(HEATHER KHALIFA / THE STATESMAN)
Rayshaun McGrew, above, has come to Stony Brook from Chicago. He looks to eventually return to his native city and give back to the community that raised him. (HEATHER KHALIFA / THE STATESMAN)

This winter, junior forward Rayshaun McGrew will be flying all over the floor and setting the tone as a leader for the Stony Brook men’s basketball team. For McGrew to do that, he digs in deep and brings an unmatched energy that elevates his teammates, the coaches and the crowd.

To completely appreciate that unique drive and intensity, one would need understand the Chicago native’s upbringing.

“Growing up in Chicago is different from a lot of places,” McGrew said. “It makes you compete harder, it makes you competitive, it gives you a will to win.”

McGrew, who spent his whole life in Chicago before spending a year in Cowley County Community College in Kansas, eventually making his way to Stony Brook last fall, remembers the significance of toughness and competing whether it was at home or in the community.

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And growing up in a basketball-rich city like Chicago, where he had to compete against future college and NBA stars Jabari Parker and Anthony Davis, McGrew that knew for him to succeed, he had to outwork and be more tenacious than his opponents.

“Coming from Chicago you gotta be tough,” McGrew said. “I always gotta find a way to win, I’ll work harder than the person that I’m playing against.”

Those around McGrew have noticed his toughness and what it means to the team.

“He comes from a tough background,” head coach Steve Pikiell said. “He’s had to fight and claw and scrap, and I think that he’s brought that mentality here to us.”

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Even though McGrew has traveled thousands of miles from home, he always kept those Chicago values close to him.

“It [bringing toughness] is something I’ve been doing my whole life,” he said. “I’ve always been going hard at everything, or I wouldn’t do it.”

Going 100 percent all of the time is one the principles McGrew’s parents taught him at a young age. But even as he has drifted away from home and pursued his dreams, he still makes an effort to follow through, no matter what he is doing.

“Whenever I get the chance, I go hard,” McGrew said. “Everyone in family worked hard, so I guess it’s in my blood.”

Being the youngest child in his family, McGrew always had a stacked deck against him when competing with his older siblings, and that has played a strong role in molding the fierce competitor he is today.

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“I have two older brothers and two older sisters to push me in everything I did” he said. “I’m the baby of the family, so I always had to work harder.”

In addition to his family, the surrounding culture and community in Chicago has been a guiding force behind McGrew, on and off the court.

“Everything I did, I had people [in the community] who showed me the way,” McGrew said. “I had people who pushed me to do it the right way.”

Now, as McGrew has left the familiar confines of Chicago and is spending most of his time in Stony Brook, he understands he must make the most of this opportunity for his city and his family.

“I don’t want them to believe that I’m out here for no reason,” McGrew, a multidisciplinary studies major, said, in a determined tone. “So I’m going hard in class and going hard on the court.”

Although Chicago and his family are on his mind every time he enters the classroom or steps onto the court, he has found a new family to play for—his team.

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“I feel like I have a family in Stony Brook too,” McGrew said of the team he spends his downtime playing 2K or going to the movies with. “I grew a bond with these guys, they’re not just my teammates, they’re lifelong friends.”

McGrew himself has also been able to acclimate new players and contribute to knitting the team together, playing an integral role in building team chemistry with his toughness, friendliness and maturity.

“Ray had a good maturity since day one,” Pikiell said. “Ray’s done a great job of being a good team guy that people like want to spend time with.”

With teammates and coaches who are determined and motivated to succeed, McGrew knows that he has to give it his all and push forward for them.

“I look at every one of my teammates’ eyes, and I know I’m doing it for them,” McGrew affectionately said. “I can’t be selfish and give up on them because they won’t give up on me.”

Almost more than anything, it is the common goal of winning and being the best that bonds McGrew with this team.

“Stony Brook is a school full of winners and competitors,” McGrew said smiling. “They told me that if I don’t want to win, don’t come here.”

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A year later, it seems that McGrew has done right by the coaching staff and provided his fair share of desire and winning attitude in the classroom and on the court.

“He came here for all the right reasons,” Pikiell said.

Though McGrew has found a team and family that has matched and fueled his competitive fire, he recognizes everything still traces back to Chicago.

“I feel like I have a family in my teammates, my coaches, the fans, and all the other student athletes,” he said. “But there’s nothing like your real family.”

When talking about the distance away from his family, McGrew pauses pensively before reflecting on the adjustment he made being away from home.

“Like any athlete you have days where you want to be home or you’re homesick and just want to give up things,” McGrew said. “But I have the people back home that continue to push me.”

But even as he is gone, he knows he can lean on his family to provide him with the spark and support that he himself is known for.

“I talk to my parents all the time…I have my uncles, my aunties, I got my brothers and sisters,” McGrew said. “They’re big supporters, and I appreciate them.

As this season approaches, McGrew looks up at the rafters and understands it is imperative he does everything in his power to help put a banner up in the newly renovated arena—not for himself, but for his family, in Stony Brook and in Chicago.

“There’s family everywhere you go. It’s one big family,” McGrew said. “With family, you’ll do anything for them.”

Once it is all said and done, Chicago’s native son hopes to return home give back to the wonderful community that has given him so much.

“Although the news and everything shows all the bad things, it’s an amazing place in Chicago,” McGrew said. “I want to finish my whole life there, and that’s it.”

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