Gray earns unexpected turn in spotlight

Saturday, February 27, 2010
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Darren Collison has gleaned several helpful pieces of advice from Chris Paul on the court this season, but as it approached midnight Friday he did something off the floor that was eerily reminiscent of a common CP3 postgame gesture. As Collison walked toward the showers past a group of reporters and the nearby locker of Aaron Gray, Collison stopped for a second and motioned to the media.

“This is the guy you need to be talking to,” Collison said, pointing at the 7-foot Gray, after the Hornets' come-from-behind win over the Magic.

Paul often good-naturedly provides the same recommendations to the NOLA media when a Hornets role player has a significant game that warrants extra attention, especially if it’s a player who hasn’t gotten much prior credit.

During a 2009-10 season that has been filled with plot twists, the scenario of a seldom-used player coming up big for the Hornets keeps happening time and time again. Collison, fellow rookie Marcus Thornton and Morris Peterson have all experienced stretches of DNPs this season, yet have managed to later factor greatly into New Orleans’ ability to remain relevant in the playoff-race discussion. The Hornets have gone 6-7 in this recent stretch since Paul’s Jan. 29 injury and are 10-11 overall when he is sidelined this season. As a result, they’re only two games out of eighth place in the West behind Portland (34-27). The Trail Blazers are at Minnesota tonight, meaning the Hornets will be either 1.5 or 2.5 games out entering their Sunday ESPN game at Dallas.

“It’s the mental fortitude of this team,” Gray told a group of about eight reporters surrounding him at his locker. “Guys like Morris Peterson, who went a long stretch without playing. Marcus Thornton didn’t play a lot early in the season, and Darren Collison had a secondary role. These are our major players right now. It’s not just David West, Emeka and Peja. Everyone has to play well for us to be successful.”

After being inserted into the mix in the fourth quarter with two personal fouls under his belt, Gray had a brief meeting with Paul near the sideline. Discussing the tactics Gray should use to defend against Orlando megastar Dwight Howard, the Hornets’ co-captain provided some instruction to the University of Pittsburgh product.

“He told me to make sure I use my four fouls,” Gray said. “But then he said, ‘Scratch that, use only three (fouls). We need you out there.’

“That was great to hear,” said a smiling Gray.