From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.42 :: Oct. 17, 2009

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BASKETBALL / INTERVIEW/GEETHU ANNA JOSE

‘Don’t write us off’

Geethu Anna Jose is of the view that the Indian basketball team has improved a lot in the last couple of years. “The very fact that the Chinese coach appreciated us, saying that the team was in good shape and that our players were able to be on the court for a longer period of time shows that we have really improved,” says the Indian skipper in a chat with K. Keerthivasan.

K. V. SRINIVASAN

Geethu Anna Jose

In the FIBA-Asia women’s basketball championship, held recently in Chennai, the Indian team depended almost entirely on Geethu Anna Jose. Match after match, irrespective of the stature of the opponent and despite poor contributions from the rest of her team-mates, the 24-year-old hoopster came up with superb performances. That Geethu won the award for the top scorer of the tournament — she scored 132 points — was a testimony to her consistency.

Speaking to Sportstar, Geethu, the skipper, believes that Indian women’s basketball is capable of scaling greater heights provided it is nurtured properly.

Excerpts from the interview:

Question: It must have been a great relief to defeat Malaysia and stay in the top tier, especially after having lost all the five matches in the league stage...

Answer: Obviously, it is a big relief to stay in Level 1. We were on top right from the beginning against Malaysia in the play-off. Divya Singh did shoot a lot of three-pointers, while Anita as a ball handler was really good. Harjeet Kaur really surprised us all with her wonderful performance. In fact, we were shocked when Malaysia defeated Lebanon (in the league phase). In the play-off match, we knew that Malaysia was a good team with tough, defensive players. But I was confident as we had earlier defeated Malaysia in a play-off in the 2007 Asian Championship to get promoted to Level 1.

You have been in the Indian team for the last nine years. You are one of the most experienced players in the team right now. As a senior pro, what kind of exposure would you like to demand from the powers that-be for the team?

(She’s reluctant initially.) I want step-by-step progress. First of all we want a good physio, a fitness trainer. We don’t want camps of short duration. When we were having camps this year, other teams like Korea, China and Japan were playing invitational tournaments. We need more tournaments and of course more camps. I know the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) under Harish Sharma (secretary) is doing its best. We need more sponsors. You know we didn’t get to practise at the court (Nehru Indoor Stadium), and in a way we were deprived of ‘home advantage’. I am not complaining though — just stating the facts. If we utilise the next two years properly, I am sure we’ll perform well and can challenge the top teams. Also, people keep asking me why I play so well. It’s primarily due to my stint in the Big V League in Australia. If two to three players get an opportunity to play in a foreign league, I am sure the Indian team will become much stronger.

What, according to you, did the Indian team lack against the top teams?

Teams like China, Korea and Japan were too good. Their shooting was of high quality. They hardly missed a basket. They play like machines. Their physical fitness is unbelievably high. They are tough and very professional.

K. PICHUMANI

Geethu Anna Jose (right) matches wits with a Chinese player in the FIBA-Asia Championship in Chennai.

What was your target before the tournament?

You know, we have the ability and the capacity to beat Thailand and Chinese Taipei. Our aim was to enter the semifinals. Losing to Thailand and Chinese Taipei was disappointing. We had good height advantage against Japan. Against them, our inside shooting was good. And so was our zone defence against Thailand and China. Of course, nothing worked for us in our first match against Korea.

What is your feedback on South Africa’s Dinesh Mitchell, the assistant coach of the Indian team?

Mitchell has been a very good motivator. He taught us a lot of offensive tactics. We were all given a book on offensive tactics. It was a fantastic book. Earlier, we used to play ‘freelance’ game — individual game. Now it’s not the case. Each one of the five players gets to shoot. Our strategy now is: if the other team doesn’t have height then everybody will play an attacking game. We did lots of defensive drills. Earlier, we used to do a lot of work with Sat Prakash sir (coach of the team in the 2007 Asian Championship). But surely, under Mitchell we are learning a lot, things like team building, build-up drills and team unity. We can beat top teams and reach the semifinals next time. You know when Lebanon was promoted to Level 1 this time, each team member was given $10,000. But when we were promoted to Level 1 in 2007 at Incheon (South Korea) after defeating Malaysia, nobody even knew about it. We didn’t get any publicity, and no sponsors. It was really sad.

Did Harjeet Kaur’s performance against Malaysia take the team by surprise?

It was a big surprise. It was amazing the way she played, shooting baskets (31 points) at will despite the fact that she was not even in the first five. Earlier, there was a lot of pressure on me. Raspreet, Anita, Prashanthi and Kiranjeet Singh did well to an extent. Against Malaysia, Harjeet took the pressure away. She deserves all the applause coming her way.

Teams like Korea, China and even Malaysia use charts to explain strategies to their players during the break. Why is India not doing so?

I think using charts during breaks will surely help us as the players will understand their positions and will certainly put up a better display. When you are told orally you tend to forget easily. In Australia, when I was playing in the league, they used to show charts. It’s nothing new to me. I think it does help.

Do you think the Indian team has improved in the last two years?

Yes, I think so. The very fact that the Chinese coach appreciated us, saying that the team was in good shape and that our players were able to be on the court for a longer period of time shows that we have really improved. Please give us more time. Don’t write us off.



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