June 27, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
They may no longer be teammates, but that hasn’t stopped several former South Carolina women’s basketball players from picking each other up and having some fun along the way. With Tiffany Mitchell (2012-2016) playing her second season with the Indiana Fever, rookies Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis already had someone they could lean on after both were drafted in the first round by the Dallas Wings in April.
“I spoke to both of them on their draft night,” Mitchell said. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with Allisha throughout the year. She asked a lot about transitioning to professional life. In college, everything is done for you. In the pros, you’re on your own. You have to figure it out.”
“After getting drafted, I texted Tiff with a lot of questions,” Gray laughed. “She was very helpful throughout the process. I asked about how to handle certain situations and just how everyday life is in the WNBA.”
“Actually, before we even knew we were going into the draft, she told us a lot about what it was like whenever she came to Columbia,” Davis added.
With four first round picks for the WNBA over the last two seasons, including Alaina Coates, who is injured but was taken second overall by the Chicago Sky, the former Gamecocks are not only making a name for themselves, but also representing South Carolina.
“There is a sense of pride you have in knowing we all went to the same university,” Davis said. “I think it’s a cool thing for Coach (Dawn) Staley and for all Gamecock fans. When we were at South Carolina, we took pride in representing our school. We are still doing that and want to do that. It speaks a lot about what Coach Staley is doing in building that program.”
“It’s pretty cool to put the Gamecocks on the map in this league,” Gray said. “There will be more Gamecocks in the league soon. It’s just exciting to be able to represent the Gamecocks in that way.”
“Last year I was the lone Gamecock in the league, so this is great,” Mitchell said. “Just to have people talk about all of the Gamecocks that are in the WNBA, it’s really good to know that we’re representing South Carolina in a good manner.”
You have to prove why you belong. That’s what we had to do at South Carolina.
Davis and Gray have the opportunity to learn some lessons from Mitchell, who learned plenty after her first year in the WNBA as well as playing a full season overseas in Russia later in the year.
“I think having that first year under my belt and going overseas for the first time to see that style of play has made the game slow down for me,” Mitchell said. “When I first got to the WNBA, I just wanted to go, go, go and make an impact. I was forcing things. This year I’m letting things come to me and stay within our system. It’s easier to read some players now.”
Perhaps Mitchell’s words of wisdom are paying off as Gray was named WNBA Rookie of the Month in May.
“She congratulated me on it,” Gray said. “I’m just trying to get out there and play my game. To be honest, I was a little surprised [at early success]. Coming out, I didn’t know what to expect. I was really nervous in my first game. In my first preseason game I was guarding Diana Taurasi. That’s a legend of the game! I just try to be myself and stay in my element.”
“I’ll take a very small percentage of the credit for giving her the confidence to know that everything is going to work out fine,” Mitchell laughed. “She was kind of worried because everything is new.”
While Gray and Davis are happy to pick the brain of their former teammate, they enjoy getting after each other when the Fever and Wings go head-to-head.
“Allisha and I were guarding each other, so there was a little more trash talking with her,” Mitchell said. “In the first game, she blocked my shot, and in the next game I blocked her shot. I told her I had to repay her.”
“We have some really funny moments talking about that,” Gray said. “When I blocked her shot, I was pretty happy about that. But then when she got me, I just said ‘dang, she got me back.’ I’ve got to get her back now.
“Playing against each other was fun. When you score you talk a little trash about how your team is going to beat theirs. It’s all fun. I pick on Tiff more than K (Davis) does, but we’re both talking a little trash.”
“Most of it was just trying to make each other laugh,” Davis said. “It’s just having fun out there.”
With another meeting between the two teams scheduled for July 25, each will be looking to get the upper-hand again.
“They out-number me, so I have to bring out the ultimate trash talk,” Mitchell laughed. “We have a group message going, too, so it’s just me defending myself against them. They’re double teaming me, so it’s not fair. But I’m holding my own with the trash talking.
“We talk before the games and have a little bet going. Whoever won had to pay for dinner. The first time, I had to pay. Second time they did. So we’re even. We’re able to hang out before the game and little bit after the game. It feels good to hang out with people you know, even though we’re playing against each other.”
“We talk a lot,” Gray said. “We’re both kind of goofy. We joke around a lot. It’s all love every time I see Tiff.”
As they continue to grow in their pro careers, the former Gamecocks are thankful that playing at South Carolina under Staley helped prepare them for the next level.
“Coach Staley’s mentality rubbed off on me in how she handles every situation,” Mitchell said. “You have to have a little chip on your shoulder because nothing is ever given to you. You have to prove why you belong. That’s what we had to do at South Carolina, and that’s what we’re going to have to do in the WNBA.”
“She [Staley] told me to keep playing my game,” Gray said. “She definitely knew I was WNBA-ready, and she told me to just keep doing the things that got me here.”
“Being under a coach who has played at this level and has ‘been there, done that,’ she was always preparing us for this level,” Davis said.
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