How was the atmosphere in your family when you first started playing Basketball?
I was always encouraged by my family. I don’t ever remember being told not to play. My father got me a basketball goal when I was little. I and him were never too close but he still got me that goal and that was a really big deal for me. I started playing from the elementary school. I was never discouraged from playing unless I was in trouble which looking back I think I always was. I guess I just got lucky.
Did being a girl ever make it difficult to pursue sports?
It was hard as a girl. As a little girl you generally suck at Basketball. You aren’t strong enough neither tall. You are just really not good. But then you are a little girl and everyone would try and be nice and let you play with them. Though it is a different story that they would never pass you the ball.
I had two brothers and I had to be dependent on them when I was little. They would always want to play video games while I would want to be on the basketball court. Trying to get them to the park to play was a major hassle, very difficult to accomplish. I will also say that in America there is a clear distinction between how many people watch women sports versus men sports. There is a difference in the numbers.
Though luckily once I was in school it became much easier. Playing basketball became routine. It was like going through the stages- figuring out what you want to do, and then you try to convince your parents to support you. If they don’t that sucks! But if they do you are good. In America it’s not too hard to get on the team, because everyone wants to do it. Sports is huge here. It is pretty well accepted and popularised. Everyone doesn’t want their kid to be a professional athlete but everyone wants their kid to do something they love and be good at it.
How is the structure of city in relation to sports?
Structure is all the same in every city. How far you get as an athlete is just based on how you move up in the structure. It is based on your skill level, confidence and how hard you are ready to work. I always felt like I was always better than the other girls. Because I was playing basketball as a little girl and most of the girls didn’t really care so much about the sport.
Before you go to elementary school they have private organisations or local city organisations. Like city of Richardson has a YMCA where they have the T-Ball leagues where you just pay and join the league. How you join, how you get involved it is all online now. So it is pretty structured that sports is offered by every city. Most cities offer these programs.
This is through your Parks and Recreation department and hence publically funded. I just played in the park across the street in the park. I would always play with the grown men. I never played in the private league.
How is the school structure in regards to sports?
School really structures it very easy to move up. Because for the most part if you want to play you can play. It’s not like in college where you have to meet a certain skill level. Most schools offer whatever is the most popular sport. The demand for the sport comes from the parents and students. When a school is built the infrastructure is built to accommodate all the popular sports. But if the sport is not available and a lot of parents and students want to play Badminton, for example, the school needs to make sure that Badminton is offered. It could be through putting the court up on the basketball court. The school is responsible to direct the operation and fund it.
The infrastructure is paid for by school. You can attend a school and know that your child can play a sport. It’s not like an unorganised structure where you have to create a place for sports. It is already ingrained in the school system.
How do you start competing in sports?
You compete against elementary schools in your school district. There is some kind of zoning involved. It is a hierarchical structure. It ends at national level. You can play till the national level in the high school and not in the elementary school I think.
You don’t play privately for the district state or the national (Like we do in India where we represent our district or state). The only way you go up the ladder is by representing the school. The only time we play privately is during the summer for the summer league. Playing for the school is a much bigger deal than playing private leagues till high school.
Do you get any added grade or marks for being an athlete in school?
You don’t get extra marks or grades for playing a sport in school. You just have to participate in a Physical Education class
How do things change from high school?
When you are trying to be a professional athlete you get scouted by professional leagues. Scouting agencies know everything about you. Right from your performances from the elementary school level to high school. So once you get to high school you are scouted by colleges. Depending on your skill level you are also scouted by professional leagues. Now you have to graduate high school to play. I don’t think it’s a requirement that you have to graduate from college to play professional sports though. Professional leagues are totally privatised.
How do you get recruited into the professional leagues or colleges?
If you are really good you don’t have to be worried about getting recruited by a college. There is a very structured format and regulations about how they can recruit you. They send you an email and then talk to your coach and tell him they are interested in his player. They can solicit themselves very much. You can then visit the schools and look at the programs they offer and make your decision. Legally colleges cant incentivise athletes to come to their schools. It is against the law. Though it does happen.
How did you get into University of Texas in Dallas?
I got a few letters from various places. I knew I wanted to play college sports. I wasn’t getting letters that they would pay for my school. I wasn’t that good but there are athletic scholarships too. But it’s a just recruiting process based on your skill level.
I wanted to play sports but academics was very important to me. So in my case I approached the UTD basketball coach and UTD is small and their athletic program is not massive so it’s not impossible to get in. I just asked the coach of my school to approach the college coach here. I had to go to try out which is called ‘walking on’. And then I got selected into UTD.
Does playing a sport have any benefits for you once you retire?
Playing a sport does not guarantee you a job outside sports. Though the professional level has insane amounts of money. They get a lot of money from advertisement. Almost every advertisement in US has an athlete in it. The future after sport is into sports. Most of the athletes here may not have a college degree or be professionally trained to do any other jobs. Athletes who are well equipped will be wanted by a lot of companies for marketing but the likelihood of that happening is pretty slim. Here it’s like sports is your only career and the funding is here for you to make a choice like that. You don’t need to have two careers. Sports is it. You can go all out with being an athlete without giving it a second thought because there is so much money in it. And I think that’s why America has like a 100 medals in the Olympics.
Though you can’t play sports forever. It’s like finding that balance is difficult. Once you retire you don’t have the educational training and then it does become a depressing turn of events. Because you go on skipping the steps that would get you ready to have a career after sport. For those who didn’t weave education and sports together it makes it very difficult for them after sports. If they don’t have educational training than all you can do is get a job that is involved in sports. Let me assure you though that it is not really such a bad option. Once you are a professional athlete money is mostly never an issue.
So would you say that sports in America is a public- private partnership?
Yes, I would add people into that. I think it is a public-private-people partnership. Like my school gave me the infrastructure and designed a structure to play Basketball. Nike a private company sponsored my apparel in school. Nike came to our school not as charity but because it was a great marketing strategy. Why was it a great marketing strategy? Because hundreds of people would come to watch our matches, whatever level of match we were playing. I hardly remember playing a match without an audience. We are blessed that way being athletes in America. The whole of America be it public-private or people invests in us. Be it their time, money or values. It is therefore no wonder we produce so many stars.