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    Sunday, May 19, 2024

    A Whole New Ball Game: Jamey Gray has become a world-class trick-shot pool player

    Jamey "Sharpshooter" Gray, of Jewett City is a professional artistic pool player ranked fourth in the world.

    Jamey Gray has five pool balls lined up in his Jewett City home, and he says that, using five cues held in one hand - and in one motion - he's going to put all five in a corner pocket.

    But first he must jump the balls over a wooden obstacle in the middle of the deeply marked, blue-colored felt of his standard-sized pool table.

    Deep in concentration, Gray lets fly. Clink ... clink ... clink, clink, clink; just like he said.

    "I'm probably the only person in the world that can make that shot," Gray said last week while taking a break from practicing in his home.

    It's shots like "Quint" that have earned Gray the nickname "Sharpshooter" and vaulted him to the number four spot in the world-rankings of trick shot pool players.

    "I really started getting into pool in my late teenage years," Gray, 41, said. "I started hanging around pool halls and playing a lot of games there and I learned a lot, studied it. Videos, books, I learned a lot that way so I became a pretty good player even by the time I was in my early 20s."

    His hometown friends and fans will have a chance to see him perform shots like "Quint," "Easy Button," "Criss-Cross Applesauce" and "Speed Demon" live and in person when he competes at the Wolf Den at Mohegan Sun Thursday afternoon. Gray will be one of four playing on Team USA as they take on Team Europe in a head-to-head competition.

    The object? Create, and execute, a shot so difficult that your opponent cannot match it, like the basketball game H-O-R-S-E on a pool table.

    This, Gray said, is tough to do, especially with the world-class competition he'll be facing Thursday. The event will air sometime in the next few months on ESPN, Gray said, his "fourth or fifth time" on the nationally broadcast cable channel.

    To get to his current level of play took years, Gray said. He began playing as just a child, learning and studying the game.

    "My dad had passed away when I was very young, I didn't really get a chance to meet him, but he had left behind a pool table in the basement and so my brothers had played and my cousins would come over and play," Gray said. "I'm a few years behind them, so every time they'd come over, I'd try to be a part of it, try to prove myself, so I practiced a lot and ended up getting pretty good."

    Gray turned his lifelong love of pool into his first professional event in 2007, when he finished 12th in a tournament. Since, Gray has transformed his hobby into more of a lifestyle.

    For starters, Gray built a pool room addition to his home, turning space formerly devoted to a deck into his own pool table arena. The walls and shelves in the room are lined with hundreds of trophies, medals and plaques, and pool cues are ordered neatly in two separate racks. Gray has an iPad that he uses to look up different shots and take notes as he practices and prepares for competition.

    "I love the science, I'm a very visual, mathematical kind of guy, so I'm really good at figuring out the angles and how to do things," Gray said, "and it turns out I have a lot of talent for it as far as making a lot of shots other people can't make."

    Gray says his highpoint thus far may have been winning the 2008 World Pool-Billiard Association's (WPA) World Artistic Pool Championship.

    At that tournament - and at so many others - Gray has used the solid orange 5-ball in many of his shots because the orange contrasts so well with the green felt of most tournament pool tables, he said.

    "That's the way it started, but I've used it so often it's become a friend of mine," Gray said. "It's almost become superstitious."

    Even more important, Gray says, is his family - wife Beverly, son Kyle, 12, and daughter Sierra, 9.

    "My wife and family have been so supportive, giving me the hours and hours it takes to practice or to be away for a week at a time," Gray said, "just so I can bring back that trophy for my daughter and she can bring it (to school) for show and tell on Monday morning. That is my number one."

    s.goldstein@theday.com

    Jamey Gray rapidly hits balls into the corner pocket as he practices a trick shot in his Jewett City home, where trophies he has won line a shelf and plaques hang on the wall.

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