Raspreet Sidhu has been one of the most consistent performers in Indian basketball in recent times. She represented India in three Asian Games and the 2018 Commonwealth Games. She has also led the national team. Here is an interaction with Raspreet on Indian basketball. She is currently the head of Sports at Shiv Nadar School.
Q1. You have led the Indian team and Delhi team. How have the opportunities improved in the last decade for female basketball players?
A1. There has been a lot of change compared to how things were in basketball at the state and national levels in the previous decade. The exposure to athletes is way more when compared to a decade ago. Around 15-20 of India’s bowlers are studying and playing for NCAA divisions 1, 2 and 3 in the US. Also, the opportunities at the very top level or the professional level have gone up, as can be seen with the Indian Railways encouraging professionalism in sports in a big way by associating with basketball players and those from other sports. There are also a greater number of openings for female bowlers to become a part of professional teams as compared to a decade ago. These are the two major changes and also the association with NCAA is huge because the kids train and study there, and a few come back to play for the nation. So, with them coming back and representing India and contributing those skill sets to the national team, we see improvement already.
Q2. Starting from Geethu Ann Jose, there were several players who generated interest in foreign leagues. Who are the current stars, who you think can make a mark in WNBA development leagues or other top leagues?
A2. I have played with Geethu Ann Jose , for several years and we did win playing together. She was not generated in foreign league; I would like to just get the facts together here. She had been given an opportunity to be a part of the NBL, which is in Australia and WNBA try out. So, yes, she was one of the greatest of all times, but moving forward, like I was mentioning earlier, we have at least 15 players of Indian origin playing and learning the sport in another country, now getting an opportunity to be a part of NCAA colleges. That itself is a huge accomplishment when it comes to bowlers. Well, with regards to WNBA, I would not be surprised if that happens over a decade or two. I’ll say that with conviction because recently, even our 3×3 under-17 boys’ team has earned the berth at the world championship. Talking about these boys, I won’t be surprised if two of these athletes studying in US at the moment represent WNBA if they keep following the path and getting the opportunities at the right time.
Q3. Do you want to mention any names of the current stars?
A3. There are many, so I won’t be doing justice if I just mention one or two, but yes, John is playing for the national team, which is very evident. We also have Anmolpreet, a player who is playing professionally in Japan for many years, and she’s the only one from India who’s been there. Then we have Kavita, but she stopped playing due to some reason. So, like I said, there are a good bunch of them who are there, and it’s just about getting the right time and the right opportunity.
Q4. How do you see India’s position among Asian teams?
A4. The closest we have come to is the fifth place, which was back in 2013, when I was leading the India team, and we had a championship in Thailand. Since then, there has been a little drop in the position. Basketball is divided into two divisions – division A and division B – but India’s division A has top 18 from Oceania, so now there is Asia- Oceania, which is Asia and Oceania playing together. So, we are top 8 and we are always division A. We maintain that division A for sure.
Q5. Several foreign coaches graced the scene till recently, as a senior pro do you think utilizing them at the grassroots level would yield better results long-term?
AA. There are mixed views on this, and of course it’s my personal opinion, but I don’t think it’s a situation of this or that. A collective effort has to be put in at all the levels. The under-16, and if I’m not wrong, the under-18 team too, was coached by a foreign coach in the past two years. So, the federation is doing their bit in getting the coaches not just for the senior team but also for the younger ones. But, like you are saying, working at the grassroots level will yield benefits, but another area to look at here is, that if we can get our coaches trained by the BIBA licensed trainers because we have to invest in the long-term planning. This is what is my take on this subject and I think, a thoughtful program for the grassroot level coaching will benefit us. Because, of course, when it comes to senior teams, it’s not just technical, but a practical part is also involved. We’ve been very fortunate to be able to train under a lot of foreign coaches, including myself. I’ve trained under four or five foreign coaches when we were playing for the country in the past 18 years. But at the grassroots level, I really feel that the trainers’ program will help a lot.
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