USC Women's Basketball

She skipped iconic hometown restaurant; now Allisha Gray is shining in the WNBA


There has been little down time for Allisha Gray.

Her two years at South Carolina ended with the Gamecocks winning the NCAA tournament. Within 24 hours, she put herself in the WNBA draft.

Nine days after that, Gray was the fourth pick of the draft, going to Dallas.

Gray spent some time at home, where she battled temptation: Dairy Lane.

The iconic Sandersville, Ga., restaurant is part of life for Washington County residents and most of those visiting a county resident.

Gray’s battle? Avoiding her love of Dairy Lane’s chicken tenders while trying to lose weight and get in better shape before reporting to her new job.

“Nah, I stayed away,” Gray said. “It was all home cooking.”

The sacrifices one makes for one’s career.

“I had to change the way I ate,” said Gray, noting nutrition as an early priority. “I had to come in with a whole new diet.”

Gray worked with Katie Fowler, South Carolina’s sports performance coach for women’s sports, and got some help from mom.

“She was like, ‘I’m gonna feed you right when you come back,’ ” Gray said of her mother, Annie. “The goal for me was to lose five pounds. I wound up losing 10 to 12 pounds.”

That was part of Gray’s preparation for the pro game.

“The biggest adjustment to the WNBA had to do with the physicality of the game,” she said. “You don’t get the foul calls you normally get in the college game, so you just have to play through the fouls.”

The weight loss increased her endurance.

“I was able to last longer in the game,” Gray said. “Play a whole 40 minutes instead of (gassing) out in the first 10 minutes of the first game. ‘I’m not as tired as I used to be.’ 

So far, so good. Gray was the WNBA Rookie of the Month for May. She led all rookies with averages of 13 points, five rebounds and 24.4 minutes in five games, and she was 18th in field goal percentage at 46.8. Gray had 11 points and four rebounds in her debut.

“It’s an honor, but I don’t really think about stuff like that,” Gray said. “I appreciate the award a lot, but the biggest thing is I like to win and do anything for my team and help.

“The main thing is getting these Ws.”

Gray is one of the newcomers who have led to point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith feeling old in her fourth season. Dallas added six new players, five of them rookies, to the team.

But Gray hasn’t needed much babysitting.

“I think that’s the best thing, is we have rookies that come from great programs, have a great pedigree … great coaches,” Diggins-Smith said. “They came in with a great work ethic, really just being sponges, wanting to listen, wanting to learn, asking questions, coming in early.

“It’s really been easy to lead them.”

Gray is appreciative of the patience shown by the coaching staff and veterans.

“As a rookie, you tend to mess up a lot and get lost a lot,” she said. “(They) have done a great job of … helping us get through our rookie season.”

Playing in the SEC and under somebody with the broad playing and coaching résumé of USC coach Dawn Staley is a huge help, as well.

“She prepared us in many ways of being ready for the league,” Gray said.

“She’s a pro,” Diggins-Smith said of Gray. “When you come into this league, people think they have to do something different. She’s really just been herself. And the great thing about Allisha is she’s exactly what we needed.

“We love the type of player that she is and where she comes from. She’s not afraid of competition, she’s not afraid of contact. She came in prepared, definitely.”