It’s a familiar and depressing story; talent falling by the wayside because the youngster had no interest in cricket. But that picture may be about to change in basketball as the pros come in.
Fifteen-year-old Shiba Maggon had just joined the Sports Authority of India (SAI) hostel in Chandigarh when news of her elder sister’s death reached her. On September 18, 1991, 20-year-old Shelly was travelling with five others when their car lurched out of control and fell into the river Nangal, which crosses their hometown of Karnal in Haryana. At the time of her death, Shelly was a member of the Indian korfball and netball teams. Being six feet tall, she was also trying out for the national basketball side and had been selected to the junior India camp just a year earlier on her very first attempt.
Sporting genes run in the Maggon family. Maggon Senior and two of his brothers played university-level cricket, another played college-level basketball, and the eldest brother was a gold medallist shot putter at the all-India university level. “Since we had a joint family, my cousins and siblings made a large group and we used to play many games. I played basketball for the first time in class 5. My uncle hung one chair on the edge of a tree and we had to put the ball through it. Since we didn’t have a basketball, we used a football.”
It was at her sister Shelly’s insistence that she successfully tried out for SAI Chandigarh’s “talent hunt” programme. But Shiba was unsure if basketball was her real calling. Shelly’s death would change all that.
Fighting back her tears, Shiba had found her life’s purpose: to make her sister’s dream come true and play for India. “I wanted to overcome the void caused by my sister’s death in my parents’ life. For that I was willing to do whatever it takes.”
The training regime at SAI hostel comprised two sessions each day, six days a week. The morning session was 5.30 to 7.30 a.m.; evening practice ran from 5 to 7.15 p.m. To ensure she never lagged behind, Shiba added her own workouts before and after team sessions.
“I used to get up at 3.45 a.m. to be on court at 4 a.m., and when my team at SAI came at 5.30 a.m., I was ready to change my kit and wear a new one to train with them. I trained for hours only on one skill and sometimes it was 10 p.m. till I mastered it. I always observed the best players in the boys section, memorised their skills, took them back home and worked on them till I mastered them.”
The toil paid off. Within a year of joining SAI, in 1992, Shiba was named to the junior India team. A chance to make her late sister’s dream come true seemed imminent. However, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) didn’t send in the entries on time and the team couldn’t participate at the Junior Asian Championship in China. The next year, in 1993, Shiba was named in the selection camp for the senior women’s team. “However, the selection camp in Patiala got cancelled due to floods. We were never called back.”
Two years later, in 1995, another opportunity arose of a possible trip to Japan. “After three months of camp and two days of trials for final selections, the secretary-general of BFI said that Japan is very expensive to buy even a toothbrush. We did not know how to react.”
By now, Shiba had spent four years on the junior and senior national squads but had not worn the India jersey even for a minute. Denied international assignments, she needed fresh motivation to keep training. A disillusioned Shiba graduated with a degree in arts from SAI Chandigarh in 1996, and joined Western Railway as a senior clerk. It was at this ebb that coach Ajmer Singh walked into her life.
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