Xavier's Raeshaun Gaffney has big things planned for her final season

And she's not going out quietly
XU's Raeshaun Gaffney wants to go out on top
XU's Raeshaun Gaffney wants to go out on top
XU's Raeshaun Gaffney wants to go out on top
Posted at 10:00 AM, Nov 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-23 14:00:41-05

CINCINNATI -- Raeshaun Gaffney is a born leader, so it's no surprise that she's Xavier women's basketball spokesperson when, say, players want an extra day off.

The 5-foot-8 guard presents her case to coach Brian Neal. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, not so much.

"I try to negotiate with him all the time. He's like, 'Well, Rae, talk to me about it.' I'm probably one of the only people bold enough to do that. I'm, like, 'If I can get a majority vote, what do you think?' " Gaffney said before practice this week at Cintas Center.

Neal likes that the Musketeers have ownership of the program and often offers qualifiers to strike a compromise. If the team has a great practice, for example, then maybe an extra day off will work. 

"The players look up to her, so it's just natural that they go to her and they come up with their scenarios and she presents them. We either figure out a way to get to them or not," Neal said.

The way Gaffney sees it, she has nothing to lose. This is the 22-year-old senior's last basketball season, a final chapter before she finishes her MBA and starts a job as a sales analyst for Clorox.

Raeshaun Gaffney is introduced at Muskie Madness to start her final year of basketball at Xavier University.

The preseason all-Big East selection is Xavier's top returning scorer (11.1 ppg) and rebounder (4.8 rpg). She made the conference's weekly honor roll after Game One, a 63-54 defeat of Tennessee State in which she scored 18 points and had four steals.

She said she plans to leave everything on the court in her "farewell tour."

"Like Kobe (Bryant) did. That's how I like to think about it," Gaffney said, smiling.

"I'm excited. The little girl in me is thinking of how much hard work I've put in over the years and just seeing how far I've come, how far I've grown -- not only as a basketball player but as a woman. I think it's really cool to see the people I've impacted and the relationships I've built over time. And then on the court, just to be able to go out there and play. No stress, none of that, just playing and doing something I love."

Her route to this point was circuitous. After helping Mount Notre Dame to a state championship in 2009 and later finishing her high school career at Fairfield, she considered a lengthy list of high-major programs before committing to Hall of Fame coach Debbie Ryan and Virginia.

Ryan stepped down before Gaffney even arrived, and a fracture in Gaffney's right shin bone sidelined her for most of her senior year at Fairfield. She underwent surgery and red-shirted as a Virginia freshman.

Gaffney played one year with the Cavaliers, averaging 3.1 points and 11 minutes. While she loved the team and the campus, she didn't feel comfortable straying from her natural position -- shooting guard -- to play point guard, and she preferred a more up-tempo style.

Around the same time, her younger brother, Ryan, was dealing with health issues. It was best, Gaffney decided, to return home.

"I was, like, 'What are some schools that are close, competitive basketball-wise, and good academically?' To me, Xavier was a no-brainer," Gaffney said.

"I felt I could immediately come here and bring something to the team. Coach Neal really talked to me when I came here about changing the program and putting it back in the direction to be as successful as it was when Amber Harris and (Ta'Shia Phillips) were here."

Raeshaun Gaffney, a preseason all-Big East selection, is Xavier's top returning scorer. (Photo provided by Xavier University)

Xavier won at least 24 games each year Harris and Phillips were on the roster. In 2010-11, their final seasons before being taken in the WNBA draft's first round, they were the top two scorers on a Musketeers team that went 29-3 (14-0 Atlantic 10) and lost to Louisville in the NCAA Tournament.

Xavier went 8-20 the next season. Turning around the program was no easy feat with coaching changes and a move to the Big East in 2013-14. Only last year did XU re-establish a winning record (18-15).

Gaffney wants to build on that by taking XU back to the NCAA Tournament in what would be her first time there. She expects Xavier to finish in the top three in the Big East, defying the league coaches that picked the Musketeers to place ninth among 10 teams in the preseason poll.

She knows her legacy at Xavier will be helping to revive a winning tradition. That's why she keeps in mind the advice bestowed by her dad, Raymond: "Appreciate each season."

"I think in every season in my life I've had opportunity and great success. At Virginia I appreciate the hard times of going through surgery, sitting out, and having basketball in a sense being taken away from me. It was about learning to triumph and coming back and being resilient," Gaffney said.

"And here, just continuing that. I'm in a different stage. Being part of a group that's making something better in the long run is really cool."

Neal said Gaffney's duties are tough, as she's asked to defend an opponent's best perimeter player and crash the defensive glass. Her offensive production is crucial, too, and no easy feat when she's a consistent target on foes' scouting reports.

"The strength that you have to have from a physical standpoint, the strength that you have to have from a mental standpoint -- it's a lot. And she's grown into that and embraced that," Neal said.

Gaffney sees a great deal of promise and camaraderie in this year's team, and she can't wait for what's next.

"It's really cool to see it all changing," Gaffney said. "We're getting better and better each year."