Dishant Shah sat at the topmost row of seats and stared down at the action below him. Uttarakhand and Services were locked in battle in the last match of the evening at Talkatora Stadium, Delhi. Dishant is here as part of the Gujarat State team taking part in the 61st National Basketball Championships.
At 6ft 8 inches, Dishant needs the row of seats in front of him to stretch his long legs. I sit down next to him, fitting easily into one seat and feeling distinctly small in the process.
“I have been interviewed before,” starts Dishant, when I introduce myself to him. “But mostly for local Gujarati news channels and papers like Times and Indian Express.” So he is quite media savvy isn’t he? “Yeah…about that…please mail your article to me before you decide to publish it.” Hmm, he seems aware of what asses journalists can be. Pretty impressive considering that he is all of 18. “My birthday is coming soon. It’s on 13th January.” He tells me with a smile.
I have to ask him how his Asian Games experience was, considering that he was the only junior player selected to the senior men’s team. “It was good. Although we lost, I got to learn a lot…especially about defence.” The vagueness of this reply doesn’t sit well with me and I prod him some more. “What defensive tips did the young centre get from India’s first US Coach William Harris?” I ask. But by then his attention is back on the game – Uttarakhand had just scored back to back buckets and cut the lead to within 3.
He continues eventually, “Even though we had him (Harris) for only a couple of months, it made a positive difference to our preparation for the Asian games. We finally qualified to the games after 28 years (when India last played basketball in the ’82 Delhi Asiad). Also we beat Afghanistan finally, after losing to them by 1 point in the SAF (South Asian Federation) games.”
I gently remind him that despite beating Afghanistan in the qualifiers, India lost all five games in the Asian Games. He answers “Yes, we did lose to teams like Japan, Chinese Taipei, Iran and Qatar, but we lost all these games by 10-15 points. And our coach was happy with our hustle and defense, which is what we focused on anyway in our training. Besides, all these teams have a lot of international experience, having played in the FIBA World Championships.”
So what next for Dishant? “Right now, I’m looking to do well in this tournament. We have a good team this time around, with excellent team chemistry. We have already won two straight and I’m sure we will qualify for the knockouts rounds of the tournament (Gujarat is in the lower pool).”
Any dreams of playing in the NBA? “Yes I’m trying. In my free time I surf the internet and apply for scholarships in US universities, although I haven’t got anything concrete yet.” It must be difficult having to juggle his studies, playing basketball for India and applying to universities in the US. “I really can’t complain. You just have to do the best you can. You know at first I was studying in Loyola College in Chennai, but then I really couldn’t adjust to the culture there, especially the food!” Being a south Indian I find this hard to digest. “…so I went back to Baroda and started doing B.Com in MS University.” Dishant Shah and arts? “Well I needed to join a course which was not too demanding as it would have been a real problem for me to submit weekly projects and sit for tests. After all basketball is my first priority.”
He signs off in high praise of the facilities that have been provided to the players at these National Championships. “Everything is good here. IMG reliance has really worked wonders (with its sponsorship and tie up with the BFI). We are put up at excellent hotels around Karol Bagh, which is very near our match venues, and the food here is great as well.”
The final whistle sounds, ending the match and our interview. Services had beaten Uttarakhand 65-62, with Trideep Rai conspicuously sitting out the fourth quarter for Uttarakhand.
Dishant begins unravelling his long self from the seat. “Don’t forget to mail me the article. You have my id right?”
I nod in response and Dishant bids me farewell, joining his Gujarat teammates patiently waiting for him at the exit.