On the face of it, basketball appears to be thriving in the State. No other sports in the State let alone in the country can boast of having 45 inter-school and 20 inter-collegiate competitions in a season. But figures can be misleading as Kottayam and Ernakulam districts accounts for majority of these tournaments and many districts do not school or inter-collegiate tournaments at all.
Wayanad, Palakkad, Kasaragod and Idukki districts do not have a sports hostel or a SAI centre and suffice to say there is hardly any basketball activity in these districts.
“Districts which have sports hostels or SAI centres have traditionally been strong. The KBA had in the past pointed out these anomalies to both the Kerala State Sports Council and SAI and requested them to start hostels in all districts.
“We had also requested the sports council to start the roving coach concept which was in use earlier. The KBA on its own does not have funds to appoint coaches in all districts,” said P.J. Sunny the secretary of Kerala Basketball Association and former selector the Indian senior team.
At the recent State championships in Thiruvalla, there were at least five districts which depended on mercenary players to field teams in the competition.
“We are not against players representing districts of their choice. Some districts like Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram have strong department and college teams whereas some districts have two or three good college teams and it is impossible to give selection to all players. So it is better for the players to represent other districts rather than sitting on the bench, he says.
The KBA, he says, is doing its bid by conducting coaches’ clinics during every State championship and encourages physical education teachers from schools to take up coaching seriously. The coaches’ clinic and seminar conducted during the State championships in Thiruvalla was well attended.
Kerala, which was once a dominant force at the National level, has seen its performance plummet in the recent years. Its senior men’s team has been relegated to second division and women are no longer a force as it used to be in the last decade. In the junior and sub-junior nationals, Kerala teams have come out a cropper in the last few years.
The failure at the senior level to some extent could be attributed to a combination of talent drain, lack of hard work and dwindling job opportunities at home.
But what has been more surprising is the dismal performance at the junior level. No one can argue that the players are not experienced as majority of the players figure at least in 30 matches a season. But despite having the match experience the junior teams have not done justice to their talent.
P.J. Sunny puts the blame on players whom he says are not ambitious. “The players don’t aspire to reach greater heights. They are happy playing for their school teams and stop practicing after December. The timing of the junior and sub-junior nationals which is usually held at fag end of the academic year forces majority of the players to skip it and those who take part are not fit enough to last the whole tournament,” he says.
“Majority of the players who come to the coaching camp are not match fit and it is impossible for them to regain full fitness in the 20-day camp. The players should strike a balance between studies and play. We have always told the players about the need to take the national events more seriously,” he added.
Mr. Sunny feels that the coaches and the school management should also encourage the students to be more ambitious.
The college managements are also myopic and don’t think beyond inter-collegiate tournaments, Sunny says. The blame game may continue but the need of the hour is a concerted effort from all and sundry to see Kerala once again dominate the basketball scene in the country.