STOCKTON — Chelsea Gray is St. Mary’s floor general with unusual talents for her height (5-foot-11), and she has the ability to take and make pressure shots with regularity.
But the soft-spoken senior couldn’t shake the nervous energy on Thursday as she signed her national letter of intent to Duke University while flanked by teammates Afure Jemerigbe and Alle Moreno.
“Wait, what’s the date again?” Gray asked while putting pen to paper, drawing laughter from friends and family in the Lagorio Building.
Gray, a Manteca resident and Brock Elliot School graduate, is the first student-athlete from St. Mary’s to sign a full-ride scholarship to Duke. Cal, Stanford and Maryland were also among her top options.
Duke’s 2010 recruiting class is ranked No. 1 in the nation by ESPN HoopGurlz, which features all five of the Blue Devils’ signees on its top-100 list — including Gray at No. 4.
ESPN HoopGurlz also touts her as the top overall senior in California and the second best point guard nationally. Sporting News has her on its preseason All-America first team.
“It was more excitement than nervousness,” Gray said. “It’s just a big relief. I know I’ll be getting a free education and still be able to play basketball.
“I’m still going to play my game and not let down, but it’s a relief to not worry about which college I’m going to anymore.”
The stress from having to impress college scouts didn’t hamper her game over her previous three varsity seasons.
Last year, Gray led the Rams to a 31-3 record and their fifth all-time California Interscholastic Federation Division III state championship. St. Mary’s met Manteca-based East Union along the way, beating the three-time defending Valley Oak League champion 90-35 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinals.
Gray averaged 20 points, seven assists, seven rebounds and five steals, was named CalHiSports.com top junior, and was selected to Parade Magazine’s All-American third team and CalHiSports.com’s all-state Division III team.
St. Mary’s is favored to repeat with everybody on the team returning. Jemerigbe, the 15th best senior according to ESPN HoopGirlz, and Moreno signed with Cal and Sacramento State, respectively, Thursday.
“I’ve played with them for a very long time,” Gray said. “I’ve played with Alle Moreno since the 4th grade and Afure since the 6th grade, so I was looking forward to signing with them.”
Duke’s women’s basketball team, No. 6 on the Associated Press poll, is coming off a 27-6 season. Its success played a part in Gray’s decision, but academics and her instant chemistry with the coaching staff and players pushed it over the hump.
Gray made two visits to Durham, N.C., first with her mother, Vickey, last spring, and again with her father, James, in August.
“I don’t want to just focus on sports,” said Gray, who holds a 3.8 grade point average and plans on majoring in pre-law. “Duke is an outstanding academic institution, so I’m excited about that.”
James and Vickey said they will make frequent cross-country trips to watch their daughter play but will enjoy their time with her at home in the meantime.
“I did all my crying (Wednesday),” Vickey said. “We’re just very, very excited and we feel blessed. This doesn’t happen to children too often, and we’re very happy that it’s happening for Chelsea.”
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