George Mason rising junior guard Jaire Grayer grew up with no shortage of basketball mentors in his hometown of Flint, Michigan.
Jeff, an All-American at Iowa State (1985-88), became a first round draft pick of the Milwaukee Bucks and went on to play nine seasons in the NBA.
Meanwhile, Jaire’s mother, Patrice, put together a standout career at Detroit Mercy from 1989-93 and still ranks on the Titans’ top-10 list in career scoring, 3-pointers made and 3-point field goal percentage.
Jeff and Patrice taught Jaire the game of basketball and piqued his interest in the sport at a young age.
The hoops household that Jaire grew up in is part of a bigger hardwood history in blue collar Flint. It’s a city known as much for a rich sports tradition as it is for the cars and trucks that made the greater Detroit area the motor capital of the world for much of the 20th century.
When Jaire was watching cartoons and preparing for kindergarten, Michigan State’s famed “Flintstones” were taking the nation by storm en route to one of the most dominant seasons in Big Ten history. All-Americans Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell all hailed from Flint and put on for their city during a 2000 national title run that took the town by storm.
During Jaire’s childhood summers in Flint, the famed Flintstones and other popular college and professional players throughout the years would come home and mentor the city’s kids at camps and clinics. Grayer remembers those days fondly and appreciated the time and effort those players took to help make his youth basketball experience memorable.
Now as Jaire enters his junior season at George Mason, Flint children need mentors to look up to and basketball to look forward to more than ever.
For the better part of three years, the city of Flint has been marred by a devastating water crisis.
Since the city switched to a municipal water supply from the Flint River in 2014, thousands of residents have been exposed to E. coli, byproducts of disinfectants and other toxins that can bring on serious health issues both in the present and the future. In addition, the water from the river caused corrosion in pipes – some 19 times as much as in neighboring Detroit. The resulting yellow drinking water contained dangerously high levels of lead, putting children and adults at serious risk for birth defects, learning disabilities and diseases like cancer.
In the midst of fear, lawsuits and federal government intervention, so many families in the Flint area are just looking for something that provides a sense of normalcy.
Steps are being taken by the government to replace the lead pipes and purify the drinking water. But in the meantime, local organizations and leaders have tried to help as much as possible to affect their own change, with events and activities to support residents while providing safe and enjoyable opportunities for the city’s youth.
Jaire’s father Jeff has played a key role in the development of the Fresh Flint Festival, an annual event that promotes fitness and healthy living as a means to mitigate the effects of lead poisoning. His organization, Flint Athletes for a Better Education, is one of the presenting sponsors of the day, along with the city’s First Presbyterian Church.
Jaire has made the trip back to Flint over the past few years to take part in the event and do his part to give back to the city he’s proud to call his hometown.
“The city of Flint means a lot to me,” Jaire said. “I was born and raised there. I want to see better for my community. It’s been a rough time and I want to be part of the process to make the city better.”
At the Fresh Flint Festival, Jeff and Jaire have worked the basketball portion of the event. They put participating children through basketball drills, fitness activities and other training sessions. This past year, Jaire ran a shooting drill, instructing proper technique while providing encouragement and tips. Along with other college players, Jaire also coached his own team, which certainly brought out his competitive side.
In addition to the basketball sessions, Detroit/Flint area athletes spoke with the attendees about growing a passion for the game and the water crisis issues many of the kids face on a day-to-day basis. The speakers included former University of Michigan and NBA standout Tim McCormick and famed Buffalo Bills wide receiver Andre Rison.
Throughout the day, the festival provided snacks and clean water for the attendees, as well as karate/yoga sessions, carnival games, healthy living educational opportunities, art activities and more.
“It’s a day for hope,” Jaire said. “We want the kids to know that things are going to get better. We want to help make it better for their future. It was so good to be around the kids, making sure they were having fun.”
Grayer knows that as his basketball career progresses, he will keep the Flint cause close to his heart. The opportunity to play professional basketball could not only could provide a way for him to make a living, but also afford him the resources to give back to the city. Whether it be organizing his own events for kids or financial contributions, Jaire wants to make a difference.
“I always think about giving back, whether it’s with the water crisis or helping to start a basketball camp,” Jaire said. “The time Flint athletes took to mentor me as a kid is something I really valued and I always admired that. I want to give back to my community in the same way and make a positive impact on people’s lives.”
In the meantime, he wants to take part in as many events as he can during Mason’s offseason to positively affect change in his hometown. He also relishes in the city’s rich basketball history and wants to do his part to represent the Vehicle City.
“I want to make sure Flint is on my back,” Jaire said. “I want to put a good name out for my city. We take a lot of pride in the success players have had from the area at the Division I and pro level. That’s always on my mind.”
About Jaire: Grayer is coming off a strong sophomore campaign in which he started 33 of 34 games, averaged 11.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest and ranked second in the A-10 in 3-point percentage in conference play (.449).
About the Patriots: George Mason put together a turnaround campaign in 2016-17 while putting together the 13th 20-win season in school history. In head coach Dave Paulsen‘s second season leading the program, Mason set a new program record for Atlantic 10 victories (9) and its 20 overall wins were the most by the program since 2012-13. After winning 11 games total and five A-10 contests in 2015-16, Mason ranked as of the nation’s 20 most improved teams this past season. The Patriots return three starters and eight letter winners overall heading into the 2017-18 campaign.