If you were to ask TJ Bray where he will be on January 18 th 2019 and where his mind will be, it will be interesting to see what his answer will be, because this date should be one knowing his mindset and competitiveness that should be marked red on his calendar. Some Steeler fans may remember this day in 1976 where they won Superbowl 10, while people involved with the disease Aids might recall the beautiful “That’s what friends are for” sung gracefully from legend Dionne Warwick hit #1 on the US Billboard charts in 1986 or in Boston Celtics fans may remember this date in 1998 as the day where the 00 jersey of one third of the Big three Robert Parish was hoisted to the rafters. New England Patriots fans might remember the sweet drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 in the AFC Championship game in 2015 which led to the amazing Superbowl victory against the Seattle Sea Hawks. For TJ Bray he doesn´t look back in history on January 18th, but is actually looking forward in time as he hopes in making some sweet history in forms of a win against MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg. It has been two long years for TJ Bray since signing a contract to play for The MHP Riesen Ludwisgburg in 2016 for ambitious coach John Patrick. However the American who grew up in Waukesha, Wisconsin never reached Ludwigsburg as he got injured at home but was able to play that season finishing with Basic-Fit Brussels (Belgium-Euromillions League).Despite not having won a professional title yet and last winning a title in 2011 with Princeton with an Ivy league championship, Bray is a player that has had a solid professional career in Italy, Belgium and Greece. In the last two years, his thoughts continued to remain with German basketball and what could have been had he played with the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg. His desire to play in Germany and in the countries top league easyCredit BBL has become a reality as he is currently lacing up his sneakers for club Rasta Vechta. “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”, stressed TJ Bray. The American is finally back in Germany again and flourishing in his second attempt in the BBL.
Bray is a 26 year old 196cm guard that was born in New Berlin, Wisconsin and is playing in his fifth professional season. He isn´t playing for a playoff team with Rasta Vechta, but a club that first made it to the BBL in 2013 and since then moved down twice before returning back in 2018. He has seen a lot as a professional in various countries and was also careful with choosing Rasta Vechta, but thanks to ex Princeton teammates Douglas Davis, Ian Hummer, Jimmy Sherburne and Clay Wilson who have played in Germany as well as German Hans Brase wth whom he talked to, it made his choice of going to Vecnta a lot easier. “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”, stressed TJ Bray.
He also got that extra added reassurance from his new head coach Pedro Calles. Sometimes having those talks over the summer with the coach of your possible future team can do wonders for a player in their decision making. “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”, warned TJ Bray.
So far Rasta Vechta are still looking for their first win after starting 0-2, but Bray has had a stellar start currently averaging 16,0ppg,3,5rpg and 5,0apg while shooting 46,7% from outside. His experience from having played in many countries and having seen many different styles has made the integration for him a lot easier on the court. The team has good experience, but the American along with fellow American Austin Hollins probably have the most international experience of all players on the team. He is primarly a shooting guard, but in the early going he has been somewhat of a glue guy that is leading his team in scoring and also in assists. His good court vision makes him a classic point forward that has a good basketball IQ, is versatile, and makes his teammates better and also has that lethal dangerous shot. Before the season started he pretty much classified his role as being someone that fits this role. “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”, added TJ Bray. He has often heard the name Joe Ingles as a guy his game is similar too and this season that comparison seems to stick well in his certain situation. “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”, smiled TJ Bray. A work in progress this season will be the rebounding for Rasta Vechta as the first two games have shown as they have been badly outrebounded and probably need to bring in another big man as they are clearly undermanned there and lack BBL experience with Germans Robin Christen and young talent Philipp Herkenhoff.
He knows that one of his hidden strengths on the court will help the team especially during mismatches and in the paint area. “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”, warned TJ Bray. Obviously the team will profit most from his precise shooting in games and so far in four professional seasons he has been so close to hitting the magical mark at 40%, but just missed. It´s still early now, but he is on a good way to reaching 40% or better this season and knows exactly what needs to be done to reach the mark through experience. “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”, stressed TJ Bray.
