Grey led Shiprock in scoring during the regular season and the state playoffs
SHIPROCK — The 4A girls state basketball tournament didn't end the way the Lady Chieftains had hoped on Friday, but they may not have even gotten there without the efforts of senior Shontai Grey.
A three-year varsity player, Grey was Shiprock's leading scorer during the regular season with 13 points per game. She then proved to be a big-game player by upping that average to 17 points per game during last week's state tournament in Albuquerque. Though the Lady Chieftains lost 51-48 to Hope Christian in the state final, Grey saved her best for last by notching 20 points in the effort.
She flashed her all-around game during the tourney as well, piling up nine rebounds and three assists in the semifinal against Santa Fe Indian School. Grey said that while she had a blast competing for the state title last week, she wished her team would have worked a little harder against Hope on Friday.
"It was kind of disappointing because I wanted to win, but we struggled here and there, and I guess we let the nerves get to some of us," she said. "I think I could have tried to rebound better, looking back."
Shiprock fans came out in droves for Friday's state final. They outnumbered Hope Christian fans considerably at The Pit in Albuquerque, and Hope coach Terry Heisey said it was the loudest game he had ever coached. Grey said she and her teammates may have been overly anxious for the game with so many of their friends and family in attendance.
Lady Chieftains coach Larenson Henderson, who has been Grey's coach for her entire prep career, said his players too often play to satisfy parents and loved ones, rather than playing for themselves. For much of the year, he said, Grey has been guilty of that, which is something he tries to dissuade in his players.
"I had a problem trying to get these girls to want wins for themselves," Henderson said. "They're always trying to please everyone else — parents, friends, uncles. (Grey) has so much talent and she was so humble that I think she could have been even better if she was even more assertive."
While reflecting on his team's shortcomings, Henderson said there's a fine line between being cocky and wanting to always take over a game, and he actually wished his players teetered more often on that line. Grey admitted that over the years she has played for her mom, who the senior said has done so much for her and her two sisters. But Grey thought she turned a corner earlier this month.
"I know I always wanted to make my mom proud, but coach is right that we have to want it for ourselves," she said. "Around district time, I started playing for me more."
Grey helped the Lady Chieftains topple Kirtland Central three times in a 10-day span, including in the district championship game, and she was named to the all-district first team for her stellar play. She started every game for the Lady Chieftains this season and was their clear-cut best player in the state tourney.
Henderson said Grey's great shooting and overall understanding of his offensive and defensive philosophies made it tough for him to take her out of games this season.
"I wish we got the ball in her hands more. I feel like she was our most accurate shooter," he said. "She did a lot of for us this year with her shooting and rebounding. Unless she was in foul trouble, I pretty much always had her out there."
Grey said she's not sure where she will attend college, but she'd like to play basketball as a walk-on wherever she goes. Henderson said she's going to be hard to replace.
"I can't make the free throws, the easy shots or the tough plays for you. But Shontai was one of the few players I could trust to do those things for us, no matter the obstacles of a game," he said. "That's gonna be a big loss for us."
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.
A closer look: Shontai Grey
1. Favorite team?
"Golden State Warriors."
2. Favorite athlete?
3. Favorite food?
4. Favorite movie?
5. Favorite subject in school?
6. Least favorite subject?
7. Biggest fear?
"Losing my mom."
8. Do you play any other sports?
9. What is the first thing you would do with $1 million?
"Repay my mom for everything she's gotten me."
10. Do you have any pregame rituals?
"Just bond with my teammates."