“It’s my grandfather's Army ranking, he was a sergeant-major in the Army when he retired,” Railey told Cougfan.com the other day.
“Growing up, he was my father figure, so I just have a lot of respect for him so I kinda wanted to pay tribute to him and show him how much I care about him and how much he means to me."
His grandfather, Charles Spaulding, has had to work a bit of overtime with Railey over the last three years, as the 7-foot center has landed himself in a variety of undisclosed, off-field buckets of hot water that hastened his exit from Iowa State and earned him a suspension from Ken Bone during fall camp.
"He's always been there, he's definitely told me just learn from these situations and move on from them, you can't dwell on them because life's always going to keep going. He kinda had a rough growing up so he kinda understands that things happen,” Railey said.
Grandpa doesn’t have an in-depth knowledge about basketball but occasionally offers up advice in that area as well, mostly about maintaining composure, Railey said.
Cougar head coach Ken Bone told CF.C earlier this year that in his time at WSU he’s taken two kids with something in their background checks. “With both, we knew it was a case of a good kid who made a mistake,” he said.
One of them was Railey.
“As far as my identity and what people that aren't on the team or in my family think of, that's for them to think about and have their own opinion on. I can't really tell them 'I'm like this, I'm not like that, don't judge me.' They gotta do that on their own,” Railey said, adding he’d prefer people meet him in person before they form any opinions.
"I just feel more like a grown up more, I feel more mature. Hoop has become the centerpiece of my life that I feel like is a great way for me to be successful in life, on and off the court, regardless with school and things like that," Railey said.
After slow start this season – no doubt fueled by a redshirt season last year and then his suspension in the fall -- Railey is starting to come into his own on both ends of the floor. He’s started each of the 3-4 Cougars’ last five games and had career-highs in both minutes (21) and points (13) in WSU’s 69-54 win over Purdue last week in the Old Spice Classic.
He hopes to start his sixth-straight game Saturday at 7 p.m. (SWX-TV in Eastern Washington) in Moscow against Idaho, when the Cougars and Vandals play for the 106th consecutive season -- the longest continuous hoops rivalry west of the Mississippi.
“Against Purdue I played 21 minutes and that felt like 21 minutes. Before, against Bakersfield (in the season opener) I played like 8 or 9 minutes and that felt like an eternity. There was a complete difference, my chest was burning, it was just a complete opposite effect, where the 21 minutes in the Purdue game I was just comfortable and playing the way I needed to play,” he said.
He said the jitters that followed him early in the season left for good in Orlando against Butler. In the second half of that game there was a calm that came over him.
“I was kinda sitting there and I didn’t feel like my heart was racing through me and my mind wasn’t going one thousand miles an hour and just felt relaxed and comfortable. It was just a good feeling.”
“When the Purdue game came around it just felt like that from the jump, I was relaxed, calm, collected, didn't feel rushed, felt like I had control of the situation and I just feel like it's going to carry over from here on out,” he said.
As the team’s primary paint-protector and post-defender, Railey takes pride in going up against premier big men such as A.J. Hammons of Purdue, who was held scoreless against WSU. Railey’s physicality and defensive mindset developed in high school but it was playing in the Big-12 and being inserted into games to guard guys like Thomas Robinson from Kansas that shape the way he now approaches the game.
“On the court I think I learned that the most, playing against Royce White, Anthony Booker, Melvin Ejim, Percy Gibson, all those guys that were on the team with me. They're big strong dudes and physical dudes that I had to compete with on a day-to-day in practice.”
“I feel like I'm ready for a lot of guys," he said.
Railey said the next step is improving his overall game – something he got a jump start on during his redshirt season when then-WSU assistant coach Ben Johnson worked with him one-on-one. Johnson, a noted developer of big men, preached the idea that practice doesn’t make perfect, efficient practice makes perfect, Railey said. No detail was too small for Johnson. Railey describes their work together as “tremendous.”
“This year I get to work with Coach (Rod) Jensen and he’s like a defensive guru. To just listen to him, for me already being a defensive-minded person is like a dream come true, to hear a guy who knows defense inside and out and hear how he sees the game with his level of expertise is just amazing to me,” Railey said.
Jensen has “taken things to whole new level” for him defensively and paired with the extra attention he receives from Bone and the rest of the staff, Railey feels he can only continue to grow.
After the Idaho game, the Cougars are in line for a load of home cookin'. They play Pepperdine in Pullman on Dec. 15, San Francisco State in Kennewick on Dec. 18, and then UTEP (Dec. 21) and Mississippi Valley (Dec. 28) in Pullman before heading to the desert to start Pac-12 play at Arizona (Jan. 2) and Arizona State (Jan. 5). The ASU game will be televised on ESPNU, and all the others will be carried on the Pac-12 Networks.