Women’s basketball is all Allisha Gray has ever known.
Gray, from Sanderesville, Ga., first learned to play the game while watching her father Allen Gray coach women’s high school basketball.
“My dad put up the side goal (during practices) and we will play on the sidelines,” Gray said. “Just being around basketball and my dad, that's how I developed a passion for the game.”
As Allisha learned to love basketball, in the sixth or seventh grade, she discovered basketball liked her back. From that point on, Gray took the game seriously, wanting to see how far she could get.
Fast-forward to the present day after Gray’s junior season at South Carolina where basketball led her to become a National Champion with on April 2 and provided her next opportunity to attend the WNBA Draft on Thursday night.
While the night may be chaotic and nerve-wracking, Gray is intent on remembering every moment.
"You get to experience the draft once in your lifetime, so I'm just going to make a full experience of it,” Gray said. “I'm definitely going to be nervous on Draft night because I don't know when and where I'll be drafted, but I'm just going to take it and experience it because I'm definitely blessed (and) honored to even be invited to the Draft. That's just a good experience that I won't take for granted."
While Gray’s career is at its height of popularity after being a key player in the Gamecocks National Championship run, she understands the need to promote her passion of women’s basketball— a sport that rarely receives the respect she knows it deserves.
"You just have to give women's basketball chance,” Gray said. “I guess most people just don't give it a chance, and don't have the patience for it, but if you just give it a chance (and) watch it, you may actually like it. You don't know something until you try it, so that's how I look at it."
Gray believes the SEC matchup of the National Championship between Mississippi State and the Gamecocks proves how skilled the SEC is in basketball and how talented women can be on the court.
Gray had 18 points, 10 rebounds and two assists in South Carolina’s 67-55 win.
Before her junior year at South Carolina, Gray chose to attend North Carolina. During the 6-foot guard’s two seasons as a Tar Heel, she became 35th player in program history to score 1,000 career points and was the second UNC player to score at least 500 points in her freshman season.
While she was talented, Gray never knew if she would become a national champion, but she always hoped she would.
"It was unbelievable,” Gray said. “It's always been a goal of mine to win a national championship and then to actually come to South Carolina and actually complete the goal this year it's just unbelievable feeling. I'm just at a loss for words."
Even before people knew Gray was destined for a National Championship title and the WNBA, Gray’s community in Sandersville supported her.
Even with all the accolades and fame, Sandersville is just as supportive of her and her team now as they’ve always been.
"In middle school, high school, they just supported me,” Gray said. “After I won the National Championship, I just got several messages and then when I go home. Just to see ‘Congratulations, Allisha,’ it just shows that they have my back. That there really supportive of me.”