Six-feet tall Asmat Kaur Taunque from Indore is a part of the Lawrenceville School Team, New Jersey. Captain of the Maharashtra U16 Girls Basketball team, Asmat played for India at the U16 FIBA ASIA Cup 2017. She used to train at the India Camp and the Basketball Without Borders Asian 2019 Camp. Now, Asmat plays Centre in Lawrenceville team and won’t miss any opportunity to enter the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

Kaur grew up in a nuclear family and basketball was an obvious choice for her. Her father works in the telecom sector and her mother is an author. Her school coach, in Indore, spotted her talent on the first day of school. She proudly boasts about the time she executed the buzzer-beater shot in the final match against Malaysia in the U16 FIBA ASIA Cup 2017 in which India emerged as the pool winner. She is also proud that her academic record has never been compromised because of her passion for sports. 

In 2018, Asmat was awarded the prestigious MALWA award – a state-level award given to young achievers in Sports. She was also a recipient of the ISPORA Award.

Now targeting WNBA, Asmat is among the five girls from the batch of six who went abroad this year through the NBA Academies Women’s Programme. SheThePeople.TV catches up to know about her journey from a small-town school to now WNBA playoffs. Some edited snippets.

Asmat, you are taller than any 16-year-old. Now as an Indian it is an honour to have been accepted into a prestigious high school in New Jersey. Your academic and athletic future are bright. When did you decide to become a Basketball player? 

As a child, I was always very tall. So my parents and school coaches always pushed me to play basketball. At the age of 13, I first started playing for my school and after that, I went on to play the nationals in the sub-junior category. I also played the senior nationals at the same age. We won the U-17 FIBA Asia Cup in 2017 in Bengaluru and I was invited to the NBA Academy camp. From a small-town school to now WNBA playoffs, it’s a dream come true and it all started from the Basketball Without Borders Camp. I have grown a lot personally since then. Basketball remains consistent in my life.

There’s lots of scope for injuries in basketball, especially because of the way it is played in the USA. How does it feel to play among the ruthless and what have you learnt from them?

Basketball is a very aggressive game; people get extremely physical and the aggression level is much higher than it is in India. That is something players from India need to focus on, should improve their physical attributes. We need to get to the gym and start doing more weights. I think that will really help with the development. Also, they should learn to exhibit aggressiveness so they can push their way around the court.

Basketball is a very aggressive game; people get extremely physical and the aggression level is much higher than it is in India.

READ: Meet Inshah Bashir, Kashmir’s First Woman Wheelchair Basketball Player

Back at home or otherwise, do you face any criticism and discouragement from society? If yes, how do you manage to overcome those? 

Initially,  when I started playing the sport my game wasn’t as refined as it is now. I heard rumours of people saying that I don’t deserve to play. For a while, they got into my head, made me angry but I learnt to ignore and rise above them. I believed in my potential. People in my peer groups thought of me as a stereotypical girl and that bothered me. In rebellion, I would play basketball. Just to show them that I’m meant to be who I’m.

Asmat Kaur basketball
Basketball is a very aggressive game: Asmat Kaur
PC Asmat Kaur

How did your life change after being recognised internationally?

Coming to the USA I have been provided with some very good basketball and educational opportunities but it came with its own set of challenges. Like it took a 360-degree flip, the culture and the food, everything was different. Definitely, I was feeling some discomfort at first because I was missing my family and friends but I learnt how to adapt and settle in the new environment and the community here has been very welcoming. A nurturing neighbourhood helped me ease into my comfort zone.

How is the Basketball scene in India for women?  Why isn’t it a popular sport among women in your state?

There is a lot of potential for women players in India, but the basketball sector is dominated by men. I think with the advancement of technologies and with places like the NBA India Academy, we can get some fine players from India as well.

I love basketball because you always have the scope of getting better. You can never be perfect. I like pushing myself and shattering my limits both mentally and physically and this sport gives me the opportunity to do that.

What next?

We have many games against different schools coming up in the next month. I really hope to grow and form in these tournaments. The long-term goal is to play in the WNBA and also play for India.

I really want to help more players in India receive better training and facilities.

How is your family taking all the spotlight given to you now? Are they supportive of your career choices?

My family has been very supportive of me playing basketball and they are excited about my growth here. They have always motivated me to never stop trying, no matter what my surrounding is.

To young girls like me: It might be hard and really scary but you should not suppress yourself.

How has basketball changed your life?

Basketball for me is everything, that is my lifestyle. I have learnt so much from basketball, how to deal with failure, how to handle rumours. I have learnt to segregate the instances, whether to be aggressive or sensible. I have learned to take risks.

READ: Meet Nadiya Nighat, Kashmir’s First Female Football Coach

How do you balance life, family, study, career?

I think the main element is time management. I plan my day in a way that I’m able to get a good amount of studying and practising for two hours every day. I talk to my peers and my family every single night before I sleep.

For students, it is important to have good grades as well as good basketball achievements. I also believe that to be a pro in basketball, one needs to be strong both mentally and physically.

If girls aspire to come here, they have to be mentally strong to settle into this environment. It is not easy and is not something that they should undermine.

Asmat Kaur basketball
PC Asmat Kaur

Academics and basketball require two different mindsets. Over here, in academics one needs to think a lot.

While playing basketball there were times when I needed to quiet all my thoughts to play well. Switching between those two mindsets can be hard sometimes. I  consciously analyzed this problem and fixed it.

Share your strategies and insights before a game. What do you think before a match? Do you need to study an opponent’s mind before a game?

While it is definitely an advantage to know your opponent, their weaknesses and strengths, but there are many times when we don’t have that information. However, I feel that one should not be intimated by that. No matter who your opponent is you should give your best. Generally, before the match I listen to some prayers, it helps me be calm and be fearless at the same time.

How sports in general has liberated women? Do women from your state now seek to take it up professionally?

Women are often discriminated and face stereotypes on a day-to-day basis. I think sports helps them develop a shield against these comments. Any sport you play you have to exercise for mental strength. This helps them facing such situations daily as well.

Do you face gender discrimination in the industry?

I think right now basketball is mainly focused on men and although there have been exemplary women in the spotlight, it hasn’t been a mainstream culture and I think that needs to change.

Read More Stories By Ria Das

Get the best of SheThePeople delivered to your inbox - subscribe to Our Power Breakfast Newsletter. Follow us on Twitter , Instagram , Facebook and on YouTube, and stay in the know of women who are standing up, speaking out, and leading change.