Basketball Expert Views
I hope to win a medal for India in the Paralympics - Wheelchair basketball player Minakshi Jadhav
Minakshi Jadhav, the “shooting star” of the Indian wheelchair basketball team always had the natural ability to play sports. She progressed to the Maharashtra wheelchair team in no time and went on to play for the Indian team. Believing in oneself and practising hard everyday is part of her success mantra.
In this exclusive interview with SPOGO, Minakshi Jadhav talks about how she began playing wheelchair basketball, the feeling of getting selected for the national team, overcoming challenges and wanting to be an athlete at the Paralympics in the future.
Q1) Can you share your life changing experience at Sharan old age home and para centre? How has it helped you evolve as Basketball player?
I was brought to Sharan for rehabilitation after suffering from a spinal cord injury in an accident. Despite struggling at first, I received a lot of support that helped me in the future. Kartiki Patel, the captain of the Indian team saw my predicament and suggested that I play basketball and I was encouraged by Sharan’s social worker Maya Kishore and administrators Naik and Sachin.
My travelling expenses, diet and fitness was taken care of. I used to travel from Vashi to Borivali for practice sessions and take flights for international matches, the expenses of which were covered by others. I received a lot of encouragement while participating in the 2017 Nationals and it grew even more when I was selected in the Indian team. I have gained a lot of respect because of basketball and none of it would have been possible without Sharan.
Q2) What were some of the thoughts when you first got selected into the Maharashtra team and then the Indian team?
I had only seen players wear the national jerseys on television. After the accident, I was not aware about the Maharashtra team or the Indian team and could not believe I was selected. When I wore the jerseys for the Maharashtra team, there were a lot of mixed emotions running through my mind. The first time I saw the Indian jersey, tears rolled down when I saw my name and I kept on looking at it as it was a dream come true. I was extremely happy and sometimes overwhelmed with self doubt.
Q3) You're known as the “Shooting Star” of the team, what are some of the tips you have received from your coaches Digamber Mali and Louis George which always helps you?
Coach Digamber Mali is someone who understands a player’s potential. The first time I met him on the ground, he told me to shoot the ball and told me to do a few more tasks like free throws which I did without any initial training. He could see my potential and told me that I could turn into a professional player.
In the 2017 Hyderabad Nationals, Maharashtra team coach Louis George assigned me as the team shooter. The display of strength and power impressed him even though I didn't have the experience. The duration of a match is 40 minutes as it requires a lot of stamina to run up and down the court with the wheelchair. He taught us certain breathing techniques that should be used while taking a shot from any part of the court and to have self belief which helps us in the matches.
Also read: Future of cricket for physically challenged is bright but needs an influx of money - Kailash Prasad, captain of Divyang Cricket team of India
Q4) What are some of the challenges that you have faced over the past few years and how did you overcome them ?
One of the initial challenges I had to overcome was suffering from a spinal cord issue due to an accident in 2010. The injury left a toll on my mind too but constant support from my family members helped me through it gradually. When I completed my graduation, I realised that I can still work towards my future goals just like anybody else. A few years later, my father passed away in a car accident which was a difficult phase as I thought about quitting everything until I met Anthony Das Periera. He guided me through the crisis and helped me come back to the sport. I went on to win gold twice in the nationals and represented the Indian team.
Q5) You have won district gold medals in wheelchair race, shotput and discus, are there any other sports which you would like to enter in the future?
In the future I want to focus on athletics and participate in the Paralympics. My goal is to represent India in the short put and discus throw.
Q6) What are your future goals and how do you intend to achieve them?
I want our team to win a medal at the Paralympics and to achieve this we will face the challenges and obstacles together. Participating in the individual events will be tough but I shall keep trying and hopefully be an example to others. I want to show that we too can achieve greatness through hard work, no matter the disability. When I win a medal someday, I will be able to think that I have finally achieved my mother’s dream.
Our goal is to become one of the top 4 countries in Asia - Wheelchair basketball coach Captain Louis George Meprath
Captain Louis George Meprath has been associated with basketball for over 3 decades. From being a player, referee and a coach he has always been on the court grooming the future generations. The former captain of the Navy team now wants the Indian team to be the top side at the Asian level and also train more players in wheelchair basketball at the grassroot level.
