Sanjana Ramesh On NBA Academy Scholarship And Sports As A Career
A resident of Bengaluru, Sanjana Ramesh rose to fame when she captained India’s U16 Girls squad to an undefeated campaign in Division B of the FIBA U16 Asia Cup. She also took the nation to the Division A in the tournament’s next edition as well. Now the 17-year-old is a part of the Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff and believes, firmly believes that girls shoot as good as boys.
From badminton to hoops, and then becoming ambitious to play basketball at the highest level in the USA, the 6- feet-tall power forward has had a lot of support to follow her dream, she believes. She also participated in The NBA Academies Women’s Program camp at The NBA Academy India in Delhi National Capital Region (NCR). Following that, she joined in the Basketball Without Borders Asia camp, a three-day basketball development camp featuring the top male and female basketball prospects from throughout Asia, Sanjana received the NBA Most Valuable Player Award (MVP) for the girls’ division. Sanjana, gets her sportsmanship nature from her mother, while her father is a professor at IIM Bangalore professor. She has an older brother, who is a lawyer.
Sanjana Ramesh is the second Indian-born female player to receive a Division I Basketball Scholarship.
SheThePeople.TV catches up with Sanjana to know about her journey from a basketball player in school to now WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) playoffs. Some edited snippets.
What inspired you to become a basketball player? How was your childhood?
I would describe my childhood as something spectacular. I had spent a lot of time doing extracurricular activities and had a lot of hobbies including learning Bharatanatyam and classical music, playing tennis, badminton and football. I did a lot of these activities because my friends were also involved in it, so that kept me occupied for a long time.
I started playing basketball when I was 11 or 12. I just tried for my school team and had never heard of the sport before that. I only tried it because my brother challenged me to make it to the school team and his validation meant the most to me. I really worked hard and made it to the school team. My coaches Ravi Kumar and Mohan Kumar encouraged me. They taught me how to love the sport and inspired me to become a basketball player.
Coming from a traditional background, what were the challenges you overcame before making it big?
I did face some challenges along the way. I’m from a traditional Tamil family so we must learn classical music, go for dancing and learn an instrument. I did all three of them. Having time for all three and playing basketball was very tough for me. All my friends were part of the dance class or music lessons. None of them really played sports and juggled so many things at a time. There came a time when I had to decide on doing something different that had not been done in my family before.
My mother played sports at the college level, but she played for fun. Other than her no one in my family could understand that being a sportsperson can be a career choice. They thought it was very hard making a career out of sports, you could get injured, and your career could end with just one injury. Luckily my life turned out to be good. I have one major injury but that never stopped me from playing basketball.
How does it feel to play internationally?
Actually, it is a very humbling experience. I learn new things every day. I see the world differently. Back home it was just living the day and having fun. Here, I see opportunities to better myself. I’m more focused and dialled in. It feels good because the competition is really high. I’m always working hard, which is one of the good things about being here.
Have you faced criticism or discouragement from the society?
Actually, I don’t face a lot of criticism and discouragement. I’m actually lucky compared to how my other friends are. Some people who might feel they are better than me or she doesn’t deserve it or she got lucky – which is true I got lucky but all I can think of is that I have an opportunity right now and I need to make the best situation out of it. It hasn’t really stopped me.
What inspires your love for the sport?
When I’m on court it is a glowing sensation in my heart. I can’t wait to start playing. It is the best experience for me. It is a team game. I really love the sport.
How did your life change after being recognised internationally?
I feel my life has changed. There are a lot more expectations from me right now which is a bit pressurising. I feel more mature and determined.
What did you learn from the industry legends who competed with or against you?
Back home, maybe I have learnt a lot from them at national camps. They taught me a few things about basketball, how much it really meant to them to be part of a team. From other legends in the US, I learnt to ask myself, how much do I really want it? How to work really hard for it? If I really want it, I need to push for it.
What has been your most amazing moment?
The most touching moment for me was getting the award of the best player in a tournament when I was playing for Beagles. All my friends, teammates and mother were there. They asked my mom to hand a frame of my achievements. That was an amazing moment. She was in tears.
Other than that, there is the Karnataka Olympic Association award. They give the award for each player in every sport. Winning the NBA Academy MVP was also an amazing moment.
What do you think India lacks in appreciating the culture of sport?
I feel India lacks the facilities and experience. Here in the USA, we have a system of how every sport is. We have conferences on how to make the sport better. It is hard to make players out of the blue. If we have these facilities, we can make the sport bigger in India. India also focuses a lot on academics, I think that also plays a huge role. Making a career out of sports is very risky. You have to work really hard for this.
It is hard to make players out of the blue. If we have these facilities we can make the sport bigger in India.
How sports has liberated women in general?
I feel sports, in general, has liberated women in any area. My friend Pushpa, she is not from an affluent background but is very hard working. She inspires people. Also, I feel my example can give hope to people that the sport can be played professionally.
Do you face gender discrimination in the industry?
I don’t listen but I can hear them. You run like a girl or shoot like a girl. I have fought against it at times. Girls shoot as good as boys. Gender discrimination is not fair.
Advice to aspiring women from the state…
My advice is that if you work hard for something all your dreams can be achieved. Focus on your dreams and make sure your dreams are big. They should scare you but work hard towards it.
How is the basketball scene in India for women?
I think the basketball scene in India is looking very good right now because we are given equal opportunity when compared to men. There is a lot of talent in the country. Though earlier, we did not have a lot of opportunities or leagues compared to men now with the NBA Academy the scene is really looking good for women. Women from my state look at other sports, like badminton and tennis. They feel pressurised maybe because of the outlook as women after a certain age are asked to focus on academics.
Upcoming tournaments and goals…
Right now we have our season going on. We will be having a match or two every week. This is the conference games that have started. The immediate target is to win this conference. It is very big for us. I want to improve my game to the best level I can. I want to take India to the next level. I’ve seen so many players better than me. They inspire me. I want to inspire other kids too.
My message to young girls would be to ask them to prove everyone wrong. Eventually, things will turn to your side. Just show them what you are capable of.
What drives you to the sport? What does it mean to you?
I’m a huge team player and I also feel I have leadership qualities.
I have learnt everything in my life because of basketball. I have reached everywhere in life because of basketball. I feel I have travelled everywhere because of the sport.
Share your strategies before a game?
Before a game, I’m completely dialled in. I make sure my diet is on point. I eat four times a day, drink a lot of water and electrolytes. I spend time with myself, thinking about the opponent and how do I tackle them.
What are your biggest challenges you are facing now?
My biggest challenge right now is moving into adulthood. I have to do everything on my own. There are no parents helping me anymore. If you want it you have to get it yourself. Also being away from family is hard.
It is hard, but I feel like there is a self improvement opportunity every day.