While not an exact match, the similarity of Atlas Lacrosse Club’s bright cyan to the Carolina blue worn by the University of North Carolina is striking. The two lacrosse teams have something else in common: a shade of Gray.
Following a stellar college career at Boston University and North Carolina, Chris Gray is still playing the game he loves as a professional for Atlas in the Premier Lacrosse League.
Gray, 22, of Wading River was with friends watching the PLL College Draft in his Chapel Hill, N.C., apartment May 10, waiting for his name to be called. He didn’t have to wait long. After Chrome made Maryland defenseman Logan Wisnauskas the first pick of the draft, Atlas grabbed Gray, a 5-7, 170-pound attack, at No. 2.
Gray has done quite well for himself. The rookie was selected to the All-Star Game that was played July 16 in Boston. In his six games with Atlas (4-2), he is the team’s top-scoring rookie, having scored nine one-point goals, one two-point goal and 10 assists. He has taken 41 shots and scooped up five ground balls.
“I think it’s definitely special, just seeing what the league has become,” Gray said of the PLL, which played its inaugural season in 2019. “It’s a fairly new league, but … they’ve done such a great job growing the sport, so it’s really such an honor to play at the next level because there’s so many talented guys and only so many roster spots … so it was definitely a really special moment [being drafted], and looking back, it was just fun to reflect on all the work that I put in and all the people I’ve been surrounded by that have really allowed me to get to where I am today.”
The PLL’s eight teams are not geographically-based. In an effort to promote the sport, the league came up with an interesting concept of having all of its teams play in the same city each weekend and moving on to a different city the following weekend. Last weekend the league was in Fairfield, Ct. Next weekend the traveling show heads to Dallas. All 47 league games are available on ESPN+, with 12 simulcast on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2.
Gray enjoys the travel and the competition.
“Everyone is so talented,” he told the Riverhead News-Review. “It really is the best people in the world.”
The PLL game is different than college or high school lacrosse. A 52-second shot clock is initiated upon securing possession of the ball, the field is 10 yards shorter than a typical lacrosse field and a goal scored from beyond a 15-yard arc counts for two points, not one.
Those modifications suit Gray’s playing style.
“I think the biggest thing is people will say, especially rookies, is that the game is faster because the field’s a little bit shorter and the shot clock is quicker,” he said. “So, it’s really fast and the level of competition is just off the charts.”
Gray was a standout at Shoreham-Wading River High School, but not heavily recruited. He played for Boston University before transferring to North Carolina following his sophomore year and becoming one of the best players the Tar Heels ever had. This past season, for the second straight year, he was both a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award (which goes to the top lacrosse player in the nation) and the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year. Gray led UNC in goals (48) and assists (32) in his final college season. He finished as the NCAA Division I all-time career points leader with 401.
Gray trains on his own before or after work during weekdays. He’s serving an internship, working for a small, private equity company.
It’s a lot of travel and a lot of work, but also a lot of fun for Gray.
“So much fun, yes,” he said. “I’ve always appreciated the game, but I think it’s made me appreciate it even more because you’re not playing every single day like you are in college. I look forward to going out on the weekends and flying and playing.
“With the new league, it’s becoming such a popular sport [with] the ESPN deal and all the sponsorships. We were playing in Gillette Stadium two weeks ago. It’s definitely a really good time to be a lacrosse player.”
Not a bad time to be Chris Gray, either.