Ajeeth Sugunan and P.S. Jeena were among the brightest stars at the recent State senior basketball championship at Mullankolly (Wayanad).

They played key roles as their teams, Thiruvananthapuram and Kannur, emerged champions. Fittingly, they were named the best players of the championship.

“Winning this individual title means a lot to me and it is gratifying to know that I could make a major contribution to Thiruvananthapuram's triumph,” says Ajeeth.

“This was the first time I was playing for my home district; earlier I had represented Pathanamthitta.”

The 22-year-old is now focussed on his next assignment — the senior Nationals to be held in Chennai from December 16. “Ours is a good team and we should be able to reach the semifinals at least,” he says.

He feels Kerala could do better at the Nationals if they could train at proper basketball courts. “Unfortunately we don't have good courts here; we have to play and practise on outdoor courts, built with cement, whereas the Nationals are held indoor, on wooden courts,” the KSEB player said.

“Playing on cement courts is not the best thing to do; several Kerala players have sustained injuries.”

Ajeeth, who learnt the game while studying in Sharjah (New Indian Model School), has made rapid strides on the basketball court. “My game improved after I joined Mar Ivanios College, Thiruvananthapuram,” he says.

“Playing for such a strong college team has made me a better player, no doubt. I am also indebted to my coaches, Jose Philip and Bevin Chacko.”

Changing track

It is to an athletics coach that P.S. Jeena owes her career in basketball, though. “I was really into high jump when my athletics coach at Sports Division (Kannur), Tomy Cherian, suggested that I could also consider basketball as an option,” says the 17-year-old, who has already made it to the senior Indian camp, besides being a junior international.

Jeena is undoubtedly one of the most exciting prospects in Indian basketball today. And she has been remarkably consistent, ever since she started playing, some six years ago.

She was in fine form in Wayanad too, as she starred in Kannur's victory. “I felt very happy that I could do well in Wayanad, which is my home district actually,” she says. “Another team member, P.S. Neenumol, too is from Wayanad and our relatives had come to watch us play. Though I was a bit nervous, it was nice to perform in front of my family. And beating Thiruvananthapuram in the final was gratifying too, as we had lost to the same team in last year's final.”

Jeena, a First Year B.A. (English) student at Krishna Menon Memorial Women's College, Kannur, feels there should be a lot more opportunities for female basketball players in Kerala.

“Most of our good players are forced to leave the State as there are no teams — barring KSEB — in women's basketball here,” she said.

“While Kerala always does well at the National age-group tournaments, we do not win at the senior level, because our best players are poached by teams in other States.”

Jeena, however, feels the current Kerala squad is capable of doing well at the Nationals in Chennai. “But we would have loved to practise at some proper basketball court,” she says. “Yes, the game of basketball needs some support in Kerala. With better infrastructure, we could produce even more quality players.”

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