Christian Ray (above) became the first rising senior to commit to La Salle head coach Ashley Howard. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
When Christian Ray cut down his potential collegiate landing spots from a list of more than 15 scholarship offers down to a final six, he included in that group five schools who had offered, and one who had not.
La Salle’s first-year head coach Ashley Howard and his assistants had been recruiting Ray all summer long, watching the 6-foot-5, 205-pound wing play with his K-Low Elite AAU squad at stops in Atlanta and Las Vegas, as well as at the Explorers’ team camp in June.
And even though Howard hadn’t offered Ray a scholarship by the time the July live recruiting periods ended, the Haverford School senior kept La Salle in the mix, along with Rice, Stony Brook, Bowling Green, Princeton and Lehigh.
“They’ve been very interested, my brother goes to school there, so they wanted me to come up [last] Thursday...we were heavy communicating beforehand, but it was the time they wanted to sit down with me and see what I thought before they really made a move like that,” Ray said. “I kind of sensed just by the interest that they were showing, I felt like that was going to happen when I went up there.”
Ray’s premonition proved correct.
When he got to campus for his visit, he found the whole coaching staff waiting for him, from Howard down to director of basketball operations Andrew McGlynn. And they talked for over an hour about the new staff’s goals for the La Salle program, before Howard showed Ray around the campus, Ray discovering “a couple places” he hadn’t seen before while visiting his brother, Jackson Ray, a junior on the Explorers’ baseball team.
When they returned to the basketball offices, the conversation turned to Ray, to how the hard-working wing with a noticeable tough streak and nose for the glass could have an impact in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Howard pulled clips from Villanova, where he’d been an assistant coach the last five years, and compared them to Ray’s games at the Haverford School and with K-Low Elite. And then Howard did what Ray was hoping for all along: offered him a scholarship, his first from a Big 5 school.
It only took the Gap, Pa. native the span of a weekend to make up his mind. On Wednesday, Ray made his decision public, becoming the first member of the Explorers’ 2019 recruiting class.
“It just showed me a lot when I was there, it felt like home,” Ray told CoBL on Tuesday night. "My brother goes to school there, so I’m there a lot anyways. The campus seemed different, it seemed bigger and better when I got there. I couldn’t pass it up, and I wasn’t going to waste any other coaches’ time, money, resources and go on official visits and unofficials if that’s what really felt like home to me.”
Originally a standout freshman and sophomore at Octorara High School, where he tended to play power forward for the Braves, Ray transferred to the Haverford School for the 2016-17 year, repeating his sophomore season and moving into the class of 2019; with an Aug. '00 birthday, he had been one of the youngest members of the 2018 class in the area.
With his physical style of play and inside-out scoring ability, Ray immediately became one of the best players in the Inter-Ac Conference, averaging 17.7 points per game in his first year with the Fords, earning first team all-conference honors; as a junior this past year, he bumped that up to 18.8 ppg along with 9.4 rpg, earned the Inter-Ac MVP award and helped lead the Fords to their first league championship since a year before he was born.
This summer, Ray stayed hot with K-Low Elite, averaging a team-high of both 14.2 ppg and 5.2 rpg on the Adidas Gauntlet circuit as the offers piled up; he picked up 10 scholarships during the April and July live recruiting periods alone. A much-improved outside shot -- Ray was 12-of-30 (40.0 percent) from deep with K-Low -- showed his move from the inside to the outside was complete.
“I don’t even think it’s just the work, [though] he works extremely hard,” K-Low Elite 17U head coach Kyle Sample said. “It’s the consistency. A lot of kids work hard, but Christian is one of the few who works hard every day, he challenges himself every day. He wants to be told what he’s doing wrong rather than what he’s doing right.”
Ray’s commitment to La Salle also continues an intriguing connection between the Explorers and the K-Low Elite program, which used to be known as Team Philly. The last K-Low player to commit to La Salle was none other than current Explorers assistant coach Kyle Griffin, who graduated from Germantown Academy in 2007 and spent one year at La Salle before going to Siena; Griffin was recruited to La Salle by none other than former Explorers assistant Ashley Howard.
“For (Kyle) and Ashley to turn around and recruit Christian to La Salle...it’s just crazy when I think about it,” Sample said.
Though Ray is the first high school player to commit to Howard, he’s not the first recruiting prize that the new coaching staff has pulled in. South Carolina transfer David Beatty, an Imhotep Charter grad who also played at St. Benedict’s (N.J.) and Archbishop Carroll, will sit out the 2018-19 season and have three years of eligibility beginning next fall; Clemson transfer Scott Spencer (who also will have to sit this season out) and Boston U grad transfer Cheddi Mosely (who won’t) also arrived this offseason.
Last season, the final one for John Giannini in a 14-year run with the program, the Explorers went 13-19 overall, with a 7-11 record in Atlantic 10 Conference play. They last made the NCAA Tournament in 2013, when Tyreek Duren, Ramon Galloway and Ty Garland took the Explorers into the Sweet 16.
When he gets to campus, Ray will join a program with plenty of Philly-area talent hoping to get back to that level, including Beatty, current redshirt junior Traci Carter (Life Center Academy), and freshmen Jack Clark (Cheltenham) and Ed Croswell (St. Joseph’s Prep).
“It feels great, but I mean, I’m never content, that’s just not who I am,” Ray said. “I feel the best I’ve felt in a while, and I think I proved a lot of people wrong with this. But it wouldn’t be in my DNA to get content with it, there’s time to get there.
“First have a great Haverford season and then it’s time to get (to La Salle), get there and work hard...hopefully I can bring wins, hopefully I can bring championships there. Just trying to get it started.”