March 20, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
South Carolina junior Allisha Gray does a lot of things well on the basketball court, but it sometimes gets overshadowed by the talent around her. That’s just fine with Gray, who had to sit out last year after transferring from North Carolina where she was a First Team All-ACC guard.
“I’ve learned new aspects of my game here,” Gray said. “You really have to play defense here. Everybody can score, but you have to do other stuff to help the team. I know I’m not going to score 20 points per night, so I needed to focus on other parts of my game like defense, rebounding, passing to my teammates and making my teammates better. That’s been the focus for me.”
“She understands what is in front of her and what responsibility she has because she is mature,” said college basketball television analyst Debbie Antonelli. “The biggest thing about Allisha is her maturity. She comes from a very grounded household. Her father is a principal, so she has been a disciplined kid her whole life. That has helped her mature into her game.”
Championship programs often have plenty of star players as well as the gritty, hard-nosed athletes that do the little things that don’t always show up in the stat sheet, but help the team win. Allisha Gray fits into both of those categories and is a big reason the Gamecocks recently won their fourth straight SEC Regular Season Championship and third straight SEC Tournament title.
“Allisha’s more focused on stopping her offensive player, who’s the toughest perimeter opponent,” said South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley. “She has taken it on her shoulders to do that. Throughout the seasons, you lose players to graduation like (two-time SEC Player of the Year) Tiffany Mitchell, but other players emerge. I’m glad that Allisha has taken on that role. She has to hit outside shots and attack the basket and not lose those things that she gives us offensively. We ask her to do a lot.”
“The common denominator with Allisha Gray is that she is a winner,” added assistant coach Nikki McCray-Penson. “She is very consistent and solid. She’s not going to go out of character. You just know what she is going to bring to the table: hard work, an ability to drive the ball, she has a beautiful shot, and she’s just very consistent.”
She is one of the most competitive players on our team. She just goes hard all the time.
Having to sit out last season due to transfer rules certainly wasn’t easy, but those around her saw how she worked hard to improve herself on and off the court.
“When she first got here, and she had to sit out, that was a challenge for her,” said strength and conditioning coach Katie Fowler. “Basketball is such a big part of her life, so navigating that gap year was tough. What separates Allisha from her peers is her consistency. It was important for her to stay consistent with her workouts and understand what she needed to do from a physical standpoint.
“She knew that she couldn’t eat certain things. Even when the team had some down time, she wanted to come in and work. She would make the extra effort. You saw her come in and compete at a higher level, and her workouts kept getting better.”
“She comes from an amazing family, and I love her ability to compete,” McCray-Penson said. “She is one of the most competitive players on our team. She just goes hard all the time. Every drill, and everything she does, she just goes hard. That’s an intangible you don’t see all of the time these days. She brings it every single day. That’s a credit to the discipline from her family and how she was raised.”
The hard work has paid off for Gray and the Gamecocks.
“Working with Coach McCray has helped me get my shot to be more consistent,” Gray said. “I still like to drive and draw charges, but I’ve worked a lot on my pull-up. They’ve rebuilt me as a player.”
“She has become more of a student of the game on the defensive end,” McCray-Penson said. “She has been a defensive stopper and rebounder for us. She has added so much to our game that makes me very proud.”
And it’s not just the Gamecocks who are seeing what Gray brings to the program.
“The biggest change for her is efficiency with the volume of shots she gets,” Antonelli said. “She got more shots at North Carolina, but she is more efficient with those shots at South Carolina. I think she is a better passer because she understands how to make a post-entry into the bigs. Defensively, I think she is a better rebounder. I think she likes playing that No. 4 position. I think she realizes the value of her versatility because she is more mature.”
Having had to scout how to play against Gray earlier in her career, South Carolina coaches are glad she is now a Gamecock.
“I’m definitely glad we don’t have to figure out a way to stop her anymore,” McCray-Penson laughed. “I’m so glad to have her here for what she does on the court and off the court. Off the court, she’s funny but very quiet. She is a very likeable person. She is so humble and so honest. She is always going to do the right thing, and she loves her teammates.”
“It’s all about tradition,” Gray said. “There’s a tradition of winning here. Being able to play for Coach Staley and to learn from her, it was just the right fit for me. She’s a legend and one of the best to ever play the game.”
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