(by Graeme Macpherson)

On a typically dull, dreich Scottish winter’s day, it was perhaps not a surprise to learn what Kirsty Brown misses most about her former life in California.

“The weather, definitely,” she says without hesitation after returning this summer to live in Scotland for the first time since her family took the plunge and moved out west when she was just six years old.

With the sun on her back most days regardless of the time of year, sport formed an integral part of her life growing up, the now 24-year-old and her siblings encouraged and able to try as many different disciplines as possible. Eventually, though, she had to choose one to focus on and settled on basketball. And it is that sport that has brought her back to Scotland, signing this summer for the Caledonia Gladiators to return home for the first time in 18 years.

“I started playing basketball when I was 11 mainly just because I was tall for my age,” she says. “I was very athletic and pretty much played every sport under the sun when I was growing up. The weather was a definite advantage as it meant you could play outdoors all year round. And then when I was about 16 I decided basketball was the sport I really loved and wanted to pursue it in college. And when I got to college it became the only sport that I played and really focused on it and it just built from there.”

Brown was born and grew up in Edinburgh before the family moved first to Cumbernauld and then to California when her dad’s job required them to relocate. She has retained memories of her formative years in Scotland before she was whisked away to the rather more glamorous surrounds of Pleasanton in the East Bay region and then San Luis Obispo where she went to college.

“I had just started school when we moved to the States but I can still remember those first few years there in Edinburgh and then Cumbernauld,” she recalls. “Then my dad got offered a job in California. Initially, it was only going to be for two years but my parents loved it, we loved it, and now it’s been 17 years. I know part of the reason my parents stayed was because they felt the opportunities, especially for young girls, were greater than back in Scotland. But it’s been interesting since coming back to see the interest in basketball from schools and other clubs and hopefully that’s only going to continue to grow.”

Brown returned to the UK a year ago and spent her rookie year at Leicester before being enticed north by Gladiators. Operating out of their custom-built PlaySport arena in East Kilbride, the Cal Poly graduate was taken by the level of ambition shown by Scotland’s only professional basketball club.

“I feel really settled already here,” she reveals. “The team is amazing, as are the coaching staff and the club itself. There isn’t really anything to complain about! Technically this is just the second year of the club but with the new arena and seeing what’s been invested in us so far as a team, you can sense there is real ambition here.

“Now it’s about helping to keep building the name. There’s so much potential still for the club to grow. Seeing how much was being invested in the women’s team as well as the men’s was a huge draw for me to come here. Plus having my family here and having them at games has been a massive plus too.”

Gladiators became the first Scottish women’s basketball team to compete in Europe in 50 years this year and won three out of their four matches in the EuroCup competition, qualifying for the next round in the process. 

Tonight they take on NKA Universitas Pecs from Hungary in the second leg of the playoff round, looking to overturn a 24-point deficit from last week’s first meeting. And Brown doesn’t want the European adventure to end here.

“Being in Europe this season has been so much fun,” she adds. “Being able to travel and play different styles of basketball has been a really amazing experience for all of us as a squad.

“We definitely don’t want it to be over so this is a huge game for us against Pecs. The first half of the game over in Hungary went awesome for us but the third quarter just wasn’t smooth, especially offensively. So for the return, we have to get back that intensity and flow that we showed in the first half which will hopefully lead to a better outcome for us.

“We go into this game knowing we have nothing to lose. We’re on our home turf and don’t want this to be our last EuroCup game. We know if we can do the little things right we’ll have a great chance. And after that, it’s just about putting the ball in the bucket as much as we can. But we’re still in this fight.”

Get your tickets for tonight’s crucial fixture HERE!