In 2016, Jeremiah Gray was so close to coming home to his motherland and playing in front of the Filipino crowd. He was being recruited by some of the top colleges in the country and was seriously considering suiting up for the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
He was drawn to Philippine basketball. The crowd. The brand of play. The overflowing passion. However, there was a tough decision to make. He had papers to process. He had to serve residency before being able to step on the court. He also had opportunities waiting for him back in the US.
Eventually, the 6-foot-5 Gray decided to return back to the States to play NCAA Division II basketball for Dominican University of California. He instantly became one of the team's providers. In two seasons with them, he averaged 17.9 points and 5.4 rebounds. In his senior year, he even set the school's single-season scoring record of 509 points.
With his stellar play, more opportunities opened up for Jeremiah. He pursued a basketball career with the PEA in Thailand before seeing some action with the BBC Sparta Betrange in Luxembourg.
As he chased the basketball dream across continents, tracing back to his Filipino roots became more and more inevitable.
And in 2019, it finally happened. Gray played for Mighty Sports-Philippines in the Dubai International Basketball Championship. He introduced himself to his countrymen with his impressive offensive arsenal. He showed his versatility by hitting shots from deep and by getting highlights when he attacked the basket.
"He was so athletic and so energetic," Mighty Sports coach Charles Tiu recalled his first impressions on Gray. "I was also impressed with how well he could shoot."
That impression was enough to give Gray another chance at representing the Philippines. He joined Mighty Sports again as they topped the 2019 William Jones Cup in Taiwan. Even with big-named imports like Andray Blatche and Renaldo Balkman, Jeremiah still proved to be a key contributor.
Gray was glad to be reconnecting with his roots. He enjoyed playing for his homeland. The next opportunity that came only proved to push that even further. After donning Philippine colors twice in overseas tournaments, Jeremiah continued that and even got a chance to play in front the Filipino crowd after signing with San Miguel Alab Pilipinas in the Asean Basketball League.
Like he always did, Gray chipped in with his offensive contributions. But along with his game, his role had also grown.
"He had a huge impact for us on both ends. He was a threat from the perimeter and he had the ability to get to the rim. And we also asked him to defend a lot of the import guards," said then San Miguel Alab Pilipinas head coach Jimmy Alapag. Jeremiah was always known to be a scoring threat. With Alab Pilipinas, he was making headlines through his defensive efforts. In a game against Hong Kong Eastern, Gray saved the day by blocking a potential game-winning triple. Against the Taipei Fubon Braves, he made crucial stops on no less than former NBA veteran OJ Mayo. In a season that was cut short due to the pandemic, Gray averaged 8.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks for San Miguel Alab Pilpinas.
"He has matured and has gotten stronger," Tiu observed Gray's fast development. "At the time I was coaching him, the only thing I felt he needed to work on was his shot selection. But even then, his shots would go in so I couldn't really complain. And perhaps his defense, but I know he's improved and has worked on it a lot."
Jeremiah could have started a basketball career in the Philippines in 2016. He could have decided to play college ball in Katipunan and go from there. Maybe it wasn't the right time. But step by step, chapter by chapter, he found his way back to his motherland.
Now, he's ready to further his homecoming. While he still needs to complete some requirements, Gray has expressed his intention to join the PBA Draft. Those who have seen his growth over the years know he's ready. In the recent ESPN5 mock draft, Jeremiah was projected to be chosen as the 10th pick of the first round. And even his former coaches agree he's someone who can make an impact in the pros.
"I see a lot of similarities between Jeremiah and Gabe Norwood. Both long, extremely athletic wing who can also score on the offensive end," Alapag said of his former player.
"I can see him being a star in the PBA. He can be a good scorer and he'll be great in the open court," Tiu added.