The trials and tribulations of Spencer Gay
The path to redemption is a long and arduous one. Washington University forward Spencer Gay knows this first hand. After two full years of riding the pine for the men’s basketball team, the 6-foot-6-inch, 200-pound junior has finally arrived.
“It’s definitely been a transition, definitely been two years in the making,” Gay said. “I saw what Troy Ruths did my freshman year, and then I saw what Tyler [Nading] did my sophomore year, so I had a really good opportunity here to learn from them.”
Coming out of Mill Creek High School as a four-year letterwinner, Gay was just looking to learn. He spent his entire freshman year, the 2007-2008 season, as a reserve player with the Bears’ junior varsity squad.
“I thought I could come in, and probably make a difference, but I realized I wasn’t physically ready enough,” he said. “I was disappointed, but at the same time, I’m not going to cry over spilled milk.”
With Gay on the bench, the team won the Division III national championship.
Using the excitement, experience and knowledge gained in his first year on the team, Gay hoped to make a big splash during his second. It never happened.
“My sophomore year, I felt like physically I was a step closer, but mentally I wasn’t ready for the rigors of the season,” he said. “Last year, I really didn’t like that I wasn’t contributing, but it was still very invaluable to me.”
He appeared in 14 games for the Bears, all off the bench, in 2008-2009. Despite moving up from the junior varsity team, Gay averaged just 0.4 points per game for the season and 0.7 rebounds per game, and recorded only one block.
“I had a really small opportunity,” he said. “I came in ready, and then the first game came along, and I just really didn’t play well. I was mentally unsure of myself, and I just wasn’t strong enough. If somebody is ready before you and you’re not ready at the time, then they’re definitely going to play above you. No matter what.”
Again, the Bears won the national championship while Gay played with a very limited role on the team. This offseason would be different, however.
“The first thing I did was I realized that I needed to hit the weight room a lot harder,” Gay said. “The second thing I did was I looked back at my two years…I evaluated what I did, what I did wrong, and what I could do better. This summer I really worked on my focus. Whenever I saw Tyler [Nading] play, I just saw how hard he played. I feel like our team needs that no matter what, so I tried to work on that too.”
After nearly seven months to train and improve, Gay came back ready for a new role on the team. He was chosen to play behind junior Caleb Knepper to start the season.
“When he came back here this fall, he was a much more complete player,” head coach Mark Edwards said. “[His offseason training] contributed to him coming into the season this year with a focus and a goal of being able to contribute to this program, and I think that he’s proven that it works.”
In a Dec. 9 matchup against then No. 8 Wheaton College, Gay made a name for himself. He scored 14 points in 13 minutes, coming off the bench and, more importantly, helping lead the Bears to a statement win.
“It’s always really tough coming off the bench, I feel like. You’re not really in good rhythm, yet you’ve got to adjust to what already happened,” Gay said. “I took that as a challenge, and I set goals at the beginning of the season. I just kept telling myself, ‘I’m going to make these goals happen.’”
Just a short number of games after, he was promoted to a starting spot on the team. The player, who for two years was mostly anonymous, was now winning games for the Bears. In 19 games this season, he is averaging 7.4 points per game and 4.7 rebounds per game.
“Something we had last year, at the four position, was Tyler Nading. He brought energy to the court every time he was out there,” senior co-captain Cameron Smith said. “I think one of the things that occurred to Spencer during his maturing process is him saying…‘If I put energy and effort into every play, then I’m going to be a contributor.’”
Gay insists he’s just trying to be himself on the court.
“There’s no way I can replace Tyler, but I can do as best as I can being Spencer Gay,” he said. “I’m not trying to replace anybody, or do anything outside of what I do. I’m just trying to do what I do as best I can do it, to help us win games.”