Alexis Gray-Lawson accepted the Girls’ Coach of the Year honor at the Star Tribune’s All-Metro Sports Awards on Tuesday for her work not only in improving St. Paul Como Park’s girls’ basketball team on the court but developing strong women off it.

She still remembers the teacher she had as a 15-year-old in California who told her she would “never, ever make it out of Oakland.”

It was a coach who changed her outlook, telling her she was “the best person he’d ever met” and could amount to something. She turned that support into a college education and even a stint in the WNBA.

“For me, sports completely changed my life,” Gray-Lawson said. “It saved me from a life that was normal for most kids that look like me and come from the neighborhood that I do.”

Gray-Lawson was one of 10 of Minnesota high school sports’ best honored at the gala at U.S. Bank Stadium. The second annual event celebrates the Star Tribune’s longstanding dedication to covering preps and honors all involved for their accomplishments within and outside of athletics.

The loudest ovation of the night came from Gray-Lawson’s players cheering their coach.

“Sports is so important,” she said. “… My hope is that I can continue to try to save lives and help push that message.”