ASAS-LA Alum's Freshman Year Interview at UC Berkeley
The Bear Insider
BearShare: Reshanda Gray
By Viet Nguyen, Staff Writer Posted Nov 23, 2011 If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2011 BearInsider.com
Freshman forward Reshanda Gray
Freshman Reshanda Gray has made an immediate impact on the California women's basketball team. The 6'3 forward is currently tied for the team lead with 12.3 points per game while coming off the bench for the Golden Bears.
One of the most highly recruited post players in the country last year, Gray was a 2011 McDonald’s All-American and played on the Under-18 U.S. National team that won a gold medal at the 2010 FIBA Americas U18 Championship. Gray attended Washington Prep in Los Angeles, where she averaged 19.2 points and 17.1 rebounds a game.
Prior heading off to Hawaii for a Thanksgiving tournament, Gray shared about growing up in South Central Los Angeles and how being at Cal has given her back her smile.
Bear Insider: Hi Reshanda. I want to start by sharing something with you. I was walking onto campus the other day, and I heard a helicopter whirring overhead. It froze me for a second, because at the school where I served as principal, in East Oakland, hearing a helicopter meant that we were under a lockdown. But I know that's a sound you know well...
Reshanda Gray: Yeah, it's crazy. Haven't heard helicopters since I've been here.
You grew up in South Central Los Angeles. Were you born there?
I was born there, right off of Manchester and Hoover, so right in the heart of South Central. I was raised by my parents--I also have three brothers and three sisters, so that makes seven of us. I'm the fifth oldest.
All seven kids and both parents lived in the same place?
My mom, she had it rough, so we all stayed in a one-bedroom apartment. It was kind of tough, having seven of us. We would sleep in one room, and she and my dad would be in the living-room. My mom made sure we were up early, get something to eat, and get to school on time. She made sure to find any kind of way to give us a snack, and when in middle school, there was no snack, so she would give us whatever change she had, to make sure we had a lunch. She never really had a stable income, so it was in many ways, make it or break it. So whatever she had to do to put food on the table, she did.
When my family first came to the U.S., we didn't have any money either. I have a very vivid memory of being in elementary school, and it was Picture Day, and we were supposed to ask our parents for money to buy pictures. But I threw away the envelope, because I didn't want my parents to have to feel bad about not having the money. Kids really know at a young age what's up.
Kids know. On our Picture Days, we had a disposable camera. So that was our Picture Day. My mom would take our picture, "Stand against the wall, give me a big smile." So she could save money. I remember, I thought I was brilliant in middle school, so I started to sell candy, to help my mom with some bills. If I needed some clothes, or if my brothers or sisters needed some clothes, I would sell candy to help. I would save up the money she gave me, and I would buy chips or juices and sell them at school, and the money I made from that, I would put some aside and save it, and I would put the rest to buy more supplies.
An entrepreneur at such a young age...
Yep, a little hustler. How did your mom react when you gave her the money?
At first she said, "No, you earned it. You worked for it, so keep your money." I told her, "No, you put me on this earth, so that's the least I can do, to help you in any way possible."
But it was not just about being poor, right? You were surrounded by crime and violence.
Where we lived at was where one of the most violent gangs... A lot of stuff happened. At that time, I saw someone get shot in front of our apartment. My mom moved us to the back. We had to move to the back because they'd shoot, and bullets would fly in front, so my mom asked if we could move to the back of the apartment, so that nothing would happen to us. My mom would tell us not to walk by ourselves, and when the streetlights come on, you gotta be in the house. That was the rule, like streetlights or sunset, you'd better be running home. That was an everyday thing until I got to high school, when I had no choice but to come home late after basketball practice. But if I came home late after basketball practice, I had to make sure to get a ride home and not just catch the bus or walk home.
So in this environment, where so many others do join gangs and repeat the cycle, what made your path different?
What made my path different is that the people I did look up to that were in gangs and violence, I saw the outcome--that you could go to jail or you'd be put six feet under. I don't like neither one of them, so I'm just going to change it while I still can and try to be a better person and do something with my life. Even as a kid, I decided I didn't want to live this way. In middle school, that's how I met my godparents, Missy [Blackshire] and Tyrone [Dinneen], through the after-school program called LA After-School All-Stars. So that was like my second home. If I wasn't at home or if I wasn't at school, I would stay there until six or seven, and then I'd get rides home from there.
