Welcome to our Indian Basketball Pioneer series.
Each week throughout the month of April we'll be celebrating one of the pioneers of our game. The ones who helped elevate the game in our country. The ones who broke through glass ceilings and walked through closed doors.
The names in the game, that should never be forgotten.
This week we highlight Prashanti Singh.
Prashanti Singh is one of the most celebrated basketball players India has ever produced.
One-fifth of the famous "Singh Sisters," she's won a record total of 22 medals across multiple national tournaments. On the international stage, her five medals are highlighted by two gold medals, one of which came in 2011 at the first Asian Beach Games in Sri Lanka.
Prashanti was honoured by her home state of Uttar Pradesh with the prestigious Rani Laxmi Bai Bravery Award for the year 2016-17. On the national level, she earned the Arjuna Award (only third woman ever) and Padma Shree Award (first Indian basketball player ever) in 2017 and 2019, respectively.
I feel honoured and humbled to be conferred with prestigious #PadmaAward .Thanks to all my family,friends,well-wishers for supporting me. pic.twitter.com/p36vyHs0DN- प्रशांति सिंह (@prashanti14) March 16, 2019
She's among the earliest Indian basketball players - perhaps even the first - to have a documentary featured on her life and career, called " B Cube (Boskey Basketball Banaras) ."
Prashanti is the middle of five sisters, four of whom have represented the Indian national team.
The eldest Priyanka, who represented her state of Uttar Pradesh, is often given credit for paving the way for her younger sister to rise even further. Divya (second oldest) and Prashanti are the two of the four that played for India to have captained the national squad, while the younger duo of Akansha and Pratima have played multiple tournaments as part of the national team's set-up.
Given Prashanti's age, she's played with each of the four sisters at different stages and at different points in her career.
She played alongside Priyanka while representing their state team, then made her national team debut at the 2006 Commonwealth Games when Divya was the captain and was the captain herself when her younger sisters joined the national team roster.
Memorable career highlights
During her near decade-long international career, Singh featured and/or captained the Indian national team in multiple notable international events - something of a rarity among women's basketball athletes.
She participated in one Commonwealth Games (2006) and seven FIBA Asia Women's Championships. In fact, she was the first women's basketball player to play in on CWG, seven FIBA ABC's and two Asian Games, including 2010, which is when the Indian women participated in the tournament for the first time in 28 years.
Her most memorable performances came in 2011. In the 33rd William Jones Cup in Taiwan, Prashanti was the spark behind India's memorable upset win over South Korea.
She scored 12 of her 16 points for the game in the third quarter, including a buzzer-beater from near halfcourt to end the period. India won the frame, 24-9, taking a seven-point lead going into the fourth quarter. They eventually held on and won, 63-59, for their first-ever victory over South Korea.
At the FIBA Women's Asia Championship that same year, India was trailing late in a must-win game against Malaysia. Prashanti came up clutch and was pivotal to ensure the victory and help India remain in Level I of the championship.
She was also part of the roster that recorded India's best-ever fifth-place finish at the FIBA Asia Championship for Women in 2014.
On the domestic side, she was part of the 2003 Delhi squad that upset the Railways in the women's final of the Senior Nationals. It's the only edition of the Senior Nationals that the women's team of the Railways didn't win between 1986 and 2003.
In 2013, she helped Delhi defeat Kerala in the first-ever Mahindra NBA challenge National Final and earned MVP honours in the process.
Hailing from Varanasi, a deeply religious city, Prashanti and her sisters broke the gender stereotypes by playing basketball and choosing it as their career.
Having open-minded parents with a modern outlook paved the way for each sister to pick up the sport in school and eventually go on to represent the nation.
"In Banaras, no girl played basketball before Priyanka started," Prashanti told Scroll . "They used to come ask us, 'Why is your mother washing so many clothes?' I just wanted to disprove these people and the society. My mother told me that my job was to study and play and not to listen to these naysayers."
While the sisters' mother provided unwavering support, their father ensured that each one of them expressed themselves through sports but didn't let their focus on education slump.
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There were sacrifices made early on, though. Despite bagging an Economics seat in Delhi, Prashanti joined MTNL (Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited) on a sports quota to help ease her father's economic burden.
"The economic pressure on my dad, who was the sole earner for a family of eight, so me and Divya decided to join MTNL on a sports quota."
Nearly two decades since that struggle, ultimately persevering, Prashanti and her sisters are now role models in a Varanasi that boasts a growing sports culture for young girls. The sisters are often called upon to help convince parents to allow young aspiring girls to take up sports early on in order to give themselves an opportunity to follow their passion for a career.
Although she hasn't officially hung her boots, Prashanti has transitioned into the administration of basketball since playing her last international competition in 2016.
She is not only a sports executive but also a "talent spotter" and part of the Talent Identification committee for Khelo India, an initiative by the Government of India to revive sports at a grassroots level by building a strong foundation and making the country a great sporting nation.
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The love for Basketball among Prashanti and the rest of the "Singh Sisters" shows through in their work after their playing careers.
While Pratima is pursuing her Ph.D., the other three sisters are all basketball coaches at schools or their own academies. Priyanka is a Physical and Health Education Teacher at Chadwick School based in Palos Verdes Peninsula, California. Divya is a coach with the Sports Authority of India while Akansha has her own academy in Bengaluru.
Prashanti and the "Singh Sisters" have not only walked the talk of breaking barriers with their own playing careers but are now leading by example, post-retirement, by continuing to spread and teach the beautiful game of basketball.
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