All of The562’s water polo coverage for the 2021-22 school year is sponsored by Aqualand. Visit AqualandOfTheFree.com to learn more.
As a little kid, Gray Carson liked to watch water polo during the Olympics.
“It was really good and there were great athletes,” Carson said.
But last summer the Wilson senior, now one of the best high school water polo players in the nation, watched the Olympics with a different eye.
“I was seeing if there was something I can add to my game,” Carson said. “Is there a certain shot or move I can do? I am almost at that level.”
The UCLA commit said he hopes to play in the 2024 Olympics in Paris and “wants to be there” in 2028 when the Olympics are in Southern California—with Long Beach slated to be the host for the water polo competition.
Before he begins his next chapter in Westwood, Carson hopes to lead the Bruins (19-7) to a CIF Southern Section Division 1 title and the school’s 13th championship (it would be their first since 2011). The Bruins open their playoff journey tonight at 5 p.m. at the Belmont Aquatic Center, hosting Damien.
“He’s just a dominant high school performer,” Wilson coach Jeff Nesmith said of Carson. “He’s a great team guy. For all of the skill he has, he’s still humble and that’s important. You couldn’t ask for a better teammate.”
Carson said he grew up playing baseball but he wasn’t that successful.
“I couldn’t run too well,” Carson said. “I was a fat kid who ran on his heels.”
At local powerhouse club Shore Aquatics, Carson said early on he was “okay” at water polo, and that it was more of an activity that let him hang with his friends.
But in eighth grade, he started to separate himself with his talent and joined USA Water Polo’s Olympic Development Program (ODP).
He’s been dominant in high school and looks like the next Wilson alum to play for Team USA in the future. Local and international water polo legends Tony Azevedo and Ricardo Azevedo have both sung his praises, and Ricardo said at a Century Club meeting last month that Carson is the consensus top high school player in the country according to other coaches he’s talked to.
During a trip to Croatia last summer with Tony Azevedo, Carson said he was able to play against two Croatian Olympians and some Croatian masters’ (ages 50-60) teams.
Carson said he learned how to be a professional athlete in a different country out of the pool, but in the pool, it was also about improving his decision-making.
“It didn’t matter how hard or how fast I was playing, it was making the right decisions,” he said. “I played hard but was working on how smart I play.”
Carson said the goal after UCLA is to play professionally (Croatia and Italy are the two countries with the best leagues).
“You may not get paid as much but it’s an experience before you get a job for the rest of your life,” Carson said.
Carson, who said he is an “at-home” guy who plays video games and likes to read, said while his time at Wilson may be ending, the Bruins’ water polo community is a life-long family.
“It’s great because you meet guys who tell you stories about the old Wilson water polo teams and we are an intricate family,” he said. “You have connections and can call them (alums) up and say I played water polo at Wilson.”
Carson and his teammates are hoping to add a CIF-SS championship banner to that conversation over the next two weeks. As the No. 4 seed in Division 1, they’ll have a chance to do just that. If they advance past the first round, they’ll play in a quarterfinal on Saturday.