Six alumni of BMC schools, including four girls and two boys, have set the ball rolling towards their dream of becoming part of the National Basketball Association (NBA), the professional basketball league of the United States.Five years ago, they barely knew the sport, but earlier this year, these six teenagers received a scholarship worth Rs 18 lakh in a 100 per cent funding for admissions to Karjat-based Corvuss American Academy, a boarding school for student-athletes.
Fourteen-year-old Anjali Pandey has been playing basketball since 2015 when she was selected for a training programme, ‘Hopes Thru Hoops’, which is run by BMC’s partner NGO Hi5 Foundation. She has since participated in Under-13 and Under-16 Maharashtra State Inter-district tournaments. This year, she had secured a place in the Under-14 girls junior NBA Mumbai team, besides winning other titles.
A resident of Tardeo, Pandey was a student of Goregaon East Mumbai Public School when she was selected by the NGO as part of the group of 60 students who were provided 300 hours of basketball training besides accessories like shoes, kits and jerseys. “I want to become an NBA player. I love to do tricks while playing basketball and other drills that are core to the game,” she said. While her father is a physiotherapist, she is the youngest among her three sisters and a brother.
Last month, along with five other alumni of BMC schools, including Sneha Yadav, Kajal Kotekar, Laxmi Yadav, Suraj Gupta, and Prabhat Mishra, Pandey began her residential programme at Corvuss. Here, a chalked out schedule ensures that these student-athletes receive adequate training and practice, besides meeting the academic requirements. In four years, Pandey will graduate with an American High School diploma, hoping to be scouted by universities in the US for representing them in the league.
“We began the programme for BMC school children in classes 5 and 6. We started by conducting regular tests like sprinting, running and jumps to get a sense of their athletic prowess. Once we identified these kids, we continued to work with them in terms of training and exposure, making them participate in state and national tournaments. All six students have the experience of playing in at least 10 to 15 tournaments by now. Pandey and five others have demonstrated the potential to become great players. They were chosen for the scholarship mutually by us and Corvuss,” said Geeta Gera, manager (systems and operations) at Hi5 Foundation.
Fifteen-year-old Prabhat Mishra, who also wants to become an NBA player, said he loves the “speed game” of basketball, which has also improved his health. “Since I started playing, I have followed a diet that includes eggs, milk and apples. I used to practice at school for at least one hour daily,” he said. A student of Dixit Road BMC school, Mishra’s father works as a cab driver for app-based services. Having shifted to the Karjat campus, Mishra has been receiving training in understanding coordinates of the game, dribbling and jumps.
“US is the mecca for basketball. At Corvuss, we have an in-house college counselor and nutritionist who will start working with these selected kids to ensure that they participate in right tournaments. There are sessions to help students improve their strength and conditioning for the game, apart from video analysis with coaches among other things. Post-completion of the high school, the children will be provided with assistance in applying for American colleges and scholarships for higher studies,” said Leena Pandit, director (marketing and communications) at Corvuss’s Karjat campus. Aakanksha Foundation, another partner NGO with the BMC, has been supporting the students get admissions to reputed colleges in India and abroad. For the 2020-21 academic year, one student has been placed in IIT Kharagpur, four students in Delhi’s Ashoka University, and one in Wheaton College, Illinois.
When contacted, Joint Municipal Commissioner Ashutosh Salil said, “I have visited some of the schools where these kids are being trained. The kids are so passionate about the sport and it has raised their confidence to another level. At BMC we are partnering with credible NGOs and ensuring they receive speedy permissions from our end to implement such endeavours.”