One of the great things about being involved in sport is the remarkable and outstanding people that you meet. Last week I sat down for a chat with one of those people, Tanner Graham.
Graham, a Kingston native and graduate of LaSalle Secondary School, has just completed a stellar five year career as a member of the Queen’s Gaels Men’s Basketball Program. At the end of this season he was selected as the U Sports recipient of the Ken Shields Award. The award is given to the Canadian university male basketball player who excels not only on the court and in the classroom but also in the community.
On the court his career got off to a fantastic start by being named to the OUA All Rookie Team following the 2014-15 season, and followed that up by being selected as a 3rd Team All-Star in 2017-18. His 5th and final season was statistically his best by finishing with a 15.6 point per game average, 8.1 rebounds per game and 3.1 assists per game. To top that off, he finishes 3rd all-time in scoring in Gaels history.
As much as he has been successful on the court, his off-the-court life has been just as remarkable. He has maintained a 4.0 grade point average, however he is quick to point out that the scale at Queen’s is 4.3. He has volunteered for organizations such as Round Up, which helps individuals with physical and mental challenges. He has spent many hours with Gaels Care, which provides mentoring for elementary school children, and organized the 500 Miles For Parkinson’s Basketball Tournament in honor of former Kingston lawyer and Gaels team member Harry McMurtry.
When sitting and speaking to Tanner, it is quickly apparent that he is a humble young man. “I owe a lot to my coaches, teammates and administration at Queen’s for my success. There is an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child and that is exactly true in my case at Queen’s.”
It has been mine and other university coaches experience that 5th year student-athletes can be as challenging as any player on a team, no matter what the sport. Impossible expectations are sometimes not met and a level of frustration can set in due to a performance level that may not be at the level of previous years. I assumed that Tanner’s 5th year experience was smooth as silk but was completely surprised when he agreed with my observation of the 5th year experience.
“I really struggled at the season and then got hurt. I’d like to play pro after Queen’s and put a great deal of pressure on myself to perform. But the more pressure I placed on myself the worse things got.” He credits his coach Steph Barrie with helping him refocus his energies and to turn his season around. “Steph helped me realize that I was thinking about the big picture too much and not on the task at hand. I was worried too much about next year so Steph helped me change my focus to day-to-day. It’s the old saying and it sounds cliché, if you look after today tomorrow looks after itself. This could not have been more true in my case this year.”
In looking back at his basketball career, he explains that it has been a family affair. He has played all 5 seasons at Queen’s with his brother Jesse and says that neither would have found success without the unwavering support of their parents, Karen and Mark. “My mom coached us when we were younger and taught us how to play the game the right way. By the time high school ended we were ready to make the jump to university basketball because of her coaching and guidance.”
At this point Tanner is not completely certain what the future holds. He’d like to get an opportunity to play professionally overseas, however if that doesn’t work out it’s very apparent that the future is bright. “It’s an exciting time, and thanks to Coach Barrie I’m just taking it one day at a time.”