Like father, like daughter
NATCHEZ — One tradition in the Gray family that has stood the test of time — the father always getting the best of the child in a free-throw shooting contest.
James “Ricky” Gray, also a Natchez alderman, recalls shooting free throws against his dad, James Gray, who was a strong player in his heyday. Ricky likened it to what he experiences now with his daughter, Kennedy.
“It’s hard growing up in a small town with people telling you how good your dad was,” Ricky recalled. “Me and my dad used to have free throw competitions, and I could never beat him. Now, she can never beat me.”
Kennedy chuckled as she recalled all the times she would go against her father in free throws and how futile it seemed.
“Well, yeah, I can’t beat him,” Kennedy said. “If I make all of mine, he makes all of his. If I miss one, he makes all of his.”
Free-throw competitions are just one of many ways Ricky spends time coaching his daughter on the ins and outs of basketball. Kennedy plays basketball for
Cathedral High School, and Ricky is an assistant coach for the Lady Wave, which provides even more of an opportunity to coach his daughter.
But Ricky said the father-daughter duo also spends a lot of time outside Cathedral basketball practice together,
“Before (basketball season), we would probably practices three days a week,” Ricky said.
Even though Ricky and his father were both basketball players growing up, Ricky said he doesn’t force his daughter to play. Kennedy’s insistence on playing is the reason he does so much work with her, Ricky said.
“I ask her one thing: Does she really want to play?” Ricky said. “Just give me one summer of just basketball. She wears so many different hats, and it’s hard to excel in one sport when you’re just doing it during that season.”
Ricky began coaching his daughter when she was 3 years old, while he was helping coach the Natchez High School girls basketball team. He would always take her to practice, which is where Kennedy picked up on the game.
Kennedy said she grew to love basketball, and jumped at any chance she had to play.
“I played at his car wash when I was smaller,” Kennedy said. “When he asked me if I wanted to play AYA, I said sure.”
Fundamentals and proper shooting mechanics are the first thing he tried to teach Kennedy, Ricky said.
“When she was small, she’d say, ‘I can’t make the ball reach (the goal),’” Ricky said.
So Ricky lowered the goal, but he also made sure to teach her a good shooting form and had her repeat it with each shot she took.
“I wasn’t concerned with it going in at the time, I just wanted her to shoot with the same form every time,” Ricky said.
Gray said his daughter picks up on his pointers quickly, which makes her easy to coach in that regard. That doesn’t mean there aren’t difficult times, however.
“It’s hard coaching a child, especially your daughter,” Ricky said. “You set the bar so high, and you want them to reach that height. I can ease up on other peoples’ kids, but with mine, I want to be able to go that extra mile, and sometimes that extra mile is a little too far.”
Kennedy said the tough coaching doesn’t bother her, however.
“He’s my dad,” Kennedy said. “He wants me to succeed and be the best. It’s hard sometimes, but I just have to deal with it.”
Though she’s only a ninth grader, Ricky said he has high expectations for Kennedy’s future in basketball.
“One day she’ll realize that she has all this talent and will really put it together on the court,” Ricky said. “Off the court, in practice, she has it together. She just doesn’t do it in the games sometimes.”
Kennedy said she understands her father’s assessment, and said nervousness is the big thing that holds her game back.
“I just feel like there’s a lot of pressure, but really, there’s not,” she said. “I have the talent to do it. It’s there — I just don’t do it in games. I just have to be more confident in myself.”
No matter how critical Ricky can be at times, he said his daughter knows he has her best interest at heart.
“Sometimes she gets mad, frustrated or even cries, but at the end of the day, she knows I love her,” Ricky said. “Whatever you do, what you put in, that’s what you’ll get out of it.”
It’s not just basketball that drives the two together, Kennedy said. If she has a problem with anything, she said she can always go to her father for advice.
“We’re kind of close,” Kennedy said. “I can tell him anything. He’s honest, and he wants me to be my best, and he’ll never tell me wrong.”
Kennedy’s mother is Yolanda Gray.