October 12, 2010
From the WNBA to India - Tamika Raymond takes on a brand new challenge
Soon after it was announced that the Indian Sr. Men's team will be led by American coach Bill Harris, formerly of Wheaton college, there was a collective flurry of celebration over the basketball networks around the country. "Yes... FINALLY... gud going... All the best Mr. Harris..." Facebook pages announced the news deliriously with ALL CAPS and Twitter updates were retweeted with glorious abandon. No, Harris wasn't the saviour for Indian basketball, but he was definitely an important foundation as the team built itself towards respectability before the 2010 Asian Games.
There was just one niggling problem.
Pratima Singh, India's Women's National player, shared her grievances first: "why not for the girls team.... this is not good...," which she later followed on by "humare baare main bhi to soche koi (someone think about us, too)!"
The rest of the girls watched jealously for a few days, as Harris landed in Chennai and started his era with the Senior Men. Indian players, particularly the women, are known for their hunger to keep learning, keep exploring, keep improving... Just like the men, they wanted their leader, too.
And it didn't take long before their wish was granted. After a thorough search for coaching talent in the USA, the NBA found recommended a former WNBA player and NCAA D1 assistant coach the BFI. BFI's Secretary-General Harish Sharma presented Tamika Raymond to the Women's squad.
Raymond brings with herself the perfect balance of experience and approachability. She is still young, only two years retired from her career as a professional basketball player in the WNBA, which is the most competitive women's basketball league in the world. After being drafted sixth overall by the Minnesota Lynx in the 2002 WNBA draft, Raymond played for the Lynx for six years, before taking her talents to Connecticut to play for the Sun for a year in 2008.
But being a professional player wasn't enough: Raymond also began to work as assistant coach at Ohio State University in the off-season, juggling both careers of a player and a coach with ease for several years. After five years at Ohio State, she took up the assistant coaching job at the University of Kansas. Both these institutions have great basketball programmes and play at the highest level of college basketball in the US – NCAA Division I.
But this is her first gig as head coach – and with a wonderful twist of fate, she finds herself in South India. "I was doing some work with the NBA internationally, and I heard that they wanted my name in the pool of people being considered for the India job," Raymond said, "I thought it was a great situation and so I agreed."
"My past experience is surely to help me with this new responsibility," she added, "At Ohio State, I worked with an older coach who stressed on the fundamentals of perfecting the women's basketball by breaking down and studying every bit of information about the game. At Kansas, I worked under a younger coach who believed in exploring new concepts and disciplines of training student athletes."
"Being young and a former pro-athlete myself, I feel I will be able to relate very well with the girls here. I hope I will be able to understand their issues better and we can all work together."
Raymond has been in India for less than two weeks, but she has already organised the team into following a strict, regimented training schedule. Time is scarce – the Asian Games tip off in a month, and India will have to be prepared to face the likes of China, Korea, and Thailand in their group.
But no matter how good a coach, it is the players who inevitably decide on the success of a squad. So far, Raymond seems to be happy with the group she has been given to work with. "The girls have responded well to the practices we have had so far," she said, "They're very talented, proud, and respectful, but the best thing is that they are like sponges: they want to keep learning, they want to keep working in the gym, and want to care for the game of basketball. All this combines to show for the great energy that they have in practice."
Raymond also commented that the Indian Women were strong in their basketball fundamentals, and seemed to have high basketball IQ and retention.
As the team shapes up, Raymond envisions a squad that is strong defensively but also is efficient with its offensive execution. "I want us to be a smart team in our tactical approach and I want us to play hard," she said, "I think if we do that, we can perform pretty well at the Asian Games. I have seen the statistics from the previous games that these girls have played and I think we can improve on them."
Raymond noted that there are various ways in which the team can be improved, and they can do it by following certain aspects of the US model. "In the US, there are certain extra things that the players do which takes them to the top," said Raymond, "There is more stress on weight training, on a strenuous conditioning regiment, and tactical breakdown of offensive and defensive fundamentals."
"We have a lot of talent there, so there is no reason why India can't achieve its potential in basketball. Yes, we have a long way to go, but we're all working together to improve the game here: I really admire the work the BFI has been doing in India."
That race towards improvement is in full swing. Basketball in India was getting all the right kind of support from IMG-Reliance and the NBA – and now, with the hiring of the two American coaches for our senior teams, the players feel confident to start learning. Start delivering.
The girls didn't have to wait too long or complain too much. They have their coach, now, and they have a mission. There was no reason to be jealous of the boys anymore. Facebook statues rejoiced and the ‘Like' thumbs went up as the news of Raymond taking charge of the Sr. Women's team spread. Even Pratima Singh was satisfied.
"THANK U...:)," she commented, "WE R HAPPY..."
If Raymond's team continues to play hard, the rest of us will be very happy, too.