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CV Sunny: Indian Basketball’s ‘Little Master’

CV Sunny: Indian Basketball’s ‘Little Master’ Local Heroes

In the 1970s and ’80s, cricket was one of the few outlets for Indians to seek cheer away from the daily routine of life. Back then, one diminutive cricketer in particular, Sunil Gavaskar, showed exemplary fearlessness in dispatching intimidating pace bowlers to the boundary, that too without wearing a helmet. The nation’s millions lived vicariously through Gavaskar’s exploits until he finally retired in 1987.

As one ‘Sunny’ disappeared into the sunset, another shone on the horizon. He too was much shorter than his opponents, and like Gavaskar, he also, had the will to dominate, albeit in a different sport.

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Muscle memory is a funny thing. It kicks in without you even realising it. For CV Sunny, his muscle memory kicked in at a veteran’s basketball event back in 2013 in his home state of Kerala.

CV Sunny’s Kottayam district team was down by double digits against hosts Thrissur in the fourth quarter. Channelling his inner Tracy McGrady, Sunny suddenly began to see the rim as wide as the ocean, making shots from different angles beyond the arc. But just when a miraculous comeback was a near certainty, the final buzzer sounded and Thrissur escaped with the win. Sunny smiled as he walked back to his team bench. By now, wins and losses had little impact on the 46-year-old. For he had fought and won far bigger battles.

Lifetime Of Overcoming Challenges

Born in the small village of Pala in the Kottayam district of Kerala, Sunny was the third of five siblings. Life was hard growing up. “My father had no permanent employment. He used to take up odd jobs like being a coolie,” said Sunny over a phone conversation.

CV Sunny used to walk to his St Thomas Higher Secondary School, which was a stone’s throw away from home. “Our school had a mud court and I would sit and watch our seniors play.” He would often wait for hours on the sidelines, and in the few minutes that it took for his seniors to cool down and get dressed, he would step onto the court, pick up the ball and start shooting.

“Our school physical educator teacher Mr VC Joseph didn’t know much about basketball, but taught me all the basics.”  Despite not coming from a sporting family, Sunny’s innate game sense, coupled with his natural quickness, meant that by seventh standard he had made it to the sub-junior Kerala State team.

If he thought basketball could be his ‘escape’, then, unfortunately, on court he faced taunts over his lack of ‘size’. To make matters worse, the same GV Raja Sports School in Thiruvananthapuram — that had initially recruited him to their basketball programme — asked him to switch to football because he wasn’t tall enough.

His father, though, considered football to be a “dangerous sport”, and so Sunny got himself reinstated into GV Raja’s basketball programme. The decision immediately paid dividends as he led the Kerala team all the way to gold at the 1986 Junior National Basketball Championship.

It was time now to go international.

Representing India

CV Sunny, standing far right, with the rest of the Indian national team that included the likes of the legendary Ajmer Singh (standing third from right), Reginald Rajan (standing second from right), sharpshooter Ram Kumar (standing third from left), Unwin Antony (standing second from left) and the maverick Shahid Qureshi (sitting far right), to name a few. Image courtesy- Shiba Maggon

 

Based on his junior heroics, Sunny was immediately named captain of the national U-19 side. Within months, multiple job offers followed from leading national recruiters like Railways, Tata Iron and Steel Company, Indian Overseas Bank and Customs. He eventually chose Kerala Police before switching to Indian Bank, Chennai.

Considering his financial background, landing a job was a big relief and Sunny could now focus on representing India with distinction. In the 1989 Asian Championships, featuring a 22-year-old Sunny, the side finished a creditable 6th, a standing that has never been achieved in the almost three decades since. The next few years, the Indian men’s team travelled across the globe, playing ‘test’ matches against American college teams and national teams from Yugoslavia and Russia, as well as competing in the Asian Championships and South Asian Federation Games. In doing so, Sunny got to play alongside all-time legends like Ajmer Singh, Ram Kumar, Unwin Antony, Jayasankar Menon and Shahid Qureshi, among others.

By 1995, the Kerala point guard had been named national team captain. Having reached the zenith of what can be achieved in India Basketball, he chose to retire in his prime. But he was itching to contribute in other ways.

Xs And Os

CV Sunny coaching the Tamil Nadu men’s state team during the 2015 National Games.

 

Sunny first got the opportunity to coach the Loyola College team in Chennai in 2008. The Tamil Nadu capital is a perennial powerhouse of school and college basketball in India. After seeing Sunny taste success with the Loyola team, the sports loving director of city rivals Jeppiaar Institute of Technology (JIT), Mr Marie Wilson, reached out to him to handle JIT’s basketball programmes. With Sunny helming affairs,   JIT’s men and women teams were consistently ranked among the top college sides in South India for three straight years between 2009 to 2011. Not coincidentally, current India point guard and JIT alumnus Akilan Pari was one of Sunny’s mentees.

Just like his playing days, Sunny has also climbed the coaching ladder, moving from collegiate to the pros. In 2015, he guided the Tamil Nadu men’s state team to a silver medal finish at the 2015 National Games, and a year later, was named the head coach of the senior Indian Men’s team for the 2016 William Jones Cup.

It was a moment to cherish for Sunny. Two decades after leading India as player-captain, he had now returned as coach. Not bad for a kid from a poor family, who still retains a boyish mop of hair and an innocent wide smile. “Basketball has given me so much, so it is my duty to give back to the game.”

The ‘Little Master’ continues to inspire.

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