STORY BY MICHAEL WENDLANDT
Everyone on campus has surely heard about the success that Drake Women’s Basketball had this season. The team finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference and earned a spot in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT).
With most of their roster getting consistent playing time and needing to learn their own roles, the team looks to the Gray Squad for quality competition outside of official games.
The Gray Squad consists of a group of men who practice with the team and help out with scouting and drills.
The Gray Squad is essentially the Bulldogs’ practice squad, running plays that the opposition might run in their next game and emulating the play style of Drake’s upcoming opponents.
They are almost all former high school players who now attend Drake, and that experience has helped prepare them to play against the skilled Women’s Basketball team.
“We want them to succeed,” senior squad member Alex Smith said. “I first became involved only to play basketball again, but I think I can speak for the other guys when I say that once we became members of the Gray Squad we quickly become dedicated and loyal fans of the team, experiencing emotional highs when they have success and lows when they don’t.”
The bond that develops makes this group of guys close not only with the Women’s Basketball team, but also with each other, creating one unit on the court. They learn a lot about the practice habits of college sports and learn how to be better players as well.
“I feel like I have greatly improved my game since joining the Gray Squad,” Smith added. “Every time I practice with the team, I learn new moves by watching and defending the girls, but only after getting scored on countless times. I also get the opportunity to listen to some of the best basketball minds in our coaching staff, who have years of experience and success from their various backgrounds of playing and coaching college ball.”
Although Smith has had experience playing for the Gray Squad, it is a new experience for freshman Andy Hamilton.
After being invited to come play by freshman center Becca Jonas, he has come to embrace the role as part of Drake Basketball.
“Outside of being a practice squad, we also develop relationships with the players and encourage them whenever possible,” Hamilton said. “We do our best to support the team by going to home and away games.”
Fans can usually see the Gray Squad at home games in the student section, cheering their team on and analyzing the game from afar.
“After working with them all week for a specific game, you know exactly what our girl’s team is trying to do,” senior Matt Dybing said. “You also know the other team’s offense and offensive tendency by player because we are executing the other team’s offense in practice all week.”
“My favorite part of this season was seeing how this team developed into an opponent nobody wanted to play,” Smith said.
Smith added that seasons like this past one are what makes all the work worth it. The blood, sweat and possible tears from the hours of tough practice has molded these men into teammates and brothers for the Bulldogs, a team that has made noise throughout the country in the past few years.