In this exclusive interview with SPOGO, Captain Louis George Meprath, coach of the Maharashtra women’s wheelchair Basketball team shares his views on how he became a part of wheelchair basketball, change in coaching techniques, the challenges faced by the players and his future goals.
Q1) How has the coaching style and techniques changed in the sport over the years?
Men’s wheelchair basketball has featured at every Paralympic Games since 1960. Women’s competition was introduced in 1968. The sport is governed by the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF). The game has become faster now with better quality wheelchairs and stronger players. The coaching concepts used in running Basketball are to a great extent applicable in Wheelchair Basketball viz. man-to-man defense, pick-and-roll etc.
Since the game has become faster, it is all the more important for the players to control their wheelchairs, so that their wheelchairs do not clash with other players’ wheelchairs. Coaches also have to keep in mind the classification of each player, in order to keep the total classification points less than 14 for the 5 players on the field.
Q2) What made you enroll yourself as a member of the Wheelchair Basketball Association?
After retiring from the Indian Navy in 2013, I coached children for three years. In 2016, my good friend Mr. Abraham Poulose (SBI) introduced me to Wheelchair Basketball. We formed the Maharashtra Women’s Wheelchair team in 2017. The game was very interesting, even more interesting than running Basketball. That is how I got interested in Wheelchair Basketball. After that, there was no looking back.
Q3) As coach of the Maharashtra Women’s wheelchair team, what are some of the challenges you have faced while coaching the players?
The challenges were many. Some of these were:-
No proper Basketball Court to practice at Mumbai. We conducted practice sessions at Borivali Don Bosco School, Borivali YMCA and at the All India Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Haji Ali. Ultimately, in April 2018, we were fortunate to get the indoor Wooden Basketball Court at the University at Kalina for use by our team on Saturdays and Sundays.
No proper Sports Wheelchairs. Here also we were lucky to get 10 Sports Wheelchairs sponsored by NINA Foundation (Dr. Ketna Mehta). Thereafter, we got many more Sports Wheelchairs sponsored by well-wishers and friends. Proper wheelchair accessible washrooms were not there till we got the Mumbai University facilities in April 2018.
Coming to the Basketball Court by Ola / Uber (along with the wheelchairs) was tough financially. Players didn’t have the financial resources for this. Once again, friends and well-wishers chipped in. Corporates like Cognizant also helped us by providing vehicles for picking up and dropping our players from their residence. In addition, Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited contributed in a big way by giving the Maharashtra Wheelchair Basketball Association a sum of Rs. 25.00 Lakhs from their CSR Funds.
Keeping the players motivated was also a big challenge. However, once the financial problems were taken care of and an indoor court was available, the main problem of keeping the players motivated became easier. Players had a good indoor Court to practice and they had accessible washrooms.
Also read: Nutritionists have become an integral part of an athletes’ success - Mitali Ambekar, Sports Nutritionist
Q4) What were some of the key points in winning the 2018 National Championships?
The Maharashtra Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team was formed in 2017. Thereafter, with minimum practice and non-availability of Sports Wheelchairs, we took part in our first National Championships at Hyderabad in Oct 2017. The team’s performance was not very good.
After the Hyderabad Nationals, the team was motivated to practice more with a view to perform well in the 2018 National Championship at Erode. We closely studied the performance of our opponents - Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. As a result of this, our Team defeated the opponents by big margins on our way to the finals. In the Final match, we dethroned the reigning champions Tamil Nadu (22 - 18) in the finals.
Credit for this goes to all the 12 players who played as a team. Our strategy was to have a strong defense which would bottle up the opponents and not let them enter the Key. We were successful in this defensive strategy. In addition, we practiced man-to-man defense to catch the good players from the opponent’s teams. Both these strategies helped us to win the Championship at Erode. In 2019, we retained the title at Mohali, once again beating Tamil Nadu in the final match.
Q5) How has the experience at the 2019 Asia Oceania Championships helped the team?
The 2019 Asia Oceania Zone championships were the qualifying tournament for the Tokyo Paralympics. Our team played well with teams from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Iran etc. Although we did not qualify for the Paralympics, it was a good learning experience. Our players played with some of the best players in Asia and got a feel of how tough one needs to be in Wheelchair Basketball. The defensive and offensive strategies required for performing well were understood by our players.
