By Logan Murdock / @Logan_Murdock
It’s a mild, 63-degree November day in Berkeley, California.
Reshanda Gray sits in the kitchen of her off-campus Berkeley apartment. Gray, fresh off being named Preseason All-American by Athlon Sports (along with teammate Brittany Boyd), is more than accommodating upon my arrival.
“You want some Kool-Aid?” she asks, walking toward the fridge.
I decline. “New diet” is my excuse.
Gray hasn’t been so hospitable to her opposition during her three years at UC Berkeley. During her tenure at Cal, she has amassed more than 1,000 points, garnered numerous All-America honors and helped lead Cal to its first Final Four appearance in 2013.
Ten years ago, this reality wasn’t even a thought for Reshanda. Born and raised on the outskirts of Inglewood, in the heart of South Los Angeles, she bounced around from housing complexes to apartments until she was 11 years old. That’s when her biological parents, along with her three brothers and three sisters, settled into a one-room apartment in the notorious Hoover neighborhood of South Los Angeles.
“It was always a struggle,” remembers Gray.
As a youth, she was exposed to L.A.’s gang culture early. With her apartment being on the corner of 81st and Hoover, the Eight-Tray Gangster Crips street gang held a prominent presence in the neighborhood.
At age 11, Gray was headed down the same path as so many of her peers.
“I was hanging out with the wrong people every day, smokin’, drinkin’,” Reshanda remembers from her adolescence. “I just thought it was natural.”
To make matters worse, Gray and her siblings were put into the foster care system, a result of her parents' drug use.
“It was a bad experience. I felt really uncomfortable. I felt like [my foster mom] was really mean to us.”
Tough times continued to come Gray, but a change was on the horizon.
Enter Tyrone Dinneen.
Dinneen was working at Bret Harte Middle School as a coordinator for the West Chapter of the After-School All-Stars Program. The program was founded as a nonprofit in 1992 that partners with schools across the United States. It provides after-school programs for schools typically in low-income areas.
Reshanda’s initial inclination upon meeting Dinneen was one of distrust.
“I didn’t trust him. He was a nobody. He was just promoting his after-school program.”
Though initially hesitant, Gray joined the program at the behest of her older brothers, but her attitude toward her new nemesis remained the same.
“I used to like to push his buttons. One time I got in trouble and he just got so mad and turned red, and I just started laughing.”
Reshanda and Dinneen had many more run-ins like this through her first year in the program.
The turning point in their relationship, which would coincide with the turning point in her life, came when a fed-up Dinneen suspended Rashanda from the program after her disruptions became too much for her counselors to bear.
After her one-day suspension, Dinneen sat the young, troublesome child down and told her how he felt.
“He was like, 'c’mon, Reshanda, I know you’re a good kid.’ One of those heart-to-heart talks that you have with a kid that’s doing wrong.” Gray recalls. “I think he definitely dug deep and reached out a lot."
The talk changed Reshanda’s life, and without it she believes she would have never made it out of the confines of South Los Angeles.
“I feel like I would be pregnant right now [if the talk didn’t happen], on welfare, working a minimum wage job and not having all the opportunities that I have [today].”
Her time at Bret Harte was a turning point in another light as well. It was there that Reshanda first picked up the sport of basketball.
Each year the middle school would hold a “March Madness” competition. Hoping to get Reshanda into the sport, Dinneen put her on a team in the showcase in her 7th-grade year.
Her basketball abilities were a far cry from what Cal fans have been accustomed to seeing for the past three years.
“I never knew how to play basketball. I barely knew how to do a layup.”
She ended up taking a liking to the sport but not enough to invest a livelihood in it.
“I wanted to be a model.”
Reshanda enrolled into Washington Prep, located in Los Angeles, in the fall of 2007. She began her freshman campaign as a three-sport athlete, playing volleyball, running track, while trying her luck on the hardwood. In her first year of organized basketball, the 6-foot post played well enough to be moved up to varsity for the playoffs.
An experience that summer would be yet another turning point in Gray’s life.
After her freshman season, Coach Elbert Kinnebrew of the ultra-successful AAU team the Cal Sparks came to her school to recruit. Except coach wasn’t coming to recruit Reshanda; Kinnebrew came to recruit her teammate at Washington Prep: Deajanae Scurry, who would later go on to play on a scholarship at San Diego State University. Reshanda came to the tryout only at the urging of her high school coach.
“I went to the practice or whatever, and I guess I kept messing up. So the coach sent me to the other end of the court to practice layups. That was when I started working with my high school coach on my game.”
Her hard work paid off when the same coach that sent her to the other side of the court during her initial tryout was one of the coaches recruiting her to play for his team later in the summer.
Things were starting to look up for Gray during her sophomore year at Washington Prep. Her living situation got a lot better when she moved in with the family of the man she clashed with three years before: Tyrone Dinneen.
Sensing that the crowded household could be counterproductive for the rising prep star, he offered her a room in his house with his wife and kid. The move proved to be vital in her development, and she thrived on the court.
“I enjoyed being a kid [in a normal environment]."
Today, she refers to Tyrone and his wife as her “godparents.”
Over the course of her prep career, Gray built up quite the résumé. She was awarded the Los Angeles City Player of the Year in 2010 and was a McDonald’s All-American in 2011, while being the 22nd ranked player in the country overall by ESPN HoopGurlz.
While Gray’s high school career was impressive, her career at Cal has been one for the ages.
Her junior year (2013-2014) was her best year yet, as she averaged 17.6 points and 9 rebounds per game. The season was highlighted by a 43-point, 16-rebound performance against Washington State.
Gray’s senior year is off to a grand start as well. She’s started the season with averages of 20.9 points to go along with 5.6 boards a game going into mid-December.
Although the WNBA is in her sights after this season, she is quick to assure that her complete focus is on finishing her career off strong.
“I just want to know that I left everything out on the floor.”
Gray’s tenacity and drive will make her hardwood Cinderella story a never-ending saga.
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