"She wasn't a wee girl with a dream, she was driving for something much bigger," says Lisa Palombo of the tenacious and gifted 12-year-old who grabbed the former PE teacher's attention 20 years ago.

"If was a work ethic that I noticed. Of course she was talented but it was about her ambition. She would be in before school at 7am in the morning."

Very quickly, she says, St Maurice's High School in Cumbernauld recognised that they should offer Erin McGarrachan something that would help her reach the top flight in a sport still dominated by Americans.

The Herald: Erin McGarrachan, back middle, showed promise from an early ageErin McGarrachan, back middle, showed promise from an early age (Image: Big Partnership)

Tonight, the 31-year-old six-footer and her teammates will make history as Caledonia Gladiators take on Benfica in the FIBA EuroCup.

It is the first time in more than 50 years that a Scottish women's side has played in a European competition.

It is all the more remarkable as the club only turned professional a year ago, going on to reach second place in the British league.

The Herald: - Erin McGarrachan, captain of Caledonia Gladiators- Erin McGarrachan, captain of Caledonia Gladiators (Image: Caledonian Gladiators)

The original team, Lady Rocks, was set up 20 years ago by the former PE teacher who saw an opportunity to build something around the youngster's burgeoning talent.

"When you see something like that in a young person... I felt it was a duty of mine to give her this opportunity," she says.

READ MORE: Caledonia Gladiators ready to officially open new stadium

"We focussed on girls because there was already a boy's club in the area and that was where I was challenged as a teacher. Would I focus on female participation, which wasn't a massive thing at that point or focus on the existing boy's team. I took that challenge on." 

Scotland’s only professional basketball franchise was acquired last year by her close friends, businessman Steve Timoney and his wife Alison, also running the men's side, Glasgow Rocks.

A new 1,600-seater temporary arena opened in East Kilbride earlier this month, the first stage of a £20m stadium project and the largest single investment in Scottish basketball history. The team is coached by Spaniard Miguel Ortega, one of the biggest names in basketball. 

"The rate this has run at - going from a 17-year pathway to a professional movement over the course of one season - is unbelievable," says Ms Palombo.

"We would never in our lives have believed we would have a Scottish club playing with 12 full-time females and entering Europe." 

The Herald:

Team captain Erin McGarrachan was introduced to basketball in her first block of PE lesson in secondary school and says the attraction was instant.

READ MORE: Basketball star shares hoop dreams with vulnerable youngsters 

After competing for the national team she got a scholarship at 18 in the United States and spent the next five years there.

"Most of the time it was like being in a movie," she says. "If you have ever seen High School Musical, it's very close to that.

"But there were some tough aspects to it. You are over there yourself as a young person with coaches demanding a lot of you and you still have your studies to do.

"The support and investment they have in the game is second-to-none over there, so overall it was a fantastic experience."

After she returned she represented Great Britain and signed for a team in Loughborough but an ankle injury led her back to Scotland. She decided to finish playing basketball and pursue a career in accountancy and played what she thought was her final season in Austria.

"It's funny how things turn out sometimes," she says. "Covid happened and no one was playing basketball but Lisa had mentioned that talks were happening about Caledonian Gladiators.

"All the time I'm thinking, this sounds amazing but one I can't see it happening and two, I'm old and I've hung up my boots.

"But here we are now and I'm about to play in our new arena in a European game. It's quite phenomenal."