2015 prospect Spalding set for takeoff with Lexington's Travelers

broberts@herald-leader.comApril 18, 2013 

All Ray Spalding could do was sit and watch.

Louisville Trinity's basketball season was slipping away, and the 6-foot-9 sophomore was helpless to stop it.

Spalding suffered a broken leg last spring, but he was plenty healthy this past season. He certainly could have played in the 7th Region finals, when No. 1 Trinity was pitted against No. 2 Ballard with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen on the line.

But, like most of the season, Trinity Coach Mike Szabo left Spalding on the bench.

Szabo's reasoning was straightforward enough.

"He said that I was too young, so I didn't play much," Spalding told the Herald-Leader over the weekend. "I was itching to get out there, but I could understand where he was coming from. It was frustrating, but I knew my time would come."

Spalding — Trinity's tallest player — didn't play a minute that day, and Ballard big man Kelan Martin grabbed 15 rebounds to help send the Bruins to the state tournament.

Starting Friday night, Spalding is expecting to see a lot more of the court.

As a member of the Lexington-based Travelers, Spalding will make his Elite Youth Basketball League debut in a series of games in Los Angeles.

Over the course of the spring and summer, he'll play against the best players in the country. Travelers officials can't wait to see how he fares.

"Ray Spalding is a player that's going through a big-time development," Travelers Coach Andre Mahorn said. "I think the best for Ray is so far ahead of him. He does so many things well. He's an athlete, he's young and he's willing to learn. And he's just taking it all in."

Spalding is just happy to be playing again.

He broke his left leg during a Trinity workout after his freshman season and spent three months in a hard cast. Once that came off, it was six more months of rehab.

"I think it really got me ready to get back on the court, mentally," he said. "It was kind of stressful not being able to play."

Of course, he didn't play much when he was healthy either.

Szabo — coming off a state championship with the Shamrocks in 2012 — relied on his upperclassmen, and Spalding saw little time with the varsity squad.

When the Travelers called and said they wanted him to play for their EYBL team, which is mostly comprised of older players, Spalding was hesitant.

He didn't know if he was ready, but Mahorn and team director Andy Rines convinced him he could do it.

"He's got really good skills," Rines said. "He can handle the ball. He can shoot the ball. He's got a real soft touch. Ray just needs experience and he needs to get a little stronger.

"Ray's potential is through the roof."

Spalding will be the tallest player on the Travelers roster, but at a slight 195 pounds he expects to play more on the wing than in the post.

Rines compared Spalding's skill set at this early stage of his career to another former Travelers player.

"We had a player a lot like him a long time ago named Corey Brewer," Rines said. "Same type of guy. Same skill level. And Ray reminds us of Corey. He just has to get his confidence back after being hurt."

Brewer won two national championships at the University of Florida and is now a key player with the NBA's Denver Nuggets.

Mahorn said one of Spalding's best qualities is that he doesn't know how good he can be. The coach acknowledged that Spalding needed to learn more basketball awareness, but referred to him as "a student of the game" who soaks in what he's being taught.

"Ray is kind of like Simba from The Lion King," Mahorn said. "He didn't know what he could be. He didn't know he had all that. But once he taps into it, he'll be perfectly fine."

Spalding wore a UK basketball T-shirt during Sunday's practice, the Travelers' last workout before starting their EYBL slate in L.A.

The Louisville native said he likes both UK and U of L, and has already heard from coaches at both schools. Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Western Kentucky and a few others have inquired too.

That's a pretty good list for a guy who hasn't played much basketball in the past 12 months.

If Spalding fares well against the nation's best over the next few months, that list will only get longer.

"Down the road, his potential is limitless," Rines said.

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216 Twitter: @NextCats Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com

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