She may not have been the best player on view, but it was impossible to ignore Poonam Chaturvedi at the 27th Federation Cup basketball championship on Wednesday. Standing 6’9” in her shoes, Chhattisgarh’s loping, gangling centre was the cynosure of all eyes at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.
“It does feel awkward when everyone is staring at you,” the 17-year-old admitted afterwards. “But it has been so since I was a kid.”
A native of Agra, Poonam remained on the fringes of the Uttar Pradesh team until she was spotted by Rajesh Patel, coach of the Chhattisgarh women’s team and a Deputy Sports Manager at the Bhilai Steel Plant, a significant patron of the sport in the state.
“I thought this girl can do something,” he says of the first time he saw her, at the National women’s games in Rajnandgaon late 2011.
Patel took the player under his wing, training her extra hours to make up for the time she’d lost. “Poonam has improved a lot but she needs to work on her speed and coverage of the court,” he says.
“She’s unstoppable at the junior level but here, it’s not enough.”
Although Poonam managed 10 points in Chhattisgarh’s defeat to Maharashtra on Wednesday, she was neither particularly mobile nor comfortable on the ball.
“I feel good about my height but there are certain things I can’t do because of that,” she is honest to admit. “I can’t sprint or bend a lot.”
Already a Junior and Youth India international, Poonam has a great future ahead, according to Patel.
“She’s extremely dedicated,” he beams. “In two or three years she can make it to the senior team.” In any event, Poonam is sure of one thing: there is no getting away from the attention. “When we go to the market, people want to pose next to her for pictures,” Patel chuckles. “It’s incredible.”