Friday, May 31, 2013

We should focus on beating top Asian teams, says India’s ace women basketball player Geethu Anna Jose

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The Indian women’s basketball is on a high after the national team won the inaugural FIBA Asian 3×3 basketball championship held in Doha, Qatar recently. The Indian cagers dished out a superlative performance, putting it across Mongolia 21-14 in the final to corner glory.

Vastly experienced Geethu Anna Jose was among the four-member Indian team, whose stupendous showing made Indian basketball fans sit up and take notice of them.

Undoubtedly, Geethu is on cloud nine after the Indian basketball eves covered themselves in glory in Doha. “It was a pleasing victory. We performed exceedingly well throughout the tournament and deserved to win. Of course, we did not have to face Turkmenistan, which looked very impressive in the tournament. The Turkmenistan cagers enjoyed the height advantage and were really good with their rebounds, but they surprisingly lost to Mongolia in the semifinals by a narrow margin. Having said that, we played solid basketball consistently and reaped rich dividends for that,” Geethu says in an exclusive interview.

The 27-year-old ace Indian woman cager attributed the title win in Doha to exemplary teamwork. “We really combined well. I have been playing with Anitha Pauldurai for the last ten years be it for the national team or for Indian Railways – we have a good understanding; even the likes of Manisha Dange and Pratima Singh did their bit to help us bag the gold,” she says giving credit to all her team-mates.

It may be worth recalling that the Indian women hoopsters had won the 2012 Asian Beach Games in China as well as clinched the gold medal at the 2011 South Asian Beach Games in Sri Lanka.

Geethu, who works as a Deputy Chief Ticket Inspector with Southern Railways, believes the 3×3 format can be India’s trump card in future. “We have the potential to make it big in the 3-x3 format. However, we should look to build our bench strength as it can hugely help our team fare well.”

Although the Kottayam-born girl is savouring the moment, she is disillusioned at the powers-that-be for their reluctance to recoginse their achievements. “The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) is doing a lot for us – late Harish Sharma Sir (former player and BFI secretary and CEO) took active interest in lifting the popularity and performance of the national teams. He always talked about India winning a medal in big-ticket events. But it’s sad that the government authorities are not doing anything to boost the morale of the basketballers. There is hardly any felicitation ceremony when we win a medal in any international event. BFI is holding a felicitation programme for us soon,” she vents her frustration.

Geethu joined the Indian Railways in 2003 and has been a member of the national-winning team on nine occasions – Railways have won the national crown a whopping 27 times. Why does the Indian Railways women’s team enjoy such an overwhelming dominance? “Well, it is only Railways who are recruiting women basketball players. Unlike other sports, banks or oil companies like Indian Oil, ONGC, BPCL, etc are not hiring women cagers, So when only Railways are giving jobs to women cagers, it is quite obvious that all the top players would join Railways,” she explains.

The 6ft 2inch Kerala girl cites her own example as to how basketball players have often got a raw deal. “Indian Railways have been supporting me a lot over the years. But having played for India for so many years I still don’t have a sponsor; I have struggled so much to reach where I’m today. In India, youngsters take up basketball for the passion and pride to represent the country one day and not for money. We don’t get match fees for playing for the country but we take immense pride in donning the national colours.”

Geethu is also the captain of the Indian senior women’s basketball team which is ranked 40th in the FIBA rankings. Interestingly, the national women cagers are ranked higher than our men who are placed 58th. What needs to be done to bridge the gap with the top women basketball sides like Australia, USA and Russia? “We first need to focus on the top Asian teams who are ranked in the top-25 bracket. China (world no.8), South Korea (11th ranked), Japan (18th ranked) and Chinese Taipei (25th ranked) are the Asian powerhouses; we must look to raise our game and start beating them or at least give them a run for their money before we can think of beating teams like Australia, USA and Russia,” she says matter-of-factly.

The gangling cager touched a new career high when she featured in Australia’s Big V league for Ringwood Hawks during the 2006-08 period. “It was a fantastic experience for me. Australian basketball have extremely high standards. The Aussies play so many tournaments and have such an organized training schedule that we can learn so much from them. Sponsors also support them a lot. I really wish more Indian youngsters play in Australia so that they can improve themselves by leaps and bounds,” she recall.

Geethu also played in the inaugural women’s professional basketball league in Thailand last year. “Thailand have started taking up basketball, the experience was different from the one in Australia.”

The seasoned hoopster says she is getting offers to play in foreign league, but is yet to take a call on it. “I have got offers from Qatar and Iraq but I’m yet to decide on it. Ideally, I would like to help more youngsters to play in foreign leagues as it can help raise the Indian basketball standards in a big way,” she fires a parting shot.

Picture: Courtesy

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