TJ Bray is a 26 year old 196cm guard from New Berlin, Wisconsin that is in his fifth professional season and first with Rasta Vechta (Germany-ProA). He began his career in 2010 with Ivy league school Princeton (NCAA) and played a total of 115 NCAA games and as senior played 25 games averaging 18.0ppg, 4.7rpg, 5.2apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 64.9%, 3PT: 41.7%, FT: 80.1%. He turned professional in 2014 and played with Lighthouse Trapani (Italy-A2) playing 29 games averaging 9.5ppg, 3.9rpg, 3.0apg, 1.0spg, FGP: In his second professional season he played with Novipiu Casale Monferrato (Italy-Serie A2) playing 35 games averaging 14.7ppg, 3.5rpg, 3.1apg, FGP: 48.3%, 3PT: 39.7%, FT: 80.8%. Two seasons ago he got experience with Fit Brussels (Belgium-Euromillions League) playing 33 games averaging 8.2ppg, 2.3rpg, 2.1apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 41.7%, 3PT: 35.1%, FT: 62.5%. Last season he played with Kolossos H Hotels (Greece-A1) playing 27 games averaging 12.1ppg, 3.4rpg, 3.4apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 47.2%, 3PT: 34.9%, FT: 76.1%. He spoke to germanhoops.com earlier in the summer about basketball.
TJ thanks for talking to germanhoops.com Where are you at the moment and how has your summer been?
I’m living in Milwaukee for the summer. Milwaukee is home for me and it’s been great being back here getting to see my friends and family, working out, and playing some golf.
Welcome back to Germany. You were briefly with the MHP RIesen Ludwigsburg in 2016, but early season knee injury ended your season in Germany. How often was Germany on your mind in the last 2 years and the thoughts of coming back one day?
I thought about Germany a lot the past two years. I was very excited about my contract with Ludwigsburg and it turned out that I was correct in being excited. They’ve had two great seasons, in both Germany and Europe, so I was able to follow them very closely. The league as a whole has always interested me with the amount of success teams have had in European competitions. I think it’s a very good league from top to bottom and I’m excited to experience it.
What do you know in general about the country Germany and it´s basketball? Some of your ex Princenton teammates like Douglas Davis, Ian Hummer, Jimmy Sherburne and Clay Wilson have played in Germany and German Hans Brase is starting his professional career in Germany. Have you talked to some of them about their experiences in the past in Germany?
I’ve talked to all those guys about their experiences in Germany. They have great things to say and have coached me up a bit on how to play in the leagues and get around the country. I can’t wait to play against Hans this season. He’s a good friend of mine and I’m sure there will be a healthy amount of trash talking going back and forth.
Congrats on signing with Rasta Vechta. You move to a team that Is in the BBL for the third season since 2013 having moved down twice back to the Pro A. What sold you most on joining this very ambitious team?
I talked with Coach Calles for about a half hour when the team expressed interest and me and it was a great conversation. We talked about all things basketball and really seemed to be on the same page with how we think the game should be played. I expected the call to be only about 15 minutes, but things kept going well. Once I got off the phone and did some research on how the roster was looking, Rasta was a no brainer in terms of where I wanted to be this season.
Let´s talk about your game. Your a point forward that has a good basketball IQ, is versatile, makes his teammates better and also has a dangerous shot. If you had to compare yourself best to an NBA player which would best describe what you bring to the table on the court every night?
I don’t know if I can directly compare myself to him, but Joe Ingles has been someone I really enjoy watching over this past year. His ability to do a little bit of everything on both ends of the floor has made him fun to watch. It makes the comparison a little easier because we’re both lefties too!
What kind of a role do you see yourself having? For me it will be interesting to see how you will mesh with Seth Hinrichs. He is the glue guy who like you is also a very versatile player that also makes his teammates better.
I just want to make my teammates better and make shots. I think that can happen a lot of different ways in many different roles. As long as those two things happen, I think it will be a great season.
You actually have a 2-0 record against Seth Hinrichs. You beat him twice with Princeton against his school Lafayette. You played against many schools and players, but do you remember anything from those games and his game?
I remember playing against Seth very well (and I remember being 2-0 as well too!). Lafayette was always a good game for us and he was an integral part of our scouting reports. He was someone we had to prepare for in a lot of different ways because he can do a multitude of things so well. I can’t wait to play with him and hopefully feed off of each other and help both of us have great years. The way he plays is contagious and I’m hoping that leads to great things for our team.
You’re a guy that can fill up the stat sheet very well, but what do you feel is a hidden strength in your game that doesn´t always get noticed right away on the court?
My ability to switch onto bigger guys defensively is something I take pride in. When I get switched and posted up, I take it personally every time I get scored on. I’ve got a few tricks I use in order to make sure that doesn’t happen very frequently.
