Repetition and preparation are the tenets Will Gregory espouses on the court. There is no disruption in his training regimen which has him up and running at the Riverdale Y before 8 a.m. A barrage of his shots fall without hesitation, but not without the helping hand of a passer and rebounder whose best title is “dad.”
“I jump rope while I’m there, too,” says Will, an alum of the original St. Gabriel School. “I don’t need him [dad] for that, but that’s just how I get my body warmed up.”
That summertime routine is void of any concerns of school or other responsibilities. Gregory is in his mojo and has to be ahead of a much-anticipated senior season for Fordham Prep. He wants nothing more than to get the Rams back on the mountaintop this year in the CHSAA, knowing all too well it is a place the Jesuit, all-boys school has arrived at before on the local hoops summit.
“I have envisioned playing at Rose Hill Gym for the CHSAA Championship in front of the whole school,” Gregory told The Riverdale Press. “This is the year we can really make a good push.”
There is no better tune-up for his senior season than the Riverdale Hoops Summer League. For the third summer in a row since the grassroots league was founded by local hoops triumvirate Artie Cox, Turk Gumusdere, and Barry ‘Slice’ Rohrssen, Fordham Prep head coach Brian Downey has entered the Rams into the fray.
“I am giving them the opportunity to play all summer long,” says Downey, a former 40-year resident of Riverdale, who also registered his team for two other leagues and a pair of camps this summer.
Adversity was a constant in year one of the league as Gregory and other rising sophomores were subjected to the dominion of some of the city’s most vaunted varsity teams.
Year two was slightly better and helped ease the transition to varsity hoops for Gregory and those same Prep teammates. But still, they only came away victorious once.
Now, the third time has been the charm. This summer, Gregory is playing at an all-time high level and has made significant strides toward becoming the well-rounded player he wants to be. He scored a league-high 55 points on the strength of six threes on July 20 against Norman Thomas High School and followed it up with 42 against Evander Childs Educational campus in the first round of playoffs on Aug. 22.
Next up is a showdown with Gill St. Bernard’s School of New Jersey in the semifinals.
“The work is showing,” Gregory says. “I am getting rewarded with these good games for myself and also winning for the team.”
Consider it a welcome omen for a team returning its entire starting five, including Gregory, this upcoming season after falling short last in the quarterfinals of the CHSAA ‘A’ playoffs to Monsignor Farrell High School of Staten Island in a 52-51 nail-biter.
“We were a young team and only had three seniors graduate,” Gregory said.
Gregory figures to be a key contributor if the Rams are to make a deep run and secure their third CHSAA ‘A’ City Championship in Downey’s nine years at the helm of his alma mater.
“The biggest difference between this year and last year are the different aspects he has brought to his game,” Downey says of Gregory.
“He is pump faking and getting to the rim a lot easier and with more confidence.”
His father, Sean, has been consumed by the action and has been left impressed by the on-court synergy shown by the Rams. The game against Evander Child was the top passing game Prep has had, Sean said.
Sean is impressed by the versatility Will has shown in driving to the hoop, rather than only relying on his biggest strength, outside shooting. The growth of his game has been accelerated by a teenage growth spurt which has Will standing at 6–foot-3.
“At 6-foot-3 you can use your height to do a lot of things to help your team win,” Sean said.
The elder Gregory is no stranger to hoops success, either. After having played with Downey at Fordham Prep, Sean took his game to Princeton. Playing under Hall of Fame Coach Pete Carril in the mid-90s, he was a product of the well-documented “Princeton Offense’” invented by Carril.
Some of the motions in those early morning sessions featuring father and son are patterned after what Sean learned. It may not be as technical as Carril’s teaching, but it is the spirit of those principles which have paid off for Will. The fundamentals of passing, screening, and cutting to the hoop are points of emphasis, according to Sean.
“There are movements that I did 25 years ago that are useful in any system,” Sean said. “I would be a fool not to try to pass some of that stuff along to him.”
Will credits his dad for helping build up his confidence of late. That part of his game has been front and center at the Riverdale Summer League — with a lot of points to show for it.
“Sometimes we play 1-on-1,” Will says. “But those games were a lot more competitive when I was younger.”
Hoops is a family affair for the Gregorys and also includes Will’s great aunt, Anne Gregory, the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in Fordham University’s basketball history. His grandpa, Chris Gregory, played at Long Island University and great uncle, Bob Gregory, played at Manhattan College under Jack Powers. Another uncle, Kevin Gregory, suited up for Division III Haverford College.
“Going into Rose Hill and seeing the Gregory 55 number retired at the top was always really cool,” Will says of Anne. “She is probably the best player to come out of the family.”
The two remain close, too. Anne recalls a particular moment this past college hoops season when Will made her day.
“He was at the Atlantic 10 Tournament and they put my picture up on the jumbotron and it said something about being a trailblazer and Will took a picture of it and sent me a text,“ Anne says. “It was really special.”
There are different points of Will’s early years in Riverdale which carry significant meaning and made him fully embrace basketball as, in the words of Anne, “a family tradition.” That was the case when going to the courts at P.S. 24 Spuyten Duyvil more times than he could remember.
But Will says his “best” basketball experiences came playing CYO basketball in the tight quarters of the St. Gabriel School gym tucked away on Arlington Avenue.
“We had good atmospheres there because it’s really small and there aren’t many bleachers there so the games would get really packed,” Gregory said. “St. Gabe’s was full of great people.”