CHENNAI, India — Indian basketball is set to take a big step forward this month when Geethu Anna Jose becomes the first player from her country to attend tryouts for the WNBA.
The 25-year-old center will have training sessions with the Chicago Sky, Los Angeles Sparks and San Antonio Silver Stars over a span of eight days in what could be a history-making moment for the sport in her country.
“There is pressure and high expectations,” the 6-foot-2 Jose told The Associated Press. “The Indian basketball community is excited, but then, it is also my dream and I am going to go out there and give it my best shot.”
Jose, who hails from the southern state of Kerala, is easily the biggest draw in Indian basketball and was the top scorer in the previous two FIBA Asian championships.
In the last edition held in India in 2009, the center averaged 22 points to help her team stay in the Elite Level 1 group. India finished sixth in the 12-team competition.
Jose is looking to draw from her experience of playing as a professional for three seasons for Ringwood Hawks in Australia’s Big V Basketball as she eyes a WNBA breakthrough.
“Inside game is very hard outside India,” Jose said. “The players there are really tough. My three years in Australia have given me a lot of confidence, and I’d think it was there that my dream of playing in the WNBA was born.”
Jose’s Australian opportunity came after she caught Hawks coach Tim Mottin’s eye during the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, she said. In that tournament, she had a chance to play against Australian center and WNBA star Lauren Jackson, who has been her inspiration since.
“She’s simply astonishing. I just love her game,” Jose said. “For one who is 6-foot-5, she covers the court with amazing speed and can score from almost anywhere. Against us, she was on court for just 20 minutes and scored 40 points.”
Her encounter with Jackson also served as an eye-opener for what it takes to play in the WNBA.
“I have watched some of it on television and it’s really advanced,” Jose said. “Scientific coaching, professional approach. Also possibly, they start dribbling the ball at 3 years of age when I started at 13!”
Troy Justice, the director of basketball for NBA India, helped set up Jose’s tryouts as part of the league’s efforts to promote the game in the nation of 1.2 billion people.
“Her skill set is very advanced,” Justice said. “Her approach, her professionalism puts her in a position where she is the type of person we want in the WNBA.”
According to the Basketball Federation of India, an estimated 4.5 million people play the game in India. On the men’s side, the Asian country has high hopes for 15-year-old Satnam Singh Bhamar, who already stands 7-foot-2. He is touted as the player who can be the focal point of Indian basketball in the same manner Houston Rockets star Yao Ming has been for China.
“I think it will bring national exposure to the sport of basketball,” Justice said about Jose possibly earning a spot on a WNBA team. “It will create a new awareness to many more in the country, create a landmark and represent a new opportunity and a new idea that others could do it also.”