court with Chicago’s summer league team, playing in Orlando this week and heading to Salt Lake City next.

    Just before the team’s departure, Bulls.com sat down with Gray to get his thoughts on his yearly improvement at Pitt, how his college experience prepared him for the NBA, and his early impressions of his new rookie teammates.

    Bulls.com: How’s it feel now that the dust has settled and you’ve been in Chicago for a few days?
    Aaron Gray: “It’s been great. Right now I’m just looking forward to being as ready as I can for the season. I’ve come in a couple nights and worked on my conditioning and I’m going to try and get as many workouts with the coaches as I can. I’ve gotten into the weightroom too since the draft and it’s been good. It’s going to be a long summer for me and I have a lot of work to do. I really feel like I can be a contributor on this team; now I have to work hard and prove that. ”

    Aaron Gray Gray and fellow draft picks Joakim Noah and JamesOn Curry got a behind-the-scenes tour at U.S. Cellular Field on July 3.
    (Adam Fluck/Chicago Bulls)
    Bulls.com: Did you have an idea you might end up with the Bulls?
    Gray: “I thought there was the possibility. It’s funny because originally I wasn’t scheduled to workout here in Chicago. Then I got a call from them saying they were strongly interested and I came in that final week [before the draft]. When I was here, I loved the coaching staff and the facility and saw first hand what a great organization this is. I’m just really happy to be here.”

    Bulls.com: How did you feel your workout for the Bulls went?
    Gray: “I thought it went well. It was probably my toughest workout because I was used to going up against three other people. But here, it was just me and one other guy and they killed us for a good hour plus. Also, it was my thirteenth workout and I was about ready to hit the wall. It’s been a great experience for me and I’m very fortunate to be here.”

    Bulls.com: You were named the Big East’s most improved player in 2005.06. What allowed you to go from a guy coming off the bench to the team leader that year?
    Gray: “The main thing was having more of an opportunity to play. My coaching staff always believed in me and so did my teammates, even when I wasn’t playing a lot. Chris Taft (selected with the 42nd pick of the 2005 NBA Draft) was ahead of me and I had to wait for my time. When he left to pursue the NBA, I was ready. Coach Dixon didn’t go out and recruit three other seven-footers because he was confident in me and my abilities. I knew I was able to step up into a bigger role, and going against Chris Taft and Chevy Troutman and players like that every day in practice only helped me improve my game. When my time came, I was ready.”

    Bulls.com: You led the Big East in rebounding as a junior—would you say that is your biggest strength on the court?
    Gray: “Definitely. I like to play physical and I consider myself to be a smart basketball player. Rebounding is not about who can jump the highest or who’s the strongest. Like Bill Russell says, it’s about positioning and timing. I think that the biggest things that I’m going to add to this team are my physical play and my rebounding.”

    Aaron Gray Gray earned All-Big East First Team honors as a junior and a senior at the University of Pittsburgh.
    (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
    Bulls.com: After considering leaving school for the draft last year, you decided on another year at Pitt. What factored into that decision?
    Gray: “In looking ahead at the rest of my life, it just wasn’t an opportunity I could pass up. Maybe I’d have been drafted higher last year and I’d be in a position to make more money, but it was more of a life decision for me. I’d have always wondered how good we could have been or how far we could have gone. We went to the Sweet Sixteen and I got to be a part of that. We had a good team with a lot of guys back and I really enjoyed college. I love the University of Pittsburgh; the people and the city treated me great. I kind of felt like I owed it to them a little bit to come back for another year.”

    Bulls.com: Your college coach, Jamie Dixon, credited you for improving each season. Has reaching the NBA been a goal of yours all along?
    Gray: “My biggest fear has always been letting my teammates down. That’s what’s been my motivation—I don’t want to let my teammates down and keep any of us from reaching the goals that we’re trying to achieve. My family has also been a huge support for me and they motivate me. They’ve always told me that if I’m going to do something, to make sure I do it as best as I can. Even though it’s a sport where I may make a good living, they don’t pressure me. They say, ‘Look, Aaron, if you’re not having fun anymore, don’t play.’ But obviously I love the game and obviously I’m happy to be here.”

    Bulls.com: How did your final year at Pitt, in which your team reached the Sweet Sixteen, prepare you for the next level?
    Gray: “We were in the NCAA Tournament all four years and I was fortunate to play in the Big East. I felt like it was the best conference in the span I was there. There are guys here in Chicago that came from the Big East and there are guys all over the league from that conference. We were competing against future NBA players almost every night. There were a lot of very physical games and there were teams that like to run the ball. We saw a lot of things there that I expect to see here. Obviously guys on whole weren’t as athletic or consistent as they will be at this level, but it was a great way to gain some valuable experience.”

    Bulls.com: What aspects of your game do you feel you need to work on the most to succeed at the NBA level?
    Gray: “The biggest challenge for me will be keeping up with the pace of the game. I know I’ve got to elevate my energy level and I’m going to do everything I can. I sat down with management and the coaching staff and we started as soon as I got to Chicago. Between now and October, I’m going to continue to work on my body and train to improve my conditioning. I’m going to continue to cut my body fat. After the season, I was at 16 percent and now it’s about 10.5. I’d like to get it down to eight percent or probably even below that. It’s easy when you have a lot to cut down but once you get trimmer, it gets tougher. You’ve really got to work hard. We’ll do a lot of drills here working on my agility and speed and conditioning. It will be great to see my improvement in those areas.”

    Aaron Gray "Rebounding is not about who can jump the highest or who’s the strongest," Gray explained. "Like Bill Russell says, it’s about positioning and timing."
    (Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images)
    Bulls.com: How do you envision yourself fitting in on the Bulls roster?
    Gray: “It’s funny because I’ve played in so many diverse basketball situations in my life as far as groups that are good and groups that are bad. I grew up in Philly where I was the only white guy and I’ve been in Allentown where it’s predominately white. I can fit in anywhere. I consider myself a good person and I like to have fun. I really enjoy the game of basketball and people will see that. I think that will help me fit in.”

    Bulls.com: Are you excited to play for a guy like Scott Skiles?
    Gray: “Absolutely. I hear he’s really intense and passionate about the game of basketball and obviously you see the success the team has had. It’s almost like Chicago had kind of lost its love for basketball for a few years and now the upswing is crazy, and the team is getting better every year. There’s a lot of young talent and some amazing athletes. So I’m really excited to play for a guy like that who has already had success in improving this team.”

    Bulls.com: What are your thoughts on getting out on the floor with pro players during summer league action?
    Gray: “I think it’s going to be great and I’m really excited. I’m excited to see all the players who were drafted ahead of me and I hope to show the 29 other teams that they made a mistake. I’m very fortunate to be here and I’m very glad to be here, but I’m going to be playing with that chip on my shoulder.”

    Bulls.com: What are your early impressions on your fellow rookie teammates?
    Gray: “They’re great. Joakim is a character and we’re bringing JamesOn out of his shell a little bit. They’re great guys, really easy to get along with and they leave their egos at the door. We’re in the NBA now and we’ve all had 30-point and 15-rebound or 15-assist nights. We’re not about to come in here and read off our stats. We’re just committed to making each other better. We’ve worked out a handful of times and so far, it’s been a great atmosphere.”