In this edition of NBA India All-Access , we welcome Ann Mary Zachariah. She is a former camper at two previous NBA Academy India Women's Camps.
On July 29th, 2020, the 16-year-old from Kerala announced her commitment to Life Prep Academy in Wichita, Kansas. With that, she became the third (at that time) Indian-born girl since 2019 to announce her commitment to high-school hoops in the United States.
The 6'2" forward has represented India in two junior FIBA tournaments (U16 Asian Championship 2017, U18 Asian Championship 2019) and both times, she was a member of the Division B winning Indian squad.
A recipient of the Coaches Award at the second NBA Academy India Women's Camp in Jan. 2019, Ann Mary was also one of four Indian girls (seven Indians total) to be invited to the NCAA Next Generation Showcase program 2019.
In May of 2019, at the 36th Youth National Basketball Championship, she led her state's girls squad [Kerala] to the title by scoring 40 points in the final against Tamil Nadu . She was then named player of the tournament. In October, she was also a member of the Kerala squad that was crowned girls champions at the 70th Junior National championship.
As she prepares to travel halfway across the world, the young star spoke exclusively to NBA.com/India's Yash Matange about her family's reaction on the news of her commitment to the Life Prep Academy, how the NBA Academy has helped her game develop, the NBA India Games experience, how her love affair with basketball began and so much more. Here's how the conversation went:
NBA.com: What was your initial reaction and that of your family's when your commitment to Life Prep Academy was made official?
Ann Mary Zachariah: My family's reaction was that they were so happy because, from my state [Kerala] , I'm the first girl right. So, they are very proud of me and they are very happy. They have been very supportive about me going there to praticse and work hard.
My reaction was I didn't really expect this. I would always feel like I should go there but I didn't think I would get this opportunity. I'm so happy and we are all so happy.
NBA.com: At Life Prep Academy, you would also be playing alongside a fellow NBA Academy India camper in Siya Deodhar. Was it planned for the two of you to be teammates? How excited are you to play with her on your team?
Zachariah: When Siya also announced that she was coming, I wasn't scared about going there anymore because my friend was also coming. If I go alone, I'm so scared because it's new people, new country, new friends.
No, no. We hadn't planned to be teammates. It just happened.
NBA.com: How do you feel going to the NBA Academy India Women's camps impacted your game?
Zachariah: When I started [playing] basketball, I didn't know about the WNBA. I just wanted to play at a high-level and win at that. I was in Chennai, Tamil Nadu when I started playing basketball. Then, when I was in the sixth grade, I went to Kerala and played [youth] nationals. So, I didn't know about the NBA camps.
After a few years, the NBA Academy Women's Programme came to India in Noida. The NBA and the other coaches supported me a lot. It's because of them that I have gotten this great opportunity. I learnt a lot of things there from off-the-court to on-the-court, how to play, and how to behave.
Mid-range shooting and feed work is where my game improved the most in these camps.
NBA.com: The most recent camp was in Mumbai in October 2019 during the week of the first-ever NBA India Games. What was that experience like, being around NBA players?
Zachariah: That was a huge experience because the NBA came to India for the first time. So, I was so happy because it was my first time seeing NBA players and being a ball-girl for them. Giving the ball to them, I was so happy.
We also took photos, did some dribbling with them. So, I was really happy.
NBA.com: During the lockdown in India, enforced to combat the COVID-19 virus, how did you manage to stay fit despite not being able to leave your home and overcome any mental challenges that came with it?
Zachariah: During the lockdown, I used to practise daily in the morning and evening for strengthening. Actually before the lockdown, in my school, we used to only practice feed work and not strengthening. So during the lockdown months, I was able to focus more on that and strengthening my core.
Some days, the Academy would do Zoom calls, including the Academy boys, and have a different guest each day like Satnam Singh. So, we'll know about them and what we should do to remain good.
NBA.com: How and when did you start playing basketball? And what's the ultimate dream?
Zachariah: It was because of my parents, both of them are former Indian players. Right from when I was really young, I used to like dribbling the ball, going to the court and playing. My parents were my first coaches, helping me decide what I should play and how I should play. They only thought me everything.
The WNBA is the ultimate dream but a D-1 college before that.
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