GREAT FALLS — The Graham sisters from Belt, 11-year-old Ellison and 13-year-old Cadence, are heading to Chicago at the end of April to see to see if they can claim the title as the best free throw shooter in the country.
The 50th Annual Elk Shoot Hoop Nationals are in person this year after having to go virtual last year. Ellison Graham won her division as a 10-year old last time around and because of her title, she earned herself a spot at the Naismith Hall of Fame, something her and her family wouldn’t forget.
“To see Elli’s name you know it’s not a huge thing compared to the Kobe Bryant museum in there but and all that but just to see her name in there was pretty awesome,” Elli’s mother and former Great Falls High and Montana-Western standout, said.
The family met UConn legendary coach Geno Auriemma on their trip and one characteristic about the hall of famer stood out to Ellison:
“At the thing, we saw Geno.”
“What was that like?”
“He’s small, he’s very short.”
To help even out the height differential they also met Charles Barkley and for Cadence the sheer size of the hall-of-fame power forward was hard to miss.
“Is he bigger in person?”
“Yeah, he’s huge his hand was like three times the size of mine.”
Last year, due to Covid-19 the contest was virtual as Ellison had to shoot in front of Elks judges in Glasgow. This year, the stage will be much bigger as this time both the Graham sisters be shooting at the home of the WNBA champion Chicago Sky, Wintrust Arena in Chicago.
“I’m kind of nervous bit it will be kind of cool,” Cadence said.
“Yeah it’ll be kind of scary because last time we shot in Chicago, it was a tiny gym and it was very crowded in there but it’ll more spaced out like this gym,” Ellison added.
Luckily for them, they have unlimited access to the biggest gym in the area, Great Falls High. Thanks to their grandfather and head coach for the Bison girls, Jerry Schmitz, as well as their All-American mother, Megan, they have all the resources they need to perform well on the big stage.
“With my dad being here it’s a pretty easy place to come back to and it has a lot of great tradition so yeah it’s fun to compete and practice here,” Megan said.
The family heads to Chicago on April 27 with a chance for Ellison to protect her crown and an opportunity for Cadence to etch her name in the in the Naismith Hall of Fame.
“I’m excited for both of them to shoot in that big arena that’s just a cool atmosphere and just to go as a family it will be fun.”