Any player would be nervous in their first professional game.
Stepping onto the court with players nearly twice their age, some being those who inspired them to get to this point.
Allisha Gray, the fourth overall pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft, at just 22 years old, was given the task in her first game as a professional to guard her idol, the living legend and the face of the league: Diana Taurasi.
“That was my first time actually seeing her in person,” Allisha Gray said in a Queen Ballers Club phone interview.
Unlike when Kobe Bryant faced Michael Jordan for the first time, Allisha didn’t ask her favorite player for any advice. She just played the game and did her job. Allisha went 4-of-9 for 11 points and kept Taurasi to 1-of-11 shooting for just three points as the Dallas Wings beat the Phoenix Mercury 68-58.
“I’m pretty much laid back and chill,” Allisha said. “I really don’t go to people and say ‘hey can you give me advice what you think.’ I’m not that type of person. I’m a more laid back, chill person.”
Allisha Gray is someone who falls along the cliche lines of being calm, cool, and collected. She credits that to her everyday demeanor and understanding of herself and her game.
“I stay within myself. I know what I bring to the game, what I do,” Allisha said. “I never step out and do something that I know that I don’t do. So if I ever do something on the court, I worked on it, I drilled it. I’m real comfortable with what I do on the court.”
But even with her composed nature, Allisha has to unwind from her day job just like everyone else. Allisha finds that escape in the form of video games.
Allisha is coming into her own as she takes on her fifth season in the WNBA. The 2017 WNBA rookie of the year is connecting her passions to her brand as she strives for greatness.
Allisha’s love for basketball and video games came at an early age when she played with her brothers.
She traveled by bus with her brother to her father’s high school basketball practices, where the siblings would play off to the side during the entirety of practices.
At age 6, Allisha said she joined her first AAU team, the Georgia Metros, where she played with 8-year-olds.
“I always played up. I never played with my age group, even when I played basketball with the youth teams in the recreation department. I had to play with the boys because of my competition level,” she said.
Just like she picked up basketball, Allisha started playing video games because of her brothers.
It became another activity, one in between school and basketball. Allisha says she and her younger brother would wake up at 8 in the morning and play video games until 10 or 11 at night on some days.
“We would play video games, take a break, get some food, just get right back on video games,” she said.
Since then, Allisha has continued both passions, playing basketball at the highest level while jumping on Xbox with her boyfriend and brother in her free time. Allisha has taken to Twitch, the popular streaming site for gamers that allows them to stream games and chat with fans and other gamers. Allisha’s main streams are of the popular first-person shooter game Call of Duty: WarZone. Her page has 500 followers and counting.
Allisha recently streamed a basketball training session, taking her Twitch game to a different level by merging fans of her gaming world with fans of her basketball.
Video games act as an escape for many, and that’s no different for Allisha.
“It’s just they’re fun to play — well sometimes they’re fun to play when everything’s going your way,” she said. “It allows me to do something else other than playing basketball. Coming home from basketball practice, what can I do to just ease my mind and just have fun with something else. Video games are like a fun hobby to have for me to do something outside of basketball.”
She even received an invitation to the NBA 2K League Three for All Showdown, where Allisha participated in a 3×3 tournament.
“It was pretty cool. It just builds a bigger platform to show other women gamers and that it’s OK to game,” Allisha said. “You can game just like how the guys game. Just like there are top women gamers. On Twitch, I’ll be watching women gamers and I’m like, ‘Dang look how much it’s grown.’ When I was younger growing up it was like ‘Oh ew, you’re a girl who plays video games. Go play with your baby dolls.’ or something like that. It’s just cool to see how much games for women have grown.”
There are some similarities in both basketball and video games. Allisha, a 6-foot guard, has to use her quick reflexes and vision to make split-second decisions on offense and defense. These are also skills she relies on in gaming.
