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Dr Shyama Prasad Stadium, Goa: Hoops Love In Soccer Land

Dr Shyama Prasad Stadium, Goa: Hoops Love In Soccer Land Court Chronicles

Lambert Godinho, 33, was just outside his house in Bicholim when he got the call.

“You’ve been selected to the Indian team for the Lusofonia Games,” Mr Menino D’Souza, the then Secretary of Goa Basketball Association, had informed Godinho back in January 2014.

“I was shocked to be honest,” said the physical education teacher at the local Lady Grace High School. Just a few months prior, Godinho, a veteran Senior State team member, had chosen to call it quits and instead focus on coaching. “I have a family to take care of. I had also decided against attending the selection trials because of a fracture to my nose.”

Getting Hoops Ready

When it was announced that Goa would host the 3rd Lusofonia Games in January 2014, basketball was listed as one of the nine sporting disciplines. “It was a big event for a tiny state like Goa,” said Godinho.

There was one major hiccup though. The erstwhile Portuguese Colony did not have a single state-of-the-art basketball stadium. The only indoor facility was at the Don Bosco School in the capital city of Panaji. But while Don Bosco’s uncomfortably hard surface was good enough for practice sessions, it was nowhere close to suitable for conducting prestigious international events like the Lusofonia Games — held every three years between athletes from Portuguese speaking countries.

Frenetic construction by the Sports Authority of Goa followed, and in a record 11 months, the 4000-seater Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Stadium was built within the sprawling Goa University campus in Taleigao, a few kilometres away from Panaji.

As per competition rules, it was mandatory for all the participating Indian teams to feature at least two Goan players on their rosters. And it was Godinho, along with Daley Fernandes, who made the cut to the men’s basketball team. “10 days before the Games, we travelled to Mumbai for a training camp and had to immediately pick up all the drills and sets that the other regular squad members had already been practising for months,” said Godinho.

Cheering For Their Own

The 2014 Lusofonia Games provided a unique opportunity for local Goan players like Lambert Godinho (left) and Daley Fernandes (right) to don India colours. Image courtesy: Lambert Godinho.

 

The basketball event at Lusofonia featured nine men’s teams and five women’s teams, including African powerhouses Angola and Mozambique. Godinho and Fernandes, starting off on the bench in the opening match against Guinea Bissau, got some playing time in the second half, much to the delight of the crowd.

“I had brought my wife, my then 2-year-old daughter, sister, parents and in-laws to the game,” recalled Godinho. Fernandes was the first to check in, but couldn’t score. Then Godinho connected on a jumpshot with just five minutes left for the final buzzer. “The crowd went crazy! I’m pretty sure those were the first ever points scored by a Goan for the Indian men’s team.”

While spectators rejoiced, one teenage boy high up in the stands didn’t move a muscle. 13-year-old Shawn Aranjo was quietly internalising the players’ cuts and fakes, and how the ball was moving crisply from side to side. His hair stood on end every time Amjyot ‘Sultan of Swat’ Singh blocked a shot, and his mind furiously tried to deconstruct Vishesh ‘Captain Cool’ Bhriguvanshi’s unflappable demeanour in the clutch.

Stepping Stones

The triumphant Indian men and women contingents from Lusofonia Games 2014

 

Known more for R&R (rest and recreation), tourist friendly Goa has never been a prominent basketball destination. But as the Lusofonia Games progressed and the ‘Goa-India’ teams kept winning, news of their exploits began spreading like wildfire through the region. Youngsters like Aranjo, with no home grown superstars to look up to, got to witness India’s finest talents like Bhriguvanshi, Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh and Palpreet Singh in action for the very first time.

The best part of it all? Aranjo had to travel just 4 kms from nearby Miramar to do so. “I’ve been trying to imitate these players on court ever since. I have always wanted to play for India from the first time I picked up a basketball. That feeling only intensified after seeing the Indian team play in Goa in front of my friends and family,” said Aranjo, who has gone on to become a regular on the youth (U-16) and junior (U-18) Goa State teams.

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From those happening two weeks of January 2014 to now, a lot has changed for Goa, while a lot hasn’t. Enthusiastic, yet unimpactful participants at the national level, Goan teams still languish in the lower division, struggling to compete against the more populous states that have larger talent pools, financial heft and taller athletes.

Personally for Godinho though, the Lusofonia Games had ensured that his long forgotten dream of playing for India had come true, while for the next generation of ballers such as Aranjo, it was a timely reminder to keep theirs alive.

“[Participating at the Lusofonia Games] was never about the money. It was about finally putting basketball in the spotlight among Goans,” said Godinho. Now 36, he has retired for good and is coaching full time. He is busy passing on the precious first-hand international knowledge gained at the Shyama Prasad stadium, to younger Goan state teams.

Aranjo, meanwhile, continues to work towards donning India colours, putting up eye popping numbers at big events, such as the 30+ ppg scoring average at the 2016 Youth National Basketball Championship in Hassan, Karnataka.

Football crazy Goa better watch out: hoops are here to stay!

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