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Pradyut Voleti: India’s Game-Changing Basketball Skills Trainer

Pradyut Voleti: India’s Game-Changing Basketball Skills Trainer Local Heroes

Basketball was a game that was invented back in 1891 to keep young students in a Massachusetts gym constructively occupied during the cold winter months. The sport has since evolved, teaching millions of people worldwide much more than just winning and losing.

Destined To Be A Trainer

Born exactly 100 years later in 1991, halfway across the world from Massachusetts in New Delhi, Pradyut Voleti seemed destined to a life in hoops.

An alumnus of Mayo College, Sardar Patel Vidyalaya and Amity University, Voleti learnt aspects of life through basketball. “When things got frustrating, when nothing was going right, I used to go play basketball to make it alright. I needed it,” Voleti says. “Basketball has taught me who I am, it’s more than just a game. It’s become a mode of communication for me, a common language to reach out to the kids around the world.”

While he loved basketball growing up, playing in teams didn’t appeal to Voleti. He felt something was amiss. His understanding of the game seemed at odds with what Indian players and coaches thought and taught.

Having always paid extra attention to the basics, Voleti’s notion of basketball stemmed from a position similar to that of James Naismith, the game’s founding father, that basketball had to have a positive impact on young impressionable lives.

Path Less Taken

“Kids should have the privilege of learning basketball the right way,” Voleti says. In this search for putting the right practice in place, Voleti, at age 22, decided to move out of India to learn from the very best. He trained under the acclaimed Ganon Baker in Florida, as part of the Shadow Coaching Programme at Elev8 Sports Institute. He was also personally tutored by Cody Toppert, a Cornell legend, who has played nine years in Europe and in the NBA D-League. Young as he was, Voleti wanted people to take him seriously in the world of basketball. He wanted to be heard. He knew his basketball credibility in India needed to be quantified for others to hear him out.

“I didn’t always plan on becoming a coach. I wanted to be a clinical psychologist. Unfortunately I couldn’t work it out, and like always, I hit the basketball court once again and that’s when it all started.”

Born into a family of doctors, there was a social stigma in the community that “Doctor ka beta basketball coach bann raha hai (The son of doctors is becoming a basketball coach).” But nothing would now stop Voleti from taking that leap. He studied players, teams and coaches in different settings across India and realized that there was no structure in the way basketball was being taught to kids in India. So he took it upon himself to develop basketball from the grassroots.

The Gheja Village Project

Voleti with his young trainees at the Gheja Village. Image courtesy: Ananth Kumar

Voleti returned to India in 2014 and was eager to put his learning into practice and founded the ‘Dribble Academy’. Like Naismith tutored young athletes at YMCA, Springfield with a peach basket, Voleti began by putting up a couple of bamboo sticks and a hoop for the underprivileged kids in his Noida neighbourhood. This would eventually lead to the creation of the Gheja Village Project in the backyard of a public school tucked in behind the tall residential buildings of Noida Sector 93A.

Voleti’s intention was to keep the kids of the village away from drugs and give them a platform to forget all their sorrows. “Most of these kids face domestic violence and are victims of their parents’ alcoholism. They do petty crimes and aimlessly live out their childhood. I wanted to keep them from doing such things. I wanted them to channelize their energy and do something productive.”

What started off as a single hoop planted in that small assembly ground, is today a dance floor for 300 underprivileged kids to dream big. Focusing on fundamental basketball and life skills training, Voleti has transformed the lives of some of these kids by ensuring scholarships for them in elite institutions.

Aiming Higher

 

The 26-year-old Voleti is now a FIBA Level II Certified Coach, one of only 75 such coaches in India, and among the youngest.

Since the Dribble Academy & Gheja project tipped off in 2014, Voleti, has since travelled across the nation conducting short duration camps at schools, colleges and even Army battalions. He has visited his own alma mater Mayo from where the word of mouth caught up and soon there were other schools like Lawrence School and Scindia Kanya Vidyalaya that started inviting him to do programmes. Kids from Gheja village regularly travel together and conduct special exhibition workouts at prominent public events and schools across north India.

Voleti continues to invest his own money into the Gheja Village project and has also started raising funds to extend its reach.

His plan is to adopt more villages under the brand of ‘Dribble Academy Foundation’ and give hope to many other underprivileged kids. He is also looking to open an elite indoor facility where he would invite different players, teams and coaches and continue ‘impacting lives’ as the Dribble Academy motto proudly professes.

The feature image used in this piece is courtesy: Ananth Kumar

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