Sure he remembers the Final Four, Cinderella in green. Jaire Grayer remembers cheering like mad for the wicked stepsister.
“I was watching,” George Mason’s freshman swing man recalled when asked about the Patriots’ remarkable march of March 2006. “I was really rooting for Florida to win (though). I was a big Joakim Noah fan.”
He can laugh about that little kid now, nearly a decade later, as he rides shotgun on the newest pumpkin carriage, trying to help Mason (4-5) keep all four wheels on the road.
Although even the cream of college freshmen basketball players — especially wing players — serve now and then; the roller-coaster act is part of the journey, part of the maturation process. Heading into tonight’s meeting with Northern Iowa on ASN, the 6-foot-5 sharpshooter is coming off a strong, 20-point showing against Penn in which he drained eight of 13 attempts from the floor. In his prior two outings, Grayer shot a combined 0-for-15 and 0-for-6 from beyond the arc.
In wins over Mississippi and Oklahoma State late last month, the Michigan native averaged 19 points and four treys; in road setbacks to Colgate, Mercer and Manhattan, 8.3 points and 0.3 3-point makes.
Up. Then down. Then up again. It’s not the failure. It’s the coping.
“(It’s about) just getting in the gym and just keeping the right mindset,” offered Grayer, who in his first season as a collegian leads Mason in points (12.1) and 3-pointers (14). “Staying aggressive and just play my game. I can’t think too much about the past.”
And yet that past is a part of the narrative, now and forever. Grayer hails from Flint, Mich., the son of two of the best basketball players ever to come out of that hoops-rich community. His father Jeff led Flint Northwestern to two state titles before becoming the all-time leading scorer at Iowa State and embarking on a 10-year career in the NBA. Mother Patrice Martin played at Detroit Mercy from 1989-93, ranking No. 7 on the school’s all-time scoring list (1,362) and fifth in 3-pointers made (188) and 3-point field goal percentage (.377).
“I get an earful from both of them,” Jaire chuckled. “But mostly my dad.
“It’s very cool that a lot of people came out of Flint that we were meeting along the way as I grew up. It was definitely real nice to be around a bunch of people that knew the game.”
But the family legacy also carries a long shadow, a famous name with famous expectations. Grayer left Michigan after scoring All-State honors at Flint Southwestern Classic Academy as a junior, with offers reportedly on the table from Cleveland State, Detroit Mercy, Eastern Michigan, Buffalo, Oakland, UT-Arlington and Bowling Green, enrolling in prep school to try and improve his stock. He averaged 15 points, seven boards and four assists per game last winter at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. George Mason swooped in with the offer of big minutes and a big stage, a chance to forge his own path.
“Just the opportunity to be able to showcase myself,” Grayer explained. “My goal for this year was to get (Atlantic 10) Freshman of the Year. Be Freshman of the Year and just come out and make a big impact on the team and get us to the (NCAA Tournament).”
But before you dance, though, you’ve got to grind. The Patriots’ freshman makes it a point to take 500 shots a day, sleet or shine. It’s one of his oldest habits, one of the hardest to break.
“(My father), he was telling me to just take care of every step at a time,” Jaire said. “To just go out there and just give it your all — don’t think about it too much, and just play my game.”
The game isn’t too far off from Dad’s when Dad was a 6-5 freshman with the Cyclones; in 1984-85, Jeff Grayer averaged 12.2 points and 6.5 boards in the old Big Eight, where he quickly established himself as one of the best finishers in the league.
“He was kind of a little bit more explosive (at that age),” Jaire said. “But I’m trying to get there.”
If anything, the younger Grayer might have a more confident shooting form as a freshman than pops.
And for that, give Mom the biggest assist.
“She actually taught me how to shoot when I was younger,” Jaire recalled. “Probably (when I was) 5 or 6, we would go to the YMCA for get some shots up.
“She told me, ‘Always aim to get it over the front of the rim and always keep my arm up and my guide hand up.’”
Mother knows best. Better stroke: Mom or Dad?
“My mom,” Grayer said. Then he laughed. “(Dad) would probably say so, too.”