Bright stars on the horizon

P. K. Ajith Kumar

KOZHIKODE: They were quite clearly the brightest stars of the 52nd State senior basketball championship, which concluded at Thalassery on Sunday night. Both S. Manoj and S.S. Anjana performed brilliantly for Thiruvananthapuram, for the men’s and women’s team respectively, and were adjudged the players of the tournament.

It was a memorable week for the two talented youngsters at Thalassery as they were in great form right through the event. Anjana may not have been at her normal accurate self in the first two quarters in the final, but she was at her best in the final quarter, going on a scoring spree, and played a key role in killing the hopes of a valiant Thrissur.

“Yes, this was one of my most consistent performances of late,” says the 22-year-old who was selected for the senior Indian camp in 2004. “I could score heavily in every match.”

She has always been a good shooter. She has always been a quick runner on the court, too. Not quite surprising, really, as she was a sprinter at school. “My father, V.S. Pillai, was a sprinter and I too used to take part in athletics competitions, but I fell in love with basketball as soon I first played the sport, while studying at the Pope Pious XI HSS, Kattanam (Alappuzha district).”

She made it to the Kerala team for the Mini Nationals within a year and has been part of the State teams for the last one decade.

“The only time I didn’t play in the Nationals was in 2005, when I opted out because of my M.A. examinations,” says Anjana, who plays for Kerala State Electricity Board, Thiruvananthapuram.

She was in the Indian junior team in 2002. “My biggest ambition is to play for the country,” she says.

Her coach, Bevin Chacko, believes she certainly could. “She has age on her side and is very determined,” he says. “I have always been impressed by her speed, stamina and fighting spirit.”

He is also the coach of Manoj. “He is a much improved player and is a brilliant shooter,” says Bevin.

True. Very few players in Kerala could shoot the way Manoj does.

Last year he had played the key role in helping Kerala win the South Zone championship at Kottayam. “That was one of the turning points in my career, as I was not even in Kerala’s starting five in the previous Nationals,” says Manoj.

Turning point

The first turning point came when he went to Sree Kerala Varma College, Thrissur, to play in the Calicut University zonal basketball championship in 2003.

“I was studying at NSS College, Nenmara, at that time, and wasn’t very keen about basketball, but P.C. Antony, the Kerala Varma College coach, felt I had some abilities in the game and asked me to join his college, which I did,” says the 23-year-old KSEB player.

Antony was right. It didn’t take Manoj long to make a mark, as he made it to the senior Kerala team in 2005.

He is looking forward to this year’s senior Nationals, to be held at Puducherry next month.

“I had performed pretty well last year at Jaipur and was disappointed when I couldn’t make it to the Indian camp,” says Manoj. “Everyone was saying that I could make it.”

He is hoping for better luck at Puducherry.

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