Kennesaw State’s Kendrick Ray, a diamond in the rough

In his first season of college basketball, Kendrick Ray played in 30 games at Quinnipiac and averaged a mere three points per game and shot 35 percent from the field. He followed that season by playing in one game, scoring two points.

It was then that Ray decided it was time for a change and transferred to Kennesaw State to continue playing Division I basketball.

“I felt like I wasn’t getting the right opportunities as the other guards on the team and to showcase what I can do,” Ray said about his decision to transfer. “It was the best decision I ever made.”

Ray didn’t play in the 2014-15 season because of NCAA transfer rules, but the moment he stepped onto the court the following season the Owls knew they had a diamond in the rough.

In the 2015-16 season, his first at Kennesaw State, Ray was named Atlantic Sun Newcomer of the Year and second-team all-conference after leading the team in scoring, at 18.7 points per game. He set a new single-season points record with 579 and led the team in assists with 86.

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“He’s a very good shooter and obviously very athletic,” coach Al Skinner said of Ray. “He’s continuing to have a better understanding of the game, and he’s starting to understand how to be a consistent scorer.”

This season Ray is proving to be even more of a consistent shooter. He ranks ninth in the nation in scoring averaging (22.4 ppg) and has led the Owls to tying their non-conference wins record with six this season. Ray also averages seven more points than those “other guards” at Quinnipiac.

“It’s just within the offense and picking my spots and knowing where to go,” Ray said when asked about how he’s been so successful this season. “Credit to my teammates for getting me to my spots so I can score.”

Ray is not only a great offensive player, but he’s a great all-around player as well. He ranks third on the team in rebounds, blocks and steals, and second on the team in assists.

“He’s definitely taken a lot of responsibility on the defensive end of the ball guarding other good offensive guards on the opposing team,” Skinner said. “He’s turning out to be a well-rounded player.”

It’s a tough ask for a coach to rely on his star offensive player to also guard the opposing team’s best offensive player, but Ray loves a good challenge.

“I just try to play hard on both ends of the floor,” Ray said. “It’s fun I like the challenge, and I just go out there and guard the best player.”

Ray may be a good well-rounded player, but there’s always something to improve on.

“Because of his individual talent sometimes, I thought earlier in his career he relied a little too much on that,” Skinner said. “Now he’s trying to get within the framework of what we’re trying to do. To get more pressure off yourself, you have to get teammates involved.”

“I think I just need to be more vocal on my team and just showing them ways they can get better themselves,” Ray said when asked about what he needs to improve on. “I’m not really big on talking, but I’m still trying to work on that.”

The Owls are 6-12 on the season (0-2 in conference play) before their home game against at 4:30 p.m. Saturday and have lost their past two games by six points combined. That’s not a good conference start, but Skinner believes the team can bounce back.

“The last two losses have been close, but we just got to get on the other side of that,” Skinner said. “Now it’s just about the small things you have to tweak. (The) guys gotta be a little more responsible understanding that it could be one play that makes the difference between a win and a loss.”

Ray agrees with his coach and understands the Owls must fix the smaller things to get back on track.

“We’ve been competing well and just fell short in the last couple games,” Ray said. “But we just gotta keep doing what we’re doing and just eliminate the mental mistakes we have down the stretch, and we’re gonna be fine.”

Ray and the Owls will get their chance to get their first conference win in their next upcoming game against Stetson at home Jan. 14.

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