How did you get introduced to the after-school program in the first place?
[Laughs] Well, I was 11 or 12, and I was being bad, one of those little bad baby kids. So Tyrone, he's like, "You should come to the program and try it out. You might like it." I was like, "No, I'm cool." Then I never went. But then I ran into him again, and he walked me over to the office and gave me an application. I threw the application out, but then I came back the next day. At first, we had to do a countdown. Countdown is where you check in and do your homework for the first 15 minutes. I used to come late, give my countdown leader trouble.
So for a while, you wouldn't even make it past the first 15 minutes before getting into trouble?
I was stubborn, and I didn't want to listen to anybody. At the middle school I went to, bullying was one of the problems. People would try to walk over me, because I'd be quiet; I liked to sit and observe stuff. So people would think they could do stuff or say stuff and I wouldn't do anything back. But I would say stuff back, and I wouldn't stop until I got the last word.
So I got sent to Tyrone. He asked me, "What's the problem? Why are you acting up?" "Because she told me to do something that I didn't want to do!" And he was like, "Well sometimes you have to listen. Everything don't go your way. The sun don't set on you, nor does it rise." I used to get sent to his office a lot, and he used to get mad at me, and we'd yell, and his face would turn red, and I'd laugh, and it would just make him more mad. But he told me, "You're not a bad kid. You're a good kid. Stop doing what you see around you. Don't be a part of it. Do something different." I started to straighten up. I realized he was only here to help me, that he sees something in me. So I decided to give the program a chance.
You're considered a success story, but much of what I've read about you has portrayed you as someone who overcame her circumstances and who maintained her positive nature despite all the difficulties. So it's interesting, and more real and hopeful to me, to hear that at one point, you were "a bad little kid," that you did not want to be told what to do. Where do you think that attitude came from? I was just being a bad girl, just being a pain in the butt. I mean, my mom didn't raise me that way. I don't know where it came from. I guess, probably, just growing up, I had to have a shield, a toughness, and I think that's where it came from. I had to keep my guard up the whole time.
But you decided to let it down...
Yeah, I decided to let my guard down once I saw help, saw a relief.
Often adults have to prove themselves to the kids they're trying to help. Was this the case with Tyrone and you?
Yeah, he had to prove himself. He gave me so many chances. He really saw something in me that I didn't see, and he really gave me three, four chances to straighten up. That's what I saw, and that's what finally made it click.
Peer pressure can be very intense. You were trying to make a change, but others around you might have looked at that as joining the system, as selling out. Was that difficult for you?
It was hard, because they grew up in my neighborhood, so they were my neighborhood friends. So it was hard to pull away from them. I'd try to invite them, and they didn't want to come, so I was like, "If you don't want to help yourself, I can't help you." So I had to find a new group of friends.
So now you've joined the after-school program. When did basketball come into your life?
I found basketball in the eighth grade. We had this program every year and it was called March Madness. And the after-school program always had a team that represented our site, and Tyrone was like, "You should be on the team!" I didn't want to do it. I finally gave in and started playing, because he told me that my best friend was playing. Tyrone told me, "All you have to do is stand right here and catch the ball and put it in." So I was cherry-picking the whole time. I didn't know anything else. I didn't know how to dribble; I was airballing free-throws and kicking the ball out of bounds. And after it was over, I didn't want to play anymore. And he said, "Did you know you could actually get a scholarship out of this?" I never knew that, that you could get a scholarship out of playing a sport. So then I started to take it serious and actually started learning to play basketball and enjoy it. So Tyrone is the reason why I play basketball. He bribed me with my best friend.
He used your best friend as a bribe? He didn't try using anything else, like a certain sour candy?
They told you about Gushers?!
Hey, I do my research! All right, back to Tyrone... had you considered college before he mentioned it to you?
I thought about college, but at that age, I thought, no, I don't belong there. I had the mentality for some reason that I didn't fit there.
What did you think you would do?
I don't know. I just thought I would grow up and just be a vet. Because when I was little, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I love animals. That's what I actually thought, that I would just grow up and be a vet.
Once you made the decision to focus on school and basketball and going to college, were there moments of doubt where you considered going back to the other path?
