For former Florida State women’s basketball player Angel Gray, her future was pretty clear: She knew what she wanted to do, she wouldn’t let anything get in the way and she would work as hard as she could to check off her list of goals.
Gray was hell-bent on getting into the communications field before she even arrived at Florida State for her first semester in 2006.
She had dreams and aspirations of seeing herself on TV, especially a decade ago when the ability to put your tape reel on YouTube and other mass media sites didn’t quite exist.
Now, the four-year letterwinner for Coach Sue’s program is flashing her bright smile and imparting her wisdom on NBA TV as a sideline reporter for the WNBA Finals. After signing a deal with the big league network to help out with its WNBA coverage this summer, she knew that yet another milestone was reached in her professional career.
“Being younger, even before I went to Florida State, I always knew I wanted to do communications,” Gray, who is from Atlanta suburb Stone Mountain, said. “Riding past Turner Sports I would always tell my parents I’m going to work there. The day is going to come when I work there. Just to be able to speak about something and then go after it and actually do it was absolutely amazing. For me I wanted to make sure I took full advantage of it. As an athlete you take one game at a time, well right now I’m taking it one game at a time.”
Gray has done tremendous work for NBA TV, and has received strong reviews from a few of her well-known co-workers. Kristen Ledlow, who has FSU roots working with Seminole Productions, co-hosts NBA Inside Stuff with basketball legend Grant Hill. Gray has also been able to work alongside former NBA sharp-shooter Steve Smith, someone she idolized when he spent five seasons with the Atlanta Hawks.
“When the cameras weren’t rolling one of the most memorable moments for (Steve) and I was having a free throw contest,” Gray reflected. “Now, I really took pride in my free throws when I was at Florida State, and then I get there in heels and a dress and I go 0-for-5, and he’s looking at me like ‘Are you kidding me?’ He sinks one in with one hand and I thought it was the most embarrassing moment. He even compared me to Shaq.
“I felt like the new kid on the block, but it was great to have that interaction with one of the NBA’s greatest shooters. He’s been absolutely phenomenal. Anytime I have something that’s on he’ll text or tweet and say ‘Hey you’re doing a great job.’ He’s become a cool mentor for me.”
As Gray’s career path continues to trend upward, she is also a living testament to the grind it takes to make it in sports broadcasting. Nothing was handed to her on a silver platter, she did what she had to do to get where she wanted to go. When she was going through the day-to-day process of being a student-athlete, she was also working on her stand-up and working internships to better herself in a career she was destined to join.
From stints with local TV station WCTV to production and talent internships with FOX Sports Florida, Gray started to slowly become recognized. After working the production side of tv with FOX Sports Florida/Sun Sports for nearly a year, she got her try with being on camera and doing talent and reporting. The company was impressed with her and offered her a part-time gig that could at least provide some financial security.
However, even with the offer something was tugging at her. She had big dreams and wanted to capitalize on the aspirations she had for herself. So she moved to Los Angeles and stayed with current UCLA Women’s Basketball head coach Cori Close, a longtime FSU Women’s Hoops assistant coach. From there, Gray got her hands in everything while trying to make end’s meet with multiple jobs.
Gray emceed basketball games at UCLA for $50 per game, considered not even chunk change for a glitz-and-glamor place like Los Angeles. She called games for UCLA for $30 a game, all while making extra change at Nike in retail. Her days involved being rushed from one job to the other, but she embraced it all and never let a different career possibility even enter her mind.
“Chasing a dream, you have to have a support group,” Gray said. “I’ve had the best support I could ever imagine. There were times when I was broke and thought ‘Maybe water and Ramen for dinner?’ Florida State was a family and is still my family. I get texts and calls all the time. I can trust them with a lot of information.”
Gray feels forever indebted to her former coach and lifetime friend in Cori Close, who helped her manage life and seek her career by providing her a place to stay. She thinks back to all the life lessons Coach Sue taught her, and how often she applies those to this day in the real world.
“I knew from the very beginning that there’s a lot of people who want to be in this industry,” Gray said. “It took a focus and persistence, a support group and faith. Everything I learned in being a student-athlete – being persistent and going after a goal and writing it down and seeing a vision and going after it – are the same things that I have applied in chasing this dream.”
There were times when Gray also felt disappointed in her heavy pursuit of breaking into the field. On April 19, 2013, former teammate and FSU all-time steals leader Alicia “Ice” Gladden suddenly passed away when she was killed on the road by a drunk driver in her hometown of Orange Park, Fla. Gray couldn’t be there for her funeral, as a sudden trip from the West Coast would have severed her bank account.
