Look At Them Now: D.J. Gay

D.J. Gay found that San Diego State turned out to be the perfect fit for his talents. Jennifer Stewart/US Presswire

They said he was too small. His stature, or lack thereof, would eventually hurt him.

Unfortunately, too slow was another phrase that was, often times, tossed around.

But low and behold, D.J. Gay has proved his laundry list of naysayers wrong.

Over the course of the last four-plus years, the Sun Valley Poly High graduate has transformed himself from an underrated prep basketball prospect into a big-time college hoops contributor at San Diego State. For the nonbelievers out there, check out Gay & Co. play Connecticut on Thursday at 4:15 p.m. in the West Regional of the NCAA tournament at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

“D.J. always had a fire burning inside of him, and you know what, that was a product of people telling him that he couldn't do this or that,'' Poly coach Brad Katz said. “It never failed, there was always some kind of knock on him, a lot of times, the stuff came out of left field too.

“Say what you want about him, but there's one thing you can't take away from D.J. and that's his heart. Since he left us, he's put in a ton of work, more than people even know. He has quieted all of his critics in the process and I think that's the best part about his whole situation.''

Gay has indeed come a long way in relatively short period of time.

The 6-foot senior has been the starting point guard for San Diego State in each of the last two years. This season, however, Gay has taken his game to another level.

As a result, the Aztecs (34-2 overall) have emerged as one of more surprising stories in the Division I game. Named captain before things got started, Gay is averaging 11 points to go along with three assists and two rebounds in 35-plus minutes of action a night.

His efforts have, no doubt, helped second-seeded San Diego St. advance to the Sweet 16. And the next order of business is Kemba Walker and the third-seeded Huskies (28-9).

“It's been a wild ride, so far,'' Gay said. “I'm not one of the big horses in college basketball. I'm not the tallest, or the fastest, or the most athletic. I do pride myself on working hard, that's what has gotten me to this point, that's what helps me keep up with the big-time players.

“Coming out of high school, I didn't have a lot of looks, most people thought I was a low or mid-major type of recruit. San Diego State took a chance on me and things have worked out. We have been able to get over the hump, make some history and take this program up a notch.''

Not surprisingly, he had a similar experience over at Poly, which was never known as much of threat in Los Angeles' City Section. Gay, of course, changed that whole perception.

He was a three-year starter for the Parrots. During his senior season in 2007, he opened plenty of eyes when he averaged 29.9 points, 5.4 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game to essentially put Poly on the map. Finally, at long last, the program could no longer be overlooked.

Despite the solid all-around statistical effort, Gay did not receive much, if any, recruiting attention.

Skepticism outweighed optimism. Questions about his overall skill set remained. The answers were few and far between for some.

Not San Diego State coach Steve Fisher though. He liked what he saw and ended up landing a commitment from Gay.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“D.J. was one of those under-the-radar-types in high school, but once he had a breakout senior season, you could tell that there was some potential,'' said Joel Francisco, a recruiting analyst for ESPN. “I remember watching him and seeing he had some upside. The thing was, he knew how to manage a team, he had a lot of poise, that's something you just can't teach.

“I think he could have played in the Pac-10 Conference somewhere. Turns out, San Diego State was the best fit for him. He's a good story. We're talking about a kid who was not held in high regard, but has managed to carve out a nice little niche for himself with the Aztecs.''

So much for being a bit undersized. So much for being a step behind.

Somehow, someway, Gay has gotten the job done at San Diego State.

Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.