No, because once I left that, I left that, and I'm not coming back no more. It's like a black hole. So once I leave, I'm not going back there.
You attended Washington Prep. Was that your neighborhood school?
My oldest brother, my oldest sister, everybody went to Washington. My home school was Fremont High, but I didn't want to go there. My counselor at my middle school, her husband worked at Washington, and she told him I played basketball. So I met the coach at Washington--Ricky Blackmon--and he showed me their program. I met with the coaches and the principal. I used my uncle's address--he lived closer to Washington--so I would be able to get into the school. But then by the sophomore year, they found out, so I had to apply for a permit. I loved Washington--once a General always a General. They really help all the athletes with our academics. If you have a goal, they want to help you to achieve that goal.
When did you first realize that getting a scholarship might become reality?
That was sophomore year, when I got my first letter, from UNLV. Then I had a great summer after my sophomore year with the Cal Sparks. It was so many phone calls and many letters--I had four double-bags of letters, it was crazy. That's when I thought, Dang, I am really about to make it, really about to go to college and do something I have a passion for. What was the hardest part about the recruiting process?
The sad part was having to call up a coach to say you're not interested. I don't like hurting people--besides my bad middle-school years [laughs]. But I had to tell them because I didn't want them to keep on waiting and thinking that I was interested in these schools when I was not.
How did you eliminate schools?
I used the team chemistry, the academics, the environment, the support system. Those were the main things I was looking at in a university.
It came down to Cal and USC at the end. What swayed things in the Bears' favor?
I like Cal and I like San Francisco and the whole Bay Area. And the number one public education. And the team is great. And it's close to home; in case something happened, I could fly an hour away. I can feel semi-independent here. If I picked USC, my mom would be like on the 81 bus and be at my door. It would take her 10 minutes to get there, and I don't want that. And plus I felt that I would get distracted by my friends; they would want to come over and hang out and distract me. I thought that was not the best decision for me.
Then of course, after you signed, there was a change in coaching staffs. Yet you decided to stick with your commitment.
The coaches were cool, but I didn't pick the school because of the coaches. I picked the school because I liked the school. Well, I was in love with the school--and the squirrel population.
Umm... Did you say "squirrel population?"
I have a thing for squirrels, I'm sorry. I love squirrels.
Oh no. Now I just got an image in my head of you dressed as Snow White, dancing around and passing out nuts to squirrels. But you're not some dainty princess, and you don't need another name. You're already Too Tall and Beast Mode!
Too Tall's my nickname, and Beast Mode, well, that's like my alter-ego on the court. Actually, it came out of when I played volleyball. Whenever I did something like a spike or a block, my teammates would yell, "Too Tall... Beast!" That's just who I am on the basketball court.
Another thing people could call you is McDonald's All-American. That's quite an accomplishment considering you started playing basketball in the eighth grade.
I am a humble person. I didn't get a big head about it. It did cross my mind that I was there with the top players, that I was a McDonald's All-American, and that out of so many players nominated, I was picked. It was exciting, but I didn't get big-headed about it.
While at the All-American game, you were roommates with Justine Hartman. She was slated to go to UCLA at the time, but now she's a Bear. How did you do that, Reshanda?
I didn't recruit her. We were just really open with each other, asking about each other's family. We talked about what we liked about where we were going. Then the next thing you know, Coach Boyle left for Virginia. Then I heard about Justine's coach leaving, so I called her and asked her what she was going to do. She was like, "I don't know. What are you going to do?" I told her, "I am staying with Cal, and I heard that we have a great post coach who already has girls playing in the WNBA. So I'm going to stay and try to build a relationship with her." Next thing you know, I get a phone call, "Justine is coming on a visit. Do you want to come too?" "Sure, why not?" I agreed to it, but didn't know it was on the day after my prom. So I had to pull an all-nighter and catch the morning flight to come up here for the visit. Glitter still on your face... Make-up, hair, nails, eyelashes! But I came up for her visit.
I also heard that you and Justine, on your weekend home in SoCal, took time to come visit your coaches, who were down there recruiting. One would think you'd want to have a bit of a break from them.
