Then and now, a look at a Hall of Fame career

Then and now, a look at a Hall of Fame career

WM School District In 1984 the first Apple Macintosh personal computer debuted, the popular TV shows included Magnum PI, Dynasty and Knight Rider, movie ticket prices were $2.50, Keith Lee's senior season at Memphis State was on the horizon and the West Memphis Blue Devils made a basketball coaching change.

Larry D. Bray succeeded Bill Terwilliger as head coach of the Blue Devil basketball program in November of 1984 with guys on his team such as Lee's brother, Greg, a sophomore, Howard Suggs, Vince Richardson, Landrel Whitehead and Harold Brown.

They went on to tie Blytheville for the conference championship that season.

Thirty-three years later, practically everyone in the USA has a personal computer, movie ticket prices are $9 and Bray has called it quits on his coaching career.

And what a career!

Nine conference championships, four state championships, four state runnersup, three national rankings, dozens of Division 1 college players and three NBA draftees dot Bray's accomplishments at West Memphis.

This week, he'll be recognized as one of the all-time coaching greats in Arkansas high school sports when he is inducted into the Arkansas Coaches Association Hall of Fame in a ceremonial banquet at Hot Springs.

Due to incomplete historical records, Bray's career coaching mark at West Memphis is missing two years, the 1986-87 season and the 1998-99 season. However, even without those two missing campaigns his record stands at 500-272. So, you would have to assume that Bray could have at least 30 more victories, which would most certainly rank him among the all-time best in state history.

The secret to his success?

I'm not even sure Bray himself could tell you.

He's one of the most modest people you'll ever meet. He doesn't spend time thinking about personal accomplishments.

I covered Bray's very first game as Blue Devil head coach as sports editor of this publication and I covered his final game. In between there was only a three-year period (19982000) where I didn't regularly cover his teams for the paper.

I figure I've seen more of his 500-plus wins than anyone other than Bray himself.

His style is unique.

I can remember vividly visiting his practices in the early days. I even came to the Devil Dome one night to play some pickup ball around 8 p.m.

His team was still practicing.

Wow.

Since then he's mellowed quite significantly concerning practice hours.

But, personality-wise, he never mellowed because he never has been a screamer.

His way was gentle, but direct.

Calm, but intense.

Demanding, but yet caring.

His players loved him. In fact, Bray possessed one key ingredient to coaching success.

He could get his guys to play for him.

They did that because they just loved the man.

In 32 years of coaching and with the amount of success Bray had, there are just too many great memories to name all of them. But I particularly remember one moment after his squad had just upset a loaded Little Rock Parkview team in the 1991 state tournament semifinals at the Devil Dome.

Parkview had five Division 1 signees in its starting lineup, including future LA Lakers standout Derek Fisher, who perhaps even himself would admit he was probably about the fourth best player on that unit.

How in the world could the Blue Devils possibly stay with the Patriots?

I asked that question, off the record, to Bray after his team's quarterfinal win.

'I got something for 'em,' a confident Bray said.

And of course, he did have something for them because the Blue Devils defeated Parkview that Friday night in March in a sweltering, packed Devil Dome.

After the game I searched and searched for the Blue Devil boss for a postgame interview.

Couldn't find him anywhere.

Finally, I tried this small room inside the Blue Devil locker room.

As I timidly opened the door I saw Bray there standing with four or five high school basketball writers, who had beaten me to the punch.

Bray's eyes met mine immediately.

'I told you I had something for 'em,' Bray said.

Both of us laughed triumphantly.

Bray's coaching days are over, but the honors keep piling up. This week in Hot Springs will be a grand culmination of the career of the greatest basketball coach in West Memphis history.

Larry Bray, you did it better than anyone.

BETWEEN

THE LINES

By BILLY WOODS

By Billy Woods

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