Q6) What are your goals in the coming years and how do you intend to achieve them?
The main goal is that the Indian team should perform well at the Asian level. In the next 5 to 6 years, we must be amongst the top 4 countries in Asia. The next goal is that India should play in the Paralympics, say, by the 2032 Olympics at Brisbane.
As far as the Maharashtra Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team is concerned, the main goal is to train more players at the grassroots level, so that we have at least 150 to 200 women players in all the 36 districts of Maharashtra actively playing Wheelchair Basketball. This will ensure that the competition amongst players will increase and as a result better performance would be shown by our players.
Our main goal is to make India an Asian powerhouse in basketball - Suresh Kumar Ranot, member of national selection committee
Despite its immense popularity in North America, basketball is a sport that is still finding its feet in India. While the Indian audiences are familiar with many NBA teams and the legendary Michael Jordan, the sport has yet to enter the ‘mainstream’ and get adequate participation at the grassroots to develop world class basketball players for the future. However, India has had a few athletes who have made some serious accomplishments in the sport, one of them being Suresh Kumar Ranot who has won 20 Senior Nationals Championships, 5 national games and 7 Federation Cup Championships.
In this exclusive interview with SPOGO, Suresh Kumar Ranot speaks about his journey in basketball, the most memorable moments in his career, overcoming challenges, being in the national selection committee, the evolution of the sport and his goals for 2022.
Q1) How did you start playing Basketball and what was the inspiration behind it?
I first started when I was studying in 10th class. We had a very good basketball team in my school and my seniors encouraged me to play and that is how I started playing. From the year 1987-1991 we had a very good team in Mysore and were district champions. I was heavily inspired by my seniors. When I started playing, I never thought I would play for my country for such a long time.
Q2) During your career from 1994 to 2005, what are some of your most prized moments?
There are quite a few moments which I cherish. In my very first school championship I won the best player award which made me think that I can do something more. Then I went to the state championship and then I was selected for the national camp which was the turning point. I was the first person from my state to get selected for the national camp. There are a lot of good memories like when I went to South Korea to play for the country. Winning the national championship and the national games are also some good moments that I experienced.
Q3) What were some of the most challenging times you had faced when you were a player and how did you overcome it?
One of the most challenging times I had faced was from 1999-2001. I had varicose veins in my legs, the doctor advised me to quit Basketball as it becomes difficult to jump and even wearing socks was a painful task. At that time, I did not want to leave the team as the pressure was building inside but also had to think of my future. After 2005, I got a surgery on my right leg which made me gradually step away from the game and it was needed so that no complications occur further. My career still went on till 2013 and it was a challenging part to come out from that phase.
Q4) Being in the national selection committee since 2018, how do you think the competition has increased in the sport?
In the last two and half years the sport has not been very active due to the pandemic as schools, colleges are closed and events are getting cancelled. Now the exposure has increased in the sport with social media coverage and many more people are involved with the sport. Even the facilities have increased for the players who have a great chance to improve themselves, players also attain fame in a short period of time which may have a positive or negative impact. The longevity of the players was much more during my playing days as it is tough for a sport like this and as a part of a committee we are discussing how to bring back certain qualities to the present players.
Q5) What do you feel about the players in the current women and men’s team; how have things changed in the last decade?
When we were playing there was a certain discipline but nowadays that is not present in the current generation of players. In this current set of players so many people are taking medicines, supplements or taking proteins but during our times these things weren’t available, if you see hard work is associated with results and that's why we aren’t able to beat the Asian teams also. Nowadays skills are talented but during our time we had a skill set of players playing in their preferred positions but now any players play at any position he likes. I would personally say that the current players are lacking the motivation and the vigour to work hard.
Q6) What are some of your goals for the 2022 season and how do you plan to achieve them?
We had a senior championship in Chennai but that got postponed due to the Covid situation, so this tournament might be hosted in March. Our main goal is to motivate the players to work hard as there’s a men's senior qualification tournament going for the senior World Cup but in all honesty the main goal is not the World Cup but to perform and become an Asian powerhouse in basketball. We as a group had all the focus on the juniors because they are the future that is going to represent our country.
