Basketball Inspires Me To Be Natural: Khushi Dongre
Khushi Dongre the Aurangabad-born girl now goes to a college in Miami and hopes to play for the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) soon. The 18-year-old says she has a very supportive father thus the NBA tryouts were not a challenge. Her father also plays for the masters U45 category, she trains with him.
Khushi, who spent her childhood learning wrestling and gymnastics, now goes to the ASA College team in Miami and was selected to represent India in the FIBA Asia U-18 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, in Malaysia in August 2019. She was part of the Indian team for the U-16 Women’s Asian Championship India 2017 Division B. The youngster also participated in the NBA Academies Women’s Programme at the NBA Academy India, in 2018 and in January 2019. She earned the Best Teammate Award in 2018 and the Coaches Award at the 2019 camp.
Khushi is among the five girls from the batch of six who went abroad this year through the NBA Academy Women’s Programme. SheThePeople.TV catches up with Khushi to know about her early wrestling days, when exactly she thought she could move to basketball and much more. Some edited snippets.
So you trained in wrestling and gymnastics as a kid. However, you have now played eight nationals in multiple age categories after taking up basketball in 2015. Can you describe your childhood and what triggered you to become a basketball player?
I started playing basketball when I was 15, my dad owns a champion sports club in Aurangabad. Initially, I used to go there when I was young and practice gymnastics, wrestling, skating and other sports. I was never forced to play basketball, but I eventually developed an interest. In August 2015, I went there to play basketball and all the seniors were mocking me and I came back to my dad crying. He asked me, “do you really want to play?” I said, “yes, I want to play.” That’s when I started developing an interest in basketball and I got inspired by a number of prominent players. And also by looking at my father, like how he used to be on-court and the way he used to handle things off-court.
Coming from a sports background, as your father is a sportsperson, what were the challenges you overcame before making it to the NBA tryouts?
I am not from a quintessentially traditional Indian family. My grandfather, grandmother, uncle, aunt everyone in the family were into sports activities. It was not so hard for me to get into sports because I had the backing of my entire family and because of their support I am who I am today.
How does it feel to play internationally?
My first dream was to play basketball and get into good shape. I feel great and proud at the same time to be known internationally. It was my father’s dream to play for the country and to be known internationally. I am happy that I am able to get closer to accomplishing my father’s dream.
Back at home or otherwise, did you face criticism and discouragement from society? If yes, how do you manage to overcome those?
I was discriminated by the people around me and they used to tell me that basketball is not a good game or it is not meant for girls because it’s a rough game. Sometimes, when a guy would say I can’t play basketball, then I would challenge them to play a one-on-one game and prove them wrong.
At 5’10”, you had a career-high 47 points in U-15 nationals and your body strength represents your strong will. You must have some other traits off-court but this sport is all about rocking it on-court with a mentally-balanced nature. What inspires your love for the sport?
Basketball is not just a sport for me. I have learnt many things off the court like management skills, building relationships, commitment, communication skills, handling pressure and other things. The sport keeps me on the edge and makes me realise that basketball inspires me to be natural.
“Sometimes, when a guy would say I can’t play basketball, then I would challenge them to play a one on one game and prove them wrong.”
How did your life change with basketball?
My life has changed in a good way. When I used to play at the national level, people around me used to know me, but now when I am playing in the US there are players who recognise me because of the NBA Academy which makes me feel proud. It feels great to play at the international level and make our country feel proud.
What did you learn from the international legends who competed with/against you? How can Indian players be inspired by them?
One thing I have learnt from the players who I have played against, is their attitude on and off the court. It’s hard to be mentally strong during high-pressure games, physically it is easy to be anywhere but to be there mentally it takes a lot of focus. The way international players keep themselves focused and motivated inspires me.
How is the Basketball scene in India for women? Why isn’t it a popular sport among women in your state?
The opportunities that women get in India are less as compared to men because basketball is not popular in India among women. Since the inception of the NBA Academy, it feels great that we are getting good scope and opportunity to go out and play at the international level. Women are winning medals in the sport when it comes to Asia so I feel basketball is no longer just a ‘guy sport’ in India.
Could you briefly tell us about your upcoming tournaments? Big target? Long-term goals?
My big target is to play in WNBA or NCAA final four. I really don’t aspire to have big dreams but I want to achieve my sports psychology degree and do very well in sports and become a professional basketball player.
How is your family taking all the spotlight given to you now? Are they supportive of your career choices?
As I told you I come from a family of sports lovers. They have always supported me. They have never stopped me from doing anything that I like and encouraged me in taking my own decisions.
Your message to young girls?
For the young girls who dare to be different in a patriarchal society, it really needs a lot of guts and a good heart to make your own life decisions. Families do pressurize you to accomplish their choices, but at the end of the day you got your own life and you better make your own decisions and work on them Try to accomplish your dream and make your family feel proud of you.
What drives you towards the sport? What does it mean to you?
My dad is the biggest sportsman for me and I love the way he is. Despite being in his 50s, he is very enthusiastic when it comes to any sport and this drives me towards sports.
Share your strategies and insights before a game. What do you think before a match? Do you need to study an opponent’s mind/strategies before a game?
I don’t think about what my opponent’s strategies are. All I do is keep my mind calm before I start a game. I usually pep talk to myself while tying my shoes. I close my eyes and think about how I got in here and from here I have to get into the WNBA.
What are your biggest challenges you are facing now?
The only challenge I am facing here in my college, as of now, is the pace of basketball. I am a little injured and working on my rehab, as soon as I heal I have to play basketball at their pace so it becomes difficult for me sometimes. I want to play at the same pace and speed as the rest of the team.
Firstly, I don’t think about my family because I know it is going to distract me a lot. Studies are going pretty good here, I am learning to balance it in my way. I believe if we do things properly and on time, then we can balance anything in life.
What has been the most amazing moment so far?
The most touching or the best moment would have to be getting selected in the Indian team. Also winning awards in NBA Academy and then going international and beating everyone in the team by playing in the first five in American Jr. college.
What do you think India lacks in terms of appreciating the culture of sports?
I think there should be more encouragement, not just for basketball, but other games too. I also feel there should be a way to spread more awareness about basketball, now more than ever.
How sports, in general, has liberated women in any area — rural/urban? Do women from your state now seek to take it up professionally?
Women are getting greater opportunities in India now. I know Siya, Shireen didi, Shruti Menon, my seniors, and I love the way they play so professionally.
Do you face gender discrimination in the industry?
I have never faced any gender discrimination. Whenever I play basketball it never really mattered to me that I am a girl.
Your advice to aspirant girls in the state
Express yourself. Open up about your dreams to your families and make them believe in you.