Tanner Graham is a 201cm forward from Kingston, Ontario playing his rookie season in Germany with Pro A team Tigers Tuebingen. He contributed 5 points in 12 minutes in his Germany debut beating Artland 74-59. He began his career at La Salle SS and then played at Queen’s University (CIS) from 2014-2019 playing a total of 101 games. In his senior year he played 22 games averaging 15.9ppg, 8.2rpg, 3.0apg, 1.2spg, Blocks-5(2.0bpg), FGP: 49.6%, 3PT: 33.3%, FT: 74.4%. He spoke to eurobasket earlier in the summer about his basketball career.
Tanner thanks for talking to eurobasket.com. Where are you at the moment and how have you been enjoying your summer?
Thank you for reaching out to me. I am in my hometown of Kingston, Ontario, Canada at the moment. I have enjoyed my summer a lot thus far. During the week I train, which includes shooting, lifting weights, running and practicing with my University team (Queen’s). On the weekends I try to spend time with my friends and family.
Congrats on signing with German Pro A team Tigers Tuebingen. How did you experience your first professional transfer period? You signed very early. Did you have other offers?
Thank you, I’m looking forward to it! My first transfer period was a seamless transition and I owe a lot to Limelight hoops and my agent Ingo Wolf as Ingo made sure to explain every step of the process and answered every question I had. I feel like I learned a lot during this period, but I also realized there’s a lot more to be learned. Yes, I signed early. There were other German Pro A teams interested, however I felt the situation in Tubingen was ideal so I jumped at the opportunity to join this organization.
What do you know in general about the country Germany and it´s basketball? Have you had any guys ball in Germany that you know or have played against in the past?
I do not know that much about the basketball in Germany or the country itself to be honest. I have been trying to learn through the internet and by asking my agent questions that come up, however I imagine most of my learning will be done once I’m there and immersed in the culture. One of my coaches growing up (Nate Doornekamp) played in Germany as well as an alumnus of Queen’s that I have spoken to briefly. Everyone I have spoken to about playing in Germany has said great things about the basketball as well as the country itself so I am looking forward to this opportunity.
Head coach Doug Spradley is really high on your abilities. What was the deciding factor that made you want to start your rookie season with the Tigers Tuebingen?
I wouldn’t say any one thing was a deciding factor, I think Tuebingen was an ideal location to start my career for many reasons. Speaking with coach Spradley certainly helped me make my decision as I had a conversation with coach Spradley and I believe our values lined up very well. I have only heard great things about coach Spradley and he has an impressive coaching résumé so I’m excited to be able to play for him.
You will be teaming up with German Sven Stammberger who you dueled once in a pre season game in 2017 which you won. He put up 29 points and you flirted with a triple double. Sven stated nice things about you. What does it mean for you to be teammates with the talented German?
Sven is a very talented player and his career in Canada speaks for itself as he attained a great deal of success. I am very excited to play alongside him as I always respected the way he played and his talent. However, I’m also excited for the impact that having another Canadian University player will have off the court. Moving to another country will be quite a shock for me as I’ve lived in Canada my whole life. Although I’m looking forward to embracing another culture it will be nice to know that Sven will relate to my situation as well.
Let´s talk about your game. You’re a very versatile 201cm forward that can fill up the stat sheet with ease. If you had to describe your game to an NBA player who would best fit that description?
If I had to pick one NBA player to compare my game to, I would have to pick Larry Bird. He was a versatile forward who could shoot, pass, rebound and defend very well. I think there are a lot of similarities between the way we play. I also look up to Larry Bird because he wasn’t the most athletic player by any means, but he is still one of the greatest players to ever play. I know I’m not the most athletic player but if I can use IQ and skill to my advantage than perhaps, I could take after Larry.
What stands out quickly is that you a very good rebounder for 201cm. You really broke out in your second season at Queen´s with 7,3rpg. What has been your secret to being such a consistent and strong rebounder in Canada?
I have to give credit to my basketball and strength coaches at Queen’s. I came into Queen’s at 17 years old weighing 185lbs. With the help of the strength coaches at Queen’s I was able to gain nearly 40 lbs over my career. The strength and power that they helped develop has helped me in my rebounding. In addition, my basketball coaches really stressed how important possession of the ball is and there’s only two ways to gain or lose possession; turnovers and rebounding. I think my improvement in rebounding is also largely due to my coaches priority on rebounding.
You have been a solid three point shooter in Canada and shot 40% one time. Is there any thing special or different thing you will be doing this summer to continue to grow as a shooter?
I don’t plan on doing anything special. I have been, and plan on continuing, to take a lot of shots this summer. I’ve taken more shots this summer than I’ve ever taken before in this time frame. I want to be the best shooter I can be when I arrive in Germany.
You belong to the top shot blockers in Canada in the last three years. How do you feel did your defensive game grow in the last three years and do you feel like you can be that defensive stopper as a professional rookie?
I have always had good instincts for timing when to block an opposing player’s shot. However, I feel I was able to be one of the top shot blockers in USports because my defensive IQ grew while playing for coach Barrie at Queen’s allowing me to anticipate help-side blocks faster and know when to jump vs when not to. In addition, my development with the strength and conditioning staff at Queen’s also improved my athletic capabilities, which always helps when blocking shots.
I feel that my shot blocking may decrease at the professional level as the athleticism, knowledge, size and skill of my opponents will be higher, making it harder to block shots. However, I believe I will still be able to alter shots at the rim so although It may not get tracked on the scoresheet, I believe my defensive instincts as well as my development at Queen’s will still be valuable.
You had a stellar 5 year career at Queens University. How would you sum up your career there and how do you feel did you profit most from having this experience?
