After a decade long international playing career, ex-India men’s basketball captain CV Sunny continues to dream big for the future of hoops in the country.
His 5ft 9 inch frame doesn’t tell us the full story, or maybe it does.
A lifetime of overcoming the odds, CV Sunny was a former Indian national men’s basketball team captain, who represented the country for close to a decade from the mid-80s to the mid-90s. Playing with speed and skill, he always found a way to the basket despite being surrounded by much taller players. A classic point guard, he was an excellent facilitator for his gifted teammates from across India, that included the likes of the legendary Ajmer Singh, Ram Kumar (both from Rajasthan), Reginald Rajan (Karnataka), Rajesh Srivastava (Uttar Pradesh), Unwin Antony, Jayasankar Menon (both from Kerala) and Shahid Qureshi (Maharashtra).
“I was born on 21st May 1967 at Pala, a small town in Kerala’s Kottayam District, into a middle class family. We are a big family of 6 children – 2 elder sisters, 2 younger sisters and 1 younger brother.” says Sunny via this email interview, “I remember my childhood being very difficult. We were not financially well off and my parents had a tough time bringing us all up. Despite our hardships, my father always encouraged me to take up sports.”
Like most other Indian basketballers of his generation, Sunny first started off exploring other sports such as shuttle badminton, volleyball, football and athletics. “After practice, I used to watch seniors play basketball in our school court and that got me interested.” he recalls. “I started playing when I was 11 years old. My first coach was Mr. VC Joseph, Physical Director of St. Thomas High School, Pala. His support and encouragement in the early years was critical in my decision to pursue the sport.”
But the encouragement he received from his coaches and family could only help him off the court. “I am 5’9’’, [so] I have always noticed opponents and sometimes spectators saying “can he play?”, but I guess after seeing my game I rest all questions and naysayers.” he says, with a wide grin on his face.
Sunny may possess a down to earth and calm demeanour off the court, but during games he is known to be a fierce competitor and winner. “In 1986, I captained the Kerala State Junior team, which won the Gold Medal in the National Championship. Based on my performance in this tournament, I got selected to the Senior Indian team camp. I always believed that my hard work would pay off one day and was glad it happened at that time.”
Sunny made his international debut in 1986 at a time when there were only two tournaments– Asian Basketball Championship (ABC) and South Asian Federation (SAF) Games. Apart from these events, held once every two years, the Indian team played ‘test’ matches against Russia, the then Yogoslavia and American college sides. Some of Sunny’s notable wins wearing the Indian jersey included a sixth place finish in the 1989 ABCs and gold medal performances in the SAF Games, first as a player in 1991 and then as captain in 1995.
“I was blessed to be trained by some of the best coaches who guided me during every stage of my development. Mr. Bevin Chacko, PC Thomas, Ramesh Kelly & Prithipal Singh were excellent coaches available in the sports council who influenced me to improve my game.”
Quality coaching seems to have been the only bright spot for Sunny and other players of his era. When it came to infrastructure, they rarely had access to indoor courts and the ubiquitous gyms that many of us take for granted today. “All national tournaments were played on outdoor courts and state of the art training facilities were lacking.”
After his international career ended in 1995, Sunny retired from domestic competition in 2008. But the Indian Bank, Chennai employee was in no mood to rest on his past laurels. “As players we dread the day we have to hang up our boots. But that’s a reality we have to deal with. Coaching is the next best way to be associated with the game and also an opportunity to pass down my experience and learning to the next generation of players.”
Sunny started off with small assignments in Chennai with Loyola College and Hindustan College of Engineering. Soon, with the encouragement of Jeppiaar Institute of Technology Director Marie Wilson, Sunny took up coaching in earnest in 2008. “I was sent by the college to USA to enhance my skills. I visited the New Jersey Basketball Academy and interacted with coaches who shared their experiences. I also attended practice sessions of the NCAA Division I team – Rutgers Scarlet Knights and NBA’s New Jersey Nets (Now called Brooklyn Nets). Of course all these investments paid off when Jeppiaar became the no. 1 team in South India for 3 consecutive years from 2009 to 2011.”
In recent years, Sunny has had the privilege of working with veteran FIBA (the international basketball association) instructor Nelson Isley in his Level 1 coaching certification programme held in Kochi in December 2014.
Launching the CV Sunny Basketball Academy
While everything seemed sunny on the surface, the player himself was dissatisfied inside, having noticed the numerous limitations with grassroots basketball coaching in India:
- Lack of awareness on the possibilities of building a career in basketball.
- Mini basketball (8-12) not very popular in India. This is the age for a player to master fundamental movements and skills. The coaches at this level are also not well trained to handle this group.
- Coaches today focus only on winning local tournaments and are not keen on developing the individual skills of the players.
- Poor infrastructure and poor marketing strategies.
He feels the reason Indian teams are not performing well internationally is due to a combined lack of fundamental basketball skills, physical fitness, and limited exposure.
All of these factors eventually led to the creation of the CV Sunny Basketball Academy in late 2014. “Only because of basketball, am I living a comfortable life today. Considering the hardships I faced in my childhood, I owe a lot to this game.” he says, adding, “When basketball has done so much for me, I always believed that I need to give back. The Academy was formed with this intent – to give back.”
The programs run by the Academy follows the modern and scientific principles of Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD). “Top nations like USA, Canada, France and Australia have adopted the LTAD system into their youth development program.” explains Sunny, “We hope by aligning to these systems we will be able to provide a world class coaching program to young kids which will train them the right way and [help them] master the game.”
Looking to the future
The long term vision of the Academy is to make basketball a mainstream sport in India, and for our national teams to become world powerhouses in the next 10-15 years. “We have already begun our player and coach development programs at our facility in Chennai. In the coming years these programs will be spread across India.”
With a holistic view towards basketball development, the Academy’s future plans include conducting events and developing infrastructure. “To achieve our targets we will work in a collaborative manner with associations, media, administrators, corporates, coaches, players and fans.” says the visionary hoopster.
Sunny concludes with words of advice for ballers and coaches alike. “For serious young players, it is absolutely important you find a good coach who can guide you along a path of success. I have been fortunate to cross paths with great coaches who shaped my career. Most of the time it’s the coach that makes the difference between becoming a good player and a great one.”
Registrations for the CV Sunny Basketball Academy’s ‘Summer of Skills’ camp are now open. The Camp will be held in Santhome Higher Secondary School, Chennai for a period of 5-6 weeks in April-May 2015. The Camp, for both boys and girls, will be divided into three categories: Mini (under-13), Junior (under-16) and Senior (under-19). Interested candidates are requested to contact The CV Sunny Basketball Academy by calling +91 8056125958, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting their Facebook page.