By Sam Thomas
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Jonathan Gray has figured out what it takes to be the big man on campus.
He has earned the title at Chandler High School, Eastern Oklahoma State College and now the University of Oklahoma.
Gray’s journey started in Chandler, Okla., a town of 3,000 located an hour from Oklahoma City.
Gray was an all-state pitcher for the baseball team, and also starred on the football and basketball teams. With his brother Jack, the Grays formed a formidable pitching duo for the Lions.
“Chandler is known for baseball, and we had a pretty good squad,” Jack said. “We all knew that Jonathan was the big dog. Our team knew he was the guy that we wanted to pitch against the good teams.”
Even though Jonathan earned many honors on the diamond, he didn’t get much notice outside Chandler until his senior year.
“If you played sports in that town, your name was pretty well known,” Gray explained. “But from a small town like Chandler, I didn’t really get much projection. Not many schools were talking to me until my senior year.”
Gray’s prospects improved when he was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 13th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft.
While many believed Gray had the physical tools to start a career in baseball, he knew he still had to mature mentally before he could take that step. He decided to put professional baseball on hold and play for Eastern Oklahoma State College for a year under coach Aric Thomas.
“When John got to junior college, he wasn’t real sure of himself,” Thomas said. “Everyone knew his name, but I don’t think he knew that and he didn’t know that guys were intimidated of him before he even toed the rubber.”
Gray’s year in junior college was vital to his maturity and his progression as a pitcher.
“I made a lot of improvements when I was there,” Gray said of Eastern Oklahoma State. “My velocity got better and I developed a second pitch, but there was still a lot of work that needed to be done and I didn’t think I was ready for (Major League Baseball) yet.”
Gray needed to realize that, just like in high school, he had the stuff to be the best player on the field.
“He is the guy that always worked hard but got frustrated early on,” Thomas said. “Once he turned the corner mentally and realized how good he is going to be and really worked, that’s what really helped him.”
Gray took his draft pedigree and the improvements he made in junior college and translated them to an offer to pitch at the University of Oklahoma.
“I grew up a die-hard OU fan,” Gray said. “I grew up wanting to play at this school, no matter what sport it was I wanted to play here.”
Once Gray arrived in Norman, he still faced many of the same problems with his mentality on the mound.
“When he came to OU, it was a little bit of the same thing,” Thomas said. “He felt like just another guy. Once he realized what he was, he has started taking it to the next level.”
Jack Gray has seen his brother’s maturity grow with each step of the process.
“His maturity has increased, even through this year,” Jack said. “You could see his physical maturity grow. In junior college you could tell he had not fully grown yet. If you look back in pictures, he had a baby face and now you can see that he has grown in his face and in the way that he carries himself.”
With all the physical tools and the right mindset in place, many believe that Gray will be drafted again by a Major League club. Only this time it could be as high as the first pick in the draft.
“Who knows when he is going to peak?” Thomas said. “He has made great progression because of his work ethic and mindset. That’s what has gotten him to where he is at.”
Still, Gray tries to keep a level head about the process.
“That’s not for me to worry about,” Gray said about his draft projections. “I just have to keep doing what I am doing and don’t think about it too much. The draft will come later down the road and take care of itself.”