Bears on the East Coast: Liberty re-sign Reshanda Gray

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 15: Nneka Ogwumike #30 of the Los Angeles Sparks handles the ball against Reshanda Gray #12 of the New York Liberty during a WNBA basketball game at Staples Center on June 15, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 15: Nneka Ogwumike #30 of the Los Angeles Sparks handles the ball against Reshanda Gray #12 of the New York Liberty during a WNBA basketball game at Staples Center on June 15, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images) /

Gray, who emerged as one of the hardest workers in 2019, gets a shot in Brooklyn

Reshanda Gray, the former Cal Bear and the self-proclaimed unicorn (it’s all in the Instagram bio), will be back in New York when training camp commences on April 26th. High Post Hoops can confirm Richard Cohen’s report that Gray signed a training contract that earns the three-year veteran $68K guaranteed if she makes the team following camp.

The news comes as no surprise as Gray was on Dan Lewis’ podcast in mid-February discussing her WNBA  journey and relationship with the late Kobe Bryant.  In the latter half of the episode, the former Cal Bears play-by-play announcer asked Gray point-blank: “So the plan is to go back to the New York Liberty?”

Her response: “Yes, definitely.”

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Gray finished 2019 scoring 5 points a game and hauling down five boards a game per 15 minutes of play.  Due to injuries and the infamous Eurobasket tournament in July, Gray started 10 games in the 2019 regular season.

Her journey to playing in seafoam for a full season was met with bumps and initially not many votes of confidence, as she was traded, traded again and cut. But in her discussion with Lewis, she articulated that something felt right about 2019. She wasn’t taking no for an answer.

“I went into [Liberty] camp last year and was like nah, y’all are going to keep me,” she said  “I’m going to show y’all what’s up. So I ended up making the team and it was just a relief after being out for two years.”

Since the conclusion of the 2019 WNBA season in September, Gray has been playing overseas in Korea for Woori Bank Wibee. Her performance has been impressive, helping her team maintain a 21-6 first-place record. In Gray’s Korean season, she has averaged a double-double of over 18 points and 12 rebounds. As her team’s leading scorer, she was awarded a WKBL All-Star game selection and appearance.

How Gray fits the Liberty’s litmus test

With the recent signings of Layshia Clarendon and Marine Johannés, both have qualities that subscribe to Kolb and Hopkins’ vision for the roster on and off the court.  How does Gray fit into the Walt Hopkins model for 2020?

First, similar to Clarendon, there’s familiarity and comfort between Gray and Hopkins. On the Lewis Podcast, Gray mentioned the “Bears on the east coast.” There are a lot of Cal Bears in New York, and aside from Clarendon, Gray and point guard Brittany Boyd (who is signed for 2020), Hopkins was a Cal masters student who helped with player development and academics.

“It’s always great playing with people who are familiar that you played with before,” Gray said. “You know what they love, you know what they like. You know how to read them because you have experience with them. They know what you like… they know how to find you. But not only that, you know how to connect with them as well.”

Hopkins admires her enthusiasm, work ethic and willingness to learn. Her fit in the Hopkins model isn’t as much about the brand of basketball (i.e shooting threes), as it is about her attitude and approach to playing on a team. Gray is someone who will buy-in and from Hopkins’ initial call with her in January, that much was clear. “And she’s someone who really wants to grow,” he said in an interview with YES’ Chris Shearn.

“She’s had to develop and take on the idea of becoming a different type of player and [is] still bringing what made her great which was the ‘junkyard dog’ [or Blue color player] that you talked about,” Hopkins said.  “Her motor is just crazy on the court.”

Her 2019 Liberty teammates agree.  Amanda Zahui B. wasn’t shy about her feelings toward Gray. “That girl is a beast. I don’t care what everybody says.” Zahui B. even told her during training camp last April: “You are making the team, there’s no other way.”

Asia Durr commented on her energy back last June noting that her energy and presence are “known” whenever she steps on the court and that “she gets a lot of boards.” This is correct. Gray had a 15.8 rebound percentage in the 2019 regular season, finishing 7th best in the league right behind Sylvia Fowles and above Nneka Ogwumike.

Gray and Hopkins are also on the same page when thinking about her development and exactly what the Liberty big needs to improve upon in 2020.

“I really want to focus on defense this year,” she told Lewis. “I want to stay on the floor because my team will need me on the floor more than just getting fouls.  Working on my ball-handling and being more consistent with the jump shot. And being a force down there and do what I do best.”

Gray made abundantly clear to Hopkins on the phone that “she’s so excited to do the work.”

"“For her it’s just a matter of now how does she continue to develop in a way that makes her fit with the way that the game is going. Obviously her value is massive in terms of her rebounding and her hustle and her effort. That alone can bring a team back into a game. I’ve seen it happen, even back in her Atlanta days. I saw her go on the court and get like 5 points and 5 rebounds in 12 seconds. She’s very much capable of that. So now how do you keep her out of foul trouble, which has been a problem since college? How do you develop so she’s comfortable on the perimeter doing more than just catching and swinging. Can she go into a dribble handoff and make a read and hit a backdoor cutter? Can she do those types of things, and that’s where her work ethic is so huge. She’s going to come in and be willing to do all of those things. And in the talk, when I talked to her about some of this stuff, she was just so excited.”"

With Gray now set, who and what are next? The Liberty’s official 2020 roster, which is listed on the team site, gives way to some clues.  There are 11 current players listed which include Tina Charles, who still isn’t signed, but also excludes another elite rebounder in Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe. That 12th spot probably belongs to Sabrina Ionescu, but New York did extend an offer to the Canadian forward.

In the meantime, Gray has been pleased with the forward trajectory for the Liberty. Back in February, she remarked that the combination of leadership from Tina Charles (still TBD if she returns) and from newly signed Clarendon gives her confidence. “New York is going to have something pretty special.”

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