Now healthy, Gray raises her game to the next level
Numbers can only tell so much about a player.
It does not take more than a glance at an ordinary box score to tell that Chelsea Gray is an important member of her team. As the Blue Devils’ second-leading scorer with 11.6 points per game and the ACC’s leader in assists at 6.2 per game, her contributions on the court are significant, but what does not show up on the stat sheet makes her one of the most valuable players in the country.
For Gray her role on this team is simple.
“My job is to make everyone else better,” she said. “As a point guard that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
Gray, a sophomore from Stockton, Ca., has made significant strides since her arrival at Duke. After starting 18 games during her freshman season and posting 8.7 points and 2.5 assists per game, Gray had two assignments this offseason—to rehab from an ankle injury that hobbled her much of last year and to establish herself as Duke’s next great point guard. She accomplished them both.
After extensive rehabilitation to strengthen her surgically repaired left ankle, Gray quickly noticed improvements in her game.
“I just think I got into better shape. I’m able to play harder for a longer period of time,” Gray said. “That was a key point especially after my injury that I stressed over the summer.”
With restored confidence, Gray was ready to take on the 2011-12 season, not only as her team’s starting point guard, but also as one of its more experienced players. This year’s team features just one junior and two seniors along with nine freshmen and sophomores. In a year when Duke has battled numerous injuries and two suspensions for off-court issues, Gray has stayed healthy and present all year, starting all 28 games this season.
It is unmistakable that Duke plays with a different sort of energy when Gray is running the point. Her poise sets the tone for the Blue Devil offense when she steps foot on the court as the floor general for head coach Joanne P. McCallie’s team.
“I think it just comes with playing and having a rhythm throughout the game,” Gray said. “My team is right there behind me in everything I do out there so feeding off the energy of my team gives me confidence.”
Gray’s size makes her an atypical point guard. At 5-foot-11, she is one of the bigger point guards in the country, and the physical nature of her game makes her increasingly dangerous. She is not afraid to back her defenders down in the post or go up against larger players to grab rebounds.
In the Blue Devils’ win over Pittsburgh on Dec. 4, Gray recorded the fourth triple-double in the history of Duke women’s basketball with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists. She also added six steals.
Gray’s contributions on the defensive end nearly match what she brings to the Blue Devils on offense. She ranks in the top five in the conference, averaging 2.7 steals per game, but is adept at getting in opponents’ faces as a part of Duke’s full-court press. Her ability to put opponents in uncomfortable situations helps to force more turnovers than the ones she gets her hands on. With 13.1 steals per game, Duke ranks 6th in the nation.
Great players step up in big games, and Gray has done just that for Duke this year. Her scoring, rebounding, and assists totals have all increased during ACC play. She has not shied away from marquee opponents either, notching 17 points and 11 assists in Duke’s win over No. 8 Maryland on Jan. 22 and adding 12 points and nine assists in the Blue Devils’ victory over No. 5 Miami Feb. 24. For Gray, however, who she is playing against does not affect the way she approaches a game.
“I was just going out there and giving it my all any game,” she said.
Despite these individual successes, Gray’s aspirations for this season were all team-oriented.
“I want to try and win another ACC championship and get to a Final Four,” she said. “Those have been my goals all year.”
She accomplished the first of those goals when Duke defeated North Carolina to capture its third consecutive ACC regular season title, registering 12 points, seven assists, and seven steals in the win. Gray will look to lead Duke to its third straight ACC Tournament championship this weekend, before setting her eyes on the Big Dance.