Geethu Anna received the Arjuna Award in 2014. Geethu indeed breaks through Indian female stereotypes, she is without any doubt India's top basketball player. She is ambitious, having played abroad, in Australia and in the United States, speaking frankly to our theinder.net correspondent Jency Kollamana about Indian mentality, India's image about their women and about Geethus next career steps. Geethu, originating from Kerala, represents a new generation of Indian women: self-confident, physically strong and finally: playing basketball.
Geethu, on behalf of the whole Indo-German community theinder.net wishes to congratulate you for your great achievement having received the Arjuna Award 2014. How do you feel being nominated and elected for India's most important sportive recognition and now holding the price in your hands?
I was so much excited and I couldn't believe it till I held the Arjuna Trophy in my hands. I was truly in a dream world, sometimes I used to pinch myself, too (laughing), because in India it is very hard to get the Arjuna for Team events like football, volleyball or basketball.
Have you ever imagined of being chosen for the best sportswoman in India one day? What were your dreams and aims at your early age?
Frankly speaking, I was the best in everywhere I played. I left my name everywhere I played. I mean, I was 'Asia's Top Scorer', I played three seasons in Australia and received the 'Player of the month' award several times and finally became the 'Most Valuable Player of the year'. Furthermore, I was the first Indian ever who represented in the WNBA tryouts. Honestly, I felt bad that it took so long to be honoured by our country. See, the recognition of the own country is the most valuable thing. Nevertheless, finally it came true and I am very very happy and satisfied now.
Regarding to my dreams... you won't believe... one day one of my coaches asked everyone: "What's ur dream?“. Everyone else said they want to be an Indian player or want to play for India. In the meanwhile I said I want to become an Arjuna Awardee, though I knew only one women received it in basketball, but my dream was to be an Arjuna Awardee and now I'm fulfilled!
How much effort and experience were still needed to develop from a young, shy girl to an international basketball star? Which people influenced you most on your paths to the top?
First of all I want to thank Jesus Christ, because when I look back, my each and every step, he was with me - no, he is with me throughout my life. I am sure! Otherwise how it is possible getting from a normal family life into the position of a popular player? No way! And I thank my parents, my siblings, my relatives, my friends, seniors, my classmates, too, teachers and most importantly all the coaches. Everybody has helped me to reach this level. Now my new family as well, especially my husband Rahul. His support is tremendous. I'm very thankful to everyone.
That is indeed nice to hear. How does your training schedule look like as a national team player?
We used to practice eight hours per day. Now everything has changed and we have foreign coaches and also much more exposures. But that is really worth doing it. But you know, we only have three months camps whereas other teams start training before 1 1/2 years ago for main championships. And they all were going for exposure trips. We hardly go for an exposure trip to play versus other countries or even the grand players. We would definitely improve, but maybe the government cannot effort too many exposures in a year as it costs a lot? I think we in India are working more hard than anyone in other countries, but what to say, they all are very advanced and we are lacking in many things.
Which sporting and personal experience did you gain throughout your time in the WNBL in Australia at Ridgewood Hawks and at the WNBA Trials in USA (Chicago Sky, Los Angeles Sparks and San Antonio Silver Stars)?
In WNBA it is all about physical game. Nobody is soft there. They all are working very hard. Australian exposure really helped me to change my entire game strategy and I think I gave my full effort to be in the WNBL team. I was so happy to be in the team, but unfortunately my Indian commitments came and so I dropped WNBL dream. May be all these exposure made myself stronger and for me the game much easier when I came back to India.
During your tournaments and matches you collected a lot of experience abroad. What should or could be improved in Indian sports, for instance talent scouting, training, diet, talent fostering etc.?
You touched the right points - I think a bit of everything. India has a lot of talented players, but unfortunately not everyone gets a chance. The training nowadays is better than before, as we have a foreign coach. So do other sports. One of the main problem is the fitness and physical game, which we are not following! For basketball we always have an European coach, so we learned from him and when we are going to play FIBA games, where the umpiring and the game is slightly different. We always face those sort of issues, because FIBA Asia and FIBA Europe game is different - from a physical point of view. So it was always difficult as we use to face it. Once we finished FIBA Asia we are only able to go either to Olympics or World Championship - I am confident. Furthermore, Indian mentality is also different than in other countries. Here women should be women. Their body shouldn't look like a gym body with cuts and all. That should also be a change. The diet part as well. Its getting better, but it should be more.
Thank you, that brings us to the next question: In Western media it is often reported that women in India have difficulties to follow their own career paths. How would you describe your athletic career from the position of a woman? Have you had the feeling to be disadvantaged or did you get more support and encouragement?
I have never faced anything like that. To be frank our Kerala is famous for sports and maybe that is why our parents, family and my school and college were very supportive. Moreover, I am proud to be a woman and as a female athlete I never got disappointed, but whenever we go for "All India level", it is always the male team receiving high cash prices. That's the only difference.
What are your next sportive aims and plans? Which hope do you have for Indian basketball?
Simply an academy for basketball. One day I want to be the coach of the Indian basketball team. That's my next aim. Let us see. And yes, frankly, if we correct some things and get good talents, then definitely, we have a future because "India's really got talent" (smiling).
Thank you for the detailed interview, Geethu. We wish you all the best for your future plans and many more successful moments in your career.