“My instincts, my reaction times on the court helps me translate to the video games,” Allisha Gray said. “I think quickly on my feet. I think that aspect of me being able to react on the basketball court allows me to react quickly on a video game.”
When posed with the question of what makes her feel more pressure: a kill away in WarZone or a game-on-the-line shot, Allisha said what was expected.
“That pressure at the free throw line when your team is down and you have to hit the free throws to tie the game up, that hits different,” Allisha said. “In video games if I make a mistake I can make a mistake and start over. But on the court you can’t do that. You’ve just gotta live with what you’ve made and be quick to react.”
As a professional women’s basketball player, Allisha faces a lot of negativity purely for being female. The sexism she experiences on the court continues in the online world of gaming. It primarily, if not entirely, comes from men who backtrack when she speaks back to them.
“One guy, he messaged me ‘Imagine being a WNBA player…’ so I normally don’t reply to the messages but on that day I woke up and was like ‘OK imagine living your basketball dreams through a video game.’ And he was like, ‘Oh that was funny. I just wanted a reply from you, I’m a big fan.’ I was like, ‘why couldn’t you just say that from the beginning?’” Allisha said.
The hate doesn’t get to Allisha, who carries on winning games on the court and on the console.
“I just have the mindset of haters gonna hate. People just are negative people and it’s just sad that people have to criticize other people and be mean to people and make people feel down just to make themselves feel happy,” Allisha said “… to be honest, growing up I was shy and I wanted to be liked by everybody. But then it’s like as I got older and the higher you go the more haters that you have. … People are gonna talk. You can’t control what they say about you. That stuff you just can’t control. Just know that I don’t really care and pay attention. I’m just gonna live my life.
“One thing I do learn is that if you care what other people say about you, you won’t be able to enjoy life.”
Allisha’s basketball days started at a young age, thanks to her father and her older brother, Marlo East. Quickly, her game began to form. She was forced to play aggressively as she was the youngest on the court, but she credits it to her having plenty of energy.
“I pride myself on defense because my dad always said, ‘play defense and your offense will come,’” Allisha said. “So over time I prided myself on defense and that led to my offensive game.”
Playing above her age group, Allisha knew she was good. It was just a matter of time before the scouts started paying attention. In eighth grade, Allisha got her first letter of interest from a college, which turned the switch from basketball just being something she did for fun to being something she took seriously.
“Since I started playing basketball, I always had a goal of making the WNBA,” Allisha said. “I really didn’t have another plan. Basketball was all that I knew.”
Allisha was the 2012 Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year. Her high school career had blossomed but she had a setback in her senior year when she had a serious knee injury.
“I missed my whole senior year because I tore my ACL and meniscus but that was the only major injury I’ve had in my career,” Allisha said. “I’ve been blessed to be able to stay healthy since that incident.”
Allisha went to the University of North Carolina originally before transferring to Dawn Staley’s University of South Carolina program, where Allisha was a part of the Gamecocks’ 2017 national championship-winning team. At North Carolina, she was the first ever freshman in program history to score at least 500 points and finished with more than 1,000 points after her two years in Chapel Hill.
In her season in South Carolina, Allisha started in 36 of the 37 games that she played, shooting 51 percent from the field, bringing down 5 rebounds per game and dishing 2.5 assists all while making 48 steals.
Allisha made the NCAA Final Four All-Tournament team. In the championship game, Gray finished with 10 rebounds along with A’ja Wilson, who Allisha calls her best friend, as they defeated Mississippi State 67-55 in Dallas, Texas, which would soon become Allisha’s new home.
“That was my whole goal by going to the University of South Carolina – to be able to play under Coach Staley and to compete for a national championship,” Allisha said. “That was my main goal, but for us to take it a step further and actually win it, that just overall made me comfortable with the decision when I decided to come to the University of South Carolina.”
She renounced her remaining eligibility to enter the draft, in which Allisha was selected fourth overall by the Dallas Wings.
