SANDERSVILLE -- Allisha Gray’s rise to prominence in the Middle Georgia basketball scene came quickly.
The Washington County forward’s ascension statewide took only slightly longer.
Gray, The Telegraph’s All-Middle Georgia GHSA Girls Basketball Player of the Year, earned attention across the state when she led the Lady Hawks to the GHSA Class AAA championship as a sophomore.
“Any time you need a big play, you can look to her,” Washington County head coach Sug Parker said. “She delivers every time.”
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Gray averaged a state-best 27.7 points to with five rebounds and three steals and led WACO to an undefeated season and an eventual 62-50 championship game victory over previously undefeated Dalton. WACO finished as the only undefeated girls team in any classification.
“This is what you dream of when you play basketball, winning that state title,” Gray said.
Gray created a buzz as a freshman by averaging more than 20 points and leading the Lady Hawks to a region championship. They went 25-3 that season but were upset by Spalding in the second round of the playoffs.
Gray used the disappointing loss as motivation during the offseason AAU schedule.
She impressed scouts throughout the summer, and in turn, she started receiving offers from college coaches. The Gray family’s mailbox hasn’t been the same since, and mail has continued to flow in following the stellar sophomore season.
The Lady Hawks (32-0) went through most of the season untested. Baldwin gave them a close game, but it wasn’t until the state semifinals that WACO was really pushed.
Trailing big early, WACO rallied to defeat defending champion Columbia to set up the championship game matchup. The Lady Hawks also trailed against Dalton in the championship game, but the deficit wasn’t as large, and they quickly bounced back and took control of the game.
“We knew we would get a tough game at some point,” Gray said. “Playing good teams makes you play better.”
Like her team, Gray cruised through much of the season, averaging more than 28 points during the regular season. During the playoffs, however, opposing defenses began playing a box-and-one and other gimmick defenses designed to stop Gray. She had defenders face guard her to deny her from even touching the ball.
But she continued to find ways to score, most of the time creating baskets by forcing turnovers in the Lady Hawks’ fullcourt pressure defense. Despite receiving constant attention from opposing defenses, Gray still averaged 21 points in the playoffs.
The attention paid to Gray allowed her teammates to step up, and Sherkierriea Nelson, Fathia Bess, Amber Antoine, Kala Brown and Sierra McNure all came through with important plays during the championship run.
“We are a team, so I always know (the rest of the team) can make plays whenever,” said Gray, who becomes the first sophomore to be named The Telegraph’s Player of the Year since former Jones County star Chimere Jordan accomplished the feat.
Gray is ambitious.
After a win over Butler in the quarterfinals, Gray didn’t seem interested in just winning this year’s championship. She said she wanted three championship rings by the time she graduated.
She echoed that sentiment after the win over Dalton.
“I’m not done yet,” she said.
Recent All-Middle Georgia Players of the Year
2011: Allisha Gray, Washington County
2010: Tai Brown, Northside
2009: Teshia Griswold, Baldwin
2008: Jalissa Dawson, Baldwin
2007: Cierra Duhart, Hawkinsville
2006: Chimere Jordan, Jones County
2005: Chimere Jordan, Jones County
2004: Moreemi Davis, Perry
2003: Lekecia James, Northeast
2002: April Johnson, Jones County