"It's a whole different world out here," says Northern Arizona University coach Loree Payne as she talks about the climate of Flagstaff, Arizona, which will be home to India's Sanjana Ramesh in a couple of months from now.
But Payne might as well have been talking about the level of basketball the Bengaluru-based girl is going to experience when she moves to the United States to play in the NCAA after having become only the second Indian girl to have been awarded a Division I basketball scholarship.
"It's always a challenge playing at this level even if you are coming from having played high school basketball in the US. The tempo we play at is much quicker, so that can be tough to get to grips with. So for Sanjana, it'll be even more challenging," Payne tells Firstpost over the phone from Flagstaff. She is quick to add that she believes Sanjana — who won the Most Valuable Player in the girl's division of NBA's Basketball Without Borders Asia camp in June — will be quick to adapt to the change.
"We were first told by a trusted source, who saw her play at the NBA Academy India, what a great player she was. We've since seen that she is a pretty versatile player, who's got great ball-handling skills and is very consistent with her shooting. She can be a tremendous impact player," says Payne who adds, "The very first time I spoke to her, I was struck by how much positive energy she exuded. I walked away smiling just because of her infectious energy."
Sanjana is slated to fly to Flagstaff in July next year for a summer course before starting the fall semester in August. While she continues to train with the team for the 30-game regular NCAA season, she will also pursue a degree at the university.
For the 17-year-old, the stint will be a foray as far out of her comfort zone as she can imagine. The city, which at nearly 7,000 feet is known to be one of the highest elevation cities in USA, is surrounded by pine forests, arid terrain and mountains. A big challenge for the teenager will be to play for the Indian women's team while also pursuing her education and playing for the Northern Arizona University even as the ultimate aim remains to make it to the WNBA, the women's equivalent of the NBA. However, that will be easier said than done.
"We have had some players from our team make it to franchises playing in European basketball leagues. But so far none of our players have broken into the WNBA. A very small percentage of players ever make it to the top division. It is very hard to make it to the WNBA," says Payne who quickly adds, "But make no mistake. Sanjana's potential is limitless."
Updated Date: Nov 17, 2018 20:15 PM