Nothing excites coach Sankaran Subramanian more than talking about basketball. He's 74, but that doesn't deter him from giving his all to the game
At 74, Sankaran Subramanian has a steady gait and clarity of voice and thought. He speaks impeccable English, Tamil and Hindi. Above all, he has an elephantine memory.
An authority on basketball rules — he is a qualified referee — and coaching, Subramanian, born and brought up in Tamil Nadu, set up base in Punjab, going on to make the State his own. Over the years, his encyclopaedic knowledge of the sport and no-nonsense attitude have made him one of the best coaches the country has ever produced.
Haven for basketball
With support from the Punjab Basketball Association, Subramanian meticulously transformed Punjab into a haven for basketball. He was instrumental in setting up the Ludhiana Basketball Academy in 2003. “PBA gave me a free hand to do whatever I wanted to. This academy has wonderful facilities. We have produced more than 15 International players,” said Subramanian. When Punjab won the men's title in the Senior National basketball championships in Chennai recently, defeating Tamil Nadu in the final — seven out of the 12 Punjab's players were from the Academy — a jubilant team lifted Subramanian on its shoulders.
For seven years from 2001, Subramanian was the chief coach of the Punjab men's team, a time when, unfortunately, it couldn't win a single National championship title. “It's great to win a title after 13 years,” says Subramanian, who is now part of the coaching staff of Punjab. “We have been very unlucky in the past.”
Born in Pirancheri village in Tirunelveli District, Subramanian moved to Madurai where he started playing basketball in inter-collegiate tournaments. His love for the sport grew when he served the Indian Air Force and was stationed at Tambaram. Sent on deputation to Cuttack in 1962 to work with the Research and Analysis Wing, Subramanian played basketball with the American pilots and “developed further interest” in the game.
In 1963, he did a course for coaches at the National Institute of Sports (Patiala) and for seven years at the IAF, Tambaram, he coached the Air Force team successfully. After securing a job as a Grade II coach at NIS, it turned out to be an uphill journey for Subramanian. Being brilliant at academics, he came out with flying colours in whatever courses he pursued. He had a brief stint at coaching the Indian teams. In 1980, he coached the Indian men's team during a successful tour of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. He was also part of the coaching panel in the 1982 Asian Games.
The big break came when he went to Leipzig (Germany) to pursue his doctorate in 1983. On his return, he was appointed Director (Training) at NIS. Known for his planned approach, Subramanian provided an entirely new perspective to training programmes and received bouquets for reforming many centres.
When his tenure at the NIS ended, he wanted to start an academy in Tamil Nadu. He approached the Tamil Nadu Basketball Association in 1998 for a suitable post, but was asked “to coach in schools.” Insulted, he returned to Punjab and the rest, as they say, is history.
With so much experience, Subramanian is the right man to talk about the changes happening in the sport in India. About the trend of NBA coaches training players, he says it would be of no use unless the top Indian juniors are selected and trained. “Basketball has to be broad-based. So increase the pool of qualified coaches and encourage the club culture. The NBA is an industry whereas we are still in a nascent stage. We have to imbibe the good aspects of the NBA,” he points out.
His heart still beats for Tamil Nadu — he coached the Madras District team in 1970-71. “I think I can make a difference. I am eager to serve Tamil Nadu,” he says.