By Sue Favor
Former Washington High School standout Reshanda Gray seems to have finally found a pro basketball home, after several seasons of uncertainty.
The South L.A. native was signed by the WNBA’s New York Liberty July 1 for the rest of the season, after a couple of one-week stints on the roster as a replacement player. She returns to a franchise where she played the entire 2019 season.
“It’s always great to feel wanted and I definitely feel wanted,” Gray said. “It’s a great group. I’ve always said ‘stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.’ I think I did a great job of staying ready.”
Gray didn’t receive any invitation to training camps last spring, despite playing for the L.A. Sparks during the 2020 season. She signed a hardship contract with the Liberty prior to the season opener May 14, and impressed in the two games that followed with her defense, her paint presence and her energy.
She was brought back three weeks later and capped off three game appearances — which included a trip to L.A. to play in front of friends and family — with a 17-point outburst in a loss. Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb then cut a player the franchise had for five years and signed Gray. She said she hadn’t expected that.
“Jonathan’s and my relationship is always honest. Whether good or bad, it’s always honest,” Gray said. “When I got the call from him telling me to come back, I felt like I’d worked so hard for it.”
Gray’s successful fight to get back into the WNBA, which only has 144 slots for players, is a testament to her resilience. After a successful career at California, where she set several single-game scoring records, helped guide the team to the Final Four in her second year and was named Pac-12 player of the year as a senior, Gray was drafted by the Minnesota Lynx in 2015.
Midway through her first season, she was traded to the Atlanta Dream, where she also played the following year. In January 2017, Gray was traded to the Connecticut Sun and was cut in training camp. The Liberty signed her to a training contract in 2018, and she was one of the last to be cut prior to the season.
During the winter, Gray did what most players in the league do: She played overseas.
She suited up for two years in Italy, two in Korea and one in Hungary. Besides earning a living as a professional athlete, Gray also worked diligently to improve her game, taking advantage of any time back in L.A. to work with a trainer.
Her work paid off two years ago, as she played in every game for the Liberty, starting 10, and averaging 5.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. But in May 2020, as the WNBA’s season was on hold due to the COVID pandemic, the Liberty inexplicably cut Gray — a move that she said threw her into a funk for a while.
“I was big on my support system and who I was around,” she said. “I had people who believed in me so if I was down, someone could pick me back up.”
The Sparks came calling, and Gray played in the WNBA’s “bubble” in Florida. But she saw action in just 10 games, and averaged 1.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per contest.
Seeing a place for herself in the league this year required her to “dig deep” within herself.
“Faith played a big part — what is meant for me won’t be missed by me,” Gray said. “I continued to workout, get treatment and act as if was in the league, so when the opportunity came, it would be a smooth transition for me.”
Still, having to twice leave a New York team that she says is special was difficult.
“Being in and out was playing with my emotions, and theirs too, because they felt comfortable with me,” Gray said. “Now they can have me for the rest of the season, which is great because I love this team. They’re a group of dope individuals, and I’m excited.”
So far this season, Gray is averaging 7.9 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, while averaging 17.5 minutes. But just as important, her teammates say she has added intangibles to the roster.
“You always know what you’re going to get with her,” veteran guard Sami Whitcomb said. “It’s really hard to come to … a team where you don’t know everyone personality-wise, and bring positive energy and just get along with everybody is a massive reflection of her.”
“On court, the word I think of when I think of her is toughness,” Whitcomb added. “In every facet, whether it’s rebounding, whether it’s defense, whether it’s offense, she catches everything we throw at her that’s in her vicinity. And she just brings a toughness that, honestly, I think we were missing from top to bottom, and it’s really contagious. It was really great to get her back. The whole coming in and coming out was difficult, but she didn’t skip a beat, and that’s really special.”
As a Washington General in high school, Gray was a City Player of the Year, a McDonald’s All-American, and she led the team to a Marine League championship as a junior. Her former coach, Ricky Blackmon, said Gray’s relentlessness as a pro is par for the course.
“I’m never surprised at her resiliency, because that’s who she’s been,” Blackmon said. “She has a tenacity about her that’s always been there. She’s never looked as a setback as an ending. It’s always been in her to keep fighting and moving forward.”
Gray said she is working daily to improve for the Liberty, because “there’s always another level.”
“I brought to the table what they asked of me,” Gray said. “And I feel like there’s another door that I haven’t unlocked in myself, and I’m still looking for the key to open that door.”
The WNBA schedule is paused for the Olympics, and will resume Aug. 15.
You can bet Gray will be ready when the season resumes.
Sue Favor is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers, who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.