Shimmy in Gopherland

Courtesy of Clemson U. Shimmy Gray-Miller

To say Shimmy Gray-Miller has been all over the college basketball map in her two decades of coaching since growing up in Flint, Michigan is not an exaggeration.

“No offense to those other places, but the Big Ten Conference to me is holistically the best conference to be a student-athlete,” declared Gray-Miller, who was named assistant coach at Minnesota last month. She comes to Gopherland after the past three seasons in a similar position at Clemson.

Born in Michigan’s seventh largest city, Yeshimbra “Shimmy” Gray at age six began shooting hoops at a backboard with no rim in a driveway. Her mother eventually gave her a miniature hoop, and the daughter became the only athlete in a family with two brothers, becoming a top high school basketball talent in Flint and statewide. 

“When I was being recruited,” she recalled, “I visited three schools: University of Michigan, the University of Illinois, and an official visit to the University of Minnesota. Crystal Flint was my host,” she said of her first time in the Twin Cities. 

Gray-Miller eventually settled on Michigan as her college choice, where she was a three-time letter winner, a team captain, and graduated with a sociology degree in 1994. She played pro ball overseas for a couple of seasons and spent three years in law enforcement.

A knee injury forced Gray-Miller to retire and she moved into coaching, first as an assistant coach at Bellevue (Wash.) Community College in 1999. “I was coaching…making like 470 bucks a month,” she declared. “I literally had three or four other jobs” to make ends meet.”

When a former college assistant coach offered her a graduate assistant position at a school in Pennsylvania, Gray-Miller packed up the truck and headed cross-country. But fate stepped in.

“I had a bootleg truck with a gas gauge that had been broken for a while [and] I couldn’t afford to fix it,” admitted Gray-Miller. It broke down before she could get on the road. While waiting for it to be repaired, she got into a pickup game where she ran into then-Washington coach June Daugherty.

“All roads lead to where you supposed to be,” said Gray-Miller. Daugherty told her that she had an unexpected opening on her staff and asked if she’d be interested. She was, and was hired, and was in Washington for three seasons.

No regrets, the Gopher assistant coach told me—the coach in Pennsylvania eventually lost her job two years later. “I am a really big believer on everything happening not the way you think it is supposed to happen,” she noted.

Gray-Miller over her career has spent time at all five of the Power Five conferences: Washington (2000-03), Arizona (2003-05), Nebraska (2012-15), Florida (2015-17) and Clemson (2018-20). She also was an assistant coach and interim head coach at Texas Tech (2017-18).

Her longest tenure was as Saint Louis University head coach, where she won 71 games (2005-12). She also has been a part of teams that have made nine NCAA tournaments, one Sweet 16 berth and coached six WNBA draft picks.

Now she’s in Minnesota and back in the Big Ten. “I’ve been really fortunate [to have] coached in every Power Five conference,” said Gray-Miller. “I played in the Big Ten before. I love those types of players that you recruit to a Big Ten school.”

“She is a great coach but an even better person,” said Gopher Coach Lindsay Whalen of Gray-Miller. “I can’t wait for her to get started.”