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Chelsea Gray on new Aces coach Becky Hammon: 'She’s been a trailblazer'

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It was a dozen years ago that Chelsea Gray heard her name called as a McDonald's All-American, waiting for the U.S. Postal Service and landline phone calls to hear her fate.

In technology terms, it was eons ago. Now, the Olympic gold medalist squeezes a Zoom video call to talk about the 2022 McDonald's All-American class, which was released on Tuesday, in between studio appearances on the ACC Network and training for the 2022 WNBA season.

It should be a good one for the four-time All-Star and her Las Vegas Aces, who recently hired former 16-year WNBA veteran Becky Hammon from the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff.

"I’m super excited to have her as the next head coach," Gray told Yahoo Sports. "I think I can learn from her [and] her experiences. She’s done amazing things for women’s basketball and women in sport and people aspiring to be in her footsteps. She’s been a trailblazer."

Hammon is one of the WNBA's great point guards and currently ranks sixth in career assists (1,708). Gray has played half the time, but is in the same conversation averaging a 12th-best 4.47 assists per game in her career (996 total). There's value in playing the same role as your six-time All-Star coach.

"I’m going to ask her so many questions and bounce so many ideas off of her and [hear] what she thinks," Gray said. "I know she’s going to challenge me as a player, as a person. So I think it will be a great relationship. It’s already starting to form and get better each time that we’re able to be with each other."

Hammon, 44, was one of three head coaching hires in the WNBA this offseason and all are former players. Six of the 12 head coaches are now WNBA alumnae, plus two more are collegiate players who predated the league.

Chelsea Gray of the Las Vegas Aces warms up before a game.
Las Vegas Aces guard Chelsea Gray talked to Yahoo Sports about the McDonald's All-American game, WNBA free agency and her new head coach, Becky Hammon. (Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray on free agency visits

Many of those head coaches are navigating free agency from the front office side and negotiating with many of those former All-Americans while Gray kicks back.

"One thing for sure is that I’m not stressed," Gray told Yahoo Sports.

The Aces brought Gray and her wife, Tipesa, out to Vegas to see their facilities and meet face-to-face with the team's front office when she was a restricted free agent in 2020. She re-signed on a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Sparks, but joined the Aces as an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

The trip was an unusual move in the WNBA where players often signed sight unseen, and many top players didn't move at all under the old collective bargaining agreement.

"If you’re sure there’s somewhere you want to be, then sign the contract. Be where it makes you happy," Gray said. "But I think it’s important for organizations to say why and see where you’re going to play. Where are you going to sleep? Where are you going to train? Who are you going to be around?"

That movement has exploded during the current free agency period, which Gray noted on Twitter by resharing the UNINTERRUPTED documentary on her own visit.

Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported last week that 2012 All-American Breanna Stewart, a two-time WNBA champion, met with the New York Liberty organization in Los Angeles. Stefanie Dolson, a 2010 All-American with Gray, has reportedly been jet-setting to organizations after a championship year with the Chicago Sky. There have not been any reports of big-time signings so far in free agency, but there are notes of meetings on the books.

"It doesn’t have to be hush-hush," Gray said. "We know things are shaking [and] things are happening behind the scenes, but why not just be out in the open with it. The athletes have the power, so why not?"

McDonald's All-American game

Gray got the call 12 years ago telling her she was a McDonald's All-American, and on Tuesday, 48 high school students joined the exclusive club.

"It was an amazing experience, first of all, getting the call and getting the letter in the mail," Gray told Yahoo Sports. "Social media wasn’t big when I got selected. It’s not like I kind of found out and speculated over Instagram and Twitter. I was waiting for things in the mail and phone calls. My parents were waiting. It was a special moment for me and my family."

The St. Mary's (Calif.) High School senior won the skills competition and played alongside talent she still shares the court with today. Dolson (unrestricted free agent), Bria Hartley (Mercury), Natasha Howard (Liberty), Kayla McBride (Lynx), Chiney Ogwumike (Sparks), Theresa Plaisance (UFA) and Odyssey Sims (UFA) were all part of the 2010 selections.

"It just speaks to the longevity of how good and how great these players wanted to be," Gray said. "And so when I look back on it, it’s a blessing to be able to represent my high school at that."

The McDonald's All-American girls game will be played March 29 at 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2 in Chicago.

The McDonald's All-American game girls basketball roster.
The McDonald's All-American game girls basketball roster.
The girls and boys rosters for the McDonald's All-American games in Chicago on March 29.
The girls and boys rosters for the McDonald's All-American games in Chicago on March 29.