You mean at Mater Dei? Oh my gosh, that was fun! Our coaches are mad cool. I love our coaching staff. We have one of the best coaching staffs ever. In practice if they get on you about something, I 'd just say, "Yes, coach, I got it." Because they're here to make me better and win games. They are so friendly! Like I'm just cheesing so big, but I love our coaching staff. At Mater Dei, it was so great to see them, but also great to see some of the girls I played AAU with and those coaches from my club team too.
How has it been to visit home now that you've left for college?
Here it's a new environment, but everything back home is still the same. Nothing has changed. The corner store is still there. The gangs are still there, the police, cops, drug dealers, still there. It's still the same, and I'm happy that I'm nowhere around there. I just want to get my family away from that. My two little sisters--they're 13 and 10--they really look up to me. I tell them, "Don't you want to be like me? Don't you want to make mama proud?"
Your younger sisters are now around the same age you were when you made some life-changing choices. They're lucky to have you to show them the way.
They said one time, "I want to be just like you." That made me cry. It feels good to have somebody look up to you. It's a great feeling.
Do you embrace that responsibility of being a role-model for younger people? Not just for kids from your old neighborhood, but perhaps for kids like my former students, who face similar challenges.
Yeah, because I want to tell them, "Don't give up. Work hard for what you want, because I worked hard to get myself here, to give myself a chance. Don't let anybody tell you that you can't do something. I had people tell me, 'You ain't gonna be nothing. You're just going to end up just like the rest of them.'"
People said that to you when you were a little kid?
When I was younger, in the phase of changing but still doing some of the bad stuff that I did. You know, those people, they have no heart, or they are cowards. To tell a child that...
In my experience, I've seen some grown-ups who are threatened or jealous when they see younger people striving to be better and do better. It's as if, "Well, I couldn't do it.."
I'm going to put you down, and you're not gonna able to do it, and you're going to end up just like me, which is nothing.
And that's tough, because while I do understand where they're coming from, because of their own life experiences, they're still impacting generations of people coming up.
I feel that people shouldn't do that. That's not right. You should be trying to lend a hand and help people instead of putting them down. That's not going to make you feel any better; it's only going to make you a terrible person.
You spoke about how basketball has opened up the world to you. I imagine that getting to go to New York and Hawaii in your first semester of college qualifies...
Yes! These are places that I've dreamed about going to, and this year I get to go. I get to go to Hawaii! So not only a great coaching staff, I have a great team to have this experience with. Someone asked me who was my favorite player on the team, and I had to really think about it. I don't have a favorite person. Each and every person I have a different relationship with them, so I couldn't really give you a favorite, because I have a great relationship with everybody.
Just the other day, I asked you about Talia Caldwell, and you said Talia has been like a mom. How has she been helpful to you?
Talia is the tough-love. That is perfect--Talia Tough-Love! Talia, she didn't give anything to me easy. She made me work. And I really thank her for it, because as the season goes along, nothing is going to be given to me. I'll have to work for everything. So I give her a lot of props. And speaking of people who help you, the other day, I was interviewing Kai when you dropped in and said you were heading to the dentist... Yeah, I finally got my teeth fixed. When I was younger, one day we were playing baseball, and I was standing behind this other girl who was batting, and I guess I didn't stand where I was supposed to... Probably didn't want to be told where to stand... Probably! Probably. But the bat flew out of her hands and hit me in the mouth and broke my teeth. And so it's been like that for years. And dental health is often something that gets neglected in poor communities. At my school, we used to bring in volunteer dentists to make sure the students get what they needed. Yeah, actually, we asked many times to have my teeth fixed, but our insurance--well, it was MediCal--they turned me down each time. So I just thought there was nothing I could do. And you know, over the years, my tooth turned gray, and I was told that the nerves were dead in there. But then I came here, and they fixed it for me. The dentist here even told me that it was actually infected. It made me wonder, how long has it been infected and no one told me. And now you have your smile back. Yes. It's great. I feel like I can really smile again. I'm a happy person, so I would smile a lot, but the truth is, growing up, I was always insecure about it. I would think, here I am, already Too Tall, and with these teeth, who's gonna talk to me? But now I can smile and not have to worry about it, so I'm not insecure about it any more.
Thanks, Reshanda. It's been a pleasure getting to know you. Have fun in Hawaii and Happy Thanksgiving!
Happy Thanksgiving to you!