The alarm clock starts ringing. The infamous Delhi cold is impossible to ignore any longer, 'winter has come'. The clock says 5:30 AM when he wakes up and nothing but darkness can be seen outside the window. As he gets ready, he starts making a checklist in his mind about his agenda for the day. He is out of the front door in less than an hour. Still no dawn. It is only on his way to one of the village projects that the first rays of sunshine start creeping through the clouds to illuminate the wide yet largely deserted roads of Noida.
Pradyut Voleti is a basketball skills trainer and the founder of the Dribble Academy Foundation, a non-profit organisation that provides basketball training and education to underprivileged kids. Pradyut first fell in love with basketball after watching the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers live at the 2001 NBA finals on a family trip to the US. He started playing the sport with a passion and played at the school, college and national level. A clinical psychologist by profession, Pradyut got into basketball coaching in 2013 by teaching kids in his colony and nearby societies.
As the number of kids started increasing, Pradyut discovered his calling and decided to quit his job and go to USA to train under Ganon Baker, a renowned NBA and NCAA skills trainer. On his return, he founded the Dribble Academy Foundation. The first village project was when his foundation adopted Gheja, a small village in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. With just a dirt ground, two bamboo sticks and a ring, Pradyut started encouraging the local, underprivileged kids to pick up basketball. His initial efforts were met with apprehension, especially from the girls' families who saw sport as a waste of time. Slowly, the number of kids started increasing, and within a year Pradyut was already working with hundreds of kids, almost half of them girls.
As he approaches the school, he can already hear the unmistakable sound of basketballs hitting against the concrete. Hundreds of kids can be seen training on the court. Once he reaches, he starts by speaking to the coaches to understand how the kids are progressing and checks if their requirements are being met. He then takes over the workout himself and gives the kids specialized drills for their skill development. He then sometimes takes pictures or videos to share on social media.
The morning training sessions are followed by breakfast after which Pradyut heads to the office. Much of his late mornings and afternoons are concerned with brainstorming future locations for village projects, connecting with local stakeholders and trying to secure funding from corporates. He also allots time to analyse the basketball performance of his programme, looking at game footage and discovering future areas of focus. Further, he discusses what general topics, subjects or documentaries would be taught/shown to the kids at the evening classes which is followed by lunch. Once evening starts, it is time to hit the courts again.
Fast forward five year to now, Dribble Academy has blossomed into a life changer for its kids. Shaily, one of Pradyut's earliest female students from Gheja has received a full five-year scholarship at a top private school in Noida. Five kids from Dribble Academy are playing at the Junior NBA level and some of them got the opportunity to go to Orlando, Florida in August '18 for the Junior NBA World Championship. These kids now act as role models and help assist in coaching even more kids. The foundation has helped launch four village projects where more than a thousand kids receive basketball training, education and life skills coaching.
Each year, Dribble Academy receives international volunteers from countries like USA, Denmark and Poland who try to contribute to the program. In the last couple of years, Pradyut has also honed his skills as a skills coach over multiple trips to the US and Canada. He shadowed Hall of Fame NCAA coach Geno Auriemma and his University of Connecticut Huskies women's basketball team. He was also mentored by coach Cody Toppert, a former Head Coach of the G-League team Norther Arizona Suns and current assistant coach of the Phoenix Suns. Pradyut has also worked with Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer and at the basketball programmes of Stanford University, Davidson College and Southern Methodist University. In the next 10 years, Pradyut aims to adopt more than 20 schools and train over 4,000 kids.
The evening sessions are more intense and more focused on scrimmaging and improving their performance level. They are followed by a mandatory class which include life skills like English, general knowledge, computers, documentaries on current issues among others.
By the time Pradyut wraps up everything at the facility and heads home, it is already night time. He takes an hour or two to watch NBA footage, and being a true basketball geek, makes notes of what actions they are running, how they can be incorporated into his coaching sessions for the next day. He then eats his dinner and passes out only to repeat the same routine the next day.