We are the speediest basketball players in South Asia | Sunday Observer

We are the speediest basketball players in South Asia

11 October, 2020

Praneeth Udumalagala is a prominent basketball player in Sri Lanka. He participated in the United States of America basketball tournament. In 2019, he was a member of the national basketball team at the South Asian Games in Nepal and won a silver medal. The Youth Observer met him to find out about his sports career.

Q: Praneeth, How did you start playing baseball?

A: When I was in grade four at St Joseph’s College, the prefects announced that basketball training will start soon and newcomers will be allowed to join practices. I mentioned this to my father and he inspired and encouraged me to start this game.

Q: Before taking to basketball were you involved with sports?

A: Yes. Swimming was my first sport. I was also the best swimmer I during my time. However, after starting basketball I have greatly bonded with it and I am bound to it. I do not know the reason for that.

Swimming is an individual sport and basketball is a team event. I think this may be why I am so attracted to basketball. During my school days I did both swimming and basketball.

Q: Basketball is not a popular game in our country. Why did you choose this game? Do you have any specific reason for your choice?

A: I have never had a special reason for it. Because of the way I have been attracted to this game I feel that I may have had a link with it in a former life.. My friends also influenced me to join this game. Finally, I became a basketball player.

Q: Do you remember the year you became a national basketball player?

A: In 2011, I was selected to the national team. Before, my Advanced Level examination I had a chance to represent my country. I think it was a major opportunity in my career. Since then, I have represented my country. At that time I also played for club tournaments.

Q: You were also a swimmer at that time?

A: I achieved new records in the under 17 and under 19 swimming events at that time. But all those records have been broken now. However, I have proven my skills as a swimmer and I am proud about my swimming career.

Q: What are the milestones in your basketball?

A: At that time I was the youngest player in our national team. Day by day I sharpened my skills. But, unfortunately I faced an unfortunate incident in my sports career which was an injury to my leg muscle. At that time my father had been diagnosed with cancer and was seriously ill. Therefore, I could not perform well and after a short while my father became terminal.. He was working in the army and both of us were very close for each other. So, his death was affected me seriously.

Q: You are the first player who participated in a basketball club tournament in the United States. How did you get that opportunity?

A: I do not know whether I was the first or not. However, I did it. When my father was terminal I was around 19 years old. Both of us have been dreaming of my participating in club tournaments in the United States (USA). Even after his death I never gave up my dream. Then, I won an academic scholarship to the USA. It was not a full scholarship and my mother asked how we could manage it. I said to my mother that I would like to accept that scholarship and have the confidence to play club tournaments in the USA. After I went to the USA I had the chance to play in their club tournaments as well.

Q: Without winning a full scholarship how did you balance your finances?

A: My mother gave me some money and my friends also helped me. After the first year, I was successful in joining their basketball team. It created a path for my studies.

Q: You represented one winning basketball team in the USA. Can you remember it?

A: Why not? I represented the wining team of three championships and a national championship. In the third year as a student there I fulfilled my dream. Then, I was planning to show my full ability in the fourth and final year of my studies. When we started our practices in Los Angeles I suffered a severe injury in my leg muscle again and I could not play for the whole of that year.

Q: That was an unfortunate incident in your sports career. After that, did you come back to Sri Lanka again?

A: After completing my studies I won an honourary degree. At that time, they treated me very well and I had surgery for my leg. It took me one year to recover. Then, I came back to Sri Lanka?

Q: We cannot dominate in South Asian basketball yet. What are the reasons for that?

A: India has good professional players. But we do not have any professional players yet. Otherwise we have good physical attributes like height. We are shorter than them. It is also a disadvantage for us.

Q: Do you think basketball players have enough facilities in our country?

A: No. There is no indoor stadium for basketball. We have only the Sugthadasa indoor sports complex for it.

But, it is not always used for our training. Normally, we train and play matches in outdoor courts. Butt India and most of other South Asian countries have more facilities than us. But we won second place in South Asia. That is the proof of our skills.

Q: What about our coaching system?

A: Our coaches say that they have insufficient international exposure. I also believe it. If we can give them more exposure and experience they can be more successful. It is part of the financial constraint of this sport.

Q: Why do you say this?

A: It is very easy. If you talk to the coaches they can confirm it. At the last South Asian Games (SAG) most teams came with their foreign national coaches.

But we do not have a foreign coach. One or two weeks prior to the game we got the services of a foreign coach but it was not enough to hone our skills. If we can combine the services of a foreign coach with a local coaching panel we will be more successful. It will also benefit our coaches as they can gain more knowledge.

Q: Basketball is very speedy game. Do you believe that we have enough speed for this sport?

A: Yes. We are the speediest team in South Asia.

Q: Do you think we can use that speed to beat India in basketball?

A: We can. But we must practice for a longtime.. But, we are not yet professional basketball players or a league tournament team yet. There are difficulties in building a skillful team.

Q: If this is the situation of basketball how can we win at this game?

A: We must at least have semiprofessional players for basketball. If we can brand the game the sponsors will come forward to strengthen our sport. Before that we have to increase our spectator base. I was in the USA during the Carlton Cup Basketball Tournament where they had been trying to do this. But it was stopped. As if we can start it again can develop our Basketball very speedily

Q: What do you think of the development in school basketball?

A: If we can introduce the sport to most of our schools and telecast the tournament it will be worthwhile to develop the game.

Q: We like to hear about your personal life?

A: I work as a trainer in basketball and run my family business. St. Joseph’s College and a few companies and international schools have hired me as their basketball trainer. I have plenty of work.