Reshanda Gray, the energetic 6-foot-3 forward on Cal's Sweet Sixteen women's basketball team, continues to live a Cinderella story.
If she hadn't discovered basketball in middle school, Gray isn't sure where life in South Central Los Angeles would have taken her. She's pretty sure her path wouldn't have included college.
When Gray finally got a ball in her hands at an after-school program, the towering teenager became almost an overnight success on the court. She improved so rapidly that she was selected to the USA under-18 national team just three summers after playing her first competitive basketball game.
Now she's instant production off the bench for one of the country's top college teams. Cal, seeded No. 2 in the Spokane Region, can reach the Elite Eight for the first time in school history with a win Saturday against No. 6 LSU.
"I never thought I'd be this type of basketball player at a big school, in the big dance," the sophomore said. "It's definitely a Cinderella story for me."
Gray averages 8.6 points and 4.9 rebounds as part of an elite Cal frontcourt that also includes Gennifer Brandon and Talia Caldwell. She scored 14 points in Monday's victory over South Florida, including two free throws at the start of overtime that helped Cal regain momentum after missing eight of 11 shots from the line at the end of regulation.
In the Bears' breakthrough victory over Stanford earlier this season, Gray's defense on Chiney Ogwumike prevented the Cardinal star from taking over the game.
It wasn't all that long ago that Gray was so raw a coach had her practice layups on her own while the rest of the team did drills.
"Literally her first time shooting a basketball was as a seventh- or eighth-grader ... She had no fundamentals, no footwork, no technique," said Tyrone Dinneen, the after school coordinator who first convinced Gray to play basketball. "She was like a giraffe out there."
Tall and athletic, Gray ended up loving the game. She played junior varsity basketball her freshman year at Washington Prep High, and started attracting interest from smaller college programs during her sophomore season.
Gray quickly moved up from Cal Sparks' lowest-level club team -- which needed some convincing to take her in the first place -- to its most elite squad. She also spent a lot of time at the gym.
"One of the keys for me was I just have to keep working hard, no matter what," Gray said. "I definitely put in a lot of work."
By the time she was a junior, her mailbox was flooded with letters from major schools.
"(Coaches) would say she was one of the most coachable athletes they'd ever seen," said Dinneen, who had become Gray's godfather by that point. "Other common comments were that she looked like she loved to play."
That summer, Gray made the under-18 national team. She went on to average 19 points and 17 rebounds as a Washington Prep senior, making the McDonald's All-American game.
Gray was a top-25 recruit when she signed with Cal in the fall of her senior year.
"It was definitely big for me to go from an inner-city public school," Gray said. "You really don't see that many people make it out of the neighborhood that I'm from ... I definitely won't forget where I came from because it made me who I am today."
Gray was an instant contributor at Cal. She's known for her length, toughness and the perpetual smile that she's carried with her for as long as Dinneen has known her.
"She had a really rough background, but I never heard her complain," Dinneen said. "She was always really happy, excited and affectionate."
She'll be even happier if she can help Cal make history on Saturday.