Allisha was thrust into action with the Wings, starting each of the 34 games she and Dallas played that season. That first game against Diana Taurasi was a statement game of sorts. The league was put on notice.
But the transition to the professional game wasn’t as smooth as it looked on the court.
“The fouls that you know you’re getting in college you have to play through in the pros and that’s what I realized my rookie year,” she said. “OK I gotta get stronger because these are literally grown women. The age gap is so much different than the age gap in college.”
Allisha won rookie of the month in May and June, her first two months in the league. With 13 points, 1.5 steals, and 3.9 rebounds per game, Allisha was voted the rookie of the year.
Dallas was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the Washington Mystics.
In 2018, Allisha once again started in all 34 games but averaged fewer points, though she made it up with an increase in assists. That uptick in assists culminated in a nine-assist game against the Chicago Sky.
As for the Wings, the team went through a coaching change and was the final team into the playoff picture as the eight seed. They were eliminated in the first round, this time by the Phoenix Mercury.
In June of 2018, Allisha signed with Israeli team Elitzur Ramla for the 2018-19 season and returned back to Dallas for the following WNBA season.
In 2019, Allisha’s minutes per game increased to over 30, despite the third-year player starting 26 of the 34 games. She got her points per game back up above 10, her rebounds per game above 4 for the first time, and maintained a 2.3 assists per game from 2.4 the year prior.
The biggest stat boost was certainly her shooting percentage. At 45.7 percent, Allisha was shooting the best she had since joining the league. Her all around game as a guard had improved, and so were the Wings.
With another coaching change, this time Brian Alger coming in as coach, the Wings failed to make the playoffs with just 10 wins. While it was a good personal performance season for Allisha, the team couldn’t turn the corner in the postseason.
The bubble — or ‘Wubble’ — season of 2020 was like no other. Allisha’s Dallas Wings went 8-14 while Allisha missed her first two games as a WNBA player, playing just 20 times in the 2020 season in Florida. She did, however, improve statistically.
Shooting nearly 10 shots a game, Allisha improved to 46.4 percent shooting with 13.1 points per game. It was once again a step in the right direction offensively for Allisha who had become a defensive force already for Dallas.
“You could hear literally everything,” Allisha said. “You could hear the conversations the other teams were having. The fans play a big role in terms of momentum and just being able to have my family in the stands is what I missed the most.”
The 2020 season was important on other levels too. Social and racial justice were at the front of players’ and societies’ minds. The WNBA’s Say Her Name campaign and dedication of the season to Breonna Taylor, and the active protests and political awareness that players showed turned the season into much more than about basketball.
For Allisha, the ties to the Georgia U.S. Senate race between incumbent Kelly Loeffler, who owned the Atlanta Dream, and Reverend Raphael Warnock, made it hit even more close to home.
“It just shows what kind of league we are. We’re unified, we stand for what’s right, and it just shows that with the platform that we have, we’re able to use our voice, we were able to change a lot of things,” Alliha said. “When we wore the ‘vote Warnock’ shirts, that helped flip his campaign and Georgia was a big part of the election this year.
“It just shows in the WNBA what we do and what we stand for, we’re more than athletes, we stand for what’s right and we use our platform to show you that.”
After her rookie season, Allisha became more selective with her shooting, which could be in part why her field goal percentage has continued to improve. This could also be due to Allisha’s elite defensive play and ability to distribute the ball while on offense rather than shoot it. With the Wings adding top shooting players in Arike Ogunbowale for the 2019 season and Satou Sabally in 2020, Allisha doesn’t need to shoot as often. With more talent coming from the 2021 draft, Allisha’s need to shoot may continue to drop.
“I know my first two years in the league everything was kind of, like, fast paced and I was still learning different kinds of ways to score,” Allisha told the New York Times about her evolution of her game in her first four seasons. “I’m to the point now where the game has really slowed down for me to where I’m able to read screens more, read cuts, if someone is overplaying me.”
