USC Women's Basketball

Allisha Gray having the year of a lifetime

South Carolina’s Allisha Gray, right, answers questions during an interview after being selected as the No. 4 pick in the WNBA basketball draft by the Dallas Wings on Thursday in New York.
South Carolina’s Allisha Gray, right, answers questions during an interview after being selected as the No. 4 pick in the WNBA basketball draft by the Dallas Wings on Thursday in New York. AP

Maybe Allisha Gray should consider playing the lottery.

She’s on a pretty nice roll.

The last real bump she faced was just before her senior year of high school when she was practicing with the under-18 national team. She suffered a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus — a crushing blow to the two-time All-Middle Georgia Player of the Year who was focused on returning Washington County to the GHSA Class 3A title game for the third straight year.

As is turned out, Gray’s final full high school game was a loss, 57-33 to Columbia on March 10, 2012, the Golden Hawks’ first loss in 64 games. She got back and played a few minutes in a late-season game, but that was it.

Things have worked out pretty well since then.

She starred at North Carolina for two seasons, transferred to South Carolina, sat out a year, then helped the Gamecocks to the national championship, and Thursday night, Gray was picked fourth in the WNBA draft.

“Timing is everything,” she said a few days after the Gamecocks’ 67-55 win over Mississippi State for the women’s national title.

About the only poor timing Gray has had was that knee injury.

South Carolina was a championship contender before Gray arrived. The Gamecocks had been a No. 1 seed for three straight years and a No. 4 in 2013. They reached the Sweet 16 twice and semifinal once as a No. 1 seed.

The transition of an elite team adding an elite player was nonexistent.

She missed her first three official shots at South Carolina and didn’t score her first points until inside the first three minutes of the second quarter. Gray finished that season-opening 92-80 win over No. 7 Ohio State with 24 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

From then on, she failed to score 10 points or more only eight times, but South Carolina won them all. She had only two double-doubles, but one came, well, with perfect timing when she scored 18 points and had 10 rebounds in the national championship win.

“It hasn’t hit me that I’m actually a national champion,” Gray said recently after declaring her early entry to the WNBA draft but before being picked fourth in the draft. “All the adversity we had this season, to end with a national championship is just the perfect ending.”

The face of South Carolina basketball the past few years has been A’ja Wilson, who grew up in Columbia and was the No. 1 high school player in the nation. One of the strongest images of the men’s and women’s Final Fours was Wilson’s reaction when she headed to the bench late in the win over Mississippi State. The tears started flowing and didn’t stop through the end of the game, the immediate postgame celebration and the ESPN interview.

After the buzzer, Gray and Kaeela Davis rushed to the bench, because Wilson was in a crouch, towel over her head and sobbing while the court was filled with celebration.

“She’s been through so much,” Gray said of her roommate and best friend. “She could’ve gone anywhere in the nation, and she decided to stay home and believe in the program. For her to be able to bring a national championship back to the city is just an unbelievable feeling. I call her the hometown hero.

“It just means so much to her. I expected her to cry. I would have been surprised if she didn’t cry.”

Gray, of course, was closer to her “Silent Assassin” moniker: smiling and cool.

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley started calling Gray that early in the season, but it actually took flight while Gray was still sprinting up and down courts in Sandersville.

Gray’s game always has been smooth. Superb and elite, but smooth. She was a star in high school who did everything very well but wasn’t necessarily explosive at one thing.

That stealth game got her some perhaps undeserved scoldings.

“It’d be like at halftime, (Washington County head coach Sug) Parker would be fussing at me. ‘You’re playing scared, what’re you doing?’ ” Gray said. “And then the assistant coach would tell him, ‘Coach, she has 20 at halftime.’ He wouldn’t even know I scored that many points.”

Gray often didn’t realize how many points she scored, so she didn’t argue much. As it turns out, she scored 2,478 points at Washington County (unofficially), 1,053 in two seasons at North Carolina and 487 last season, for a total of 3,118 points in six full seasons and a few games her senior year in high school.

One thing she hasn’t done yet is dunk.

“Oh, no no no, I haven’t dunked,” she said with a laugh. “Uh, I don’t know. We’ll see. I can’t dunk. I can barely touch the rim. I can’t dunk. My knees ain’t what they used to be.”

But the left one, the one she hurt back in 2012, is fine.

“I’ve been playing since freshman year at UNC,” Gray said. “I’m not worried about my knee.”

Few things worry the Silent Assassin these days.

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