Scotland is not a land of giants. The average height of a Scottish person is around 5’9” and should you visit Glasgow you can expect that to shrink an inch. Basketball is definitely not the country’s national sport – but its popularity is on the rise.
Sport in Scotland is evolving beyond football as people seek alternatives to the sport to keep fit and kill time – and the sun appears to be shining on basketball courts.
One Langside resident is head and shoulders above the competition – and he’s just 14.
Since the age of eight Cian Graham, from Mount Florida, has stood out from the crowd – not just for his dedication on the courts, but also his height. Currently standing at 6’5”, the teenager has surpassed his wildest expectations in a game he only ever played for fun.
After years of devotion shooting for the Glasgow Wrens Cian, who plays power-forward or centre, has been called up to represent Scotland in the Under-14s team at the Summer Slam competition. The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) event will see his team head to Stirling to play against teams from all over Europe in June.
The road to his dream of representing his country has not been an easy ride, as representatives needed clarification of his nationality – his father, Stuart, is a native of Northern Ireland. Coupled with his extraordinary height for his age, the governing body gave him a double-check.
Cian, who already wears size 13 shoes, said: “They thought that, due to my name, and my dad being from Northern Ireland, that I was not Scottish.
“They said that if I’m Irish I can’t try out for Scotland.”
With FIBA satisfied the schoolboy was able to get out on court and prove what he could bring to the team – and the judges were impressed with what they saw.
Cian said: “The coach from Glasgow Wrens, Josh Tackie, recommended me for Future Stars, which is how you can become selected for Scotland.
“I don’t think he really thought I was going to get picked – I think it was just a way for him to get me to play basketball more.
“But I think they saw my height and my ability and the fact that I was dominating training sessions – that caught their eye.”
He added: “I was worried because I had to miss one of their sessions that would have been for six hours in Falkirk but they told me it was okay – because I had already been selected and would be considered for the final squad to represent at the tournament. I was pretty chuffed with that.”
But then came some bad news. A few months later dad Stuart received an email from the team – and it wasn’t what they both expected.
Stuart said: “I was driving home from work when I received an email to say that he hadn’t been selected.
“So when I came in I said to Cian: ‘Look, I’ve a wee bit of bad news, you didn’t make the final cut for the team.’ He was quite disappointed but accepted it as best as could be expected.”
After hearing this Cian had to take the news into school to his friends who were eagerly waiting on his results. Another one of Cian’s classmates had also tried out so there was anticipation all round.
Cian broke the news that he hadn’t been picked and looked forward to playing for his local team again.
But he received a text later that night from his friend with a screenshot of the squad selection attached – and his name included in the final cut of players.
Cian said: “After all that I had to find out from my mate who was unfortunately rejected.”
After some frantic phone calls between father and son they contacted the body to find out exactly what was going on. They were shocked to find that it had indeed been a mix-up and Cian had been successful: he would represent Scotland in the Summer Slam.
Cian said: “I think I slept for four hours that weekend, I was so excited.”
Once Cian was chosen the family had a dilemma.
Stuart had already arranged a once-in-a-lifetime summer trip across France with his father and Cian to see all three of his native country’s matches in the European football championships – and there was a clash in the schedule.
The first of Northern Ireland’s games – against Ukraine on June 16 – comes just before Cian’s tournament tip-off the very next day. The young sportsman’s immediate choice was to represent his country, so they had to find a way to get him home safely for his first competitive match.
Stuart said: “I had to call Basketball Scotland to see if it was viable for Cian’s mum to fly out to pick him up and bring him home for the tournament.
“She’s flying out to Lyon on the 16 June so that he is home in plenty of time for the first match that is in the evening – so it has all worked out well in the end.”
However, his troubles aren’t at an end: Scotland’s first match in the Summer Slam is against none other than Northern Ireland.
Despite the fact that he will be in France, Stuart declared: “I’ll back him,” pointing to his son.
He added: “Granted I’ll be at the Euros supporting Northern Ireland, but I’ll be supporting Cian at home.”
Family backing is one of the reasons Cian has been successful thus far. It was mum Kate’s idea for him to take up the sport – one of her friends coached at a local team.
Since then the teenager has never looked back – and hopes to have found himself a career. He’s becoming so good that even his dad can’t compete.
Stuart said: “He just wants to play basketball.
“I used to take him down to the outdoor courts and practice, well, take the mick a bit – but come last year, it was him taking the mick out of me.
“I can’t beat him at all.”
Not your average Scot, Cian hopes to one day test his skills against the giants of the sport, and even has aspirations to have a shoot-out in America – or even get a scholarship.
He said: “Even if I were to be absolutely destroyed off them, I would love to meet my idols.
“Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are the two best players in the NBA at the minute and I would love to meet them.”