A thrilled Indian women’s basketball team said it would derive great encouragement from its gold medal success at the third Asian Beach Games earlier this week, having prevailed over physically stronger opponents in a demanding format.
“It’s a big step for women’s basketball. The other sides were extremely physical, but we had good understanding and played as a team. I can’t believe we won,” said captain Geethu Anna Jose, speaking at a reception organised by the Basketball Federation of India on the team’s arrival from Haiyang, China, here on Thursday.
In what was the senior women’s team’s first appearance at the Games, the quartet of Geethu, Anitha Paul Durai, Kiranjit Kaur and Shireen Vijay Limaye defeated host China 17-14 to clinch the title. “We thought we’d already made history by reaching the final. We were excited and a little nervous. China had the complete support of the crowd. We didn’t, yet we somehow managed,” said Geethu, top-scorer at the tournament with an aggregate of 45 points.
The ‘three-on-three’ (three players a side) format involves matches of 10-minute duration, with the only break being between halves. The shot clock ticks down from 12 seconds instead of 24 in the regular five-a-side game.
“There is simply no rest. It’s so quick that we can’t even look at the scoreboard,” said Anitha. “Since we had played together before, we combined very well.”
India defeated the Philippines (14-9), Thailand (17-12) and Nepal (22-6) in the group stages before overcoming Mongolia (21-16) in the semifinals. “We had never beaten Thailand before,” said Geethu. “I don’t know how we did it.”
All opponents had overpowered the Indian team physically, the 26-year-old admitted. “They were killing us. We were literally on the floor. They were double-teaming me, but it meant that the others were open to score.”
The team managed to win despite this only because of its technical ability, said Prem Kumar, the coach. “The initial training at SAI, Bangalore helped us a lot. It was a tough tournament as the scores show, but we were technically good.”
Meanwhile, Geethu revealed that she had received offers from clubs overseas. Australian club Ringwood Hawks, which she represented in Victoria’s Big V league from 2006 through 2008, wanted her to return.
Further, Joe Bryant, father of NBA star Kobe, had been impressed with her displays and offered her a chance to play in Thailand, where he is currently coaching the Bangkok Cobras (a men’s team in the ASEAN Basketball League). “He watched me when I tried out at the WNBA and said they missed out on me,” she said.
Geethu last year famously tried out for three WNBA teams, but was not called up by any of them. “Every player wants to play in the WNBA,” she said. “I don’t know if I can; we’ll see.”
However, she was yet to make up her mind either on Thailand or Australia. “I am still undecided on both,” she said. “I will think about them before making a decision that helps my career.”