Mustang faithful that followed the excellent Redmond High girls’ basketball team in the early part of the decade may recall a flashy southpaw point guard with long braids and an undying tenacity on the court to get the job done.
Ashley Graham, who graduated in 2003, enjoyed one of the most stellar prep careers of any Redmond athlete in recent memory.
She led her team to the Class 4A state tournament three times, was a McDonald’s All-America nominee and was named the 4A Kingco MVP and a Seattle Times second-team all-state selection during her senior season.
But she didn’t stop there.
The 5-foot-7 guard went on to play basketball for Santa Clara University, where she ranked as one of the best three-point shooters in school history, hitting nearly 42 percent of her shots from beyond the arc. She also broke the school record for number of games played, suiting up 118 times for the Broncos. Graham felt that her experience playing on Redmond’s powerhouse team prepared her well for the rigors of college-level basketball.
“It’s a different game. It’s a higher level, definitely faster-paced, the players are a lot stronger, both physically and mentally,” Graham said of playing in college versus high school. “It was a tough adjustment for sure, but I think our high school team was strong, we had a lot of Division-I caliber players … so it was a transition I could make.”
While many star players struggle in college trying to balance a tough academic schedule with their commitment to the school’s athletic program, Graham was the exception.
In addition to numerous awards she earned for her performance on the court, she was also a three-time West Coast Conference All-Academic selection during her time at Santa Clara, maintaining a 3.64 grade-point average while earning a degree in Psychology.
“Santa Clara is known for their academics for sure, so it was hard, but you have to do it,” Graham said. “Time management is one of the most important skills you can learn.”
LIVING OUT HER DREAM
After graduating from Santa Clara in 2007, Graham has spent the last year living out her dream of playing pro basketball — perhaps where you’d least expect it.
The Redmond native played in Turkey for four months, and ended her rookie season with the Spirou Monceau team in Belgium.
“It’s just kind of the first step … maybe one day I can move into the WNBA,” Graham said. “Ever since I was little I wanted to play professional basketball … and it’s been a great experience.”
While nothing can replace the opportunity to see and live in another culture, it’s been trying at times for Graham, who found she needed to adjust to not only a new language, but also an atypical approach to team basketball.
“It’s a different style of game (in Europe), over here in college and high school, in my experience, it was more team-oriented, while over there, it’s more individual-oriented,” Graham noted. “That was kind of a tough adjustment for me. I’m such a team player, but once you learn how to adjust to it … next year now I know how to approach it a little bit better.”
While adopting to a new style of play may not seem that harrowing, learning another language certainly is — and anyone who has played basketball knows that success depends on a high level of communication between players. Therefore, one can only imagine the challenge that faced Graham when she couldn’t discuss plays with her teammates like she did in high school and college.
“We had a coaching change in Turkey, and the second coach didn’t speak English at all,” Graham recalled. “A lot of players didn’t even speak any English, a couple spoke fluent English, but the rest … communication was definitely tough. I had to pick up some words here and there in their language.”
Though Graham calls Charleroi, Belgium — an industrial city located 30 miles south of Brussels — home during the basketball season, Graham is back in Redmond for the summer. She still vividly remembers her sophomore year in high school, when her team made an incredible run to the state championship game.
“Definitely my sophomore year and our group of girls that went to the championship game at state,” said Graham of her greatest memory in a Mustang uniform. “We ended up losing, but just to get second at state was the craziest experience, I still can remember it now almost ten years later.
Although she went to college out-of-state and spent most of last year overseas, Graham says she is still friends and keeps in touch with a few of the girls from her Redmond years via the internet, all teammates that she had played with since “fifth or sixth grade.”
The 2005 West Coast Conference All-Tournament selection also wanted to thank everyone that has helped her achieve her goal of playing professional basketball.
“Everyone, all the coaches that I’ve ever had, the family that support you, your friends… it’s all a support network,” Graham said. “You can’t do anything alone, all your teammates and everything, everyone’s helping you all the time. Someday I’d like to be a coach and help other girls achieve their goals.”