Western Carolina coach Justin Gray visits alma mater Wake Forest

·2 min read

Justin Gray already has one thrill as Western Carolina's first-year head coach.

He'll be in line for more memorable moments when the Catamounts visit his alma mater Wake Forest on Friday night in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"We try to make sure we understand that we're under construction," Gray said.

That description would apply to Wake Forest as well.

Both teams won their season openers at home, with Western Carolina topping Bowling Green 79-71 in overtime Tuesday night and Wake Forest beating William & Mary 77-59 on Wednesday night.

"Anytime you can win, it kind of validates the work you put in," Gray said. "Let's turn the page."

Gray, 37, was a Wake Forest standout guard from 2002-06. He later returned to the school to work in the athletics department before going to Winthrop, where he spent two seasons as an assistant coach before his opportunity came up with the Catamounts.

Besides the connection to Gray, there's something else in common for the teams. They each have a former Indiana State player on the roster.

Western Carolina's Cam Bacote played the past two seasons for Indiana State. So did Wake Forest's Jake LaRavia, who was an All-Missouri Valley Conference second-team selection last season with the Sycamores. He scored 13 points in his first Wake Forest game.

"This is early in the year and a bunch of new guys," Demon Deacons coach Steve Forbes said, referring to some disjointed stretches in the opener.

One of the Wake Forest newcomers is Oklahoma transfer Alondes Williams, who scored 22 points in his debut.

"It feels great and a lot of people supporting me," Williams said.

The Catamounts had four players in double figures and seven players with seven or more points in their opener.

"It's going to be by committee," Gray said. "That's what we talk about all the time. We've got to compete. We've got to be together. ... We don't have a lot of guys who are high-fliers. We make up for that with our effort and our energy to go after the basketball."

Gray will be familiar to Wake Forest fans. He received all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors in three of his seasons and racked up 1,946 points for the Demon Deacons. That led to a 12-year professional playing career overseas.

This is the first of six consecutive games for Western Carolina away from their home court in Cullowhee, N.C.

--Field Level Media