When the Australian professional basketball team Ringwood Hawks’ impressive debut NBL1 season ended suddenly last week afternoon in front of the red hot Nunawading Spectres by 24 points at The Rings arena, there was a familiar face among the disappointed Hawks team members. Wearing jersey number 14, it was Jeena P.S., the Indian international who was with the NBL1 team in Australia. Despite being very proud of herself for being only the second Indian female basketball player ever to get a professional contract in foreign soil, the defeat was heartbreaking for Jeena.
“The league was very competitive and it was Hawk’s debut season. Still, we were able to reach that far only to fall short of a step behind the qualification for the finals. But we are very proud of ourselves and it was a great run,” says Jeena. She is also the first-ever Indian female player to be part of the senior professional league and for the Wayanad resident, it was a dream come true. “It is every basketball player’s dream to play in a competitive professional league. I am also a person who had such a big dream in my life when I started my career.
I was tall and the only sport that I thought would suit me was high jump. But my trainer at school told me to try basketball. I was not sure and had not even seen a court before that. From that Jeena, to a person shooting three-pointers and rebounds for a professional basketball team in Australia — the journey has been wonderful.”
Jeena was picked by the Hawks after their recent tour of India, in which the team played a five-game series against the national champions, Kerala.
During her early days of the leap towards a successful career, Jeena, in an interview in 2014 said that her idol was former international player Geethu Anna Jose and she dared to dream of playing in a foreign professional league just like Geethu. Five years later, she signed a contract with Hawks and completed the season on a high. “They are very competitive and it takes a lot of hard work to thrive there. The main difference from us is that their playing style is very physical and the first few days at the camp were pretty challenging than I had thought. But the team members were staying at once place together and there were players from countries like the U.S. They were very helpful and were keen to share some tips, which later really helped me.” Jeena says in India, she plays as a forward but playing for Hawks, there were no specific roles and one has to play in every position. “I am a forward and do a lot of rebounds during the game. But there, I played in all the positions, which was tricky as well as helpful.”
The former national team captain says playing with Ringwood Hawks was a new chapter in her career and believes it will only help her in the future. “One of the main plus points for me during my days Down Under was that I got to know their sporting culture. And I wish to share that knowledge with the young ones back home in India. Their players, especially the junior side, are moulded in a way that they are always ready for a game. Here, our children play in concrete courts, but their children play basketball on wooden platforms from a very young age. And that reduces the chances of injuries and players can take a lot of risks physically.
So, I would love to see our next generation players start playing on wooden furnished courts from a young age. The other thing is how they prepare children, not just in basketball, but in every sport of recreation, which is incredible. Australia is a sporting giant and I could see why. They have a lot of leagues there. Here we have too. If you look at IPL or ISL, they both helped the sports and made them more popular and glamorous. The fan following is massive. If we wish to mould a competitive basketball team like Australians or Chinese teams, we should start thinking about these kinds of leagues and invite the foreign player here. One must learn how it feels like playing with and against a player from another country with a different level of stamina, height, and agility. It really helps.”
Jeena, who is 5’11, is hopeful about the way the Indian national team has been progressing under the Serbian coach Zoran Visic for the last couple of years, and is with the training camp in Bengaluru ahead of the Asian championship to be held in September. “We have a lot of potential in our team and the team earned a promotion to the A division in FIBA ranking and we are about to play top teams in Asia. I don’t want to predict anything, but I would like to see the team at least finishing in the last six. That would be a huge step when you consider the teams you are playing against. And I hope my experience would be instrumental for me and the team,” she wraps up....