This article is courtesy of TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL

'One of those stories you talk about but don't think will actually happen'

Filled with roadblocks and detours, long nights and early mornings, Shania Graham's path wasn't easy, but always pointed in the direction of a hardwood floor and an orange leather ball.

If it takes a community to raise a child, Graham had the backing of Saint John.

"With the natural ability she had at a young age, you started to think that basketball might be Shania's ticket out," said Clara Tarjan, Graham's mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. "It's one of those stories you talk about but don't think will actually happen.

"And then it did."

Now the starting point guard at Redeemer University in Hamilton, Ont., it hasn't taken Saint John north-end product long to leave her mark as a freshman. She's reached double digits in eight of her first 10 games, capped off by a 24-point performance against Lambton College and athlete-of-the-week honours.

But for all the successes and accolades of Graham's time on the court, it's her efforts off the court the people cheering her on from the sidelines say inspire them.

"Growing up, we were on welfare," said Graham. "It was really hard to make ends meet. I had to grow up quick, but it made me a stronger person seeing what all those things can do to you and opens your eyes to see that's not what I want my life to be."

Graham's mother introduced her to Tarjan when she was eight to bring a positive role model into her life, someone that could be uplifting and positive and help her through those early years.

"She had a good childhood besides me struggling, trying to keep everything above water," said her mother, Tammy Graham.

Tarjan signed her up for basketball, bought Graham her first pair of basketball shoes, and has continued to watch and support her for the last 11 years.

"Shania was a very shy, reserved girl when I met her,"said Tarjan.

When high school came, teenage years brought different types of struggles. But with her natural ability on the court, head coach Jillian Wilton accepted her for varsity as a 14-year-old.

"She had this raw talent, almost street-ball talent, but you knew the passion was there," Wilton said."It was just that perfect storm of passion, talent and commitment, and we just knew we were going to take her. It was the best move we ever made."

Graham moved in with Ann Magee for parts of her last two seasons at Saint John High School.

"It was difficult as a teenager having to take so much on. It was just tough," Graham said."They kind of brought me under their wing, fed me, brought me to practices and just looked out for me."

Magee, whose daughter Kathryn played basketball against and later with Graham in high school, said the decision to take her in was an easy one for her family.

"Shania is the type of girl that you want to do good for,"said Magee.

"She's a nice kid, a loving kid, a polite kid. You couldn't say no to Shania - not that she was asking. She would never ask."

Graham completed the application process for university and found scholarships she could apply for. The program at Redeemer with head coach Robert Hooper was the right fit, said Wilton, and both sides were able to find a way to make it work.

"I could cry right now," said her mom, Tammy. "I didn't have money to send her off to college, but I wanted her to go. It's sad when she's gone, but I'm just so proud of her."

Magee, who watched proudly as Graham flew to Toronto in the summer to adjust to life in Ontario before the start of the semester, had a similar reaction.

"It's been a fairy tale," she said. "She was at the right place at the right time surrounded by the right people."

A force on the court who models her game after the Boston Celtics' Kyrie Irving, Graham is hitting the books as much as she's hitting the courts these days.

Majoring in physical education, Graham hopes to one day work in policing but said she still has time to figure it all out.

"Without everyone, I don't know if I would have been able to make it. They were the ones that picked me up when I was down and were constantly motivating me. Sometimes I just didn't want to do anything and they just helped me, and I can't thank them enough for it."