By Vlad Ionasc
He’s incredibly athletic, he can pull up from 30-feet, and he’s got a neat handle as well. He terrorised opposition defences during the 2019-20 season and led the University of Chester to its first-ever league title across any sport in the process.
Meet Isaac Ray, the master’s (Nutrition) student who also happens to be pretty good at basketball. Okay, my bad…really good at basketball. Believe me, he’s breath-taking to watch when he’s firing on all cylinders.
But he hasn’t always been the star of the show.
Before arriving in the United Kingdom, Ray studied Exercise Science at McDaniel College in Maryland, USA while also representing the university’s basketball team – McDaniel Green Terror – on the hardwood. The 5’11 guard wasn’t a prolific scorer at all and hardly made any headlines during his four years playing in the NCAA Division 3 at McDaniel.
“I only averaged seven points-a-game for my career, so I wasn’t really a scorer, I was more of a team guy, I did all the little things.” said Ray of his experience playing for the Green Terror.
He was directed to Chester – 3,426 miles away from his hometown of Lebanon, Pennsylvania – by the organisation ‘PlayOverseas’. The organisation helps student-athletes extend their sporting career beyond their senior year of eligibility by finding them postgraduate athletic scholarship opportunities.
So perhaps Ray saved his best performances for all of us to enjoy because things changed drastically once he started donning the Chester red. He thrived in Chris Leonard’s system and averaged 19 points and four assists-per-game while shooting an eye-watering 42 per cent from beyond the arc.
“I got a lot better as a player [during my time at Chester], I learned how to just see the floor better, I was relied upon more, so I had to produce more and that made me see the game from a different angle.”
“I remember my first couple of friendly matches that we played in, I was passing up open shots because I was just used to my old role at McDaniel College and right away the guys were just like ‘Shoot the ball man…you’re good, we need you to take those shots’ so that really changed my game.” said Ray.
The American started looking for himself more, and because opposing teams were laser-focused on slowing him down, it meant that an abundant number of scoring opportunities opened up for his teammates as they were often left wide open either in the paint or in three-point territory.
Ray is a gifted passer and altruistic player, but above all, he possesses a high basketball IQ. He took full advantage of teams locking in on him by trusting his teammates and feeding them the rock.
“I’m more than willing to pass the ball up, so I was able to find them [my teammates] and average the highest assists-per-game that I’ve had for my career.” said Ray.
Chester’s guard thanked coach Leonard for helping accelerate his growth as a player during the shortened 2019/20 season.
“Coach Leonard really helped me, he held me accountable for some of the mistakes I was making in the beginning – some bad turnovers – and he made me a better player because he didn’t try to control me.
“He let me play my game as well as coaching me up and trying to help me see things better, so I owe a lot to him.” said Ray.
The guard heaped praise on Chester’s basketball programme and endorsed it to every US student pursuing an athletic scholarship in the UK.
“I would absolutely recommend the University of Chester basketball programme to future players coming from the US.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to get your masters and play for a great basketball programme at the same time.
“You have coaches that care about you, you have teammates that are in it to win, not in it for themselves, you have a sports director – Gordon Ray – that’s all in for your team and comes and supports you and it is overall just an awesome experience getting to play in another country, getting to experience basketball in another country while making life-long friends.” said Ray.
From an academic standpoint, the American noticed some slight differences between McDaniel College and the University of Chester and admitted that studying in the UK was more laborious. Unfortunately for Ray, the experience was made even more arduous by the coronavirus pandemic. But at the end of the day, this is Isaac Ray we’re talking about here so of course, he embraced the challenge.
“I found that it’s actually pretty challenging to study in the UK at the master’s level. It was a really challenging experience that I’m still finishing up right now, online, because of COVID-19.” said Ray.
Ray believes in the saying ‘Hard work beats talent, when talent fails to work hard’ and he practices what he preaches. He improved tremendously on and off the court during his time at the University of Chester, and he doesn’t see himself slowing down anytime soon.
“I think I can get a lot better, but I think this year it really was another step in my game as a whole. We’ll see where God takes me and see what my future is.” finalised Ray.