You shot 40% or better from outside twice at Princeton and once in the NBA Summer League, but as a professional haven’t reached the 40% mark again, but was at 39% twice in your first two seasons in Italy. Now going into your fifth professional season, what do you concentrate most on always getting better as a shooter. Is shot selection a continued work in progress for you?
You can never get enough reps in as a shooter. My goal for every season is that 40% mark. I’ve been very close a few times but haven’t gotten there yet unfortunately. I know I was one make away from 40% in my second year in Italy. These past two seasons have forced to really concentrate on my body while shooting. After my injury before Ludwigsburg, my leg strength wasn’t back for my half-season in Brussels so I was floating off my spots too much which caused a lot of my misses. In Greece this past season I was doing a lot more off the dribble which is what my team needed but hurt my percentages. I’m always very keenly aware of what my 3-point percentage is throughout the season. When I’m shooting the ball well it not only makes my own life much easier on offense, but my teammates as well.
Let´s talk a bit about your professional career. Last season you played with Kolossos H Hotels (Greece-A1) playing 27 games averaging 12.1ppg, 3.4rpg, 3.4apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 47.2%, 3PT: 34.9%, FT: 76.1%. Was playing against the top teams Panathinaikos and Olympiakos Piraus the biggest and most exciting experiences you have had as a professional considering the talent level they have?
Those were very cool experiences for sure. It was great playing against those guys and seeing that the talent gap isn’t as big as a lot of people believe it to be. The depth that both of those teams have is incredible. We were able to make a few of those games exciting but their depth would take over at some point. It was hard to overcome them having 12 great players.
Last season you went 0-4 against Panathinaikos and experienced an exciting game in the regular season losing 72-71 where you put up the big goose egg, but filled up the stat sheet well. In the playoffs you were swept but produced 16 and 10 points. Despite the loss did your personal performances give you some important confidence and contentment that you can compete with the best players like a James Gist and Mike James?
I’ve always known I can compete with the best players I’m playing against. From AAU to being a pro, I’ve played against great players with more name recognition than me. I’ve never been scared or thought that winning wasn’t an option. They’re very good at what they do but when I’m playing my game I’m very good at what I do as well.
After your tough start with the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg you finished strong reaching the Belgium final with Basic-Fit Brussels (Belgium-Euromillions League) playing 33 games averaging 8.2ppg, 2.3rpg, 2.1apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 41.7%, 3PT: 35.1%, FT: 62.5. How important was this season for you coming back from a tough injury and how did you get through those months where you couldn´t play?
It was very unfortunate that I got hurt but playing for Brussels turned out to be a blessing. I met some great people who helped me come back from my injury both physically and mentally. Coach Crevecoeur had faith in my abilities from the start even when I was very rusty. My teammates were great as well. We had a very special group of guys in the locker room and I think our team chemistry helped lead us to the finals. It was awesome getting to play with those guys for the 6 months that I was there. It was a difficult 4 months of sitting out though. I followed the season in Europe very closely and really wanted to be there. However, with the length of the European season, it was nice to be home with my family for some extended time and be around for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
You played your second professional season with Novipiu Casale Monferrato (Italy-Serie A2) playing 35 games averaging 14.7ppg, 3.5rpg, 3.1apg, FGP: 48.3%, 3PT: 39.7%, FT: 80.8%. What memories do you have of that exciting 5 game playoff series against Treviso? You played a strong series, but wasn´t rewarded with the series win.
The Treviso series was my first introduction to playoff basketball and it was something I’ll never forget. Their fans were incredible and were everything people built them up to be. I still haven’t been around another atmosphere like that in Europe. Their fans were right up there with any I have ever experienced. We managed to steal game one on the road and put ourselves in great position for the series. Game 4 was a crazy back and forth game where we had the lead in the 4th quarter, they just made a few more shots than us down the stretch. I really felt like we were going to win that series but they proved to be just a bit too much.
As a rookie you played with Lighthouse Trapani (Italy-A2) playing 29 games averaging 9.5ppg, 3.9rpg, 3.0apg, 1.0spg, FGP: 48.0%, 3PT: 39.3%, FT: 85.1%. What was your wake up call to being a rookie in Italy where you knew that you were very far away from home?
Sicily is an incredibly beautiful place with fantastic food. However, getting around in English was a struggle. I learned a decent amount of Italian by studying, but sometimes that wasn’t even good enough because the Sicilian dialect is so different.
In your rookie season in Italy, you were on a team with mainly Italians and only one other American Chris Evans. How important was it having him there already having had a season in Europe in Greece? Is he one of those guys you would like to be teammates with again?
Chris is a great guy and I really enjoyed playing with him. He helped me learn the ropes of the European game. You could see that he was an incredible talent every day in practice. I really enjoyed following this past season he had in Monaco. I’m glad things are going well for him. I’d definitely like to play with him again someday.
