Jon Teitel got to chat with Iowa State legend Jeff Grayer, who is the leading scorer in Cyclones history. Grayer was an All-American and played in the 1988 Olympics. He has spent much of his retirement giving back to others by helping kids from his hometown of Flint, Michigan, succeed both on and off the court.
You won a pair of Class A state titles at Flint Northwestern High School in 1984/1985. What did it mean to you to win 2 titles?
It was really a dream come true. When we were coming up we always had very good teams, but Flint Central HS won the state title for three straight years from 1981-1983. We were inspired to make our own mark, which allowed us to get some bragging rights in the community and build a great tradition.
Take me through the 1986 NCAA tourney at Iowa State.
You had 19 points and 11 rebounds in 45 minutes and Jeff Hornacek made a 26-foot jumper at the buzzer in a 2-PT OT win over Miami University. Where does that rank among the most clutch shots you have ever seen?
Back in college I knew that we could count on two guys for a go-to basket: Barry Stevens and Hornacek. Jeff was always one of those guys who could nail big shots at the end of the game.
You scored 16 points in a three-point win over Michigan. How important was it for Coach Johnny Orr to beat Coach Bill Frieder (his former assistant a Ann Arbor)?
They are still best friends, so I do not know if it was that important compared to beating the Wolverines in general. He felt slighted because he had some tremendous teams at Michigan, so I think he wanted his just due. There were about five guys from the state of Michigan who went to Iowa State, so that win gave us bragging rights when we came home the following summer.
You scored 21 points in a four-point loss to NC State. How devastating was that loss, and what was the reaction like when you got back to campus?
It was pretty devastating because we thought our speed could help us compete with them even though they were very tall inside with 6’10” Charles Shackleford and 6’11” Chris Washburn. We were disappointed that we fell short but at the same time we knew that we had a tremendous season, and the Ames community was excited about what we had done and what was to come.
In 1988 you were named All-American. What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor?
It really meant a lot because even back in middle school I had some long-term team and individual goals, and to accomplish those individual goals really showed that fine-tuning my game had paid off. However, the most important thing to me was our team success.
You remain the all-time leading scorer in Cyclone history. What is your secret for being a great scorer, and do you think that anyone will ever break your record?
All records are made to be broken, but the only reason it might not get broken is the “one-and-done” kids today who try to cash in on their talent right away. The secret is to be a well-rounded player: attack the basket, shoot from outside, etc. I tried to be versatile and to improve every single day, which contributed to me scoring so many points.
You ended up with a bronze medal at the 1988 Olympics after losing to the USSR in the semifinals. Do you think that you would have won the gold if Hersey Hawkins had not been injured, and do you think that team USA will ever go back to a roster of only collegians?
I think we would have had a much better chance had Hersey been healthy to provide us some outside shooting. I do not know if the US will ever go back to the collegians, but I would love to see it happen because we have shown that we are the dominant team in the world when it comes to basketball.
In the summer of 1988 you were drafted 13th overall by Milwaukee (one spot ahead of Dan Majerle). Did you see that as a validation of your college career, or the realization of a lifelong dream of reaching the NBA, or other?
It definitely validated the hard work and dedication that I had put forth in high school and college. It was also a dream come true. When I would sit at home as a kid and watch Kareem and Dr. J on TV I hoped that someday I could be up on that platform with the commissioner. To get there you have to work out and practice even when you do not want to.
In 1991 you scored a career-high 27 points in a game against Golden State. Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were “in the zone”?
Different teams have different styles of play, and the Warriors had “Run TMC” that went up and down the floor. We matched their style of play and ran a lot, it took me back to my college days where I could drive to the basket as well as shoot from the outside.
Several years ago you formed Flint Athletes for Better Education (an AAU travel basketball team for inner city youth). Why did you form such a sports program, and what has it accomplished so far?
It was designed to help kids understand what it takes to become a “student-athlete”. I got the idea from a camp I attended in Princeton, NJ, that involved school in the morning and basketball drills in the afternoon. I wanted to show the kids in the Flint area what it took to succeed: tutorial work, core classes, mentoring, etc. It is now a year-round functioning program with myself, Mateen Cleaves, and others who get together and work with the kids to get them physically and mentally prepared for the next step. Flint used to be known for cars and sports, and even though we lost the cars we will not lose the kids!
You have also done some coaching since retiring as a player: what do you hope to do in the future?
I brought a minor-league CBA team to Flint in 2001, and then it migrated to Birch Run for a few years. I coached at a lot of pre-draft rookie camps so I have a lot of experience and I hope to get back into coaching someday.
Your sons Jeff Jr. and Kevin both played college basketball: who is the best athlete in the family, and do they credit at least some of their success to genetics?
That is a tough question. I am actually in the car as we speak following Mateen with my youngest son, and he would probably say that he is the best of the three! Kevin is a very good athlete who is knowledgeable about the game, while Jeff Jr. is a more physical player who gets inside and has a workman’s attitude. We are excited about all three of them.