I always try to excel in what I do to bring more laurels for the country- International wheelchair Basketball player Geeta Chouhan
Each step in life is a challenge and those who are brave enough fight these hurdles and set up new targets for themselves. Geeta Chouhan has been representing the country in Wheelchair Basketball and has also won accolades in Tennis. She is not out exploring the sports arena but has excelled in every sport she has pursued, Geeta still has many more sports to play and has no plans of slowing down yet.
In this exclusive interview with SPOGO, Geeta speaks about her journey so far, the battles she had to fight past to get to where she is now, balancing her time between each sport, getting into racing and her plans for the future.
Q1. What inspired you to play sports and how has it helped you grow as a person?
Initially I wasn't aware of disability sports. I just came to know that there are some teams forming in Mumbai so I joined them in 2017. Although I was scared that people would make fun of me for playing in a wheelchair, I found it quite interesting. I went there and saw people in wheelchairs and crutches. There were coaches who briefed us about the teams and guided us. I wasn't aware of where I was going to play or at what level. I just saw the opportunity of playing and being part of something good so I took it. I felt good after I started to play because I didn't get opportunities to play when I was kid as I didn't hangout with other people that much. I never thought I would be interested in sports but the passion burned inside me out of nowhere.
Q2. Between Basketball, Tennis, 10k runs and climbing, which has been the most difficult sport to play and what makes it so difficult?
I've never thought about difficulty. When I did the marathon I just wanted to test myself if I could do it as it would help me with my basketball. I still keep doing small distances like 5 KMs. I was supposed to do 21 KM in Vadodara but the organizers got scared for my health after 10 KM. I like adventure so I've tried everything and I would like to try more things in the future.
Q3. 2018 was a hectic year which saw you winning championships in Basketball and Tennis. How do you manage playing two sports which require totally different sets of skills?
Winning the gold medal at the national championships in 2018 was overwhelming as nobody expected us to win and I was the highest scorer in the final. In Tennis, I went to the nationals for experience as I had little practise in the sport and wanted more guidance. As I reached the finals, my father passed away as I could not see him for the last time when I came back after winning the nationals. It was a time that i could prove in front of my family about my achievements, but his absence made it tough for me but i always try to excel in what i do to bring more laurels for my country.
Q4. As a senior player in the team, what tips do you give to the younger players and how was it different when you were the junior in the squad?
When I joined the team in 2017, a lot of us were new to the sport. The coaches guided us on how to play and what targets to set; when I got the opportunity to play I took it and now also guide the young players coming into the team. In 2019, two new players from Pune saw me playing on social media and contacted me for guidance. I met the players that year in January then through my contacts the team became bigger and slowly they got sponsors, a ground and even sports wheelchairs. Now the Pune team has become stronger and I am glad that I only showed the path for the team and then they took their own steps. Recently, few players have joined the Mumbai team, I can also guide them and then it's up to them to step ahead.
Q5. Along with diet and physical fitness, what steps do you follow to be mentally fit?
During 2017, 2018 I could not focus much on my diet due to financial issues. During the pandemic my body became weak as I was at home for a long time, in the last 1 year I have spent a lot on nutrition and have realised the stronger you are on the inside the better you play. Every morning I practise Yoga, mainly the breathing exercises to increase my endurance as Basketball causes a lot of strain in the body. While pushing the wheelchair, we are not allowed to place the ball on the lap and have to dribble at the same time. The net height is the same for us along with abled athletes and we have to take extra steps while doing it sitting down.
After practice I come home to finish my work, then in the evening I workout at home everyday and joining the gym here would be too expensive. I try to be as independent in every area and have taken some para bands and dumbbells to manage things at home.
Q6. What are your plans for the future and how do you plan to achieve them?
Two months ago I was in Coimbatore for training in wheelchair racing. I want to go forward and play in the nationals, internationals in racing and with the help of a few people I have got a sports wheelchair. I want to perform well at Basketball nationals in January alongside a few International matches and then get selected for Asian games. I also want to play at the Paralympics in Tennis and for that I am practicing as hard as possible to get there.