Spaniard Francisco Garcia took charge of the Indian national women’s team in July 2013. Garcia’s coaching credentials are suitably impressive. Prior to joining the Indian squad, he was involved in various coaching programs in Spain, Denmark and Finland. He has also served as a private development coach for a number of elite Spanish women players including three-time WNBA Champion Amaya Valdermoro.
From the sign of things, Coach Garcia has already been thrown into the deep end, with the women cagers currently taking part in the 25th FIBA Asia Women’s Championship in Bangkok, Thailand from 27th October to 3rd November. This is the 16th time India has qualified for Asia’s flagship event. By the time this interview is published, India will have already played its first two league matches against Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) and Korea. India’s best performances at the Asian Championships (or ‘ABC’ as it is popularly known) have been sixth place finishes (out of 12 teams) that have come in the last two editions (2011 and 2009). Expectations are high of an improved show this year. We caught up with Coach Garcia on the sidelines of the 64th Junior National Basketball Championship that was held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium in Cuttack, Odisha in September. Here’s what he had to say on his vision for Indian women’s basketball, the promise of 6ft 10 inch Poonam Chaturvedi, India’s chances at the ABC, adapting to an alien culture and much more.
This is your first visit to India. I’m sure there’s a lot you are grappling with, in terms of the people, the culture and weather. So it’ll be premature to ask you what your assessment is on Indian basketball, but what we would like to know is, what qualities are you looking for in our players?
That’s well said. I’m new here and I’m trying to watch what kind of game you play here in India. Two weeks ago I was in Patna (for the sub junior nationals) and now I’ve rushed here (Cuttack, Odisha). What we’re looking for are players with good bodies and good skills, ready to play basketball and play hard. Of course, there needs to be a balance between the physical conditions and the talent. This mix is what we are looking for.
Do you see anybody in this match (Chhattisgarh women had taken to the court at the time of this interview) who can play at the international level, whether physically or in terms of skill sets?
Obviously, Kavita Akula, the point guard of Chhattisgarh, can play perfectly at the international level. Poonam Chaturvedi (Chhattisgarh’s 6ft 10 inch Centre) is another talent to watch out. We’ll have to work a lot with her in terms of conditioning and coordination, but I think she can play at the international level for sure, with time. She has the height and can do very good things with the basketball. For example, she doesn’t bring the ball down (to her waist level, which will make it easier for smaller guards to strip her off the ball) when she gets the ball.
We can actually draw a lot of similarities between Poonam’s case and that of the 7ft 6 inch former NBA Centre Yao Ming. Yao had a lot of injury problems in his career (he ultimately retired due to a recurring ankle injury). Don’t you think doing a lot of strength work with Poonam might actually hamper her and cause injuries?
Obviously Poonam can’t put in the same kind of work that a 5ft 10 inch player can. We have to be very careful with her program and schedule it accordingly. She has to be very careful with her food.
You’ve been with the Indian squad for about a month now and you’ve been heard appreciating the talent at your disposal, especially the good mix of youth and experience. How prepared is our team going into the Asian Championships?
Obviously we don’t have so much time because since I came here, we have had only two months of preparation. We’ll have to plan a new system. The players will have to speak with me and I’ll have to interact with the players. So we are not going to be in the best possible condition. But that being said, the players I worked with seemed pretty open to the new things that I was trying to introduce to the team. So if we can keep up this open mindset and continue to work hard, we will try to make something important happen there (at the ‘ABC’).
In terms of ranking, where do you think India will end up at the Asian Championships? How do you rate our competition?
Let’s just say that China, Japan, Korea and Taipei are at another league altogether. Our goal is going to be to try to remain among the six best teams and keep our spot in Level 1, so that we can compete against the best teams in Asia in the next championships.
How do you look at implementing new systems for India?
As you say very well, when you come new and you try to establish a new system, it’s similar to planting a seed. If you plant a seed today, you can’t have the fruits the next day! You need time. One year is not enough time. In 2-3 years you can see if the results are good or not.
Everybody in India is waiting for that one player, male or female, to get into the NBA or WNBA. Geethu Anna Jose did try out for the WNBA, but it was said that she wasn’t tough enough to make the cut. So are you also looking at getting people into European leagues?
One of the goals is to put the best players to compete in the best leagues. Since we don’t have a professional league in India, we have to ensure that our best players go and compete at the best level they possibly can. There could be possibilities for some players to play in Europe. We are considering these options.
Men’s Head Coach Scott Flemming has been in India for over a year. He’s more or less a de facto honorary Indian now! How has he been helping you out?
At the moment he has been a really big help for me here in explaining to me a little bit on all aspects of basketball in India. Especially when I came here, he spent a lot of time with me, him and his wife. Right now, when we were coming together for this tournament, he was explaining to me the style of the play here.
This is something I had asked Coach Flemming in an earlier interview: Do you face any difficulty in communicating with the players in English? Some players on the team may not speak English very fluently, and you are yourself not a native English speaking person.
Yes. It is really tough for them because my Spanish accent is very prominent! But more or less we can manage with the players and the assistants. Maybe some times with some words we have faced a problem, but by and large, when you show things with the ball, they understand everything.
What message would you like to convey to supporters of Indian women’s basketball?
We have to get everybody together to try to build the team as good as we can. Indian basketball can grow when all the instruments associated with the sport i.e. the federation, clubs, individual States, players and coaches are on the same page and work together.
This article was originally published on the Basketball Federation of India website. It can be accessed here: http://www.indiabasketball.org/newsdetails.php?id=826&news=