Michaux: Allisha Gray makes seamless transition to WNBA

You could safely say that Allisha Gray picked up where she left off, but that would imply that she was ever off at some point.

 

In a span of exactly six weeks since Gray’s South Carolina Gamecocks won the NCAA women’s basketball championship, the former Washington County star declared for the WNBA draft, rode in a parade, was picked No. 4 overall by the Dallas Wings, went through training camp and preseason and started in the season opener on Sunday night.

Has Gray had a chance to catch her breath yet?

“Everything has just been so fast paced, so not really,” Gray said Tuesday from Dallas. “I feel like it’s been continuous the whole time. We have off days and I get to relax then. But as far as basketball-wise, we just won the national championship not too long ago and now I’m in the pros. It was a good thing we went the length of the whole (college) season because I came into training camp in shape and didn’t have anything to worry about.”

Gray’s whirlwind started pretty much once the confetti settled after the Gamecocks topped Mississippi State 67-55 in the NCAA title game in Dallas. Gray had little time to reflect on her 18-point performance in the final before deciding within 24 hours if she was going to return for her senior season.

“After we won the national championship, we flew home the next morning and I actually didn’t know the deadline (to declare for the WNBA draft) was that day at 12 o’clock,” she said. “So we got into Columbia and I had like a couple hours to make a decision. Talked to my dad and stuff and by looking at the draft I felt more confident having a higher stock this year than next year coming out.”

Ten days later, Gray was picked fourth overall to return to the city were she’d just been crowned national champ. The Wings had three picks in the top 10 and used the third one on Gray’s South Carolina teammate Kaela Davis.

Gamecocks teammate Alaina Coates was picked second overall by the Chicago Sky.

“I got drafted and went through all the media and stuff and was sitting over in the corner with Coach (Dawn) Staley and then I heard, ‘With the 10th pick the Dallas Wings select Kaela Davis,’” Gray said. “Oh, snap. We’re picking right up where we left off. We’ve been through a lot sitting out a (transfer) year and now we get to play our rookie season together.”

Gray is part of a five-player rookie class on the Wings roster that is the most in the WNBA since the Lynx had six in 2000. Head coach Fred Williams, formerly of the Atlanta Dream, already dubbed them “The Fab Five.” He targeted them all to fit his up-tempo vision designed to feed off rebounds and turnovers.

“They all bring winning pedigrees to the organization, particularly Gray and Davis coming off their national championship win in Dallas,” Wings general manager Greg Bibb said after the draft.

If the Wings – who went 11-23 to finish second-to-last in their first WNBA season after relocating from Tulsa last year – were hoping some of the Gamecocks’ championship magic would rub off, Sunday’s season opener was a good sign. Just as they did in two preseason games, the South Carolina imports led the team’s scoring in a 68-58 road victory over the Phoenix Mercury.

Gray started at guard and scored 11 points while Davis came off the bench to net a game-high 20 points.

“Just the tip of iceberg!” Gamecocks coach Staley tweeted out in congratulations Sunday night.

Gray said her professional debut seemed like an extension of her championship run last spring.

“I just went out and continued playing me game,” Gray said. “Didn’t change up nothing and didn’t try to press or anything. I just went out there and played how I knew how to play. My mindset was whenever I get the opportunity to get on the court I’m just going to do the best in what time I have and go hard.”

Unlike in college when Gray’s team was routinely a substantial favorite, the disparity in competition won’t be as pronounced in the WNBA. She’ll find that out Saturday night when the Wings debut at home against 2016 runner-up Minnesota Lynx.

“WNBA is definitely more physical,” Gray said. “The girls are stronger and faster and smart, too. You’re playing with veterans and legends of the game. Every person in the WNBA is competitive and every night you’ve got to come prepared to play or in this league they’ll expose you.”

Gray still hasn’t had a chance to get home to Sandersville, Ga., and celebrate everything that’s happened in the last few months. She “can’t wait” for her family to visit Dallas for a midseason stretch of three consecutive home games from June 25 to July 5.

By the time the WNBA playoffs wind down in October, Gray will have basically been in season non-stop for a full year. That’s 36 games plus potentially 12 in the postseason on top of the 37 games she played for the Gamecocks in 2016-17. For a player who missed her senior season at Washington County recovering from knee surgery and sat out her first year at South Carolina as a transfer, she isn’t concerned about burning out.

“I’ll be good to go,” Gray said. “This is what I love to do and I’ll never get tired of basketball. Your goal playing basketball is to get to the highest level which is the pros. To have the opportunity is a blessing itself.”

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