June 23, 2021 

Reshanda Gray knows she deserves to be here

With New York, she proved she "can compete with the best"

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Reshanda Gray returns to the bench and hi-fives head coach Walt Hopkins against the Aces on Tuesday night. Photo credit: The New York Liberty’s Twitter account, @nyliberty.

NEW YORK — WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert was in the house on Tuesday night for the New York Liberty’s first home matchup against the Chicago Sky. Before tip-off, both she and Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins were asked about WNBA roster expansion and the dire need for it.

“Roster expansion is much easier [and a] seamless process [compared to team expansion],” he said. “It gets so many players like Reshanda Gray, you know who really should have space on a roster.”

Gray was signed to multiple hardship contracts this year for New York due to Eurobasket commitments, late arrivals to begin the season, and season-ending injuries. With Kiah Stokes back early from Eurobasket commitments early, Gray’s hardship contract was terminated after the Liberty’s win against the Sparks on Sunday afternoon.

When Liberty leading scorer Betnijah Laney was asked about the time Gray spent with the team, she made it a point to mention her production. “She was a great part of our success,” she said. “And she just did a great job with the time that she was given.”

In her six games with New York this season including the first two against the Fever and the recent four-game West Coast road trip, Gray scored 39 points and hauled down 19 boards in 97 total minutes. Gray isn’t new to the Liberty. Under Katie Smith, she was the last player to earn a spot on the roster, hopping on from a training camp contract. According to Synergy Sports, Gray’s game has improved on both sides of the ball since her days battling for boards at the Westchester County Center.

From 2019 to 2021, Gray’s points per possession allowed on defense endured a 10.5 percent decrease, jumping from 0.894 to 0.8. Her defensive output leaped from the 34th percentile to the 71st. On the offensive end, Gray’s points per possession on pick and roll increased by 34.6 percent, climbing from 0.867 to 1.167, positioning her in the 71st percentile in pick and roll points per possession.

“Two Toss” has also improved dramatically from the charity stripe. In 2019 Gray shot 56.5 percent (35-62) compared to 73.3 percent (11-15) in 2021.

While it’s important to remember that Gray played in under 300 minutes in 2019 compared to under 100 minutes in 2021, the smaller sample size isn’t insignificant. But it’s not only the numbers easily accessible via a traditional stat line or the analysis that synergy sports compiled that prove Gray belongs in the W. The eye test speaks volumes as well.

When asked about going up against and defending Liz Cambage in the post last Thursday night, Gray wasn’t overwhelmed by her size and her talent. She gave credit where credit was due to Cambage and the other Vegas forwards and posts. It wasn’t a fluke that Gray, at 6’2, single-handedly made 6’8 Cambage miss a shot that usually goes down. Gray did her work on Cambage early and the results paid off.

“I really strongly believe that I deserve to be here and I can compete with the best,” Gray said on Thursday night. “So I’ll always want to go out there and just show people that I can be able to compete with them.” 

She belongs in this league because of the chip and grit she carries on her shoulders every day she steps onto a WNBA court. She belongs in this league because of her intangibles as a basketball player and a human being. She belongs in this league because of how she can adjust and adapt to systems on the fly.

Gray adapts to her environment

Reshanda Gray looks toward the basket with the ball in her hands against the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday night. Photo credit: The New York Liberty’s Twitter account, @nyliberty.

Against the Sky on Tuesday night, Hopkins was asked about the return of 6’3 center Kiah Stokes, who Gray replaced while Stokes was competing overseas. “She looked a little out of rhythm, understandably,” he said. He noted that the key with Stokes will be getting the reps needed in practice to adjust back to the Liberty’s style of play.

While Gray had a full week of practice leading up to New York’s West Coast road trip, she had only one shootaround before she started the season on New York against the Fever. And while Gray had played with the Liberty before, the Hopkins and Smith systems are as different as night and day. Stokes had an entire year with Hopkins under her belt.

“I think what is most impressive is how seamlessly she fits in and integrates herself into the team – both the flow of the game on the court and with the chemistry aspect as well,” Gray’s former college coach Lindsay Gottlieb wrote in an email to The Next. “If you didn’t know it, you would never suspect she missed out on training camp or practice time. She just checks in the game and does what she does.”

Gray explained that the reason she transitioned into working with the 2021 New York roster so well was that she played a similar style of run-and-gun basketball with Gottlieb back at Cal from 2011-2015. While the Liberty’s style of play is reliant upon the three-ball, which is currently still a work in progress for Gray, another element to New York’s offense is the pick-and-roll style guard and post play along with playing at a quicker pace.

“I’ll definitely have to give a shout out to my teammates too because they kind of made my job easier, and just talk to me, communicate to me to allow me, trust me, with the ball as you can see tonight, but just helping me make my job and my transition easy,” Gray said last Thursday.

