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Tracking the ball to basket


SHE COMES from the land, which has produced many a sportsperson who made it big at the national and international levels. Like many of her brethren, she too was a talented sportsperson making a mark for herself during her illustrious sporting career spanning well over a decade.

Her exploits in the game started off as a coincidence. She started her sporting career as an athlete. But, that was only for a while. Thanks to destiny and her height, she ultimately landed up in basketball, a sport that gave her national recognition and earned her awards and accolades.

Meet Prasanna Jayasankar, the first Indian women basketball player to represent the country in five Asian Basketball Confederation Championships. The pride of Ottapalam, in Kerala, Prasanna had captained the senior Indian women team in the 13th Asian Basketball Confederation Championship at Singapore in 1990 and had participated in several national and international tournaments.

Basketball was certainly not in her mind when she entered the sports field as a teenager. "It was my height that propelled me into basketball," says Prasanna, a recipient of Indira Gandhi National Award for the year 1990.

As an athlete, she came under the watchful eyes of renowned athletic coach O.M. Nambiar. High Jump and 400 metres were her favourites in which she tried to excel. The year 1978 was a major turning point for Prasanna as she shifted her allegiance from athletics to basketball. That was the time when a basketball women's team for Kerala to participate in the mini-state championship was under formation.

Prasanna's height got her selected for the basketball team. "I never knew the basics of basketball, but my height prompted the selectors to take me in", she says.

After a short training stint, lasting just 10 days, in catching, dribbling and passing, Prasanna set her foot on the court when she was just 13 years. From then on, it was no looking back for her. She was immediately selected as one among the 18 probables for the Kerala team.

She learnt every aspect of the game in depth from then on - dribbling, pivoting, rebounding, shooting, passing, defence and offence from her coaches during her schooling and college days.

She graduated further in the game and became a part of the junior team and eventually became its skipper. Regular practice schedules and tournaments helped her book a place in the Indian women team in the mid 80s.

"It was no easy task for me to come up to the national level," says Prasanna, working as a Senior Welfare Inspector/Sports in Southern Railway. She has participated in 12 senior national championships besides nine Federation Cup championships. She also participated in the first and second Indira Gandhi International invitation tournament at New Delhi in 1986 and 1988, when the team secured the bronze medals.

After playing for the country for nearly 12 years, she is satisfied but certainly feels that a lot needs to be done to elevate women players to international standards.

Though out of the Indian team today, she continues her association with the sport, which is still close to her heart. Actively backed by her hubby Jayasankar, also an International basketball player, she has been running the Professional Basketball Aids Club training the budding youngsters at Chennai and organising summer coaching camps. Besides, she also trains the Southern Railway women's team.

A staunch optimist, she believes that Indian women can make it big at the international level if only they are exposed to several international tournaments and provided with advanced coaching. She recalls her days when she had an opportunity to get training under a Cuban coach just for two months. "There was a significant change in our playing pattern and we became more aggressive".

"Constant motivation and advanced coaching techniques taught by the Cuban coach not only improved the performance but brought about a psychological change in the players," she says. India lacks in "improved coaching techniques" and facilities, she reiterates.

She advocates the need to have a sustained coaching programme by selecting students at the school stage and imparting them a comprehensive training that develops their skill, keep them motivated at all time and make them psychologically strong.

She is not averse to sending students abroad, which would put them on a different plane and further sharpen their skills.

The Federations and Associations can also seek the services of senior players to train the youngsters.

Her advice for youngsters is to perform with dedication and sincerity.

R. RAJARAM

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