Collegiate Hoops: Tegan Graham, Record-Breaker

Brigham Young University (BYU) Senior Tegan Graham has already set one New Zealand collegiate record which will likely stand for a very long time. And on 1st January 2022, she will be poised to claim a second.

On New Year’s Day, BYU will entertain Portland University in what will be Tegan’s 136th NCAA Division I appearance. That will equal the record held by Jillian Harmon (Stanford University 2005-09) for the most Division I games played by a New Zealander – male or female. Barring injury, Graham will set this new mark against the University of San Francisco on 6 January.

“I think it’s pretty awesome,” said the Wellingtonian ahead of the landmark game.

“I’m super lucky to get to play five years of college basketball – because of an extra COVID year – so I’m just really grateful I got to stick around for this long!”

BYU currently boast an 8-1 record, their only loss of the season being a 99-91 defeat at Oklahoma in mid-December. However that Oklahoma game will be one Tegan will long remember, despite the loss. It was during that game that Tegan – a renowned perimeter shooter – made 10 of 17 shots from behind the arc from (59%), setting a new career high of 30 points.

“Hitting 10 threes in a game was pretty fun,” she exclaimed modestly.

Not only did those 30 points take her past 1,000 Division I career points – the 17th New Zealander to do so – but it set a record for the most 3-pointers ever made by a Kiwi in a single game of college basketball.

She first developed her three point game at college, having realised that the physical game she once relied on in high school needed to be adapted.

“I knew I needed to add to my offensive portfolio beyond drives and mid-range jumpers. In New Zealand the focus was ‘can you get to the basket, absorb contact and make a shot?’

“The skill level in the States was so much higher, so I needed to make changes.”

Prior to BYU, Graham played at Colgate University in the Patriot League where she made 98 appearances for the Raiders and scored 700 points. She currently ranks sixth all-time on Colgate’s 3-point shooting percentage (34%). No slouch in the classroom, she was also on the Patriot League All-Academic Honor Roll for three seasons.

Despite her successes at Colgate, life wasn’t all rosy in New York State. Tegan says that if it wasn’t for the intervention of assistant coach Sharay Hall, she likely would have given the game away entirely.

“Sharay was my assistant coach at Colgate in my senior year and she really influenced the way I saw myself as an athlete. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I would have entered the transfer portal – she gave me the confidence and belief to continue my basketball career when I was at a really low point.”

After finally entering the 2020 transfer portal, Tegan received a couple of other offers but had little hesitation in joining BYU. School friend Shalae Salmon – who had just graduated from BYU – spoke highly of the environment at the school and after conversations with assistant coach Ray Stewart, Tegan signed with the Cougars.

She entered the transfer portal on the Friday left Colgate on the Sunday, headed to family in California, and life has been on an upwards curve ever since.

“Basketball at BYU is elite. The resources we are given and what we have access to is incredible and on a personal level, I feel valued and respected by my coaches and teammates at BYU. They allow me to be myself.

“I’ve had so much fun, the team genuinely like each other.”

BYU enjoyed a highly successful 2020-21 campaign but there remains some unfinished business. The Cougars made it all the way to the NCAA Tournament (losing in the second round) but it is perhaps their loss in the West Coast Conference Tournament Final which irks them the most.

Not only was the final lost by the narrowest of margins (43-42), but also in the most agonizing of circumstances. BYU led by 9 points at the start of the final quarter and still were up a point with 0.6 seconds remaining, only for a Gonzaga player to make the game-winner on the buzzer. That loss helped fuel Tegan’s desire to return for an extra year.

“I made the decision before last season ended. I was having so much fun, loved basketball and was enjoying school.

“I’ve never won a championship; I want to win a title and think last year has given us a lot of confidence despite losing the championship game.”

Tegan’s passion for the game was fuelled from growing up in a household where twin brother Shay, older brother Doran and dad Steve were all keen ballers.

“I think the first team I remember playing for was in primary school where I played with the boys because there was no girls team.”

She then started playing at the Hoop Club in Wellington under the watchful eye of well-known New Zealand basketball identity Kenny McFadden.

McFadden well remembers the young Graham in her early years in the game.

“She was about eight years old when she came along with her brothers. She was the feistiest player on the court and outworked all the boys. When I saw that I knew she was going to be a great player one day!”

Then it was on to Wellington Girl’s College.

“I loved my basketball experience in high school and that was all because of my teammates. I had amazing teammates and we just built this amazing culture. It helped that we won a lot too!”

Wellington Girls’ won the Wellington School’s Sharp Cup titles in 2012 and 2014 and progressed all the way to the 2014 and 2015 Secondary Schools National Grand Finals but lost on both occasions. A small consolation for Tegan was being named to the Tournament Team for both years.

The success Tegan enjoyed at Wellington Girls’ College helped fuel her desire to pursue a collegiate career.

“I was about 15 when I really seriously decided I wanted to play basketball in college. My best friend, Rebecca Neil, was actually a massive reason I played basketball in college.

“We would workout really early before school multiple times a week – she had no ambition to play after high school but she knew that it was my dream to play in college and she put in a lot of time helping me get better. My parents were also huge in helping me get to the States.”

Tegan gained a Bachelor of Arts in political science during her three-years at Colgate University.  She is currently writing a paper on the disparity in resources between Women’s and Men’s NCAA athletics programmes, part of a Masters in Communications which she to due to complete in April.

Tegan’s findings, when published, could be enlightening. But for now, it’s back to the present and BYU’s quest for a championship.

Hopefully come March she won’t have to say again, “I’ve never won one.”


Tegan’s Career at a Glance:

New Zealand:

  • 2012; Wellington Girl’s College, won the Wellington School’s Sharp Cup title.
  • 2013; Played for NZ at FIBA U17 Oceania Championship in Melbourne.
  • 2014; Wellington Girl’s College, won the Wellington School’s Sharp Cup title.
  • Secondary Schools National final, lost to New Plymouth Girls High School.
  • Named to Tournament Teams at U17 Nationals and Secondary Schools National Tournaments.
  • 2014; Played for NZ at FIBA U19 Oceania Championship in Fiji.
  • 2015; Named to Tournament Team at U19 Nationals after top scoring for Wellington in their grand final loss to Waikato. Again named to Tournament Team.

Career at Colgate University:

  • 2015-16; Redshirted after suffering a torn ACL.
  • 2017-18; Team Captain in sophomore year.
  • 2018-19; Led the Patriot League in 3-point percentage at 49%.
  • 2019-20; Team Captain in senior year – Helped Colgate finish 19-11 for second-most wins in programme history.
  • Finished career totalling 700 points, 272 rebounds, 197 assists.
  • Three-time Patriot League Academic Honor Roll.
  • Four-time Colgate Academic Honor Roll.

Career at Brigham Young University (BYU):

  • 2020-21; Played all 25 games averaging 8.3ppg, led team in 3-point percentage with 46.8%
  • 2021-22; Currently leads team in assists (4.9apg) and steals (1.9spg).