Allisha’s improvement through her first four seasons was gradual but also shows her consistency from year to year as she developed in the WNBA.
Allisha prides herself on her defensive abilities. As a lockdown guard, she has shown from literally day one in the league that she’s not easy to get by. Shutting down Diana in her first ever game is just about as elite as it comes.
Allisha can shoot the ball. Her jumper is smooth. But her ability to weave through defenders to the basket is what makes her most special on offense. As shown below in June of her rookie season, she was doing just about everything on offense in just her second month in the WNBA.
Fittingly, a lot of her buckets in 2020 came in the restricted area (where she’s knocking down an impressive 82.1%) and in the paint.
Allisha says it herself. She has a lot of energy on the court, and she knows how to use it. Whether it’s hustle for a loose ball or fighting for a rebound, Allisha is in there, going all-out all the time. Her all-around game is her strength. On offense, she can pass, she can score. On defense, she can steal, force turnovers and even block. Regardless of what side of the court she’s on, she’s always hustling.
Speaking of hustle, Allisha has already spent two seasons in the top 10 for steals in the league.
For Allisha, practice is used for overall improvement. She doesn’t micromanage her game.
“When I work on my game I work on my overall game, not just one specific thing,” Allisha said. “I feel like I can always improve my game in all aspects. I’m not satisfied with one part of my game where I’m not gonna work on that. I feel like as a player you always need to be improving your game.”
Allisha re-signed with Dallas, and the organization called her a “top priority” in the offseason going into 2021.
“Having drafted Allisha in 2017, witnessed her win the WNBA Rookie of the Year award that year and develop into an outstanding player in our League, re-signing her was our top priority this offseason,” said team president and CEO Greg Bibb. “Allisha’s decision to commit to our organization is a testament to what we are building. Our future is bright, and Allisha Gray will play a key role for our team as we continue to grow and improve moving forward.”
It meant a lot to Allisha to hear that from the organization.
“It’s definitely an honor and it just shows how committed the Dallas Wings are to me and how committed I am to the Dallas Wings. It just shows the faith they have in me as the player. That just drives me to continue to elevate my game and to work hard because it shows that I’m appreciated and I’m wanted in Dallas. That put a big smile on my face,” Allisha said. “Dallas is a place where I want to spend the rest of my career at. I’m comfortable there. They make me feel at home. It’s definitely a place I want to spend the rest of my career at.”
Allisha says that the NCAA title with South Carolina is her greatest achievement so far. The Wings have made the kind of moves needed to plan for the future, a future that Allisha is a key to. A WNBA title is not out of the realm of possibilities for Allisha and the Wings sooner than later. But personally, she says in the WNBA that she wants to achieve being an All-Star next.
“That’s the thing about me, I set goals but I set them step by step,” Allisha said. “I make All-Star, then what do I want to achieve next? I want to make one major goal for me and once I’ve achieved that then what now do I want to achieve. Making the all-WNBA team, making the all-defensive team piece by piece.”
In the summer of 2021, Allisha could have the opportunity to go to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games in the 3×3 tournament. First, she and Team USA have to qualify for the Games when they play in the qualification tournament in June.
“You grow up watching the Olympics on TV and it’s like ‘oh I want one of those gold medals,’” Allisha said. “For me, to be this close to doing that is amazing.”
Playing in 3×3 is a whole different ball game than the traditional 5-on-5 that Allisha plays in the WNBA.
“It’s a lot different, especially on a cardio level,” Allisha said. “You’ve got to be in tip top shape because it’s like non-stop, it’s ongoing, way more physical. You can go for a layup, get hit and you thought you got fouled and it just takes a lot more poise because you’ve got to be locked more in. I’m guarding you, you blow by me it’s embarrassing because there’s no hip-side so you’ve got to be locked in.”
But being locked in? That’s no problem for Allisha Gray.
Up next, learn all about Allisha’s Dallas Wings teammate with Arike Ogunbowale facts.
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