Today, third-year Camosun College Charger Matthew Gray is one of the leading athletes in the PACWEST conference. The 6’0” University Transfer student has been ranked Top 5 in assists throughout the majority of the season thus far, and is described by Camosun Men’s Basketball Head Coach, Scot Cuachon, as the team’s “floor general and decision maker.” While Matt is well-known for his hair-raising performances on the basketball court, he is also gaining popularity as one the city’s most sought-after barbers. From overcoming a serious childhood illness, to developing into a high-level collegiate athlete, Matt has shown how sheer determination can help you raise some eyebrows and keep a cut above the rest.
“It was probably Grade 11 or early Grade 12… I remember having to get my haircut every couple of weeks before our basketball games – it was just something my teammates and I did,” says Gray who played his junior and senior years at Oak Bay High. “It seemed expensive because we were all in high school, and I didn’t really want to ask my dad for money every other week just to get my haircut… so I took my brother’s clipper set and started to try to cut my own hair. At first, it didn’t go very well, but then I started watching barbering tutorials on YouTube and just kept practicing on myself until I got better.”
Matt got so good at cutting his own hair, he soon began taking the clippers to his teammates and friends and making a small enterprise of it.
“Once I got the hang of it, I started cutting my friends’ hair in the locker rooms at Oak Bay,” comments Gray. “It was all free in the beginning, but as more people started wanting cuts, I was able to charge $5 a head. I would be doing up to three cuts a day during the week – before or after school, during spares and at lunch time. I had a lot fun doing it and I was able to help my friends out and it put money in my pocket, so I can’t complain!”
While life seemed pretty breezy on the outside for the budding entrepreneur and star hoops-hopeful who played for Team BC (2013 and 2014), Matt had his share of challenges that, had it not been for his strong work ethic and demeanor, could have altered the course of his life.
“I was diagnosed with an extra intestine in my stomach when I was in Grade 3. It exploded and I had to have surgery,” confesses Gray. “Before the surgery, I had to get two CAT scans which resulted in a radiation overdose, so in addition to being in the hospital for about four months, I was sick probably every 2-3 weeks for the next 8-9 years of my life. That was really tough because I wasn’t able to play any sport consistently as I’d always be getting sick or having flare ups.”
Over time and with much patience and determination, Matt made a slow and steady recovery. And with the help of a new-found friend and mentor, Matt was able to develop his on-court and clipper-centric talents while making the transition from high school to post-secondary life.
“After high school, I accepted a scholarship to play for Mt. Royal University in Calgary,” tells Gray. “Coincidentally, one of the trainers there, Martin Macatangay, actually cut hair for everybody on the team. Martin was great to watch and learn from. He taught me a lot and we are really good friends to this day. He’s still in Calgary and runs one of the city’s premier shops, Second Mile Barber.”
Having played competitively for five consecutive years while recovering from a serious, long-term illness, Matt found himself overwhelmed at the end of his first year at university.
“I had a lot of fun at Mt. Royal but I just wasn’t there mentally,” he contends. “I took a year off to readjust. I felt I had missed out on a lot because of all the time I dedicated to going to school and playing basketball. I didn’t go out a lot in high school and then I went straight to university. Being away from home wasn’t easy either. That was probably one of my biggest struggles.”
After spending a year in Calgary, Matt found his way home and eventually signed with the Camosun Chargers. Now in second year with the program, Matt is back to feeling good about school and basketball – and where he is headed.
“I’m really happy about where I am,” says Gray, in reference to the balance he currently has between school, sport, being a barber and having time with family and friends. “I really enjoy the program at Camosun. I would definitely like to get my degree which is something my parents have always wanted me to do and I’m pretty motivated to do that now.”
As for his budding career in the barbering business, Matt is currently maxed-out with a long line of hopefuls pining for a permanent spot on his coveted list of clients.
“The clientele I have now is the most I can handle,” asserts Gray. “I’ve had to turn down a lot of people as my priority is school and basketball. I have about 40 clients which includes pretty much the whole Chargers men’s basketball team… and yes, I make house calls. One of my favorite clients is one of my good friends – MJ Gabas. I cut his hair every Thursday after practice at his place. I give him a skin fade and then I do his moustache, beard and eyebrows. It’s probably one of the longest haircuts I do, but it’s really fun and doesn’t feel like work at all.”
Eventually, Matt sees himself trading in full-time sport and studies for a full-time career with a bit of basketball on the side.
“I don’t know if I necessarily want to cut hair all my life, but I’d like to own my own business,” comments Gray. “I wouldn’t mind having my own franchise or chain of barber shops around BC or the West Coast or something like that. But I’d always love to stay in touch with basketball so I can see myself doing something like coaching summer teams – that would be huge for me!”
Whatever the future holds, Matt has made his mark at Camosun and his story will remain with the program to inspire future generations.
“I’m always learning,” explains Gray. “I really try to consistently take my skills, attitude and behavior to another level. Our team is lucky to have great leaders like Dylan (Marsden) and Jake (Wilmott) who lead us every day in every way. I’d like to think that players who join the program in future years will look back on our team and say, hey these guys did it so why can’t we?”
Fans can catch Matt and the Chargers basketball teams in their first home games of 2019 this weekend at the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence on Camosun’s Interurban Campus. The Chargers take on the Douglas College Royals from New Westminster, game times as follows:
Fri Jan 18 Women 6pm; Men 8pm
Sat Jan 19 Women 1pm; Men 3pm