August 13, 2014

Indian basketball superstar Geethu Anna Jose to receive Arjuna Award this year

Geethu Anna Jose has done it all for Indian Basketball, and then some.

Perhaps the finest basketball player that Indian has produced - of any gender - in recent times, Jose has been the center-piece of India's Women's national squad for the last 10 years. The 29-year-old out of Kottayam, Kerala, has enjoyed a glittering career, which has included performing as one of the leading scorers, shot-blockers, and rebounders in all of Asia at FIBA Asia Women's Championships, leading India to gold medal wins at the Asian Beach Games and the 1st FIBA Asia 3x3 Championship. She finished as the top scorer in the 2009 FIBA Asia Championship and was MVP at the CommonWealth Games basketball tournament in 2004. At the club level, Jose has played professionally in Australia and in Thailand, winning MVP honours with the former when with the Ringwood Hawks. Back home in India, she has been a one-woman wrecking crew, winning almost every tournament she has participated in for her clubs Indian Railways or Southern Railway. As a senior, she led the Indian Railways women's squad to nine consecutive National Championship titles. She also became the first (and only) Indian to earn trials with the WNBA - the world's finest women's basketball league - in 2011 when she worked out with the Chicago Sky, Los Angeles Sparks, and San Antonio Silver Stars.

And now, this 6-foot-2 hoops living legend will finally be conferred the honour that she has deserved for years: Jose's name is among the 15 Indian athletes recommended for this year's Arjuna Award, the prestigious national award handed to sports-persons in India. Jose will become the 17th basketball player in India to receive this award, but only the first since 2001. She will also be only the second women's basketball player to win the Arjuna Award since Suman Sharma in 1991.

Despite her accomplishments, Jose's previous applications for this award had failed, and the Arjuna Award Selection Committee - led by former Indian cricketing legend Kapil Dev - only accepted her on the fifth try. "I'm glad that the government has begun to honour women hoopsters," she told Times of India upon hearing this news.

Named after the mythical hero of the Mahabharata Arjun, [and now quoting from Wikipedia] "the Arjuna Awards are given by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports of the Government of India to recognize outstanding achievement in National sports. Instituted in 1961, the award carries a cash prize of 500,000 rupees, a bronze statuette of Arjuna, and a scroll."

[More from Wikipedia]"The Government has recently revised the scheme for the Arjun Award. As per the revised guidelines, to be eligible for the Award, a sportsperson should not only have had good performance consistently for the previous three years at the international level with excellence for the year for which the Award is recommended, but should also have shown qualities of leadership, sportsmanship and a sense of discipline."

Multiple sports-persons from various avenues are conferred the award every year. This year, the 15 sports-persons who have been recommended by the Selection Committee for the Arjuna Award are Akhilesh Varma (Archery), Tintu Luka (Athletics), HN Girisha (Paralympics), V Diju (Badminton), Geethu Ann Jose (Basketball), Jai Bhagwan (Boxing), R Ashwin (Cricket), Anirban Lahiri (Golf), Mamta Pujari (Kabaddi), Saji Thomas (Rowing), Heena Sidhu (Shooting), Anaka Alankamany (Squash), Tom Joseph (Volleyball), Renubala Chanu (Weightlifting) and Sunil Rana (Wrestling). The awards will be handed out on August 29 in New Delhi.

Surprisingly, no athlete was recommended for the coveted Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award this year, which is India's highest honour for achievement in sports and given to the absolute top achievers. No Indian basketball player has yet won this award.

On a side-note, it seems like legendary Indian basketball coach Sankaran Subramanian was once again ignored from the short-list of recipients of this year's Dronacharya Award, the parallel award given for excellence in sports coaching in India. No basketball coach has ever been conferred this award, but for his tremendous achievements over multiple decades, Dr. Subramanian - who passed away last year - should receive this award posthumously.

Congratulations to Jose for her well-deserved achievement. She has been head and shoulders above any basketball player in the nation for years and is one of the few players we've ever had in our history that could stand among the best players in the continent. At 29 and recently married, Jose peak years might be the near rear-view mirror and she seems to be enjoying a period of semi-retirement. Still, hoop fans in India will hope that she will have a few more strong years on the court ahead of her.

For now, we hope that this honour brings more attention to the national mainstream audience of Jose's past accomplishments in the game. Furthermore, her conferment of the Arjuna Award can also shine the spotlight on Indian basketball and women's basketball in particular. She can continue to serve as a great role model for more young Indians hoping to follow in her footsteps. Despite her accomplishments, Jose never managed to lead India deep into the biggest FIBA Asia Championship or realize her WNBA dreams. But she went further than anyone else, and as a winner of the Arjuna Award, she can help show the way to the new generation of young ballers the way to realizing those dreams, too.

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