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Basketball helps Gray reach high tennis level

Alex Gray is a versatile athlete who excels in tennis. RankedNo. 5 in the latest Mississippi Junior Tennis 14s, Gray also likesplaying basketball when he isn’t swatting the tennis ball.

In fact, Gray credits his endurance and mental toughness to thestrict regimen required by Brookhaven Academy boys basketball coachDale Watts. “Coach Watts really pushes us hard in practice.

“Basketball helps me in conditioning,” Gray added. “That helpsme endure more heat than most players. It also helps my hand andeye coordination because you have to have touch when youshoot.”

While some young netters begin to wilt during the third set ofmatches while battling the Mississippi heat and humidity, Grayremains fresh and focused.

“I’ve been playing well this summer, especially the last coupleof weeks,” said Gray. “Right now, my serve is the best part of mygame. If I get my serve going, it puts my opponents at adisadvantage. I can usually make a good return if they get itacross the net.”

The 14-year-old freshman at Brookhaven Academy receives plentyof encouragement from his parents, Barry and Lindy Gray, and hisolder brother, Alan, a junior at Ole Miss. His brother was a 2-timestate tennis champion at BA, following in the footsteps of hismother who also won a state title during her high schoolcareer.

“I get a lot of encouragement at home,” said Alex. He receivestennis instruction and tips from Brookhill on Natchez pro DavidMisner. He lives across the street from the tennis facility.

“Tennis is a fun sport to play,” said Gray. “It feels good toknow you did it (won) by yourself. You feel like you haveaccomplished something.”

Misner saw potential in Gray at an early age. “It was noticeableearly on, that Alex hits a great ground stroke,” said Misner. “Ashe continues to improve his serve and front-court game, he willbecome a complete player.”

Standing 5-foot-8 and weighing 150 pounds, Gray will growstronger and taller the next few years. His long-range dream is toplay tennis for Ole Miss.

In recent tournament action, the No. 1-seeded Gray won the PepsiFall Junior Open at Parham Bridges Tennis Center in Jackson. Hedefeated Ashwin G. Naidu of Clinton, Kenichjiro Yamada of Cantonand Anthony Santangelo of Brandon in straight sets to claim thechampionship.

In the RTC Junior Open MS L4 STA LB Tournament at the RidgelandTennis Center, Gray was seeded second but defeated ChristopherWilkins of Hattiesburg in the final 6-1, 6-7, 1-0.

Gray teamed with Tucker Arnold of Greenwood to win the 14sdoubles title in the Pepsi Open.

Gray uses an Arrow Pro Drive graphite tennis racquet. He saidNo. 3-ranked world wide Raphael Nadel uses a similar model.

Asked about his favorite professional tennis players, Gray said,”I really like (Roger) Federer. He has a lot of class when heplays. He broke the record for most tennis majors.”

He said he also admires the tennis skills and court presence ofPete Sampras, too.

A member of the BA varsity tennis squad since the seventh grade,Gray teamed with Myles Melancon to win the MPSA Class AA No. 1 boysdoubles title last spring.

Gray looks forward to helping BA win another boys statechampionship next spring.