When Ronnie DeGray III lived in Finland at age 2, it was because of basketball.
When he moved in Hungary at 3, it was because of basketball.
When he packed up for Spain at 4, it was because of basketball.
When he circled back to Finland at 5, it was because of basketball.
And when he said goodbye to his home in Parker, Colorado, for Woodstock, Connecticut, at 17, it was because of basketball. But this time, it was for himself.
Sparking a Passion
His father, Ronnie DeGray Jr., played collegiately at Colorado from 1996-1998 before a six-year professional career that took him to Bosnia & Herzegovina, Taiwan, Finland, Hungary, Spain and Finland again. During the season, along with him came his son, and in Finland he was introduced to the hardwood.
“He was around the age of 2,” said DeGray Jr. “It was him seeing me play professionally overseas and him wanting to come on the court.”
That was 2002. Now fast forward to 2018, and Ronnie DeGray III is no longer the toddler wandering around the floor aimlessly lugging a ball twice the size of his head. The class of 2019 small forward is entertaining offers from a collection of schools, including Montana, UTSA, South Dakota, Cal Poly and Denver, while finishing his high school career at Woodstock Academy.
DeGray III moved more than 1,700 miles away from home to transfer from Chaparral High School in Parker, all for a better shot at playing major college basketball like his father and other members of his family. His uncle, Reggie DeGray, played at Louisiana Lafayette from 1998-2001, and his older two sisters, Ronjanae and Raeyana, are seniors on Arkansas Little-Rock’s team.
For many teenagers, going away to college is their first time parting from the familiar confines. DeGray III elected to take the plunge a year early, but spending some of his youngest years across the pond removed the stigma of leaving home. He has experienced the obstacles of being somewhere new.
“Making friends as a young child (was difficult),” DeGray III explained. “Some kids didn’t speak English yet or they weren’t really learning it. I didn’t have a lot of friends.”
DeGray III had to learn independence, but he also saw what life and people outside of America can be like, a lesson many Americans, let alone children, aren’t afforded. The effects of what he learned in his childhood are still felt now.
“I feel it does help understanding different cultures, not judging other people for not being American and how different their culture is to ours,” he said. “I feel that still comes into play today, especially with where I go to school in Woodstock. We have lots of people from Vietnam, China, Thailand, Italy, all over. You get to know different things about them.”
DeGray Jr. said it was also valuable for his son to see some of the advantages allowed in American life.
“Me playing in countries where your hot water is only on for certain amounts of time during the day, you can’t have your lights on 24/7, just the basic things in life that we take for granted here in America are so appreciated overseas,” DeGray Jr. said. “Being able to see that at such a young age, I think it was a humbling experience for him. He’s a very laid-back type of kid, very reserved. He appreciates the little things in life that he saw other people didn’t have.”
Following the DeGray Footsteps
From his time outside of America, DeGray III also watched how hard his father worked on his basketball career, something that inspired him to continue that as he grew up. When DeGray Jr. was finishing up high school, he wasn’t satisfied with his college offers. Rather than settle, he went to the junior college route, improved his game, became a power-conference player at Colorado and propelled himself into a professional career.
After his junior season, DeGray III wanted more out of his recruitment. He said he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and targets major-conference basketball as his aim, and he’s willing to do what it takes to make it happen.
“He went and followed his dream,” DeGray III said of his father. “He went to JUCO because he didn’t get the offers he wanted, and he ended up working really hard and got to play Big 12 basketball at CU. He was in a small school in Louisiana and not really heavily recruited, but he ended up playing power-conference basketball. Him pushing through adversity influenced me a lot and makes me want to play every day.”
That drive led DeGray III to Connecticut. He said he is thankful for his playing time in Colorado, but he felt he had to challenge himself to prove to major college coaches he’s for real.
“It’s really important to me. It’s always been a goal of mine,” he said of playing in a major conference. “Even though I tried and got some offers from playing (in Colorado), I want to give myself more chances to play higher basketball, and going to Woodstock was definitely a decision that could help me follow my dreams.”
DeGray III said his recruitment has become more serious since making the move and more major-conference schools have shown interest. It’s bringing him one step closer to his ultimate goal, and he will soon join the ranks of DeGrays to play college basketball.
“I think it’s a family thing,” DeGray III said. “We all played Division I basketball. It was like I had to follow the footsteps and keep it going.”
His father couldn’t be prouder to see it happen.
“It’ll be so exciting,” DeGray Jr. said of seeing his son play college ball. “I look at him, and I see myself. Knowing everything I went through to get to where I ended up, I’m going to be happy.”
DeGray Jr. remembers seeing his son bounce around the court at 2, and now he sees him dribble around the court at 17.
“He started playing so young with a dream, and then seeing that dream come true, it’s something you can’t beat,” he explained. “You can’t beat that feeling.”
What are the chances we will see Ronnie DeGray IV suiting up in college years down the road?
“Maybe,” DeGray III chuckled.
Featured photography courtesy of Michelle DeGray.