Even at 80, there’s no stopping Sampath Kumar, whose name is synonymous with basketball in the State
There is a sense of awe and veneration that fills everyone at the Secunderabad YMCA basketball court when GM Sampath Kumar descends on it. He is 80, but he is supremely sprightly for his age, both in mind and body. There is the nagging knee, a consequence of Chikungunya, yet when he is on the court, he is the man. Players, junior and senior, are all ears when he offers tips and advice. How else could it be when the name of the man talking to them is synonymous with basketball in AP?
If you want to know what Sampath Kumar means to basketball in the district, state and country, check this out: he is the chairman, technical commission, Basketball Federation of India; general secretary of the AP Basketball Association; and general secretary, Hyderabad District Association. “You cannot imagine the Nationals without Sampath anna,” said Eugene George, coach of the AP state basketball team.
Sampath Kumar started playing ball at the Wesley High School. After that he started playing at the YMCA Secunderabad. There is an interesting story about this. The team on the court were one player short when the coach Williams noticed Sampath Kumar sitting on a nearby wall. He enquired about him and learned that he was a very good player. Williams beckoned the youngster and asked him to join. Sampath Kumar replied that he had no membership and hence could not play. Williams immediately went to the office and paid the then membership fee of Rs.4 for Sampath Kumar and got him to play. This was more than 60 years ago.
For Sampath Kumar, the beautiful game is not football, but basketball. It never tires him; he forgets the ravages of age and tiredness when he talks about it; he looks you in the eye when he does and there is a twinkle you will not miss.
Perhaps it is this energy that young hoopsters love about the man. He cannot stand for long and give lessons because of his bad knee. But to the extent it allows him he goes about the court and encourages, advises and corrects them. “A teacher should not just teach: he should demonstrate what he teaches,” says Sampath Kumar gravely.
“His approach to the game is so different,” says state player Moses. “On the court he would be very strict. But off it, he is like a grandpa. He used to call me ‘lazy fellow’ for being slow on the court. But I never felt hurt; I only tried to better myself.”
There’s a long list of players, state-level, national, international, who owe it all to Sampath Kumar for their skill and success. “Sarabjit Singh, Surender Kumar, Surjan Singh and Gurdayal Singh… these are all my wards,” said Sampath Kumar with pride. Sarabjit Singh is the first basketball player to get the Arjuna Award.
When asked about Indian basketball, Sampath Kumar says, “When I was in the national team, once an American came down to coach us. One day we gathered around him and asked him about our progress. He said, ‘I wish I had got some pills back from the States that would make champions out of players.’ He was subtly saying that there is no substitute to hard work and constant practice.”
According to Sampath Kumar, the complete basketball player should have good height, good legs, should be an excellent man-to-man marker and most importantly, he should be a fighter to the core. “You may be the best skilled among your teammates, you may be the tallest, you may be the fastest, but if you are no fighter, then all’s in vain,” he says and adds, “you must be a fighter; you must fight it out till the end; you must never give up.”
Now we know his secret.