When the Bowling Green Lady Purples take the floor at Rupp Arena in the Girls’ Sweet 16 against Bishop Brossart on Wednesday, it will be a moment to cherish for the players and coaches.
For Kiyah Gray, the moment might be a little more special.
The senior guard is happy to be back on the floor and contributing after a junior season cut short by an ACL injury and a setback that delayed the start of her senior year. Through plenty of hard work and determination, Gray is healthy again and eager for one last ride with her teammates.
BG coach Calvin Head said Gray is playing the best basketball of her career.
“She just never gave up. Look at what she is doing in the postseason,” Head said. “We are not at the Sweet 16 without Kiyah Gray. We are not even close.
“You can’t even bottle it all up – what she means to this program, what she means to her teammates, even what she means to our coaching staff.”
A key contributor as a freshman for the BG team that won a region title in Head’s first season, Gray entered her junior year ready to be one of the team leaders and was excited about playing with good friend Noochie Patterson, then a senior, for one last year.
But everything changed in a December game against Barren County when Gray tore her ACL.
“I knew as soon as I did it,” Gray said. “They carried me off the floor and I can remember looking at coach Head and him telling me that it is going to be OK. As soon as I went to the doctor and got the diagnosis, I busted out crying.
“It was a lot of things – not being able to play with the seniors anymore, not being able to be on the floor.”
Gray sat on the bench, watching as the Lady Purples won the region title. She stayed engaged on the bench sitting next to the coaching staff taking in everything.
“I still contributed my way, so I still felt like I was out there with them 100%,” Gray said. “I can actually say I learned a lot not being on the floor last year, like seeing stuff you can only see on the bench and not on the court. I feel like I am a better guard than I have ever been. I feel like that year that I took off really helped.”
Gray’s rehab on the ACL had her on schedule to be ready for the start of this season until she had a setback. Gray suffered a quad injury that left her with a noticeable limp during practice. The prognosis was that she needed another six weeks of rehab for the quad injury.
Gray said it was tough, but said it really sank in during Bowling Green’s season opening loss to Barren County.
“I was really emotional,” Gray said. “I remember after the Barren County game I went up to coach Head and was like, ‘I am playing.’ ”
Head wouldn’t let her play. Gray said it was the right decision despite her objections.
“By waiting I was able to play the whole season,” she said. “If I had went back too early I could have risked tearing my ACL again.”
She worked harder to get back. Gray would go to therapy at 7 a.m., come do rehab at practice and then do more rehab when she got home at night.
After all the hard work, Gray finally was cleared and returned to play against Webster County.
“It was a happy and a sad moment at the same time,” Gray said. “I was kind of nervous and I feel like everyone could have seen it. I was more nervous about scoring. My mind was set on getting back to my defensive stops, so in my mind I felt like I wasn’t 110%. As I got to playing I felt more comfortable with it.”
She also mentioned a talk with her older brother Kolbe, who sat her down and told her that the worst was behind her. That helped her gain more confidence.
Gray played in 23 games, averaging 5.7 points, but has seen an uptick in her production in the postseason. She scored a game-high 14 points in a win over Greenwood in the District 14 championship and scored nine points in the Region 4 championship win over Barren County.
“It’s really satisfying, being able to come back and beat Barren County and have the opportunity to go back to state,” Gray said. “I just feel like we can go further this year, past the elite eight. This program hasn’t been past the elite eight, but I have a good feeling that we can go all the way.”
Head gave Gray the game ball following the win against Barren County.
“That is how important she was for us,” Head said. “Even when she doesn’t score, she does so much other stuff. If you watch her she is always gathering her teammates and trying to keep them fully engaged. This means a whole lot to her. I told her and her momma that we are going to write a book about her. I wish everyone could see all the work she has put in to get back.”
Gray is unsure if she will try to play college basketball, so this week takes on extra meaning.
“I’ve thought about, because of COVID we really haven’t gotten looks like we were supposed to,” Gray said. “My junior year was going to be my AAU year, but I didn’t get to, so I am satisfied with this being my last year.”
“Being out there with the teammates I have right now, I wouldn’t change it.”