September 6, 2017

Prashanti Singh joins the very short list of women’s basketball players with an Arjuna Award

This article was first published in my blog for The Times of India Sports on August 27, 2017. Click here to read the original piece.

The Arjuna Award is named after perhaps one the greatest sharpshooters in human mythology. Arjun, the great protagonists of The Mahabharat, was a famed archer and marksmen, and the modern Arjuna Award—instituted by the Indian government—has adopted a bronze statuette of Arjun in a pose of brief meditation before he readies to release the arrow off his bowstring.
This week, another phenomenal marksmen in a completely different field of sport will be getting her dues. Prashanti Singh, the former captain of India’s basketball team, will join the short list of Indian basketball players to win the prestigious Arjuna Award after over a decade of basketball excellence domestically and service to the national team. The 33-year-old shooting guard from Varanasi will become just the third women in history to win an Arjuna Award for basketball.
Singh comes from a family of basketball royalty, even though this royalty originated in a small town with a more strenuous path to climb the ladder of athletic success. Despite the odds, Singh and her sisters battled the traditional patriarchal society to produce an array of basketball stars for the country. Three of her sisters—Divya, Akanksha, and Pratima—joined Prashanti to star for Delhi at the domestic stage and play for India in international tournaments. Her eldest sister Priyanka played domestically and has been a NIS coach. The “Singh Sisters” of Varanasi remain some of the most popular and influential faces in Indian Basketball.
Prashanti Singh, also known by her nickname ‘Boskey’, is now the most decorated women basketball player in India, holding the national record for most number of medals (23) in national championships, most of which came for Delhi while she was an employee for MTNL.  She has represented the national team in the 2006 Commonwealth Games, the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games, and six FIBA Asia Women’s Championships (2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013), plus one more at the junior level.
Singh has had several memorable moments in the India jersey abroad. At the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Japan, she helped India defeat Malaysia to qualify for Level 1 of the tournament. Her personal highlight was the 35-point performance in India’s upset victory over Korea Samsung at the 2011 William Jones Cup in Taiwan. She also played a role in India’s best-ever FIBA ABC finish – fifth place at the ABC in Thailand in 2014 – in an overtime win over Kazakhstan.
With this honour, Singh becomes just the 20th basketball player in the country to receive the Arjuna Award over the past 56 years. What is more startling, however, is that she is only the third women to be bestowed this honour. In 1983, former national captain Suman Sharma became the first Indian women to win an Arjuna Award for basketball. Three years ago, Indian hoops legend Geethu Anna Rahul (formerly Jose) became the second.
Singh’s award, however, makes her the second basketball player in succession to get the Arjuna, and it sure to motivate young women around the country—no matter what their background and launch-pad might be—to pursue greater things in the sport. And she will surely not be the last. Already, the campaign has begun to consider the Indian basketball team’s current captain—Tamil Nadu born Anitha Paul Durai—to be the next player in consideration. Paul Durai has played in eight FIBA Asia Championships, played professionally in Thailand, and won medals for India in international 3×3 championships.
With the sport beginning to get more recognition in the country, there are a number of male players waiting in the flank for their name to be called, too. The current “Big Three” of stars in the Men’s national team—Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amjyot Singh, and Amritpal Singh—have been centrepieces for a relatively strong stretch in Indian basketball over the past few years. Another player to consider will be Satnam Singh, who became the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA in 2015.
Currently, Basketball lacks far behind Hockey, Cricket, and Football when it comes to the prestigious national honour, but as the sport continues to grow in India, look for more Prashantis to be in line for the future.

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