Battling the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on everyone, irrespective of race, profession, age, country, physique, and financial status. And possibly, it's the measures that need to be followed to curb the spread of the virus that have been more impactful especially social distancing.
"The first couple of days were very tough. All of a sudden you don't have to follow your daily routine and sit at home doing nothing," Siya Deodhar said in an exclusive chat with NBA.com/India in the last week of June.
Deodhar, a 17-year-old point guard hailing from Nagpur, Maharashtra, is among the rising stars of Indian Basketball's women's division.
How she dealt with the lockdown, in these unprecedented times, is similar to her fellow NBA Academy India student-athletes (boys and girls).
MORE: Siya participates in NBA Basketball School India's Live Session
"The NBA Academy group used to send, and they still send workouts. Our Indian camp took a lot of initiatives and now, we do a lot of workouts together. I've set my timetable according to that, so I workout everyday."
The NBA Academy has played a huge role in Deodhar's recent rise. It gave her a stage to showcase her talent while also providing her the opportunity to learn from elite foreign coaches.
She is one of only three girls to have attended all three NBA Academy India Women's Camps (May 2018, Jan. 2019, Oct. 2019). In fact, she is the only camper to receive an award in each of the camps.
"I developed as a player and also as a human being," Deodhar adds, talking about the NBA Academy India Women's Camps. "Each camp I started performing better and better. There was a boost in confidence."
In the first camp, she was named Most Improved Player. Then, in the next two camps, she bagged the 'Teammate Award'.
The most recent NBA Academy India Women's Camp was conducted in Mumbai, in the same week as the first-ever NBA India Games.
The boys and girls from the Academy received a chance to be up-close with the players of the Sacramento Kings and the Indiana Pacers in as the ball-boys for the two games at the NSCI Dome.
Like a lot of the Academy's student-athletes, the first-ever NBA games in India were a 'dream come true moment' for Deodhar.
However, during Game 1, the spotlight was slightly brighter on her as she took part in the 'Mutombo Challenge' in the halftime break.
"Before the game, I had got to know that I had to do that [the 'Mutombo Challenge'] and I was very scared, to be honest, but then that nervousness turned into confidence. It was great. I mean, every player didn't get to that and I got that opportunity, so I feel very blessed"
Speaking on the entire NBA India Games week as a whole, Deodhar added, "We [NBA Academy India student-athletes] got to know the players as well as the coaches, their experiences and what took them beyond that place. That's very motivating and then you also feel like doing the same and getting to these heights.
Her rise didn't stop there and it wasn't restricted to just India. In the past 18 months, she's also been among the shortlist of girls who have been selected for multiple global training-and-development camps.
In April 2019, she was one of seven Indians (four girl s) to participate at the NCAA Next Generation Showcase. In August last year, she was one of four Indians (two girls) at the Basketball Without Border Asia Camp in Tokyo, Japan.
Most recently, in February, she was one of three Indians (two girls) picked for the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp, held during the 2020 All-Star Weekend in Chicago.
"In India, you are one of the best but then, when you play with the Asians or with players from all around the globe, you experience that they are physically tough and their basics are very clear. You feel like contending with them, at the same time, you learn a lot of things from them."
"We [India] don't even play in A Division of the FIBA Asia Cup, so proving to them that we have talent and we can perform. That was what I mainly wanted to prove there."
There's no debating Deodhar's claim on there being skilled ballers in India. Over the past decade, both Indian men and women have broken new ground - playing professional basketball outside the country.
In fact, the first Indian basketball player selected for NBA/WNBA tryouts (in 2011) was a woman by the name of Geethu Anna Rahul, arguably the greatest Indian basketball player ever (men and women). Prior to that, she set the record for becoming the first Indian to play professionally in Australia in 2008.
MORE: Indian Basketball's GOAT Debate
Since then, a couple of other women in Anita Pauldurai (Thailand) and Jeena Skaria (Australia) have also played professionally outside of India but for Deodhar, she grew up watching someone more closer to home.
"When I played my first state or national championship, I admired Shireen Limaye the most. She represented India and she was from Maharashtra. So, I got to see her play in state championships, as well as when it comes to FIBA Asia Cup and national tournaments."
Limaye, currently a regular member of the senior Indian women's basketball team, was the youngest ever to represent Indian basketball at the age of 16 in 2011. Being part of the gold-medal winning squad at the 2012 Asian Games in 3x3 basketball, she is among a shortlist of Indians to have won a medal, let alone gold, at a major international tournament.
Just like these accomplished players, Deodhar hopes to create a name for herself even if it's in a sport that she fell in love with sort off by accident. A swimmer in middle school, she transitioned to basketball when timings weren't working out for her.
Amidst the ongoing gradual relaxation of the lockdowns in India, Deodhar continues to take precautions and stay safe, however, she has not lost sight of her ambition and dream.
"My goal would be playing in the United States - college basketball. This is one thing that I really want to do and that's the current goal and probably to the WNBA after that. "
If she makes it to the WNBA, she would be the first Indian ever to do so.
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