Grahams channel sibling rivalry, bring competitiveness to Tiger Hoops

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It would take a second glance for a spectator of Occidental women’s basketball to notice the strange resemblance between two of the new additions to this season’s team. Biology major Eda Graham (junior) and sociology major Haley Graham (first-year) play entirely different positions — the former a slasher-type forward and the latter a shooting guard — in addition to having opposite personalities.

And yet there is something about the way they run, their similar playing style and their lanky body types that gives them away.

As it turns out, the pair is sisters both matriculated to the college this year — Haley from Ventura High School, and Eda from Ventura College.

“It’s really funny how similar they are and how different they are at the same time,” Tiger head coach Anahit Aladzhanyan ‘07 said. “They couldn’t be any more different personality-wise, but there are little tendencies. Haley is very straightforward, cut-and-dried and more social. Eda is very intelligent; social as well, but it’s different.”

Aladzhanyan approached Haley as a senior in high school after she saw her play at a club tournament in Los Angeles and tried to recruit her for almost a year.

“Coach Heat [Aladzhanyan] basically harassed me until I agreed to come on a visit,” Haley said.

Through getting to know Haley, Aladzhanyan became aware that she had an older sister who also played basketball and was applying to four-year colleges. Eda, who had not known of Occidental before Haley became interested, reached out to her future coach, who then watched her play in a tournament in Glendale. Both girls were accepted last spring, and the rest is history.

Still, the decision to spend two years together at a school of barely over 2,000 students was a weighty one for the lifelong comrades and competitors.

“When I first realized it was going to happen I wasn’t thrilled about it,” Haley said. “I wanted my freedom. But we never see each other, really, except for practice. I would actually say it’s helped our relationship because we have space from each other, but we’re always there to have each other’s back.”

For her sister, it was a bonus from the start.

“I was excited; really, really excited,” Eda said. “It was a new chapter in my life that I hadn’t had before. Plus, it’s like you’re going to a new school with your family member, which automatically brings a level of comfort.”

Both sisters cite their father, Richard Graham, as their basketball mentor. He played basketball both in high school and when he attended Ventura College.

The Grahams started playing in local youth leagues during elementary school, joining club teams a few years later and eventually playing for the same high school. But since Haley is two years younger and was on the junior varsity team when Eda played varsity, the two never played on the same squad together before coming to Occidental. If they had, the results may have been tense.

According to the sisters, they had a competitive relationship with basketball in their younger days. Rarely did they play one-on-one together.

“I think we were equally each other’s bosses,” Eda said. “Growing up, she was always a lot smaller than I was. I had authority just by sheer size. She used her words more. We butted heads a lot.”

According to Tiger captain Michelle Naito-Lo (senior), however, the Grahams’ relationship has changed throughout the season.

“At the beginning of the year, they were kind of distancing themselves from each other,” Naito-Lo said. “But as the season has progressed, they have definitely leaned on each other to help support them through our really long season.”

In fact, Eda is looking forward to playing with her sister on the court more often next year.

“Both of us being at a point where we are in our lives, I think this is the best possible time to have the best possible experience together,” Eda said.

On this, the sisters agree.

“It’s really unique that you get to go to high school with your sister and then the same college,” Haley said. “I think that most people would say ‘No, I don’t want that, I want to do my own thing.’ It’s amazing how much it actually helps knowing she’s here, even if I don’t see her.”