From representing Maharashtra team to coaching girls – Ujwala Lunawat’s life has revolved around the basketball. 58-year-old, Lunawat first played basketball from 1973-1984 and then started her coaching career in 1999.
Out of 150 players whom she trains at Karnataka High School, Erandwane, Kothrud, She has 50 girls in her team to train. Lunawat is optimistic with the way girls are progressing in basketball and she hopes to see many girls making it as a career option.
Speaking with Jigar Hindocha, Ujwala Lunawat who along being a basketball coach also runs Institute of Sports Science and Technology (ISST) spoke about various issues like – need of infrastructure, roles of parents and how girls are diverting from the sport after once they are getting into higher studies.
Change in girls basketball comparing it with your era?
Today we have awareness about the game and the number of girls playing basketball has increased. In most of the societies today we have basketball courts which are making a difference. Most of them start playing the game for fitness and out of them, few opt it out as a career option.
Your views on Maharashtra girls teams doing in u-14, u-16 and u-18 categories?
They are doing excellent in all the categories. Credit goes to most of the schools and Maharashtra State Basketball Association. In Pune, we see most of the school having a girls team and we also have few clubs in the city who have separate girls team which is bringing in a postive impact to the game.
Even after a good performance at lower age group category, we don’t see city players getting selected for the Indian team, Your views on it…
Fitness is something where our state players are lacking compared to other states. We don’t have a proper infrastructure where a fitness regime can be followed seriously. We need to develop it in our city because only playing and doing ground drills will not be enough to produce good players representing at a higher stage.
To improve fitness and stamina there should be tournaments conducted every weekend where inter-club matches should take place.
How the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) academic programs for women are helping our players?
NBA academies for women is a boon for state players. Training with foreign coaches helps our players in their skills and stamina. As a coach, I also insist players keep following NBA games which will help them.
When I won the junior national gold medal representing team Maharashtra. This was during the junior national basketball championship in Trichur, Kerala in 1979.
When I started coaching at Bharti Nivas society ground, Prabhat road, after developing a basketball court in 1999. I was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Puraskar for development of sports infrastructure in Pune.
Number of women coaches in Pune: 10
Number of women coaches in Maharashtra: 30
Number of players who represented Maharashtra in national championship during 2018-2019: 9
Source: Lalit Nahata, vice-president, Pune District Basketball Association
High hoops and even higher dreams as city girl gets NBA break
The National Basketball Association (NBA) is the holy grail, the endgame for a majority of budding professionals around the world.
While an Indian is still to kick in and emerge as an NBA icon, the popularity of the sport in the nation is certainly unparalleled. Given the number of schools and collegiate tournaments, Pune is also basking in the glory of hoops.
Recently, Pune girl Bhumika Sarje became the only girl from the city picked to represent India at the junior NBA global championship.
The tournament will commence on the August 6, 2019 and will go on for five days at the ESPN Wide World of sports complex at Walt Disney World in Florida.
Sarje was one of the 20 players (10 boys and 10 girls) to be selected following a two-day selection camp at the NBA Academy India in Delhi NCR. The camp featured 40 — 13 and 14-year-olds from the Reliance Foundation Junior NBA Skills Challenges, city competitions and national finals.
Sharing her journey from shooting hoops to being picked to represent the nation, the 14-year-old stated, “In 2016 I joined basketball summer camp as a physical activity which became a hobby and it soon became a passion for me. When junior NBA came to Pune for the first time, it was a golden opportunity I was presented with and I grabbed it by winning the skill challenge. After that my west zone team won the junior NBA India nationals championship 2019. I then went for the camp and it was the happiest moment of my life to be one of 20 Indians picked to represent the country at such a young age.”
While she may have excelled at the skills challenge – an individual aspect of the game – Sarje is well aware that with basketball being a team sport, teamwork is one of the most important characteristics one must possess and that a player is only as good as the players around them.
“At the camp, we performed at four stations where NBA coaches were guiding us. As basketball is a team game, I also kept watching NBA videos and realised that only scoring is not important but assisting your teammates improves the overall team spirit towards winning the game and inculcates sportsmanship as well,” said the Sardar Dastur High School student.
She also painted a very glowing picture of the NBA and the developmental activities that she has been a part of over the years. One day Sarje aims to make it professionally and compete in the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association).
“As I am in the growing stages of my game, I feel very lucky that the NBA is promoting good development of basketball in the country along with honing our skills. Having international coaches guiding us is surely going to improve our game. Every small query is taken into account by them and explained in detail and they encourage you to dream big and live your dreams,” said the city girl.
August really couldn’t come sooner enough for the 14-year-old as she looks to have already started counting down to the date 6.
Being the biggest event of her life, there are bound to be nerves, but she knows that her entire professional career could be shaped based on her performances in Florida.
· Represented the state in three national championships; winning gold at the under-13 level in 2018
· One of ten girls to be picked for Reliance Foundation junior NBA program – an initiative spanning across 7,900 schools in over 34 cities throughout India
· Was the first person to be picked for the junior NBA global championship India selection camp in April
· Won the junior NBA India nationals championship with the west zone team earlier this year