Liberty veteran guard Sami Whitcomb agreed. She noticed that when Gray was asked to shoot threes or drive more into the paint, she listened and executed with confidence. It didn’t matter that the four threes she took didn’t fall. Not only did Gray adapt well and quickly to the Liberty’s system, but Whitcomb emphasized what makes her an outlier and someone who belongs in the WNBA.

“I think her willingness to come in and do whatever we needed was massive,” Whitcomb said after the Liberty’s win in LA. “She’s a fantastic teammate, but on the court, she’s great, she’s hard-working, she rebounds really well, has really good hands, like she caught a lot of tough passes that we just put up there for her.”

Gray benefits every team culture she steps into

She set an example for younger players like Jazmine Jones, who noticed that Gray would dive on the floor for every loose ball and get her hand on every rebound that she could. Jones noticed that if she couldn’t secure the rebound, she’d get her hands up to tip the ball so that Jones or one of her teammates had a chance at recovering the ball.

Kylee Shook also clearly learned from Gray. On Tuesday against the Sky, the sophomore forward found a way to get a tip of her own. ”Oh, I mean Reshanda is amazing,” Shook said on Sunday. “Not only is she physical, aggressive, improving herself on the court but off the court she’s always helping me, helping teammates.”

After the second road game against Vegas on Thursday, Gray told some of the young-ins like Jones, Shook, and DiDi Richards that they all had to do a “reality check” or a “self-check.”

“Were you the best DiDi on the floor tonight, were you the best Jaz tonight?” she asked her teammates.

Gray asks herself the same questions. She scored 17 points against the Aces, but she knew that she could have done even better. She could have listened to her teammates more. She could have jumped quicker to the ball screens.

This doesn’t come as a surprise to Gottlieb, who referred to Gray as someone who always gives. She remembers when Gray saved enough money in college to make sure that her family could be in attendance for her senior day. And she also remembers a call days ago where Gray offered to bedazzle some items for Gottlieb and her new team at USC. The new Trojans head coach told Gray that she’d pay her former player for her creations, but Gray refused and said to her: “I won’t take a dime from you, but we could put the money back into the community.”

“I also imagine it has a true guiding influence on the young players,” Gottlieb said. “Reshanda shows up, she is grateful for any opportunity, she sees the positive in everyone and everything, and she competes her ass off every minute of every day. If that’s not a culture influencer, I don’t know what is.”

With the “hardest job in the league” and a chip on her shoulder, Gray will be back

Bec Allen was Gray’s only familiar face from the Liberty’s 2019 season. She’s familiar with Gray’s disposition, game, and hard work. When asked about Gray’s contributions to the 2021 Liberty on Sunday, Allen said Gray has “the hardest gig out of everyone” in the league. But she agrees with Whitcomb and Gottlieb that her super-speedy transition onto whatever team she’s on proves her worth and value in the W.

So what gives? If Gray has the work ethic, the great hands, and the ability to impact her teammates on and off the court, then why is she still relegated to hardship contracts and minutes warming the bench?

According to Gottlieb, she believes that teams judge Gray on her size and developing perimeter skills. That was exactly Coach Fisher’s assessment when he chose both Marie Gülich and Kristine Anigwe to play more minutes over Gray. Gülich was waived by LA and Anigwe is only there right now on a hardship contract with both Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike are nursing injuries.

In her minutes on Sunday, Gray shoved Fisher’s misguided assessment down his throat. With under two minutes left in the first against the Sparks, Gray leaped above the taller Anigwe, tipped the ball, and beat her out chasing the ball to secure the rebound. She got fouled by Anigwe in the process while teammates Allen and Richards screamed. Walt Hopkins’s enthusiastic mono clap was picked up by the broadcast.

“Let me put it this way: Reshanda has faced much tougher things in life than a size mismatch in the post,” Gottlieb said. “And that is one of the secrets to her greatness. She respects everyone. But she does not care who you are. She just knows what needs to get done and tries to do it. Physicality is one of her strong suits.”

On Tuesday night following the Liberty’s 92-72 loss to the Sky, Hopkins believed his team ran out of gas after a gritty win against the Sparks. The Liberty could have used Gray’s physicality, ability to score inside the paint, and all of what makes her indispensable. While Hopkins had no doubt on Sunday that Gray would return to the league and do what was necessary to land on a roster, how long can Gray bear the misgivings of the Liberty’s salary cap and the league’s CBA?

According to Gray, she’s got a lot left in the tank and has no intention to slow down or retire from the game just yet.

“I’m just not giving up, I just feel like I still haven’t reached my peak,” she said on Thursday. “I still feel like it’s so much more that I still have in me. When I walk away from this game I want to be able to say that I gave it my all like I left it all on the floor, and I feel like I still haven’t accomplished that yet, so that’s why I continue to keep knocking on the doors and if the door closes, I’m going to knock on the next one.”

Written by Jackie Powell

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