AJ Lapray

Samson Angelo Jay Lapray, son of Sam and Sarah, will be leaving Oregon for his senior year and will play for Evangel Christian School in Richmond, Virginia—a prep school that will help him develop his game to the max. His objective is to create a better opportunity to play at a major Division I College.

As a junior at Sprague High School, he was the Central Valley Conference Co-Player of the Year and joined the All-State First Team—averaging 21 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4 assists per game.

“He’s a great kid and a hard worker. He has a love for the game of basketball—he knows what he wants and how to achieve it. AJ has a dream and wants to succeed,” said Matt Schmidt, his assistant coach.

This spring and summer, AJ is playing with Grass Roots Canada, an AAU all-ages basketball team that travels to play in competitive tournaments. A team that is coached by Ryan and Matt Schmidt (look for a future story on these two coaches in June). He has already played in several tournaments with this team—tourneys in Pittsburg, Washington DC, and Virginia. Next up will be New York and Las Vegas. AJ will also be attending elite basketball camps this summer.

What inspired you to become a basketball player?

When I was in preschool I used to shoot at this hoop that had no backboard. I really enjoyed doing that. I decided to talk to my dad about the game of basketball. He said players make a lot of money playing basketball. That lit up my eyes and I started playing more—I found that I loved the game. My sister Camala played one-on-one with me during my early years. She didn’t continue playing because of her love for music, but she encourages me to this day—very supportive.  Mike McShane, who used to play at the University of Oregon, showed me many things. He would come over to our backyard and work with me. I also wanted to be part of a tournament team. I played for several AAU teams.

What kind of things have you done to improve your game?

I’m consistently working out two times a day. I lift weights, work on dribbling drills, offense drills, defensive drills, and shooting drills. I watch players like Kobe Bryant and learn as much as I can. Gordy James, former Willamette coach, would come out and help me with my shot. It improved significantly after working with him. I try to get to bed earlier than I used to—that’s helped my needed rest. And I changed my diet to eat foods with fewer fats—a healthier diet. That has made me stronger and a little bigger.

What obstacles have you faced that you overcame?

My parents went through a divorce, which is a tough thing to deal with as a kid. I dealt with that issue by picking up the basketball and playing. It helped me escape the emotions. Basketball fixed things for me. Before my junior year I broke my ankle. I think not being able to play for 8 weeks was more painful than the actual injury. That was the first time I cried a lot. I wanted to play badly—it was important to me.

Tell us about the AAU tournament in Virginia.

In the first game I didn’t start. I came off the bench and knocked down two 3s. I played a great game and earned a starting spot the rest of the tournament. We won three games and lost one. It’s interesting to see a shot-clock in high school—here in the west we don’t have one in high school. My teammates are all Canadians—they will join me at Evangel Christian School next year if all goes well.

What was your highlight during the AAU tournament?

In the first half, in one game, I hit four three-pointers. It felt really good competing with great players and performing well.

What college will you attend after high school?

I have been contacted by several DI colleges … Oregon St., University of San Francisco, UTEP, Arizona, Arizona St., Maryland, Florida, UCON, and George Mason. I don’t want to make a decision until I find the college that is the right fit for my playing style. To me it doesn’t matter if it’s an NAIA, NCAA DIV I, or DIV II. What’s important to me is that I feel comfortable with the program. My style must contribute to the team. I will make my decision before or after my senior year.

How have your parents been supportive?

My dad means the world to me. He’s coached several AAU teams that I’ve played in through the years. He coached track and field and with his knowledge helped my physical development. Mom was helpful in giving me rides to all sorts of places and purchased any equipment I might need. They both provided me with whatever I needed academically or athletically. I’m very thankful to them both.

How do you feel about leaving Salem, Oregon, to play in the East Coast?

Well, I know that this is what I want to do—I feel it in my heart. This will help my future in basketball. I’ll get a chance to meet new people, make new friends, and see a different side of the USA. I’ll miss my friends and family, but I feel that this is what’s in store for me.

What advice can you give young basketball players?

You have to follow your dreams. Don’t listen to negative people—some may want to discourage you. Set high goals for yourself and strive to reach them. I never drink alcohol or smoke—stay away from that kind of stuff. When you get ready for college, go to a place that fits you best. You’re the one that will be there.

What is your goal in life, what do you want to be when you grow up?

I would love to play in the NBA. And after that, I would love to be a basketball coach. With all the knowledge I’ve acquired and my skill-set developed, I feel I could be a great coach someday.

(To see more from author David Espinoza visit his website, DavidEspi.com)