Gray's Little Green Men Help to Motivate Husky Hoopsters
March 12, 2001
By Dick Rockne
Motivated by a plastic army of tanks and soldiers, University of Washington women basketball players have gone from worst to first.
From a negative rebounding margin of minus-3.8 per game (last in the Pac-10 Conference) in 2000, the Huskies have soared to plus-3.7 this season. The improvement is believed to be largely responsible for the team winning 19 of 28 games and capturing one third of the Pac-10 Conference championship. They will go into the NCAA Tournament as the No. 6 seed in the West Region.
The idea of tanks and soldiers was thought up by Shimmy Gray, a former University of Michigan rebounding standout from Flint who is nearing the end of her first season as a UW assistant coach. When hired she was told by the head coach, June Daugherty, that her prime mission was to improve Husky rebounding.
Pondering her assignment while driving home following a late-night video-tape session, Gray said she kept thinking about how Daugherty refers to the paint area of the key as a ``war zone."
``It was 1 o'clock in the morning and I thought, `That's it! I'll buy toy soldiers and tanks and I'll give a toy soldier to somebody who has a decent rebounding night and I'll give a tank to the one who has the best night,"' Gray said.
``And then I'm thinking it's the dumbest idea in the world."
But, Gray went ahead with her idea, which was supported by Daugherty.
"We had our first meeting and I think I gave out two soldiers and one tank," Gray said. ``And the girls just kind of went wild, like they liked it."
Melissa Erickson, a senior forward who had some doubts at first, became an enthusiastic participant in the battle to accumulate tanks and soldiers.
``It gives us something fun to look forward to," Erickson said. ``It's rewarding. We all have them above our lockers."
Gray's plan does not just reward players for total numbers of rebounds. A bigger issue is their ``war zone percentage." Every time a shot is taken players have the opportunity to execute in the ``war zone" by blocking out an opponent.
Example: During a recent game against Stanford, senior center LeAnn Sheets was 41 for 49. That meant that while she was on the floor she had 49 chances to block out an opponent and she did it 41 times _ a war zone percentage of 84 percent.
``It's a fun way to reward people for something that sometimes goes unnoticed," senior guard Megan Franza said. ``It's obvious our team is rebounding phenominally compared to last season. It's amazing to watch."
Franza, recognized as one of the best outside shooters in the Pac-10, has become a more well-rounded player in response to the tanks and soldiers. Her rebounding average has soared to 3.7 per game this season compared to 3.0 in 2000.
``She's even gotten a tank," Gray said.
Gray, 28, is in her first season of coaching at the Division I level. She was hired by Washington after spending a year as an assistant coach at nearby Bellevue Community College.
She took up coaching after two years as a police officer in Ypsilanti, a job she didn't like.
``I'd seen everything in two years there," Gray said. ``I just felt like I was becoming cynical and sarcastic. It just wasn't where I wanted to spend the next 20 years of my life."
The employment flip side has been her job at Washington.
``I am learning so much ... learning about the game, about people and about myself," Gray said. ``I'm excited."
And so are the Huskies, about tanks and soldiers.
Dick Rockne retired in 2001 after 37 years as a sportswriter for the Seattle Times. He is a contributing writer for gohuskies.com