Freshman forward D’asia Gregg enjoying learning in practice, contributing in games
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
D’asia Gregg has one of those faces that makes it look like she’s always smiling.
Of course, she isn’t always, but she pretty much always is when she’s on the basketball court.
That’s when the smile the 6-2, freshman forward from Florence, S.C., is wearing is most genuine. In high school it was almost always on display, as she led Wilson to the South Carolina State Finals Class 4A in 2016-17 and won the Final Four Class 4A, lower state championship.
For the first seven games of her Georgia Tech career, however, there was little reason to smile, as Gregg didn’t get a whole lot of opportunity or court time.
She also didn’t get down. She simply waited.
On Sunday afternoon her waiting paid off, her opportunity arose, she took advantage and her smile returned.
Gregg brought it all Sunday and took it to Georgia State in the Jackets’ 78-71 win at GSU Sports Arena. In 24 minutes, Gregg went for 15 points, shooting 3-for-7, but 1-for-3 from three-point range, and 8-for-10 from the foul line, grabbed a team- and game-high-tying seven rebounds (tied with teammate Kierra Fletcher), four of them off the offensive glass (a team-high and game-high-tying total), with two assists and a steal.
It was the breakout game she was waiting for. Coming in, Gregg had played 21 total minutes, made three field goals (all in the season-opener at Houston), was 0-for-1 from three, hadn’t been to the foul line, had four rebounds, and one assist.
“I definitely think D’asia Gregg is capable of what she showed today,” said head coach MaChelle Joseph following Sunday’s victory that moved Georgia Tech to 6-2 on the season and gave Joseph her 300th career win. “We’ve seen it in practice every day. It’s just a matter of putting the total package together on and off the floor.”
Seeing that kind of serious potential makes it difficult to believe there was a time in her life when she barely took the game seriously.
“I didn’t take it seriously until my eighth-grade year,” she recalled. “I was playing it when I was young, but I wasn’t really into it like I would be when I got older. My dad really was the reason why I took it seriously.”
Once her dad, James Rice, head coach at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., helped her see the light, it wasn’t long before the light went on.
“I got put on the varsity squad. We made it to the playoffs,” she recalled. “It was a game before the playoffs that we really needed to win and I think I dropped like 23. So I decided I was going to take it seriously because then, in practice they started looking for me to score.”
Her teammates at Wilson H.S. also expected nightly offensive fireworks from Gregg.
D’asia’s Yellow Jacket teammates weren’t looking for her to score Sunday but they did expect her to step up. She did both.
“I put it all on my teammates,” she said. “They told me to push it. I just came out there to win, play hard for my teammates. They said it was going to be tough playing here, so I just did what I had to do. Coach put me in a big position to step up and I did the job.”
Gregg, who calls her versatility her biggest asset, put her money where her mouth is against GSU. She took on a wide variety of jobs, at different times replacing guard Francesca Pan, one of the most irreplaceable players in the ACC and the nation, and freshman center Elizabeth Dixon and sophomore Lorela Cubaj, superstar bigs-in-the-making.
It began with 3:00 to play in the first quarter, when Joseph pulled Pan, who started slowly — 0 points, 0-for-2 shooting, two turnovers (she did even the scale with two steals) and a foul. Gregg immediately responded with four points, all at the line, and an offensive rebound in 2:36. The rest paid off, Pan re-entered and nailed a three, her first three points of a game-high 22, with five seconds left in the quarter.
In the second quarter, Gregg spelled Dixon and went to work, this time in the paint. In nine minutes, she scored seven points on 2-for-4 shooting, 3-for-4 from the line, pulled down a pair of offensive rebounds and a defensive board, and recorded her first two collegiate assists.
The dimes proved especially big, coming 21 seconds apart in the half’s final minute concluding a half-closing 7-0 run that pushed the Jackets lead to 35-24. Both came on sweet bounce passes, first to Pan, then to point guard Kierra Fletcher and resulted in layups.
In the second half, Gregg showed her toughness in the paint. She came in when Cubaj picked up her third and fourth fouls less than 90 seconds apart, midway through the third quarter. She’d grab three rebounds, two defensive, one offensive, then started the fourth by draining her first career three, at 8:56. The three-pointer put the Jackets up, 60-48. The rest of the way, she played stalwart in the paint or at the point, wherever needed.
Gregg’s diverse role-playing played a big role in the Jackets’ 35-16 edge in points off the bench and their 36-26 advantage in points in the paint.
She couldn’t hide how much fun it was fun, having a big game in a big game.
“Yeah,” she said, her grin broadening. “I was just hyped from the beginning.”
Pan is believing the hype about Gregg, who Joseph called “quite possibly the most versatile player in this (freshman) class,’ in preseason. She sees a bigger and increasingly more important role moving forward.
“D’asia and Lotta-Maj (made) some big plays off the bench,” she said. “I’m very proud of them, especially D’asia, who hasn’t played a lot this season until now. She stepped up and helped us get this win. I’m so proud of her. I know she can help us the rest of the season, too, because she is really talented and a really good player.”
Gregg credits her work with Cubaj in practice for her improvement in playing big and playing like a big.
“In practice we go at it,” said Gregg, who surrenders two inches and spots her teammate years of international experience. “She pushes me to go harder because she’s a bigger post, I’m a smaller one. So I’ve learned a couple of things from her.”
Joseph looks forward to watching Gregg show what she can do.
“We love her ability to make plays with the basketball,” she said. “She has exceptional passing skills and is extremely unselfish.”
That unselfish contribution in any role, especially off the bench should continue to pay off big and is welcome.
“This is amazing. We need support from the bench,” Pan said. “The season is long. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We need support from the bench because the first five can’t play 40 minutes every game, so it’s big. When they make big plays it’s crucial for us.”