BELT — There’s not much that rattles 10-year-old Ellison Graham of Belt.
We asked if she was confident at the free throw line.
“Yep,” she said.
We asked if she ever gets nervous.
“Nope,” she said.
To be sure, the daughter of former college athletes Jeff and Megan Graham has ice in her veins. And that confidence was on full display in April when she competed in the Elks Hoop Shoot finals after advancing through the city, state and regional competition.
The event was in a virtual format following COVID-19 delays, and Graham took her shots at the Glasgow High School gymnasium in front of Elks officials.
She hit a perfect 25 free throws in 25 attempts. She also hit 24 of 25 tiebreaker shots for a total of 49 makes in 50 attempts.
“It feels awesome because I'm only 10 years old,” she said.
Her score was recorded and compared to other regional winners nationwide and then it was time to play the waiting game.
“I was worried because I hit 49 shots,” Ellison said. “And someone might have hit 50.”
But last week during the Elks Hoop Shoot Finals reveal show, the Graham family learned what they had suspected all along. Ellison’s score held up, and she was named the Elks Hoop Shoot national champion in the 8-9-year-old age group.
She was also named the Getty Powell award winner for the top female scorer among the 36 national qualifiers in any age group.
“It's cool because I'm like the only person I think from Belt that has won the national free throw contest,” Ellison said. “And I got some cool awards.”
Ellison’s mother Megan Graham will enter the Hall of Fame at Montana Western this summer and is one of the best athletes to ever come out of Great Falls. But even she was in awe of her daughter’s performance.
“I was nothing like that when I was her age. There's no way that I could have shot like that or not had the nerves,” Megan said. “She was pretty nervous beforehand, she wouldn't have said that to anyone, but she was a little bit nervous and then all of a sudden she just let it go.”
The deal gets even sweeter.
As a national champion, Ellison will have her name inscribed in a display at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. And in September she’ll get to travel to Springfield, Massachusetts, for the 2021 induction ceremony.
“I think my mom said that Chris Webber would there if we won and some more basketball players I can’t remember,” Ellison said.
Former NBA stars Chris Webber, Chris Bosh, Ben Wallace and Paul Pierce, along with WNBA stars Yolanda Griffith and Lauren Jackson, are just some of the names set to be inducted. Hall of Fame player Bill Russell will be enshrined as a head coach.
And Ellison, from the small town of Belt, will be right there at the ceremony watching history unfold. She earned her place.
“I don't think it will really sink in until she actually does it. And I don't think can fully comprehend what that means as far as being in that position,” Megan said. “I mean, Kobe Bryant was inducted last week. That’s just pretty, pretty amazing to be a part of that history.”
But even though Ellison is a Hall of Famer, she’s still a kid, and there’s another part of the trip she’s looking forward to.
“We get to go to the American Doll store,” she said. “I’m pretty excited about that.”