New Delhi, 13 August 2014: Geethu Anna Jose’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing over the last day or so. “I have got more than 160 missed calls and many congratulatory SMSes. It is incredible to see so much support for Indian basketball,” an elated Jose tells us over phone.
The veteran female hoopster, now 29-years-old, has been recommended for the prestigious Arjuna Award for the year 2014 for her contribution to Indian basketball. This will end a 13 year long wait for an Arjuna Award to a member of the Indian basketball community (the last was Parminder Singh Sr in 2001).
Thanking her family, Jose said, “My husband Rahul has been a big support. He waited for two years before marrying me earlier this year, because he didn’t want to disturb my personal commitments. He himself is a tennis player and my mother-in-law used to play squash. So marrying into a supportive sports family has made a huge difference.”
Prior to Jose, 16 basketballers have received the Arjuna Award. In fact, Jose will be only the second woman to attain this distinction after Suman Sharma way back in 1983. “Historically, since it is very difficult for Indian teams to participate in the Olympics and win medals at the Asian level due to tough competition from teams like China, Indian basketballers are sometimes ignored for the Arjuna Award.” says Jose.
This is the fifth time Jose’s name was forwarded by the Basketball Federation of India to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. The Arjuna Awards selection committee was headed by World Cup winning cricket captain Kapil Dev and included the likes of Olympians Anju Bobby George and Kunjarani Devi, two mediapersons and three from the government side, including Sports Authority of India Director General Jiji Thomson.
A pioneering career
Jose hails from Kottayam, Kerala and is currently employed as a deputy chief ticketing inspector with the Southern Railways. She completed her schooling from the Mount Carmel Girls Higher Secondary School before joining Southern Railways in 2003. Her tryst with basketball began at the age of 11 after switching from athletics and volleyball.
Jose has enjoyed a glittering basketball career over the past decade after she made her debut on the Senior Indian team in 2004. She has a series of firsts to her name. Most notably, she is the first Indian, male or female, to be called for tryouts for America’s National Basketball League in 2011 (or NBA), the most elite professional basketball league in the world. Though Jose wasn’t selected, that achievement remains the farthest any player trained in India has gone till date. (Earlier this year, Indo-Canadian men’s player Sim Bhullar was signed by Sacramento Kings for their preseason programme.)
Jose is also the first Indian woman to have played professionally Australia for the Ringwood Hawks, in the ‘Big V’ senior league within the state of Victoria, an experience which sharpened and toughened her. Her impressive performances ‘down under’ from 2006 to 2008 led to her being offered a spot in Team Dandenong in the Women’s National Basketball League (NBL), Australia’s elite professional league, an offer she couldn’t accept due to personal reasons.
The Keralite has been the mainstay of the senior Indian national team for most of her career, captaining the side on numerous occasions. Playing the centre position, the 6ft 2 inch Malayalee has shouldered most of the scoring responsibilities for India. She frequently averages over 20 points and 7 rebounds per game in international matches, culminating in her becoming Asia’s top scorer in the 23rd Asian Basketball Championships in Chennai in 2009.
At the national level, Jose has been virtually unstoppable, transforming her Indian Railways team into a domestic powerhouse, winning 11 out of the last 13 Senior National Basketball Championships. Her long time partnership with Southern Railway and India teammate Anitha Pauldurai is well known. The two of them, along with Manisha Dange and Pratima Singh constituted the Indian team which won gold in the 1st FIBA Asia 3 on 3 Championships, 2013 held in Doha. Last year, the Senior Indian women’s team also finished in its best ever fifth position at the 2013 Asian Basketball Championship, thanks to a win over Kazakhstan in the elite Level 1 pool.
Positive signs for the future
Jose is by far Indian basketball’s most recognisable athlete and this honour has been long in waiting. “Everybody was calling and congratulating me. But I was still nervous until I heard Mr Kapil Dev (Head of the Arjuna Awards Selection Committee) make the announcement on television.”
Characteristically, she remains humble despite this achievement and recalls her seniors who helped develop her court craft. “It’s not like there weren’t talented players in the last 15-20 years. Former stars Shiba Maggon and Meenalatha were equally deserving of this honour and I’ve learnt from them. In a team sport like basketball, individual achievements aren’t recognised that often, so I’m happy and glad to receive this honour.”
There is hope that this award will renew interest towards Indian basketball. “This will motivate other youngsters. If not annually, I urge that Arjuna Awards be given to basketball players at least once every few years.”
Contrary to rumours, Jose has no plans of retiring anytime soon. “There has been a tremendous pressure on me to continue playing. Also, the youngsters on the team have improved physically and mentally. Our Head Coach Garcia has been a positive influence.”
No doubt, the future appears bright for the Indian women’s basketball team, led by the incomparable Geethu Anna Jose.