Liberty’s Gray on honoring a former coach who inspired her

Photo courtesy of Reshanda Gray.
Photo courtesy of Reshanda Gray.

When Reshanda Gray and her New York Liberty team arrived in her hometown Los Angeles last weekend to play the Sparks, the third-year forward had already won before she stepped on the court.

After being waived from WNBA teams in preseason the last two years, Gray made the Liberty squad last month and has been a reliable reserve. In more than 16 minutes per game, Gray is averaging six points and six rebounds – almost as many offensive as defensive – on 53.2 percent shooting. In New York’s most recent game this past weekend, she started for teammate Amanda Zahui B., who is playing in the Eurobasket tournament.

As a former Cal and Pac-12 standout, and into her pro career, Gray’s journey from South Central Los Angeles to the pros was well-documented. When the Minnesota Lynx chose her in the second round of the 2015 WNBA draft, it was a celebration for Gray’s family, friends and former coaches.

She played for the Atlanta Dream in 2016, and was traded to the Connecticut Sun the following spring. She was cut there, and by the Liberty the following year, but Gray continued to play overseas in the winter in both Europe and Asia. While home in the summers, she worked out several times per week with her trainer.

During her most recent stop in Los Angeles, Gray sported a custom-made jacket and a pair of shoes bearing the image of her mentor and former high school assistant coach Don Brown, who died in March after a long battle with cancer. Gray wears the attire – including a blue ribbon for colon cancer awareness – as a way to honor a man who inspired her to continue working and to never give up.

Photo courtesy of Reshanda Gray.
Photo courtesy of Reshanda Gray.

Don Brown was an assistant coach for your high school team. How soon after you got there did he take you under his wing?

Mr. Brown begin to mentor me immediately, encouraging me to be the best student athlete I could be.

In what ways did he help you out?

Mr. Brown helped me by encouraging me, also helping me with transportation to school and back home. Living in the South Central area of Los Angeles, California was not the best or safest environment, and he did not want me walking to and from home in that dangerous community.

How did he support (and maybe mentor) you throughout your college career? 

Mr. Brown always followed up on my game schedule, kept in touch via phone and encouraged me through his words, “use where you are from to motivate you,” which helped me develop a “no days off”-style work ethic.

In what ways was he there for you in your pro career?

During my hard time in trying to find a WNBA team best fitted for me, Mr. Brown made his home my second home. I visited often, and then house visits became home, to home-cooked meals, genuine quality time, conversation of visions plus success and Agape-style lovewhich is the type of love that comes from God himself. I felt it regardless of whether I played basketball or not. Mr. Brown’s love wouldn’t change.

Reshanda Gray drives past the defense. NBAE/Getty Images photo.
Reshanda Gray drives past the defense. NBAE/Getty Images photo.

He was always so proud of you and spoke about you often. What was special about Mr. Brown?

Everything about Mr. Brown was special. He was like a guardian angel sent from heaven, touching the lives of many people before being called to sit with God. Even while having the highest degree of cancer attacking all the cells in his body, his selflessness to be there for everybody is what made him so special. Mr. Brown was that type of person you can confide in and count on in any situation.

How great was it that he made you a member of his family?

Mr. Brown made me one his daughters and showed me the type of love only a father could.

He had a tremendous spirit and so much strength. What was it like watching him battle cancer for so many years? 

Watching Mr. Brown battle cancer was hard but, easy at the same time. He was so uplifting in public you would not have known he had cancer, the way he encouraged people you would not know he was sad, and the way he motivated people you would not have known he was tired. Mr. Brown was given six months to live prior to the last six years after hearing news of his current life span. Mr. Brown’s faith made me into a believer, and I cherish every moment and memory I was able to be blessed with. 

Photo courtesy of Reshanda Gray.
Photo courtesy of Reshanda Gray.

He would be so proud of you now. You got his picture portrait on a jacket and a pair of shoes to honor his memory. Is that a way to keep his spirit close?

Mr. Brown’s spirit is kept in my heart, he always is with me (seen or unseen). He watches over me and gives me guidance on a daily basis but, to honor his memory, I chose a white denim jacket, because white represents new beginnings. These last couple years, while I was trying to make an WNBA roster, he always motivated me and encouraged me and said he could not wait until I can come back home to play so he could come and watch me in person, because he was to ill to travel. So, with his passing, I wanted to dedicate my sneakers to show the world his presence in the arena just like we have talked about before. The jacket was to show that though he was not able to be present physically, his presence will still be felt. So, no, the portrait jacket and matching sneakers were not a way to keep his spirit close in remembrance – it was more of a dedication for all of his hard work and patience, and his marathon will continue on. #ForeverGraytful