I find it hard to sum up my own career, but I hope that my career as seen as an important in changing the culture of Queen’s Basketball. Before I came to Queen’s the team was consistently one of the worst teams in the league. With the guidance of Steph Barrie the program has now consistently been a top team in the best league in Canadian University basketball. I hope moving forward that the program can advance to be an elite team in Canada and that my career will have been a positive contribution to that process. I feel as though the most valuable aspect of my time at Queen’s was teaching me to be the best version of myself in all aspects of life. As this message was emphasized throughout the University and the athletics department.
You don´t only excel on the court, but were an ace in the classroom getting the Ken Shields award, but you also spent a lot of time volunteering for organizations such as Revved Up, which helps individuals with physical and mental challenges. Do you feel that your character would be what it is today had you not had this five-year experience at Queens?
My parents raised me exceptionally well and are people of amazing character. So, I believe they fostered me such that my character entering University was very high. For the most part my experience at Queen’s emphasized and prioritized the same messages my parents had instilled in me. During university I was more independent and was able to act more on these principles. So I think my character would be similar but Queen’s allowed me to improve and explore new opportunities.
You really put up consistent stats, but your career wasn´t always great at Queens. There was a point where you were putting to much pressure on yourself as you were thinking too much about the future than the task at hand. How did head coach Steph Barrie guide you back to reality?
In my last year I was injured in the first game of the season. When I returned, I wasn’t playing as well as I wanted to. I’ve always placed a lot of pressure on myself to be successful, so this was difficult for me. I knew I wanted to play professionally after the season, and I kept thinking I wouldn’t be able to if I continued to play poorly. This made me play even worse and I wasn’t enjoying it anymore because playing was a stressor. Steph saw this was happening and we had multiple conversations about changing my mindset to return to playing for the joy of playing in the moment rather than the pressure of performing for the future. Steph gave me a book to read called ‘The Mindful Athlete’ by George Mumford. This book really emphasized the importance of staying in the moment and clearing your mind. This book as well as the conversations with Steph helped me turn my season around and enjoy my last season to a much greater degree.
You played together with brother Jesse for five years at Queens. You guys are best friends which can´t be said for all brothers. How vital was it having him as a teammate and brother and what do you remember being the most important experience you had with him in school?
My brother Jesse is my best friend and probably the most influential person in my life. I’ve been by his side for my entire life. I can’t remember a single experience as being the most important, I feel like just being around Jesse so often has been an important experience simply because his character and nature is so positive that just being around him has made me a better person. I will miss him while I’m Germany but we’ll be close no matter what.
As a freshman you played against the great school Carleton. What memories do you have of playing then against the incredible Philipp Scrubb who has carved a nice professional career for himself?
When I played against Phil Scrubb I was a young player in the league and was amazed by what he was capable of. All I remember is that it seemed like he never missed.
You had many great games at Queens, but was your 32 point and 10 rebound game against Mcmaster in the 88-80 win one of your most memorable games?
I wouldn’t say this game stands out as one of my most memorable games. Statistically it may be the best game of my career. However, my most memorable games came down to game-winning shots. In my 1st year my teammate Sukhpreet Singh hit a game-winning buzzer-beating shot. In my second year we lost in the playoffs on a game-winning shot. My teammate Jaz Bains hit a game-winning buzzer beater in my fourth year. Finally, I was able to hit a game winning shot in my second last game of my career in playoffs. Those games are more memorable to me as the emotions in these moments are incredible
You stated that it takes a village to raise a child. How vital was head coach Steph Barrie in grooming and preparing you best for a professional basketball career?
Steph was an amazing coach over my career at Queen’s and he will continue to be a role model in my life as I move forward. I owe a lot of my development as a player to Steph. I started my career at Queen’s strictly as a shooter. Steph was able to mentor and motivate me to expand my game into a well-rounded player. He also worked with me on my mental state while playing which may have been just as important as the skill development. Without Steph I don’t think I’d be in the position I am as a basketball player. However, more importantly than my development as a basketball player, Steph fostered my development as a man. Throughout my career Steph always used basketball to teach life lessons such as being grateful and the importance of GRIT in achieving your goals. Steph was not only vital in preparing me for a professional basketball career, he was vital in preparing me for everything as these lessons are applicable to all aspects of life. These aspects of Steph’s mentoring are more important to me than my development as a basketball player only.
Who won a one on one in practice you or Jesse?
Growing up Jesse won every game as he was 2 years older than me. However, at Queen’s once we were both mature it depended on what type of game we were playing. If we were playing in the post, he would win most of the time. If we played from outside the 3 then I’d say I won most of those games.
Who was the toughest player that you battled in Canada that reached the NBA or is in Europe now?
I’ve played against a lot of great players in Canada that are playing in Europe now. I would say that the Scrubb brothers (Phil and Tom) were extremely tough as they were relentless, and their demeanor was so focused and almost robotic. Manny Diressa is another player I think of as he was an amazing scorer and basically single-handedly eliminated my team from playoffs in my fourth year.
Please name your NBA Rushmore with 4 heads past or present.
Lebron James, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain
What is your personal opinion of the neverending debate of who is the greatest of all-time Jordan or Lebron?
When I was growing up my brothers and I would argue over these debates for hours at a time. I learned from this that there is no point to arguing over these debates. I choose to simply respect both players for their greatness and not even try to engage in this debate because there will never be a conclusive and satisfying end. Both are amazing and I’m just glad I was able to watch Lebron during his prime, I imagine it was a similar experience for those who were able to watch Jordan.
What was the last movie that you saw?
I believe the last movie I saw was a horror movie called hereditary, easily one of the weirdest movies I’ve seen!
Thanks Tanner for the chat.