WNBA: Chelsea Gray Shining for Connecticut Sun After Conquering Doubt and Injury
WASHINGTON --- Chelsea Gray underwent a temporary crisis of faith.
The confidence the affable 5 foot, 11 inch guard once played with as an elegant two-time All-American guard at Duke was as fractured as her right knee.
Suffering two debilitating season-ending knee injuries, as Gray did during her junior and senior years can do that. Even though she is a strong spiritual person, those unfortunate setbacks even forced Gray to have doubts.
She eventually conquered the distrust in herself believing something greater would come, despite two major knee surgeries in less than a year.
Patience and a strong support base paved the way to where she is today, an impact rookie with the Connecticut Sun.
“It’s great to be out on the floor, play and put on a uniform,” Gray said Sunday afternoon prior to the Sun’s 84-73 loss to the Mystics at the Verizon Center. “It’s a blessing. I am happy to be here. There was a lot of doubt in my head when I went down when I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish my senior year (at Duke) on the court. It broke me a little bit.”
The 22-year-old Gray is making a difference averaging 6.6 points and 2.7 assists per game.
She’s healthy, blessed and cherishes each moment she puts on the sacred blue-and-white Sun uniform. Her sterling performances this season have helped the Sun shine into one the pleasant surprises of the WNBA season.
The Sun are 12-10 overall, a game out of a possible playoff spot with 12 contests remaining following Wednesday’s 80-74 victory over Tulsa at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
They trail Indiana, Washington and Chicago, who are all in a three-way tie for second place in the spandex-tight Eastern Conference standings.
After hosting first-place New York Friday night, the Sun have an odd schedule, playing three of its next four games against Atlanta sandwiched around a road game at Tulsa over the next two weeks.
With all-stars Alex Bentley and Kelsey Bone leading the Sun in scoring this season, there’s been no additional pressure for Gray to be great. She’s been able to blend in and play her role as an energizer off the bench.
Gray has placed herself in the WNBA Rookie of the Year discussion with several consistently excellent efforts this season. She had a career-best seven assists against the Stars in an 82-51 win last week. In Wednesday’s win over the Shock, she scored six points and handed out four assists.
Gray is second among rookies in assists per game, second in three-point shooting percentage (.341) and fifth in scoring average. She is averaging 3.9 assists over her last 11 games.
“It’s great to see her back with everything she has been through and healthy again,” said Connecticut guard and former Duke star Jasmine Thomas. “Having a chance to show what she can do is great.
"She’s already a good rookie and she’s going to have a great career in this league. It’s just nice to see her compete again. Chelsea is a great teammate. She has real good court vision and is a playmaker. One of the best things about her is she’s always looking for the brightness in every situation.”
During a crucial West Coast swing earlier this season, Gray averaged 12.3 points with nine assists and eight steals in three games as the Sun swept the always tough Phoenix-Los Angeles-Seattle trifecta. Gray had her best game in a Sun uniform, finishing with career-highs of 16 points while making all four of her 3-pointers.
Those efforts were part of the Sun’s overall 8-1 start to the season where Gray had five double-digit scoring performances.
Watching Gray carve up defenders, thread pinpoint passes and make her teammates laugh with hilarious one-liners, one would never guess that she had trepidation about attending the 2014 WNBA Draft when she was invited to the party with no guarantees that she would hear her name uttered by commissioner Laurel J. Richie.
“When I heard my name called during the draft, I was like ‘oh my God’, this is a dream come true,” Gray said. “I finally I was able to come to training camp and this is what I’ve been dreaming about since I was a little girl.”
It turned out to be the best situation for Gray, who was able to spend a year focusing on getting healthy and her knee stronger without any pressure to play. Being away from the court not only gave Gray a greater appreciation of the sport she loves more than her favorite musician Maxwell, but helped her gain a mental edge that’s been a key to her success this season.
Gray was also able to adjust to the rigorous travel schedule and improve aspects of her overall game.
Proving that she was back was her overseas performance for Hapoel Rishon Le-Zion of Israel in which she averaged 20.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.8 steals. The speed was back as was her swagger.
“I was able to slow down and not feel rushed to get back on the court,” Gray said. “I was able to focus on the little things that would get me back on the floor like bending my knee in certain positions or stop doing certain movements that were harmful to my knee. Being able to slow down, focus and not feel rushed was huge for me because I knew I had a lot of time to get back to the way I wanted to.”
Throughout her rehab and those dark moments when questions crept into Gray’s mind about whether she would ever play basketball at a high level, she surrounded herself around her awesome support system that included family and former teammates Tricia Liston and Haley Peters.
Gray’s journey to her achieving her dreams of being a professional women’s player may have featured a few unscheduled detours, but she never veered off-course even when things looked bleak. It’s a road that Gray is happy she traveled in hindsight.
“I would encourage people to follow your dreams no matter what,” Gray said. “There’s going to be adversity. The road isn’t always a clear path. There’s a lot of bumps and obstacles, but at the end of the finish line, you’ll be happy with the result.”
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