It has been a long basketball road for the American who lists his toughest opponent ever as Kyrie Irving who he dueled in AAU and when he played at Duke and it all started at Catholic Memorial High School before he made the next jump in his career to top Ivy league school Princeton in 2010 where he enjoyed a stellar four year career. He won the Ivy league title as a freshman and reached the final in 2013. He improved his 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”, added TJ Bray. In his senior year he scored 20 points or more 10 times including two 26 point outbursts against Pennsylvania and Brown. No matter what players I have interviewed in my life, 99% of all players love to say that famous phrase, “I wouldn´t be the player I am without having had the guidance of my college coach”. It wasn´t any different for Bray who raved about his coach Mitch Henderson. “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”, said TJ Bray.
He had the honor and pleasure to play against the best young talents right out of school in the summer of 2014 playing NBA Pro Summer League in Las Vegas with the Toronto Raptors) playing 5 games averaging 4.4ppg, 1.6rpg, 1.2apg, 1.0spg, FGP: 46.7%, 3PT: 45.5%, FT: 75% and in the summer of 2015 with the New York Knicks playing 2 games averaging 2.5ppg, 2.0rpg, 1.0apg. Not every player gets this opportunity as often the right contacts are most significant in getting the chance. “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”, expressed TJ Bray. He began his professional career in 2014 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%. For most americans just getting by with Italian would have been a struggle, but Bray was in a special place in Italy on the beautiful island of Sicily where they communicating is even more difficult than on the mainland. “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”, said TJ Bray. For americans coming overseas, it is always beneficial to have that guy around to help get by and getting integrated to the game and life off the court and Bray didn´t have many americans to choose from, but only one in Chris Evans. “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.
In season two, he had his best statistical 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%. He was extremely consistent scoring in double figures in 29 games including 20 points or more in six games and scored in double figures in his last 15 games. But the season ended in bitter fashion as he lost in the playoffs to Trevisio 3-2 after being up 2-1 in games. Being up and then still losing will always be a good reminder about how you need to finish games the right way as future playoff series lie waiting in his basketball path. “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”, stressed TJ Bray. After not staying with the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg in season three he moved to Basic-Fit Brussels (Belgium-Euromillions League) finishing the season strong reaching the final while playing 33 games averaging 8.2ppg, 2.3rpg, 2.1apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 41.7%, 3PT: 35.1%, FT: 62.5%. With all the turmoil before getting to Belgium, the season was huge in his career as his high there helped him be successful the next season in Greece. “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”, added TJ Bray.
In season 4 last season he made the next step playing with Kolossos H Hotels (Greece-A1, starting five) playing 27 games averaging 12.1ppg, 3.4rpg, 3.4apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 47.2%, 3PT: 34.9%, FT: 76.1%. He scored in double figures in 16 games and proved that he could play against the best teams top Euroleague teams Olympiakos and Panathinaikos not winning but being an impact with his play. “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”, stressed TJ Bray. Last season he was 0-4 against Panathinaikos and experienced an exciting game in the regular season losing 72-71 where he put up the big goose egg, but filled up the stat sheet well. In the playoffs he was swept but produced 16 and 10 points. He held his own against ex NBA player like James Gist and Mike James, but with his experience and self confidence having success against guys like this with his game is something that is self-evident to him. “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”, warned TJ Bray. The American is a tough competitor and is never any easy match up and probably has been on teammate Seth Hinrichs back this season reminding him of his 2-0 record in the NCAA. “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”, warned TJ Bray. Every game is a battle in the easyCredit BBL and so far Bray has displayed a very good all-around game even if it didn´t translate into wins. His high competitive level will aid Rasta Vechta as every game will be a battle for the team and they will have to be competitive for 40 minutes. This weekend Bray and Rasta Vechta will meet the always tough Fraport Skyliners who have great memories of the Rasta Dome as in their two only appearances there, they escaped both times with wins as in 2014 won on a buzzer beater from German Kevin Bright and in 2016 with a hard fought 65-63 victory. Hard core Vechta fans finally want to see a win against Frankfurt and Bray could have one of his toughest covers as a professional if Frankfurt sets top defender Quantez Robertson on him. Bray had tough defenders in the top Greece league, but if he can pass the Tez test then he really has made it as a very good offensive player. His tough competitive level will get him over the top even if the defensive pest Robertson makes life hard for him.