From Lady Tigers to Lady Eagles: Grayson commits to USM

Hattiesburg senior Melyia Grayson continues to put together a historic career.

Hattiesburg senior Melyia Grayson continues to put together a historic career.

The soft-spoken, 6-foot-2 guard plans to stay in her hometown and sign with the Southern Miss women’s basketball program. Grayson’s signing will make her the first Hattiesburg High School signee in Head Coach Joye Lee-McNelis’ 16 years.

“We are so excited to sign a Hattiesburg product that we believe that can impact our program in a great way,” McNelis said. “I think as a player, Melyia possesses many physical attributes. Obviously, she has great size, and she moves extremely well for a young lady of her stature. She has tremendous hands and has dominated inside since she has been at Hattiesburg High. Once she stands on that floor, she plays with tremendous passions. She plays hard, gets doubled and tripled teamed, and in her own calm way, she works to continue to get the ball so she can help her team be successful.”

Being a formidable force inside the paint, the mild-mannered Grayson was named a McDonald’s All-American nominee. Grayson learned the news in class, which left her speechless. 

“I was talking to [a classmate], and he had seen the post on Facebook. He showed it to me, and … and all I thought was, that’s me! It was a really big accomplishment for me. I was speechless.”

Grayson had just missed out on the Mississippi-Alabama All-State game. She was left out of the game despite having averaged 13.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game in her career.

According to Caronica Debose Jackson, Hattiesburg’s coach, an August surgery and Grayson’s subsequent missing of the first eight games of the season were the reasons she wasn’t picked for the game.

“That was one of those things,” Jackson said. “She was nominated, and that’s a great accomplishment to be recognized on a national level. She didn’t make the Mississippi-Alabama game mainly because of her injury; of course, they evaluated that early, so she wasn’t even playing yet in the first couple of months. So, they weren’t able to evaluate her fully on that, but again, just to be nominated itself is an honor.”

Grayson was forced to have hip surgery, which in many ways has tested her. At the start of senior year, Grayson’s goal was to develop her confidence and patience, but she was put to the test after surgery.

“It was a knot that had grown on top of my hip bone,” Grayson said. “After I had surgery in seventh grade when it slipped out of place, they had to go in and put a screw in just to hold in place. Over time, that knot grew, and they had to go in and shave it off. It was a long recovery. It took me like four months, but I came back better. I had to be patient.”

For Grayson, developing her own confidence is the next step for her to become a better basketball player, and it’s a quality she wants better developed before college.

“[My goal] is to be more competitive when I go out and play,” Grayson said. “If you have that mindset, then you’re a better player and it all comes to you.”

According to Jackson, Grayson’s demeanor does not undermine her competitiveness.

“She is very [soft-spoken],” Jackson said. “We used to call her our gentle giant, but we have to stop calling her that because you feed into it. So, we try to get her to toughen up a little bit. She has always been soft-spoken and mild-mannered, but she is competitive. That’s the good thing about her. She has been with me since the ninth grade, and she has been a huge part of this program for the past four years.”

Grayson’s decision will play a significant role for Hattiesburg, Jackson added.

“[The signing] is huge,” Jackson said. “Our fans and people in the city talk about it. Unfortunately, the crowd at the USM women’s games aren’t what they should be based on the level that they put on the floor. I think that the Hattiesburg people will go out and support Melyia, and, hopefully, that will put in some more fans in the stands to help grow the attendance at the women’s games.”

Grayson had several factors for staying to play at Southern Miss, but McNelis’ confidence in her players and being close to her family were parts of her decision. However, the idea and goal of being a hometown hero was an opportunity and a challenge Grayson looks forward to earning.

“I started thinking about my options ... whether I wanted to go far away or stay close to home, and I wanted to stay close to home,” Grayson said. “[The connection with a coach] was a big thing for which school I wanted to go to because, if you have a good relationship with a coach, then it’ll all come.”

Grayson said she looks forward to showcasing her talent.

“To sign with USM means a lot because I could come in and be a hometown hero and make something else, something better, happen. It’s like bringing in more power to the city,” she said.