Dec. 13, 2013
When one first meets Ole Miss junior forward, Danielle McCray, you would probably classify her as quiet, possibly even shy. She certainly won't win a contest for the loudest member of the Rebel basketball team, but she might have the most interesting career choice of anyone on the Ole Miss women's basketball team. McCray, an art major, has her sights on becoming a Disney Imagineer.
According to the Walt Disney website this is the description of an Imagineer:
"There's no such thing as "thinking too big" at Walt Disney Imagineering. This is where you can dream up your wildest ideas and join forces with world-class experts to make them a reality. Our ultimate goal is to leave our guests in awe, while inspiring the next generation of Imagineers to ask, "How can I do that some day?"
With more than 140 disciplines in the arts, sciences and technical fields, you'll have the opportunity to work with some of the most talented and diverse people in the entertainment industry on a wide variety of projects.
For those that still don't quite know what an Imagineer is, they are the folks behind all of the amusement park rides, animation, and special effects at Disneyland and Disneyworld. Essentially, McCray wants to be a part of the Disney team that leaves visitors to the Disney Parks and resorts amazed.
To be clear, becoming a Disney Imagineer is no easy feat, you have to be at the top of your game and even then it's a tough field to break into, but McCray has had her sights set on working for Disney for quite some time.
"I've always wanted to be an animator at Pixar," said McCray. "But since I started taking a sculpture class I really enjoyed it and thought my interests might change. I think it would be cool to see one of my designs become something in a theme park."
Being an art major and a student-athlete can be fairly time consuming. Art majors don't have assignments they have projects. Big projects that require lots of work and time outside of the classroom, time that McCray has learned to manage with her extremely busy basketball schedule.
"We don't get little assignments," said McCray. "We get big projects that typically take two-three weeks to complete and they are very time consuming. We're in class for two hours and 45 minutes and then outside of class our instructors want us to work six hours a week and that's just in order to just be average and get your work done. If you want an A, you've got to work more than that."
Now imagine all that with the addition of basketball practices, weights, games, road trips - that's McCray's life. Although it can be challenging at times, she's found a way to balance everything.
"I take it little by little," said McCray. "Whenever I have some free time or whenever I'm in the mood to draw, I do. One of my art teachers told me to always keep a pen and paper with you to draw. So for me I often end up drawing buses, teammates and things in the locker room and gym!"
For as dedicated as McCray is to her future career as an Imagineer she's equally dedicated to her role as a member of the Ole Miss women's basketball team.
McCray is having somewhat of a breakout season during her junior campaign. After starting the first five games on the bench, McCray moved to the starting lineup for the Southeastern Louisiana game and hasn't looked back.
The Florida native is averaging 7.8 points per game and pulling down 5.4 rebounds per game. In the five games she's started, she's scored in double figures in four of them, including a career-high 17 points against Mississippi Valley State. McCray has been an important piece of the Ole Miss puzzle during the Rebels current six-game winning streak. In fact, Ole Miss is 5-0 with McCray in the starting lineup and just 2-4 when she comes off the bench.
While McCray's success on the hardwood might come as a surprise to some, it certainly isn't to her or her coaches and teammates.
McCray set some high expectations for herself at the start of the 2013-14 season.
"I want to get to that "third gear," said McCray. "Coach Matt always tells me I have a third gear inside of me and I want to get there. I'm really excited about getting there and seeing what type of player I can become. I want to be a great player and dominate this year and prove to everyone that I'm an undersized post, but I can still play with the 6-2 and 6-4 players out there."
Head coach Matt Insell is also pleased with the progression of McCray this season.
"She's getting better each and every game," said Insell. "I've pushed her very hard. She's someone I expect a lot out of with her rebounding and scoring. I'm very happy with her and she's going to continue to get better and better."
They say the biggest compliments come from your peers and McCray's teammates realize how important she is to the team's success.
"Danielle is very important for us to be successful," said fellow junior Tia Faleru. "She gives us everything she has on the court and we need her scoring and rebounding if we are to achieve the goals we set for our team. She's only going to get better and we know that we can count on her."
Senior point guard Valencia McFarland echo's Faleru's comments.
"Danielle is playing some of her best basketball," said McFarland. "She has stepped up and is really helping to lead us on the court. For our team to be successful this season, we need Danielle."
Whether it's preparing for a career as a Disney Imagineer or leading the Rebels on the basketball court, McCray is well on her way to finding her third gear.