FLINT – Public transportation is what drove Shimmy Gray-Miller to her devotion to basketball.
Nothing could stop her from practicing her skills, especially not a ride. There wasn't a hoop at the Clover Tree Apartments in Flint Township where she lived with her mother, so Gray-Miller developed a weekend routine that consisted of riding the bus to Flint's downtown YMCA to play with the guys on Saturdays. Gray-Miller's mom Bonnie Miller worked long hours for AC Spark Plug to provide for her youngest daughter, so she did whatever she could just to play.
As Gray-Miller reflects on her career before entering the Greater Flint Afro-American Hall of Fame on Sunday, March 23, at 4 p.m. in Flint's Riverfront Banquet Center, that childhood weekend routine immediately pops into her head.
"That was how bad I wanted to play and that was how much it meant to me," Gray-Miller said. "I think of all of the sacrifices that I made for basketball, but it all started as that 11-year-old taking the bus every Saturday morning by herself to just play hoops.
"Now would I have an 11-year-old girl take the bus by herself in Flint? No," she laughed. "But in the early 1980s, that was OK."
Gray-Miller, 41, graduated from Carman-Ainsworth in 1990. She made All-State in basketball and track and still holds the record in rebounds and blocked shots in a season. She attended the University of Michigan and was a member of the women's basketball team, as well as a three-year starter and team captain for the Wolverines. In 1994, she was named Senior Athlete of the Year and upon graduation she was listed among career leaders in rebounds, blocked shots and steals.
On Saturday, interim coach Shimmy Gray-Miller was asked how she was doing on the heels of a 74-60 loss to Big 12 foe West Virginia.
She said she’s been better. But also worse.
It was the first day there was something more behind Gray-Miller’s eyes than unwavering enthusiasm for her team. She choked up after a game in which the Lady Raiders pushed back for a couple of third-quarter leads and trailed by single digits early in the fourth period against a team that beat them by 30 points less than a month ago in Morgantown, W. Va.
“What we talked about today before the game was results and reasons. Like, all these guys, they have every reason to quit,” Gray-Miller said.
And then there was an enormous pause as the tears built up.
“They each have had — It’s been a long year,” she . “And when you think about what some of these guys have been through since they’ve been at Tech, they haven’t just lost a coach. They’ve lost multiple coaches. They’ve lost multiple teammates. They’ve battled through injuries. Some of them are transfers, so this is supposed to be their second home. A fresh start. A new beginning. We talked about, this whole week, what this week was about and what this game was about.
“Every single kid in that locker room, they all have their reasons to give up, to give in, to quit, to make excuses, to shut it down. Wait for the new coach to come in and start it all over again. So, you have your reasons. Or you can get the results you want.”
The Lady Raiders (7-17, 1-12 Big 12), who recently had their locker room bug bombed because of a flu outbreak, were right there with 10 minutes to play.