Once Dillard wraps up practice, star forwards Raiquan ‘Turk’ Gray and Jordan Wright put on pick up games worthy of admission. Putting aside a bond as lifelong best friends, Gray and Wright take turns beating up on each other. It’s no blood, no foul as Gray and his solid, 6-8, 245-pound frame takes Wright to the hoop. The 6-6, 228 pound Wright counters with the strength and athleticism which makes him a prized defensive end/tight end to back Gray down in the post for his signature floater.“Those games get tough, we might end up fighting,” Wright said. “One time I left with a bloody chin. It only gets us better. With Turk it’s like going against an All-American. I’m not going to face anybody better all season. Going against Turk makes the games come easy.”
Those physical one-on-one battles since Jordan and Turk first started competing against each other at 5 has yielded two of the most coveted wing prospects in Florida. The duo’s recruitment picked up over the Summer after they led the Vipers to a top 10 rank nationally. Gray ended speculation over his future by signing with FSU while Wright committed to Kentucky for football. Wright, however, has not ruled out playing some hoops for the powerhouse Wildcats program and John Calipari.
Gray chose FSU from a final list that included Baylor, Virginia Tech, Memphis, and Ole Miss. In the end, Gray said a close relationship with FSU coach Leonard Hamilton and the opportunity to showcase his skills in the Seminoles’ up tempo system was the deciding factors.
“I felt real comfortable with coach Hamilton,” Gray said. “The offense they run is open, it lets everybody handle the ball and have space in the offense. I like the passing and movement I will show my whole game off. I’ve watched FSU a lot when they played Duke and Carolina. It’s really setting in that I will play in the ACC in some big time games.”
Wright, however, is looking more and more like he is leaning toward signing for football. After registering 15 sacks in his first three games, the Jordan bandwagon is growing and already includes offers from FSU, Miami, Kentucky and Syracuse.,
Regardless of who wins the Wright sweepstakes, Dillard will be the beneficiary returning a duo who should be even better than last season. Both showed improvement in their games over the travel ball season, which bodes well for a repeat state title for Dillard and some believe, a top 25 national ranking.
Wright and Gray set the tone in last season’s title run, when the Panthers reeled off 20 consecutive wins, including a 59-47 victory over then defending state champion Miami Norland in the regional Finals, to capture the Class 6A title.
“We got hungry at the right time,” Gray said. “We had a lot to lose. We came from so far. We beat a lot of teams that were hyped. If it wasn’t state championship it would have been a failure to us. We wanted to keep that tradition at Dillardgoing. Nothing less than winning a state championship.”
With Gray and Wright leading five returning starters, Dillard is the team to beat again this season. Simply put, Gray and Wright, with their combination of size, skill and strength are a matchup nightmare for opponents.
The star duo’s biggest attributes, said Dillard six-time state champion coach Darryl Burrows, is the uncanny chemistry they have developed playing together and their willingness to share the spotlight.
“They are totally different in how they play which makes a great combination for two friends,” Burrows said. “Never a fight or argument over who gets the ball or who is scoring. They score in different ways and that complements each other. It makes for a perfect Batman and Robin. The only question from game to game is who is Batman and who is Robin.”
Last season Dillard thrived with Wright assuming the Batman role more often and ultimately winning Broward Co-player of the year. Gray, meanwhile, blossomed into an elite wing and joined Wright on the All-Broward first team. Gray’s role increased once Dillard’s starting point guard went down early in the season and Gray used the opportunity to develop his play-making skills.
“Turk handles the ball, shoots the ball well, plays some good defense,” Burrows said. “It makes for a great combination. He’s extremely crafty and the ability to handle the ball will help him on the next level. He does things that don’t necessarily show up in the stats but it helps you win games.”
Gray is preparing like this will be the last time he and Wright play on the same team. Gray said the only fitting way to close their career as teammates is to win another state championship.
“I think Jordan will go for football,” Gray said. “He can be great in it. He has great hands, great footwork. Real athletic. He just has a lot of tools that a lot of guys don’t have. It’s been a great ride with him so far. We have been through a lot. I think it’s going to be a going away party if we end the season on the right note. We have a big opportunity ahead of us.”
Kentucky won the recruiting battle for Wright who starred on both sides of the field. As a pass rushing defensive end, Wright netted 25 sacks and 45 solo tackles, Jordan also showed off his receiving skills with six touchdown receptions from the tight end position.
Dillard will be the beneficiary of a duo which should be even more prolific than last season. Both stars showed improvement in the travel ball season which bodes well for a repeat state title and a top 25 national ranking for Dillard. “It’s been a great ride with Jordan so far,” said Gray. “We have been through a lot. I think it’s going to be a going away party if we end the season on the right note. We have a big opportunity ahead of us.”
By: FABIAN LYON