On May 1, for the final game of the UNC men's lacrosse team's 2022 season, Chris Gray and the North Carolina Tar Heels traveled to Durham to take on the Duke Blue Devils. The graduate attackman finished with three goals and three assists.
The last goal of his career went something like this:
Senior attackman Nicky Solomon brought the ball from behind and passed it to Gray on the left at the goal line extended. Gray, now with the ball, brought his defender up field trying to get to the goal. He redirected his momentum by planting his foot, performed a question mark dodge to create space, and he took his shot.
With 7:23 remaining in the final quarter of his collegiate campaign, Gray broke the NCAA Division I career points record with his 401st.
“(It) definitely means a lot,” Gray said. “Not necessarily a goal of mine, it was just something that was going to happen along the way. Just to be mentioned in the same sentence as some of the best players is really amazing.”
You ask anyone that has been around Gray and they all say he’s one of the best lacrosse players that they have ever played with. And, after breaking the all-time career points record, the attackman has cemented himself as one of the greatest to ever play the sport.
Naturally, breaking a record of this magnitude comes with comparisons — including some comparisons even Gray is shocked to hear.
If you ask his teammates and coaches, they'll liken him to Lionel Messi, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James.
“The way I compare him is the Kobe Bryant comparison," UNC head coach Joe Breschi said. "He wasn’t ever outworked.”
Gray, not one to make any of these comparisons himself, said he's just thankful to be thought of in the same vein as some of the greatest athletes of all time.
“Just being mentioned alongside guys that I’ll never come close to is really enough for me,” Gray said.
Comparisons and accolades aside, Gray comes across as one of the most humble and hardworking individuals a person could talk to.
Hotspot for lacrosse
Like many kids who grew up in Long Island, N.Y., Gray had a lacrosse stick in his hands from an early age. By the seventh grade, he knew he wanted to play college lacrosse.
It didn’t take long for Gray’s dream to turn into a reality, as Boston University head coach Ryan Polley reached out to Gray when the young phenom was just a ninth grader. Polley spent a lot of time with Gray’s family and would attend his lacrosse and football games in high school.
Playing for a powerhouse program at Shoreham-Wading River High School, Gray led Long Island with 101 points in his junior season, then he topped that feat with 115 points as a senior.
However, despite these accolades, the two-time U.S. Lacrosse All-American didn't draw much recruitment buzz. The 5-foot-7 attackman didn’t catch the eyes of all those college coaches who sat in their foldable lawn chairs at summer showcases, checking and crossing out players’ names.
After an exceptional senior campaign, Gray ultimately decided to stick with his initial commitment and attend Boston University under Polley.
“It was a cool opportunity to play for a great up and coming team, and it was a great city,” Gray said.
Family, Academics, Lacrosse
Gray found immediate success in the step up from high school to college. In his first season, he broke the Terrier's single-season points and assists record with 71 points and 40 assists.
“I was fortunate enough to play with two senior attackmen, which made my life easier,” Gray said.
When you talk to Gray, he puts his teammates and coaches first. He rarely talks about himself and knows success starts with the team, not the individual.
“He’s a great kid, a great teammate, and fit in right from the beginning,” Polley said. “No ego, just a guy that works extremely hard.”
As a sophomore, Gray led all NCAA Division I players with 111 points, and he was second in the nation in assists. Gray was named a nominee for the Tewaaraton Award, which is given to the best player in college lacrosse.
When asked what helped him make such a jump between his first and second year, Gray was once again quick to pass off the credit.
“(It was) my teammates, and I was fortunate to play with James Burr,” he said.
Burr, Boston University’s all-time lacrosse points leader, was a teammate of Gray’s in 2018 and 2019.
“(Gray) quickly turned into one of my best friends on the team,” Burr said. “Couldn’t say better things about the kid as a person. He’s potentially one of the best lacrosse players ever, but he’s an even better kid."
After Gray didn’t get into BU's business school at the end of his sophomore year, he was confronted with a tough decision. He wanted to push himself academically, and with the disappointing news he elected to enter the transfer portal.
“I’ll be honest, it was a crushing blow to me and the staff,'' Polley said. “Chris had to do what was best for him and his family. I mean we were at the top, competing for Patriot League Championships and only getting better. It definitely hurt.”
With a player of such a high caliber on the open market, Gray was on coaches' radars all over the country.
One stop Gray and his family made on his recruiting visits was in Chapel Hill.
When he arrived on campus, Breschi was immediately taken aback by how Gray presented himself.
He held the door open for both of his parents as they walked in. He wore a buttoned-up shirt and khaki pants, went over to Breschi, looked him in the eyes, and gave a firm handshake. For Breschi, he felt a connection and said it just felt right.
“(The UNC players) texted me and said, ‘He just feels like one of us,’” Breschi said.
Gray finished a couple more visits on the way home from Chapel Hill before he went back to New York. A week later, he committed to UNC while at a New York Yankees game.
There was no commitment post on social media. There was no dramatic placing of hats in front of a table. It was just a player who wanted to find a new home and build new connections with his teammates.
This past season at UNC, Gray, Kelly, and senior defensive midfielder Connor Maher, and fifth-year defender Sean Morris were all selected by their teammates as captains.
When the game is on the line and decisions have to be made, captains are called to the table. Instead of getting in his teammates' faces and screaming in the locker room, Gray is a man of few words.
“He may not say the most, but everything he says is insightful,” Senior attackman Jacob Kelly said. “It’s one of those things where you speak less, but when you do speak, it’s always powerful. He’s an extremely level-headed guy.
The under-recruited kid out of Long Island has made history and stamped his name alongside the greats, but more than anything else, it’s his character that everyone notices.
“I think what gets swept under the rug is he’s an excellent teammate,” Kelly said. “I think that’s what's most impressive about Chris. He’s extremely humble.”
Just nine days after his collegiate career came to a close, Gray was selected second overall by the Atlas LC in the 2022 Premier Lacrosse League College Draft.
With Atlas LC, Gray will suit up in familiar colors. Not exactly the same shade as Carolina blue, but very close to it in bright cyan.
The lacrosse world will likely get more jaw-dropping moments and show-stopping performances — because that’s just what Gray does.
But more importantly, the Atlas LC will be receiving a great teammate and a dedicated worker who has always dreamed of playing lacrosse at the next level.
“I’m like a little kid in the backyard,” Gray said. “Just making things up as I go along and having fun with it. At the end of the day, it’s a great sport and it’s what I love.”