For Reshanda Gray, the basketball court is a zone of defense

Reshanda Gray was raised near 81st and Hoover streets, which is among the most violent neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

When she was 12, she saw a man stabbed. When she was 13, a man was shot in broad daylight just outside her family’s home.

A junior at Washington Prep, Gray says members of her family are in gangs and she was headed down the same path until her life took a turn a few years ago. That’s when she met Tyrone Dinneen, the coordinator of an after-school program.

Dinneen introduced Gray to basketball, and suddenly gangbanging didn’t have quite the same allure.

“If it weren’t for basketball, I’d probably be dead or in jail,” Gray says.

Instead, she is well on her way to earning a basketball scholarship.

Gray, who is 6 feet 3, averages 20 points and 15 rebounds for a Washington Prep team that is 19-10 overall and leads the Marine League with a record of 10-1 going into its final game of the regular season Friday evening at Banning. She also has a 3.4 grade-point average -- and a growing stack of letters from colleges across the country.

“Basketball opened the gate of opportunity for me,” Gray says.

Dinneen pointed the way.

“I’ve worked with hundreds of kids,” Dinneen says. “But there was something about her personality, her being happy all of the time through everything, that’s made me take a special interest in her.”

Dinneen and his wife attend all of Gray’s basketball games and make sure she keeps her grades up. Gray spends at least four nights a week at their home, and they treat her as if she were their own.

“Some of my siblings didn’t have the help I have now,” Gray says. “The only go-to person for them was gangs.”

She has formed sisterly bonds with her teammates, many of whom have endured similar pressures.

Their motto is “hold the rope.”

“If one of us is falling off the cliff, we’ve got to hold the rope and hold each other up,” Gray says.

Gray is extremely grateful -- and she says he has an idea how to show it: “I’m going to make something of myself.”