WNBA legend Ruth Riley talks about her journey, development of women's basketball in India and more

The NBA-organised Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Asia 2018 camp reached its conclusion on Saturday. The 66 young boys and girls from 16 different nations who were part of this camp would perhaps be going back all the wiser after four days of training under some of the most well-known players and coaches from both the NBA and the WNBA.

Among the current and former players attending the basketball clinic was WNBA legend Ruth Riley, who is best known for her time with teams such as Detroit Shock and San Antonio Silver Stars in a senior career spanning 13 years (2001-2014). Riley was named MVP of the WNBA finals in 2003 and helped Detroit win the title that year as well as in 2006. She also was part of the United States team that went on to win gold in the women's basketball event in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Riley, who co-authored a children's book The Spirit of Basketball, currently serves as the global technical director for the NBA Academy.

 WNBA legend Ruth Riley talks about her journey, development of womens basketball in India and more

File image of Ruth Riley. Image credit: Twitter/@WNBA

In an interaction with Firstpost, Riley opened up on a host of topics ranging from the growth of basketball in India to her journey in the sport. Here are excerpts from the interview:

Firstpost: How do you gauge the impact of the NBA Academy on Indian basketball?

Ruth Riley: We’re excited to be here for our first-ever NBA Women’s Academy in India. It’s a start for us to invest in these young girls and give them whatever knowledge we can, not only about basketball, but also about the pathway to get an education in the United States and how to take care of themselves as professional athletes. And sharing our journeys and what we think is going to be helpful for them and theirs.

FP: What are some of the key areas that need to be taken care of as far as the growth of Indian basketball is concerned?

RR: We think it’s just continuing to learn the strategy of the game. If you’re not playing a lot of five-on-five competitions, you’re not giving the technical knowledge or even the experience as a player, of reading and reacting to different offensive and defensive schemes, and so I think on the skill-level, we’re giving them great knowledge. They already have a good foundation to work upon, so we know they’re going to continue to develop their individual skills. But the more we can help them understand how to incorporate those skills into five-on-five, I think we’re going to see a lot of growth.

FP: What inspired you to take up basketball? Your icons growing up?

When I grew up, there was no WNBA. I grew up wanting to play in the NBA, dreaming of playing in the Olympics, and that’s all I saw for basketball. I loved being active, I loved sports, I loved a lot of different sports, but basketball was the one I was most passionate about, and just fell in love with the game. Spent hours and hours in the gym by myself and just working on my game.

FP: Do you feel there are challenges that the women face a lot more than men do?

RR: Well there are a lot of challenges that women face, not just here in India, but in the United States and around the world too. We started playing the game a lot later than men, and often a lot of(countries), especially British colonies, play netball instead of basketball. (There are differences in) having access to resources, coaches and skills, Having the ability to train at a young level. And then having parents as support for young girls playing a sport for a living, not just at a young age, but well into high school and college. However, I think you would see a huge shift in that which is exciting.

FP: What is the situation like in the US when it comes to supporting young girls in taking up sports professionally?

RR: In the United States, because sports, in general, have been so developed, parents see the value of sport. They teach girls confidence, they teach them how to communicate, they teach them how to overcome adversity and empower them to believe in themselves. There are so many great things that sports can teach young girls, and I think parents believe in that. And it’s not just about sports itself, it translates into business. You know, 80 percent of executive women played sports growing up in high school and college, so there’s a reason why successful businesswomen played sports growing up as well. It’s all these lessons you learn through the sport itself.

FP: Has the WNBA set an example for the rest of the world to follow as far as women’s basketball is concerned?

RR: The WNBA is the best basketball (league) in the world for professional women. And so I think that when the league gets better and better, the talent gets better and they’re(women players) more skilled now than they ever have been, and the access to watch the WNBA is crucial. So around the world, girls can turn on their TV, they can log on to the WNBA app and they can watch any game. These are at their fingertips — it didn’t exist before. So now girls can see other women saying, “Oh, I want to do that, I want to dream of playing in that league.”

FP: With the WNBA starting a bit late, do you think that the league has met expectations in terms of its growth in the last two decades, or that there are areas where it can still grow?

RR: We’re still relatively young when you look at all sports leagues — the NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball. I mean, the WNBA is still at an early phase compared to the men’s leagues, but we’ve made tremendous growth. And so, it’s (important to) keep pushing forward and the talent keeps getting better. The access to the game keeps getting better and a large part of that is because basketball at a younger age is developed better. The college game is now better than it ever has been before.

FP: How long before we see an Indian at the WNBA?

RR: The potential for these young girls, and their futures look really bright. I mean, we think the next step is getting a lot of girls into college, helping them develop in the United States and the collegiate system where, they’d be able to understand our culture, sport at that level, and then transition on to the WNBA.

FP: Do you think language barrier could prove detrimental for them?

RR: These girls speak great English. The great thing about these young girls is they’re so smart. So their English is great, their school is really good. And so, I think the transition is to help them understand what the pathway looks like.

FP: Your favourite moment(s) from your playing career?

RR: That’s tough. I think winning my first championship in college is probably the most memorable because it was the first time I ever won. But there’s no greater honour as an athlete than wearing a jersey that says your country, and representing in the Olympics. So, honour and memorable, it’s tough to pick between the two.

FP: What’s next for Ruth Riley? Another children’s book maybe?

RR: I would love to write another children’s book. Right now I’m really enjoying working for the NBA Academy as a global director, as I get to travel around the world and meet amazing young girls like this, and inspire them to dream big and give them the necessary knowledge to help them accomplish(dreams).

Updated Date: Jun 03, 2018 15:48:35 IST