|Consulate staff enjoy a match of basketball at the Sports Coaching Foundation|
If the National Basketball Association really is scouting India for the first player with the potential to make it big-time, ala China’s Yao Ming, they’d better book a ticket to Hyderabad. Fast.
That’s what I didn’t know before agreeing to match up against local kids in a friendly basketball game Friday afternoon.
I jumped onboard as soon as I heard the Public Affairs Section was recruiting American officers for a game at the Sports Coaching Foundation. After all, I’ve got a pretty solid background in basketball. Okay, I haven’t played on a school team since 5th grade and my intramural team recorded only one win in two seasons, but still, my hometown back in Wisconsin is a basketball hotbed. The Fond du Lac Cardinals regularly win state championships and my sister’s classmate made it all the way to the Final Four and a starting spot on an NBA roster. And it’s safe to call my college a powerhouse. The University of Wisconsin Badgers just beat the #1 team in the country! That pedigree has to count for something.
I knew we were in trouble, though, the moment we stepped out of the car. Tucked next to Chacha Nehru Park in a modest corner of the city, the non-profit organization’s dusty sports field is brought to life with that magical sound of children at play, universal in any land. Huddled up on one side of the sports field, a team of girls, all sporting matching blue jerseys. On another side, a team of boys, even taller and older, in matching yellow. They looked like they knew what they were doing.
But still, I was optimistic. These were only schoolchildren, after all.
As we warmed up, the crowd grew little by little. The other sportsters -- the cricket boys, the gymnastics girls and the tennis-wallah -- took a break to ring the court. And plenty of parents joined them. After calling everyone’s attention, Mr. Saibaba, the founder of Sports Coaching Foundation, was kind enough to announce our all-star line-up and asked us each to introduce ourselves. And in truth, I earned more applause with the microphone than with the gameplay that was to come.
“Namaskaramu, na peru Jeremy,” I started, to cheers from the half of the crowd that prefers Telugu. The other half clapped when I parroted “Namaste, mera naam Jeremy hai,” in Hyderabad’s other major language, Hindi/Urdu.
“Mai university me hindi urdu parta ta…kani ee rojlu na telugu na hindi urdu kante chala bagundi,” I said, blending the two very different languages together, as so often happens here on such a diverse subcontinent.
But it was the kids’ chance to show off their skills just as soon as the ball was tipped. The blue-clad girls won the tip and raced down the court. A few well-executed passes, a dribble or two, a swish. Girls 2, Consulate 0. I glanced at one of my coworkers and all he could offer was a shake of the head.
We had walked into a trap. These kids were ringers!
For 15 minutes, the girls found hole after hole in our defense, even if our height and superior bulk kept us in the game. After a short time-out, it was the boys’ turn to embarrass us. They chose to do their damage with the fast break. Lay-up after lay-up. Even the third game, a mixed group of younger kids, was more than we could handle.
But even if the scoreboard wasn’t in our favor Friday, we walked away with our heads held high and a smile on our faces. It was great to see kids of all creeds having fun on the Sports Coaching Foundation, learning real life lessons from both the coaches and the value of gameplay.
Plus, I’m hoping these Hyderabadi kids will keep me in mind for a pair of front row tickets just as soon as they make it onto an NBA roster.