“I felt selfish because I couldn’t come back and see Ice Gladden’s funeral. I called her Mama Ice,” Gray said. “And I had another close friend who passed away from cancer. This friend went by the motto of faith over fear, meaning you can’t worry about what happens next, just trust it will happen and everything will work out.”
Despite the hardships faced, Gray marched forward and began calling collegiate women’s basketball games for ESPN3 in 2013. The proliferation of ESPN3 games across the country was an enormous benefit not just for her, but for other beginner commentators who got opportunities for calling games on the nationwide live-streaming platform.
At Florida State, Seminole Productions has been ahead of the game for quite a while. A multi-million dollar upgrade was made this past summer to build a new control room, upgrade video and technical equipment and make other changes to help navigate FSU Athletics through the current era of live streamed events. With the ACC’s creation of the ACC Network Extra, FSU is at the forefront of adjusting seamlessly to the live-streaming demand.
And for people like Gray who dream of providing play-by-play and analysis for high-quality matchups, the opportunities are even more plentiful. ESPN3 led to her doing sideline reporting duties with the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, which she started 2 ½ years ago.
“(ESPN3 games) allowed me to have the confidence. I could send them my reel,” she said. “A lot of people ask me ‘Well how do I get the experience?’ If you can pick up an ESPN3 game it’s very beneficial for the practice, to see how you look on tape, it’s saved forever and you can pull it up and that begins your reel. It gives so many different people opportunities.”
Gray will call more ESPN3 games for the fourth consecutive season. She loves calling games, and is thankful for what the live-streamed games have done to her career. Starting out with the goal of finding a good comfort zone on camera, ESPN3 allowed her to get noticed by the actual mothership – ESPN. This eventually turned into an opportunity to call her first game on one of the linear networks, when FSU Women’s Hoops faced North Carolina on ESPN2 last season.
While her heart will always lie with Florida State, Gray has learned to keep things neutral over the air despite being in a social media age where everyone seems to reveal their true colors. But when the head set is not covering her ears and a producer isn’t guiding her through, Gray loves showing her Florida State loyalty in every way.
As season No. 20 approaches for Coach Sue, Gray acknowledges the hard work that her mentor put into making the program a national contender, kind of like the work Gray put in to achieving her own dreams as a commentator.
“She’s been there 20 seasons for a reason – she knows how to win,” Gray said. “She’s known to be supportive. I can’t believe that I was able to be a part of a group of girls who were like my sisters and a great staff.”
And just like the certainty of what she wanted to do in life, Gray is also certain that choosing to be unconquered is one of the best decisions she ever made.
“If I had to do it all over again I would still pick Florida State any day,” Gray stated matter-of-factly. “I’m grateful for Coach Sue for trusting me to be a part of that family. It’s an honor and a gift. I’m very grateful for it.”
What might the future hold for you with NBA TV?
“I’ll just say wait on it. There has been so much that has been occurring just in this past year. I know this year and next year is going to be pretty amazing. I can say it will be a lot of fun, if it occurs, to continue to work with NBA TV. And living your dream and working full time and being an analyst and sideline reporter – that’s awesome.
How has your friendship blossomed with Kristen Ledlow?
“We haven’t been in the same room working together, but she’s in the studio while I’m on site. She’s been great as well. It’s been cool having two sporty girls who can show that girls rock. This is a field that is pretty dominant with men, but it’s fun showing that we have a prissy but also a competitive side as well. It’s also fun knowing that you have a Nole that is unconquered – this whole attitude of Nole Family and supporting one another. She’s been awesome. She’s killing it still. If I have any questions about anything I know I can go to her. There are so many people across the board that I can go to whether it’s men or women. The support system with the NBA has been awesome and the overall sports system has been great.”
Has there ever been a better time to get into broadcasting?
“There’s so many different things, especially in social media with all the different platforms. You can be a sports guru just through Twitter. Understanding and creating your brand and really going after the different opportunities. All these different conferences are creating more content.”
What’s the best part of your role as a play-by-play commentator/analyst/sideline reporter?
It’s great to be able to cover professional sports, but it’s also a passion of mine to cover collegiate sports because I understand the student-athlete standpoint and what it takes to prepare to even be a student. In my eyes you never stop being an athlete – in the workplace you’re always thinking about things you learned when you were an athlete. I really have a soft spot in my heart for those who played, and I love covering those stories. That’s one reason I decided to be in broadcasting. It’s more than just bouncing a ball and things of that nature, it’s about being around people with the same passion.”