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Squaring up to the basket

Mairi Buchan will be the latest Scot to take on the Americans at their own game when she leaves to take up a four-year scholarship at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, at the end of the summer.

The 18-year-old, who has just left Denny High, in Stirlingshire, is already immersing herself in US college basketball as she avidly watches games on the North American Sports Network on her digital television.

But Mairi, who is 6ft 2in, points out that while it is a dream come true to be accepted into a university that is in the top 25 in the United States (no other Scottish female has been taken on at such a high level), there are sacrifices. She will need to combine her studies (she has yet to select her course) with a punishing programme which will involve hard training in addition to high-pressure matches.

Last November, she went to a match at Old Dominion University with her father, Alan, and Donna Finnie, the Scotland under-18s coach, where she sat behind the bench. "There were 4,000 fans and it was a fantastic atmosphere," she said. "I'm used to playing for my club, Falkirk Fury, in the Scottish League, in front of crowds of just 30.

"But I know how high the standard is over there. I don't think people here appreciate what a big step up it is, but it's a great opportunity.

"I'll not be able to get home much and I only get five days off at Christmas. But my mum and dad plan to come over as often as possible."

Mairi is no stranger to hard work. The university was keen to take her on when they saw her academic grades were every bit as impressive as her basketball.

Five A passes in her Higher grades last year showed she is putting the work in off court. This year she sat Advanced Highers in French and chemistry and Highers in PE and business management.

She is undaunted by the training regime she will encounter, since she already trains daily, works out with Falkirk Fury's boys' team every week and regularly has two matches at weekends.

"My training has depended on what homework I had," she says. "But, generally, I train with the Falkirk boys' team on a Mondays - my brother Cameron plays for them - and I train with the girls on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. On Fridays, I'm in the gym if I don't have a game, and I have two matches at the weekend, for Falkirk Fury and their under-18 team."

Ms Finnie, who has watched Mairi develop as a player and has played basketball at university in the United States, believes Mairi has the potential to get to the top. If she reaches the heights Stateside, she is an obvious candidate for the Great Britain team for the 2012 Olympic Games.

"I am delighted she is going to Old Dominion University, as they are presently ranked number 10 in NCAA Division 1 women's basketball, and the coaching staff are fantastic," she says.

"Mairi has the potential to pull on a GB jersey and, with her work ethic and ability to play in different spots, I would say she will start to frighten some of the current GB women's squad."

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