A month ago, two of India’s finest women’s basketball players – Geethu Anna Jose and Anitha Paul Durai – were invited to play in the inaugural women’s professional basketball league in Thailand after their exceptional gold-medal winning performance at the 3rd Asian Beach Games. Anitha became the second Indian player to play professionally in a foreign league; while Jose – who has had experience playing professionally in Australia and even earned trials with several WNBA teams last year – was the first.
Jose stands out as the greatest Indian basketball player of this generation, if not one of the greatest of all time. She has dominated Asian competitions in international tournaments and at many times been India’s only answer counter world-class talent from abroad.
Now 27, Jose is in the prime of her basketball-playing career, but many – including Jose – feel that her prime may be wasted on a platform too small for her caliber of talent. India doesn’t yet have a professional league, and her stint in Thailand only lasted a month. She still has dreams of becoming the first Indian to play in the WNBA, but she may not have too many years of her peak years left.
I got a chance to interview Jose after her stint in Thailand, about her experiences playing for the Sripatum University in Bangkok with Anitha, her hopes of seeing a similar basketball league in India, and her thoughts about the future of her own career. Jose, as always, was completely frank and honest in her answers, providing interesting insight into the world where even India’s greatest women’s basketball player has to face struggles.
Hoopistani: First of all, congratulations Geethu for getting a chance to play in Thailand. How did you find the experience playing there with Anitha? What were your other new teammates like?
Jose: Thank you! The exposure of playing in different country helped me gain confidence, and I was so happy that Anitha could also join with me. Three of Thailand’s main national team players were in my team; we did well but lost the Semi-Finals of the tournament, although the team was satisfied with the result. I really enjoyed playing there, and especially playing with Anitha: our co-ordination was excellent.
Jose: The competition level was much higher compared to India. It was the first time they held this type of league there, and many talented players from the USA and Canada also participated.
Hoopistani: Will you go back to play in Thailand again?
Jose: Yes, the team has told me to be back for next season, too, but I haven’t decided yet, because I have received a few professional offers from other countries, too.
Hoopistani: Where else have you been offered to play professionally?
Jose: Most recently, I received an offer to play in a professional league in Portugal, but I haven’t decided whether I’m going to go play there or not. The chief problem is that the league lasts for a long time – seven months in a year – and I have to take some more time to decide on it.
Hoopistani:We don’t have a league in India yet, even though there has been a lot of talk about it. What is your opinion on this? How long do you think it will take for India to have a professional league?
Jose: I don’t know why we keep on talking about the professional league in India, because clearly, it seems that the league is not starting. We really need to start it, and it’s already late. Unbelievable!
Hoopistani: You have a lot of international experience now – in Australia and Thailand – what have you learnt on how can we make our potential Indian league like theirs?
Jose: It’s simple: start it like a small league initially and see how that works. In the initial stage, call only one foreign import in each team, and play games all over the country. Let’s spread the basketball fever as much as we can! It will definitely work!
Hoopistani: You came very close to making the WNBA last year. How did it feel after coming so close? Do you think you have another shot at it?
Jose: A few years ago, when I got selected to play in the WNBL in Australia, I thought ‘This is it, my dream has come true at last! I made the WNBL!’ I knew that even getting a trial with the WNBA I could be making history, and when I got the opportunity, it was really very unexpected. I was extremely happy when I got the WNBA tryouts. I didn’t want to have any regrets in my life so I gave it my all. Unfortunately, the results were negative, and I was quite disappointed. Now, I don’t know whether I can tryout next time.
Hoopistani Former Duke assistant Coach Pete Gaudet was the Indian Women’s squad head coach last year. What was your opinion of him?
Jose: Pete Gaudet really helped the team last year. Our performance was far better with him, and other national teams saw that India had improved in the international stage. Personally, he was good for me because I improved my post game because of him.
Hoopistani: Do you think we need another foreign coach to lead the Women’s team?
Jose: Yes, we really need a good foreign coach for India. Or else, at least we should send good young Indian coaches abroad for coaching clinics so that they can improve and then come back to help India.
Hoopistani: What do you dream of achieving in your future in basketball?
Jose: My dream is to play in the WNBA, and after that, I want to be the coach of my country, of the Indian team! I dream of becoming a good coach who can understand the players well.
Hoopistani: Imagine that you were in charge of running basketball in India: how would you improve it so the game can become bigger in the future?
Jose: If I was in charge, I would give the national team at least three or four good foreign exposure tournaments every year, and call other national teams to play in friendly games with us in India. And I would have made sure to push for the biggest professional league in India: it would have started in no time!