Many athletes start out as being the kid that was put onto a sports team by their parents. Some of those kids tried it once and moved on to something else; others grew to like it and played just for fun. An even smaller percentage learned to find a passion for the sport and give countless hours of work to achieve greatness. Ashley Graham is one of that small percentage of people. Her love for basketball began in fourth grade and has continued through playing basketball at Santa Clara University, where she set school records in assists, scoring, and shooting percentages. After she graduated, she followed her game overseas and played professionally in Turkey, Belgium, Slovakia, and Ukraine. She founded and directs Pinnacle Hoops and is now the head coach at her alma mater, Redmond High School. She is also the World For Ashley, there was never a day where she questioned if she loved basketball; instead, it was always a question of whether she was giving enough love to her chosen game and what more could she be doing. To get a glimpse of what it’s like to have unwavering passion, work ethic, and dedication, I had the pleasure of asking Ashley some questions.

“College basketball was one of the hardest, most rewarding experiences of my life. Every single day on the court was a mental and physical challenge.”

D: What made you take a specific interest in basketball? Did any female role in your life help guide you towards your love for the game?

A: I started playing basketball in fourth grade when my best friend at the time asked me to play with her. I had never played an organized sport before, and she was a super athlete and was playing many sports at that time. I instantly loved the game, and wanted to go shoot all the time with my dad between practices.

D: What female athletes did you look up to when you were growing up and why? What coaches do you admire now and why?

A: I met my first female role model in basketball when I was in 6th grade. Her name was Ice, and she worked at the local community center where I would go shoot. She gave me lots of tips and advice and encouraged me to play with the boys all the time. There was only one other girl ever in that gym besides myself and Ice. It was a high school player named Syesha Thomas and she played at the community center every night with the high school boys. She was the most amazing player I had ever seen at the time. She was only 5’3” and she was driving in against 6’5” high school guys, and scoring! After watching her in those late night pick-up games, I knew I wanted to be just like her.

img_5913D: How would you explain your experience playing in college?

A: College basketball was one of the hardest, most rewarding experiences of my life. Every single day on the court was a mental and physical challenge. Sometimes, I didn’t know if I could make it through a practice, and then of course, I would. My Santa Clara teammates are still some of my best friends to this day. I absolutely loved Santa Clara, and cherish the education and experience I received there.

D: Was there ever point when you were playing basketball that it became too much and you were burning out? If so, what made you continue and push through the burn out? If you never did experience burnout, how did you avoid it?

A: It’s funny because I hear that players tend to burn out of basketball, but I absolutely never had that experience myself. There were many times in my life where I got cut from a team I wanted to make, or didn’t get playing time in high school, and even into college. But setbacks always inspired me to work harder, spend more time in the gym, play more, learn more, and watch more basketball. Since I first started playing basketball, I have just loved it, and nothing has ever made me lose that love.

D: What influenced you to become a coach? What is your favorite age group to coach and why?

A: I became a coach the year I decided to retire from overseas basketball. Since I first touched a basketball, I knew basketball would be my life. After I finished playing, coaching was the next logical step, and the position at Redmond High School, my alma mater, opened up. I really enjoy coaching high school girls. They already have a strong foundation of skills, and I like teaching the finer intricacies of the game.

D: Would you ever consider coaching boys?

A: I would love to coach boys at some point. I have trained boys all the way up to high school age, but I think coaching them would be a different experience. I admire Becky Hammon for breaking the gender roles in the NBA and joining the Spurs coaching staff.

D: If you could take a step back from life, how has basketball played a role in your life and help shape the person you are today?

A: Basketball, and the people I have met through the game have far and away had the largest impact on my life. Almost every positive role model I have ever had was a coach, mentor, or teammate. Basketball really is a metaphor for life- the intangible skills I have learned on the court, have helped shape the person I am today. Basketball has taught me that no matter how unlikely something is, if you set a goal, and follow after that goal with all your heart, anything is possible.

“Since I first started playing basketball, I have just loved it, and nothing has ever made me lose that love.”

Each month, one of our high school interns will interview a former athlete and current leader. Our mission is to connect our girl athletes to experienced ones, to tell the stories of our women’s sports community, and to inspire her own voice. Interested in joining our Editorial Internship Program in the spring? Send a letter of interest to