September 20, 2010

Basketball helps young players realise their dreams

Last week, eight young India basketball players, blessed with good fortune and backed up with hard work, finally made their way to begin their education as student athletes at the IMG Basketball Academy in Bradenton, Florida (USA). The eight were chosen as part of a scholarship programme devised by IMG-Reliance to provide budding Indian athletes with an opportunity of a lifetime to reach their potential in sport.

Hundreds of talented young sub-juniors took part in a Sub-Junior national championship last year, and 50 of the best ones were nominated by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to show up for IMG-Reliance's try-outs in New Delhi in August. Out of these, four boys and four girls were rewarded by being picked up as the representatives of basketball from India at the IMG Academy. This is no small achievement, because the Academy in Bradenton is considered to be the best multi-sport training facility in the world. The basketball academy itself has featured the likes of Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Chauncey Billups, Joakim Noah, Kevin Martin, Jrue Holiday, Earl Clark, Kyryl Natyazhko (freshman at the University of Arizona), Dwight Powell (committed to Stanford), and others in the past.

They are from different parts of the country, and have very different backgrounds, but all eight of these youngsters have one thing in common: hard work. Most of them have revealed that even at a young age, it was their addiction to keep working on basketball that elevated them to the level they have reached today. Only between the ages of 13-14, these youngsters spend hours upon hours perfecting the game of basketball every day.

Ashiv Jain, who is from Bhopal, began playing basketball four years ago, when he was only 10. "I first started playing the game when I was in school. As I was blessed with good height, I was able to master it early, but I still need to practice for several hours every day."

The 'biggest' attraction amongst the chosen few, literally, is Satnam Singh Bhamara, the 14-year-old seven footer, son of a farmer from the small Ballo Ke village in Punjab. Satnam was recruited to start playing the game at age nine to Ludhiana, and he hasn't looked back. He is now one of the best junior players in the country and his height has already brought the international media home raving about him.

"I still have many aspects to improve in my game," says Satnam, "But right now, I believe that my post/pivot skills are the strongest aspect of my game."

Incredibly, the selection of eight features four youngsters from the state of Chhattisgarh two boys and two girls all of whom who have been trained at the academy in Billai. Dinesh Kumar Mishra, who is from the south-Chhattisgarh town of Jagdalpur said, "It feels good to get an opportunity like this in something I love to do, which is, playing basketball. I am yearning to get there and do really well!"

Kavita Akula, who is from Billai, was put on to the game of basketball through her aunt, who also used to play. Now, on the brink of this incredible opportunity, Kavita has plans to do more than just play. "I want to go there and improve my English," she says, "And of course, I want to see America!"

Pooja Ambashta , from Ambikapur in Chhattisgarh, is the tallest girl in the group. "I liked basketball straight away!" she claims, "I used to watch my seniors playing in Ambikapur and joined in. When I started to improve and get good results, I was recruited to train at the hostel in Billai. That has helped improve my game a lot more."

Chhattisgarh's fourth representative doesn't originally hail from the state Sanjeev Kumar was born in Patna, Bihar, but due to lack of facilities and opportunities around him, he went out to seek another avenue to develop his game. The answer for him came in Billai, where he has been for the last two years. Although short, Sanjeev is a quick and talented player, who says that he will be looking to improve his dribbling and jumping ability with the help of the basketball coaches in IMG.

Then there is Barkha Sonkar, the daughter of a humble mechanic from Varanasi, a town that has produced many Indian basketball talents in the past. Barkha will be taking a different route towards stardom than the rest. "I really like basketball," said the determined young point guard. "I saw my seniors play this game and I wanted to follow them."

Finally, the last representative in this group is New Delhi sensation Saumya Babbar. Saumya has been showcasing her skills in recent weeks at the IMG-Reliance School Basketball League in Delhi, but the Sachdeva Public School will have to make do without her now, as she heads across the ocean and towards the USA. "I have great ambitions," she stated, "I want to help basketball in India and take the Women's team to the highest level. I also want to play for the WNBA one day."

The youngsters already have a healthy habit of practice to start with. Whereas Barkha said that she practiced over six hours daily, the players from Chhattisgarh have been going through a rigorous training of eight hours every day. Satnam hasn't taken his size for granted either, saying that he has had days where he has spent up to 10 hours on the basketball court.

Their training will have a lot more discipline and organisation at IMG, as the expert coaches will be helping the kids through the right kinds of workouts, gym exercises, a variety of new drills, physiotherapy, as well as taking dietary precautions.

We are still four or five years away from fulfilling our dream of watching a professional basketball league unfold in India. But with the hard work put in by the youngsters in America as well as the training that their peers are going to continue back home, it seems that when the league is finally launched, there will be no shortage of explosive talents to propel Indian basketball into the bright future.


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