You played NBA Summer League twice in 2014 and 2015 with the Raptors and Knicks. But like so many other guys couldn´t put up the big time stats because you didn´t get 30 minutes like other guys. What are your memories of having seen that and did you get some positive feedback from the coaches?
I loved those two summers and getting to be up close with NBA teams to see how the operate. The attention to detail was great to be around and definitely made me a better player. It was another situation where I was playing against big name players but knew that when I play my game and focus on what I can do, I can be successful at any level.
You played at Princeton from 2010-2014 winning the Ivy league title as a freshman and reaching the final in 2013. How did you see your development as a player in the four years? You could improve your scoring each season and as a senior averaged 18.0ppg, 4.7rpg, 5.2apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 64.9%, 3PT: 41.7%, FT: 80.1% and was an Ivy League first teams election.
My Princeton experience was fantastic. I really, truly cannot say enough good things about it. The coaching staff has a great focus on player development and helped me improve every year. The Princeton offense taught me so much about how to play without the ball in my hands and it has really benefitted me throughout my career.
How did head coach Mitch Henderson groom and prepare you best for a professional career in the three years where you had him as a coach?
My three years with Coach Henderson were incredible. He trusted me from Day 1 and really helped develop me into the player I am today. He has a great mind for the game and would constantly point out different passes to make and show me different angles and ways to make them. He was a great player, so I knew I could trust what he had to say right from the start. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my assistant coach, Brian Earl, though. He helped recruit me and was there for all four of my years at Princeton. He was the biggest component of my development as a shooter and really helped me get the mindset I needed to have success on the court. He helped me completely change from shot after my freshman year in college and that has led me to being close to 40% in just about every season since.
Who won a one on one in practice you or Ben Hazel?
This is maybe my favorite question I’ve ever gotten to answer. He was the first teammate I met at Princeton and we were competitive at everything we did for four years, whether it was on the court, video games, or playing pool. He might have gotten me once or twice at some of those things but I definitely have a winning record overall. He also helped my trash talking blossom, neither one of us ever shut up around each other.
You played against so many talented players in the NCAA, but who was your toughest opponent that reached the NBA or is in Europe?
Kyrie is easily the best player I’ve played against. I played against him in AAU and when he was at Duke, and it’s never gone well for my team.
How does a summer work out plan look like for you in 2018? Have you switched up things from 2-3 years ago about how you approach getting ready for the upcoming season?
I do my strength and conditioning work every morning at 7:30, play basketball at 9:45, and have picked up doing hot yoga three times per week as well. I’ve started to focus more on making sure my body is feeling good in the offseason because of how long the season is. My basketball work is mostly focused on keeping things sharp so I don’t lose my touch.
If you had to construct your very own NBA Rushmore which 4 heads would you pick old or new?
Jordan, LeBron, Bird, Bill Russell
What is your personal opinion of the never ending debate about who is better Lebron or Jordan?
I think LeBron is better but I’ll listen to peoples’ arguments on the other side. The way LeBron affects games in so many different ways is incredible. The fact that he’s done it for 15 consecutive years and only seems to get stronger with age helps his case too.
Tracy Mcgrady said that the Boston Celtics will be the Golden State Warriors of the future. Do you see that happening?
I think the Celtics will be very good in the future but I don’t think anyone will be like the Warriors ever again. This run they’ve been on the past four years won’t be accomplished again.
Deandre Ayton was the #1 NBA draft pick in 2018. Do you feel that from sheer talent and experience that Luca Doncic should have been the real #1 draft pick?
I’ve been Team Luca for many years now. I remember reading about him a few years ago and being excited to see how he progressed. Watching him play as well as he did against really great players in EuroBasket and EuroLeague definitely warranted him being the number one pick. I thought it was crazy he didn’t go number 1.
How did you follow the 2018 NBA Draft? How cool is it having two Germans being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers?
I watch the NBA Draft every year with my brother-in-law. I watched Mo Wagner in the NCAA tournament and he was really impressive. With two Germans on the team maybe the Lakers will have to come play a preseason game in Germany.
Lebron James makes amazing passes in every game, but really showcased it in a game this season against the Los Angeles Lakers. He already is like a point guard, but if he played just point guard and concentrated only on playmaking how many assists do you feel would he average per game?
I think he would easily average 13 or 14 if he only concentrated on that. His ability to see angles and throw passes on time and on target is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
What was the last movie that you saw? Let me guess Black Panther?
I did see Black Panther in theaters, but I had to follow it up and see Infinity War as well. So Infinity War is the last movie I’ve seen in theaters. I personally liked Black Panther much more than Infinity War. I’ve watched a lot of movies on Netflix too so I’m not sure what counts.
Thanks TJ for the chat.