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Final verdict: Chelsea Gray can play

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Final verdict: Chelsea Gray can play

St. Mary's junior star Chelsea Gray, a Manteca native who attended Brock Elliot School, scored a game-high 27 points in the Rams' 90-35 Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff victory over East Un...

JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin/


POSTED March 5, 2009 4:22 a.m.
My first of three encounters with Chelsea Gray started on her family’s driveway.

Then an incoming 6th grader at Brock Elliot School, she was decked out in her AAU team uniform and dribbling a basketball between her legs while I scouted for a spot to take a picture.

The basketball hoop silhouetted by the blinding sun and bright, blue sky caught my eye, but for a half second I was no longer thinking about the photo shoot.

I toyed with the idea of going one on one, just to see if I still had it (I actually never had whatever “it” was to begin with) and to see if she did.

Getting needlessly sweaty didn’t appeal to me at that time, so I got behind the camera and fired away.

I caught up with her two years later in the summer of 2005, when attended the Adidas Junior Phenom Camp in San Diego and began to gain national attention. She was ranked the 23rd best 8th grader in the country.

She was noticeably taller at 5 feet, 5 inches and far more willing to talk without her mother’s urging. But the genuine personality and impressive poise were still there.

The last time I saw her in person was at her 8th-grade graduation at Sierra High, where she made it a point to greet me at the gym’s foyer.

I hadn’t seen her since, save for a few internet clips, but was always curious to see what the hype was all about.

I had read about her in the papers and on the internet, where you will find that she is considered to be among the nation’s best in her class (NorCalPreps.com has her as the top-rated junior in this half of the golden state).

All the local scribes who have seen her play have raved about her all-around skill set, but I’ve wanted to scribble out my own scouting report.

I finally had my chance at Galt High Wednesday, where Gray and her St. Mary’s Rams eliminated East Union, 90-35, from the semifinal round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.

I can’t help but think how grateful I am to have kept my mouth shut six summers ago.

As it turns out, she has more athletic ability, skill, talent and everything else in her left retina than I do my entire bean pole of a body.

There are few high school girls I’ve seen at her height, 5-11, combine such ferocity and grace from the point-guard position.

A lot of coaches out there wish they can have a 5-11 player capable of grabbing a rebound or two while simply keeping a body on the person she was assigned to defend.

All of Gray’s talents were on full display Wednesday in the Rams’ merciless mashing of East Union — the cream of the Valley Oak League’s crop over the last three seasons.

She was a ball-hawking thief on the defensive end, where she picked up five steals and a block. She commanded the offense with the ball under her palms, fearlessly darting in and out of the lane at will.

She put up soft floaters, hit acrobatic layups, and sank four 3-pointers. She got her 27 points, but teammates were heavily involved. One of her four assists was a no-look, bounce pass from midcourt.

Yeah, the little Chelsea Gray I once knew is good.

Blue-chip athletes such as Gray rarely come out of Manteca, and it’s a shame we can’t see her on a more weekly basis. But she has no regrets making the 30-minute commute to and from Stockton five days a week.

“I know that it will pay off in the end,” she told me after Wednesday’s game.

With or without basketball, Gray, who takes her schoolwork as seriously as practice, will be somebody special — as if she already isn’t.

St. Mary’s coach Tom Gonsalves spoke glowingly of his star point guard as if he were a proud papa.

“She really is unbelievable,” he said. “She’s unselfish; she plays hard, practices hard. She’s low-maintenance, a very easy player to have on your team. She’s just a great kid, and that was a pretty impressive performance.”

That it was.

Who knows if I’ll ever see young Chelsea again. If not anytime in the near future, then perhaps on TV sometime after she graduates.

Certainly not on her parents’ driveway with thoughts of challenging her, that much I do know.

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