A star stands out
The highly athletic M.Srikanth Reddy made best use of his skill to become a formidable basketball player. He now hopes to lead the AP team in the forthcoming National Games to be held in Hyderabad in November.
HOPEFUL HOOPSTER: M. Srikanth Reddy, the star of AP.
ATHLETICS, THEY say, is the mother of all sports. Thus when the tall and lanky M. Srikanth Reddy,
branched out into basketball in his school days and made a mark for himself in the sport in the last decade or so, it did not surprise many.
For, his pet events in athletics in his early days - high jump and javelin - are just what the best of coaches would have expected their trainees to be good at to be a quality basketballer.
Thus, Srikanth developed his own inimitable style in jumping and shooting, consistently getting the rivals off guard..
And, much to the delight of his first coach Mohd Younus, the youngster was always equal to the task ever since he led the State team to glory in the 1992 Junior Nationals and soon in the Pre-Asian Championship.
That was just the beginning as Srikanth earned a special place in the hearts of basketball fans for the next ten years with not just his skills on the court but with his impeccable behaviour. One rarely remembers him questioning any referee's decision, which is a rarity nowadays.
His "phenomenal'' first step and the speed and accuracy with which he attacks the basket are what separates him from the ordinary.
His long stretch and the remarkable agility are a treat to watch. The Chennai 1991 invitation tournament saw Srikanth at his best representing the Junior India, prior to the Kobe Asian championship.
Later, he played a stellar role in guiding Hyderabad District to the Federation Cup final and then the State team to gold medal triumph in the 1994 Pune National Games.
This Rayalaseema `jewel' (from Ananthapur) showed his touch of class when he swapped his position from the centre to the shooting guard in the national events with equal ease. His offensive rebounds and the way he releases the ball to the waiting forwards for the fast-breaks is an art in itself. And, he never was an `intimidating' defender.
Yet, like his score of 17 points may look meagre but was the highest individual tally in the match and contributed in a big way to Andhra Pradesh's maiden title win, with Harikrishna Prasad at the helm, in the All India inter-zonal championship in Bangalore when it defeated Karnataka 57-43 in the final. Then the other big moment he cherishes the most is the gold in the 1995 Chennai SAF Games. The 85-66 win over arch-rivals Pakistan is a dream come true for this Andhra star.
"It was without doubt the best moment in my life and I give lot of credit to captain C.V.Sunny,'' he recalls.
"The pressure was certainly there and very high like it will be in any sporting encounter with Pakistanis. But coach Bevan Chacko had lot of confidence in me as a forward. His right dose of pep talks did repeatedly make us realise the plain truth that we can beat the opponents,'' Srikanth rewinds with justifiable pride.
It was all the more memorable as he was the only Andhra player in that gold-medal winning team.
Well, this is why when this hoopster, who featured in two ABC Championships (in 1995 and 1997 when India finished Eighth and Tenth respectively) speaks, it does make some sense.
For instance, he says the Indians continue to suffer for they compete, at the most, with only the Asian teams and that too in the ABC Championships. "Unless, we either tour the big basketball nations in the West or even arrange `Tests' at home, there is every possibility of we continuing to be under a false image built up by some performances against mediocre outfits,'' he explains.
Only last December, Srikanth Reddy led the State team to bronze medal and it is the same old story that the team is yet to be rewarded with the cash incentives announced with such fanfare.
Interestingly, he has the rare distinction of being a member of the gold medal winning team in every age group he played in the last 12 years.
The 6 foot 4 inch basketballer does stand apart from the rest of the crowd for his vast experience.
All is not well with the sport now in the State. Srikanth Reddy, a product of Sports Hostel in 1990, feels that the job opportunities have badly dwindled in numbers.
With the exception of Railways and AG's Office, to some extent, there are no other avenues for the performing sportspersons from many disciplines.
Unless the State Government comes out with a viable sports quota system for jobs, the graph would see further decline, particularly in basketball, he asserts. How else can one explain such a gifted player like Vinay Kumar being jobless? Srikanth questions.
There is a message too for the officials who run the sport. Be impartial in selections at every level. Or else the cream of talent, which it generally claims to pick, will only remain on paper.
Unless the natural talent from the districts gets a chance to display its skills at the highest level, only short-term goals can be set. Srikanth does feel that the new Indoor Stadium at Yousufguda, coming up for the November National Games, should be a big boon for the youngsters.
This 31-year-old Inspector of Central Excise and Customs, who featured in almost all Nationals in the last ten years, too has a dream to realise - to lead Andhra Pradesh in front of the home crowd in the 2002 National Games to be held in Hyderabad from November 15 to 25.
If experience, class and consistency are the simple criteria, he might just make it. Leave apart that for now, Srikanth Reddy has proved how even a rustic, raw talent can be moulded into a wonderfully performing athlete if only the coach shows the sincerity to make him a star against all odds.
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