Vivian Gray has no regrets.
The Oklahoma State sophomore has been asked every variety of questions this season about her freshman year but mainly it comes down to one.
Why would one of the top players in the country go to a Division II school in Colorado?
When Gray is asked that question, she never shies away from it. Her reasoning is valid. She chose to play at Fort Lewis College for her family and that is forever to her.
Recruited by some of the best college basketball programs around, Gray never was swayed by them. The big city life was never for her. She was a small-town girl and places like Durango, Colorado, and Stillwater always have been more her speed.
Growing up in Ponder, Texas, a town of 1,300 whose biggest claim to fame is may or may not being robbed by Bonnie and Clyde, Gray was living on a farm. She would spend most of her days on the homestead outside the town of 1,300 helping tend to the livestock – of which the Grays had goats, longhorns, chickens, horses, ducks, cats and of course, the family’s seven dogs.
Gray showed goats growing up as she and her older sister, Olivia, were homeschooled.
The only sport the sisters played was on the tennis court, with basketball just being a pickup game between the two on a gravel lot. Sports were never an escape for Vivian, but something she liked to play with her sister.
“I think if you play a sport, you need to have fun because once you stop having fun, it’s not worth it anymore,” Vivian Gray said.
Basketball became a primary focus when Olivia was in sixth grade with Vivian in fifth. Their parents, Brandon and Lisa, wanted to put the two in a team sport. Tennis was fun and all, but since they were now going to a public school in nearby Argyle, a move to basketball started to come about.
A family friend had a daughter who played that was Vivian’s age so the two started to hit the hardwood, as well. Despite starting later than most girls, the Grays took to it naturally.
Olivia jokes that she has come to terms that her younger sister will always be a better ballplayer than her, but it was a never a competition between the two. They were inseparable and wouldn’t let athletics break up their bond.
“She has always been better than me and she is a better athlete than I am, it’s OK, I have accepted it,” Olivia Gray said.
Olivia, a 5-foot-8 guard, went to Fort Lewis after a high school career in which she was a four-year starter and a first-team all-district pick. As she packed up to head to the college where her mother played and the town where her grandfather lived, she realized it would be the first time without Vivian and the thought both terrified her and excited her.
“We grew up literally doing everything together so it was hard to go from seeing her every single day, doing every single thing together, going to school together and playing basketball together to not seeing her at all,” Olivia Gray said. “It was really hard, but it was a good experience and shaped who we are separately as people and gave us that time to find ourselves because we had been together doing the same things for so long.”
While Olivia was redshirting her freshman season at Fort Lewis, Vivian was putting the cap on her own high school career. Her senior season, she helped the Eagles to their third-straight Class 4A title and the two-time Texas Player of the Year ended her career with 2,893 points.
Peaking in the top 20 at one point of the nation’s recruiting rankings before settling in at 45 on the ESPN list, all the big names in the area were there such as Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma.
It was a time Vivian really didn’t like about her high school career. She had it narrowed down to two places, OSU and in first, Fort Lewis.
“It wasn’t that difficult honestly,” Vivian Gray said. “… I really liked that because I am very family oriented. College is fun and I enjoy college. It wasn’t that different from high school for me because my sister was there and I already had friends on the team. It wasn’t a terrible transition.”
Olivia said with all the people pressuring her sister, she wanted to let Vivian make her own decision and go with her heart and she ultimately feels she made the right decision. The duo would get to team up once again, just like they did all those years ago on that gravel lot in Denton County.
“I am really glad she did and it was a great experience for both of us,” Olivia Gray said. “It was hard not to be with here so it is nice to be back. It was her choice, I didn’t want to pressure her to do anything. I wanted to stay out of it. A lot of people were telling her what to do in the process and I didn’t want to be one of those people, I wanted to be someone she could talk to and bounce ideas off of. I didn’t want to pressure her to come with me and end up hating it.”
The two saw the court plenty in their first year playing college ball together. Olivia averaged 16 minutes a game as Vivian led the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in scoring on her way to becoming freshman of the year.
However, the two would have to make a hard decision in the offseason. Because of funding problems, the Grays were warned they might not have scholarships when they returned. Despite the unexpected ordeal, the family quickly put their heads together.
“So we were like, ‘Crap, where are we going to go?’” Olivia Gray said. “This is Vivian’s second option and originally they said we can both play here so my dad called and asked if it was still an option and it was. Within a week, we had everything done and signed the papers and were coming to Stillwater. It was crazy.”
Part of the reason she wanted to still come to OSU was that small-town aspect she had come to know and love growing up.
“I am a homebody, I like the small atmospheres. I really liked Stillwater,” Vivian Gray said.
The sisters were a bit intimidated coming to a program that while it had a big senior class leave and was still trying to find its identity, it was still a Division I school in the Big 12 Conference.
Vivian didn’t know how she was going to mesh and as OSU coach Jim Littell moved the 6-foot-1 forward to the wing for the first time in her life, she was unsure of how she would play. Her fears were eventually put to bed, though.
“It was definitely intimidating, especially over the summer when I got here,” Vivian Gray said. “I was intimidated by the older girls because you usually hear the seniors are mean and bosses of the (underclassmen), but it is not like that here. They are all really fun to be around and really nice people.”
The younger Gray picked up where she left off and starting scoring at will, forming a tandem with fellow sophomore Braxtin Miller, who she considers an extremely close friend.
“I didn’t know how I was going to come and play,” Vivian Gray said. “I am happy with how the team has played this year and how we work off of each other. I think we work really great together.”
Not only has Vivian helped on the court, but she and Olivia have helped off the court. The two have provided a calming presence for a young team that has good chemistry, but still has doubts about how it wants to play in some games.
Assistant coach Jerise Freeman said the Cowgirls needed the Grays as much as they needed them.
“I think Vivian, it’s just her energy and who she is as a person,” Freeman said. “Her and her sister, those are good dynamics. Getting to know her as a kid, she is really cool. Somebody with that big of a heart, you just got to love them back.”
“I think that it was never forced and something that just came naturally. I think eventually, they evolved into our culture and wrap their hands around us and we in turn did the same thing. It was easy and never an issue with that.”
For a player that could have had the pick of the litter and was just named Big 12 Player of the Week, Vivian Gray doesn’t mind her journey. She doesn’t even feel like playing basketball at the next level, as she would rather join the family business.
A marketing major, she just wants to work at the Gray’s surgical supply company and if pro basketball is in the cards, she would rather play overseas.
No matter if she is putting up 30 points on her opponents, she will always be the red-haired girl from a farm whose best friend is her sister and she doesn’t feel she has to apologize to anyone about that.
“I am definitely enjoying it and completely different than anything that I have done before. It is fun,” Vivian Gray said. “I love the relationships that I have, especially with my teammates, they are awesome and I love them. I definitely didn’t take the conventional route. There was some stuff at Fort Lewis that I had the option to leave and get a new experience with basketball and I am glad that I did. It has been a really good journey.”
Follow News Press sports reporter Jordan Bishop on Twitter @Jordanbishop35 for updates on Oklahoma State women’s basketball.