New home of basketball in Shillong

The North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health and Medical Sciences, or NEIGRIHMS as it is colloquially called, has been standing on the outskirts of Shillong since 1987.

In the last three decades, the institute would have come to the rescue of thousands of patients. Many would have used educational and research institutions in the facility.

Lately, however, NEIGRIHMS has been caring for and nurturing a different kind of patient, and with a special interest. Its pink hue was seen in the city on Tuesday.

The indoor complex of NEIGRIHMS hosted the women’s basketball final at the 2nd North East Olympic Games, located in the heart of the complex. The facility has also been home to the Meghalaya men’s and women’s teams over the past six months.

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“The reason why we’re here is because we don’t have a dedicated basketball facility,” says Andrew Sutting, the women’s team manager.

NEIGRIHMS is the team’s temporary base before the Indoor Stadium at JN Sports Complex, which cost Rs. 125 crores, comes up.

Before moving to NEIGRIHMS, the team practiced at St. Anthony’s Higher Secondary School. It is the only other indoor basketball court available at this time. The venue also hosts the regional championships. But for an event as big as the Olympic Games, the venue had to be grand, and Sutting knew a way out.

“I have to thank the Medical Superintendent Dr C Daniyala. He himself is an avid basketball player and has been a great supporter of the game. He used to play with me in college and the relationship progressed.”

Patrons are hard to come by in Shillong, where football takes the lion’s share of the cake. The paucity of players and coaches taking up the sport makes the task difficult.

“Till the advent of football, there was a basketball culture in Meghalaya. Being a hilly area, there is more space available for a basketball court in smaller venues than in larger football fields.

“But in the last 10 years, there has been a decline. There was a lack of coaches and obviously infrastructure,” says Sutting.

Even with dwindling interest, the sport has found a lifeline among those dedicated to reviving the sport. Sut shows the way.

After working in football administration in the Indian Super League and I-League, Sutting turned to basketball. He says it was an attempt to translate the learnings from football into basketball.

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“The experience helped to understand what it takes to run a club, what it takes for the players to be at their best. He is translating well. We have reached a point where we are hosting the championship, and the spectators are coming,” says Sutting.

Sikkim coach Sonam Barphungpa (left), captain Lima Lhasungpa and fitness coach Tashi Lhamu Bhutia with the trophy.

Sikkim coach Sonam Barphungpa (left), captain Lima Lhasungpa and fitness coach Tashi Lhamu Bhutia with the trophy. , photo credit: Abhishek Saini

About 1,500 turned up for the women’s finals on Tuesday. Unfortunately for Suting, Meghalaya lost. Sikkim ran away with the game 86-67.

Sikkim also has a similar story. As in Meghalaya, people do not play basketball here due to lack of economic benefits.

However, post COVID-19, the basketball ecosystem in the state has seen an improvement. Something which players and coaches feel made all the difference in the women’s team winning the gold in Shillong.

“We have just started a league with the Basketball Association of Sikkim. Games take place every weekend. The competition lasts for a year and the teams participate in the playoffs at the end. Very similar to NBA,” says Sikkim head coach Sonam Barphungpa.

The top players of this league were brought in for a month-long camp to prepare for the Olympic Games. The association also got a dedicated fitness coach to help with the preparations.

Given the tight finances of basketball, many players continued to work day jobs to support themselves even during camp. The captain of the team, Lima Choden Lhasungpa, a teacher at a hotel management institute in Gangtok, is one such player.

“It was a busy month (of training camp). I went to the court in the morning for fitness drills, took lectures in the afternoon, and then returned to the court in the evening for practice,” says Lima.

“In Sikkim, basketball is a seasonal sport. The players don’t want to continue with it as it has no future. Players like me, who have played for so long, want to take up the mantle and encourage younger players to take it up. The league makes a difference there.

Sonam says that the association is planning to implement a common league for the Under-17, Under-19 and Under-21 age groups. The example of the women’s team should accelerate the process.

For Sonam and Suting, the week spent in Shillong has been a modest reward for their efforts. This will encourage them to continue. They admit that matching the quality of some of the other states in the country is a tough task. Enterprises such as the upcoming indoor stadium in Shillong will help in this cause. And unlike a basketball game where there’s a scoring opportunity every 24 seconds, this shot will require a long clock.

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