Big dreams inside a ‘small’ basketball court

Interview with Praneeth Udumalagala

by a Special Sports Correspondent

Praneeth Udumalagala has come a long way in one of his chosen sports basketball and is a hot prospect when he turns out for Sri Lanka in tournaments here and abroad. He is a rare sportsman having represented his country in swimming and basketball. But the latter is what has given him so much recognition and a clear view of what he loves to do in the future. He is engaged in business and manages to dedicate time for competitive sport as well. In an interview with ‘The Island’ Udumalagala spoke about his love for basketball, his work engagements and future plans.

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Excerpts of the interview:

Q- How is your busy life as a player dedicated to basketball?

Well, it’s a full schedule just like any other dedicated athlete. The time revolves around training, strength and conditioning and other aspects of the game. My love for the game is such I enjoy every moment as a basketball player.

Q- You say you are looking at playing professional or semi-professional basketball in the future? Please elaborate on that a bit.

At this stage in my basketball career, I want to consistently reach to higher standards outside of Sri Lanka. If any overseas league gives me an opportunity to play professionally or as a semi-professional I would be ready to take up the challenge. I was able to play in the Nepal basketball league in 2019 and I am looking forward for the next.

Q- You are a national athlete and have represented Sri Lanka at many international tournaments. How is the feeling to represent Sri Lanka in your chosen sport?

I was able to represent my country in two sports. As a youngster during school days, I was able to represent Sri Lanka in both swimming and basketball. The pride of representing your country is the ultimate feeling for any athlete in his or her chosen sport. Once you wear the national jersey and step on the court you just want to give your 101% to make your people proud and bring glory to your nation. That feeling is hard to express in words.

Q-What is your best performance for Sri Lanka at an international tournament?

I think the toughest tournament I played in for the national team was the FIBA Pre-qualifiers 2021 in Bahrain. I believe that was my best performance where I was able to average 17.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and three assists throughout the tournament. Apart from that winning the SAG silver medal in 2019 is a great moment where we were able to create history and I’m glad I was able to do my best for the team and country.

Q-Tell us about your experience in representing team Times International Basketball Club which became champions in the Nepal Basketball League

It was such a memorable experience. The league was a month and a half long. By the time I joined the team the league had already begun, and my team had played a couple of games. There was little to no time to see how I fitted in best in the team format, but everyone in my team was excited to have me as much as I was to play in the league. From the league organization, my team management, competition level to the fan base the whole league was such a hit. It couldn’t be any better as we were able to win the league and I was on top of my performance.

Q- Being adjudged as the Sri Lanka Basketball Player of the year in 2015 must have made you feel proud. Do you think you were able to continue the momentum and win more honours in the sport?

It was indeed a proud moment. More than winning more or any honours to be frank the focus was always to be on the top of my game. No matter the situation, when my name is called, I always want to be ready to deliver more than what’s expected. Once I’m able to do what I do best, the rest will fall into place naturally, the recognition and honours will come.

Q- You played your part in Sri Lanka winning Silver at SABA championship 2011 in India. Can you compare how these two nations have progressed in the sport from there onwards?

Yes, that year was a memorable one as it was my debut year paying for Sri Lanka. As unfortunate as it sounds, India has since been improving and making strides in basketball while we struggle to go forward. The biggest difference I see is that India treats basketball as a professional sport while that is not the case in Sri Lanka. The national players here have their full-time jobs to take care of, then comes basketball. Saying that, I’m hopeful that many good things are ahead for Sri Lanka basketball and its players as we have a new leadership in the Sri Lanka Basketball Federation.

Q- You’ve been a regular in the Sri Lanka national team since 2011. How do you see yourself being there for contention when other promising youngsters are also knocking on the door for a playing slot?

The current national team is full of youngsters and promising talent. I am delighted to be playing alongside them to share my experiences and hand over the baton as we go forward. It is important I be on top of my game immaterial if I’m playing with experienced senior players or with talented youth. The playing minutes in a game are based on who’s the best inside the lines and as long as I play in the level I’m playing now it’s safe to say the youngsters could learn a lot and we can get better as a team.

Q- Are you employed and tell us something about work in office and how you manage to engage in competitive sport as well?

I play contract basketball for FairFirst insurance Ltd. I work with my father-in-law and help manage the production process at Shisasa Holdings International Pvt Ltd. I am also a part of the coaching staff at my alma mater St. Joseph’s College Colombo 10.

I have my own company IImpact Hoop Lab Pvt Ltd. Under IImpact Hoop Lab I run my own basketball skills training programme, produce basketball rims and backboards in Sri Lanka.

Q- The COVID pandemic was a challenge to everybody. How did you cope?

The COVID pandemic was a very difficult time period for me, and it still is as we speak. But just like any other challenge we can’t give up on our dreams. My goal was to survive these tough times and hope it will pass by soon. The training programme came to a halt, but we manage to do few online trainings and individual home visits for some of our athletes. Things are looking positive now and I am hoping to return to the programme as soon as I can.

Q- What are your future goals and plans in life and sport?

My goal is to continue to work hard and grow my company IImpact Hoop Lab. I want to work hard, create a dedicated basketball skill training centre for my training programme and help athletes to reach higher levels in the game of basketball. Through my company we produce affordable, high quality basketball rims and backboards that are made in Sri Lanka and we are also scaling into court construction. I will continue to play basketball as long as I can all the while I grow in other aspects in life. At the end of the day I want to be an exemplary role model for every basketball player out there.

Thank you

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