It takes more than big names to win games in the W.N.B.A. The New York Times is talking to players across the league who are making an impact in their own way.
Off the bench or in the starting lineup, it doesn’t matter. Allisha Gray is going to play her game.
Gray, a fourth-year guard for the Dallas Wings, is scrappy, a solid threat on both ends of the court and not afraid to dive for a loose ball. She can shoot the 3, pull up from midrange or knock down free throws.
Whatever the game needs, she’s got it to give.
The 2017 W.N.B.A. rookie of the year, Gray is lighting it up, but in a most unconventional way. After three years as a starter, she has found herself in a new role — a reserve coming off the bench.
“Whatever helps the team, that’s what I want to do,” she said. “I can see the game unfold in front of me before I get in.”
The role reversal has not affected Gray, who has been just as productive, if not more.
In the season’s first game, against the Atlanta Dream, she finished with 19 points and began to relish her role as “bench leader,” powering the Wings’ second unit for several games and helping them become fifth in the league in points off the bench.
But then there was a plot twist: She was moved into the starting lineup because the team was getting off to slow starts. And Goggle Lish — which is what she has called herself since she was poked in the eye and started wearing goggles — continued to perform. She set single-game career highs in 3-pointers made (five) and points (22) while starting, and is now the team’s second-leading scorer with 12.1 points per game.
The New York Times talked to Gray about how her game has evolved, her greatest achievement and how she became a gamer.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
How have you evolved from your rookie of the year season to Year 4?
I think just my feel for the game. I know my first two years in the league everything was kind of, like, fast paced and I was still learning different kinds of ways to score. I’m to the point now where the game has really slowed down for me to where I’m able to read screens more, read cuts, if someone is overplaying me.
What’s the best part of your game?
I honestly can’t pinpoint just one part of my game. I think I’m an all-around player, so I do things on both ends of the court offensively and defensively.
You’re in great shape this season and it shows on the court. What’s your secret?
It’s really no secret. Just getting in the gym and putting in the extra work. I mean, the game gives you what you put into it, so if you’re in the gym extra it helps. I know this off-season I was in the gym with John Hollmon of S.T.A.T. Pro and I was literally in the gym five days a week.
So, you’re a bona fide gamer. How did that happen?
I grew up with two brothers — one older and one younger than me — and with brothers they play video games so it was a way to bond with my brothers.
They didn’t play with baby dolls and stuff. I had to play by myself. At the time I was the only girl — my little sister came a couple of years later — but at the time, the only way I could bond with my brothers was to play video games.
Tell us about playing in the NBA 2K tournament earlier this year.
It was fun. I teamed up with Aerial Powers and Alexis Jones and we played in the NBA 2K tournament. Aerial streams on Twitch and she got me into Twitch, so during the pandemic when we had stay at home orders I started streaming on Twitch as well.
I love playing video games. I’ve been playing video games forever, so it’s just a hobby. It’s something fun to do.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Winning the national championship at South Carolina. That was one of my main goals when I transferred to go to a school to compete for a national championship. To have a coach like Dawn Staley, I knew that playing for her would not only help me achieve that goal but also develop me as a player to ready me for the W.N.B.A.
When and where are you your happiest?
I’d have to say when I’m at home chilling and with my family and my boyfriend. Those are people that truly understand me as a person and they don’t see me as Allisha Gray the athlete — they see me as Allisha Gray the person. They’re the ones that treat me like a human so I’m at my happiest when I’m with them because they really understand and get me. I can talk to them about stuff as a person.
What is your most treasured possession and why?
I’d have to say my national championship ring. Not too many people have national championship rings. Those things are pretty rare.
Tell us about how you’re keeping your hair up in the “Wubble” — the W.N.B.A. bubble. First you had braids, then an Afro and now twists.
It’s just two-strand twists, a natural hairstyle. I can’t keep the braids in my head forever. I’m just trying to switch it up sometime. Let your hair breathe. I get my hair done in the hair salon here in the Wubble, and there are friends in the bubble who know how to do hair as well.
What is your day like in the Wubble?
My day consists of when I come home, back to my hotel room, I’m on Xbox either playing 2K or Call of Duty. I don’t really watch TV like that. I’m either playing video games if I’m not on the basketball court, or if I’m not playing video games, I’m on the basketball court.