Harshitha Bopaiah: ‘I have proved that I can do well’

The 18-year-old admits her exploits at the FIBA U-18 Women’s Asian Championship were her “biggest achievement since I started playing basketball.”

Eyeing greater heights: Harshitha Bopaiah emerged as India’s top performer at the FIBA U-18 Women’s Asian Championship.   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

During the lead up to the FIBA U-18 Women’s Asian Championship, Karnataka’s Harshitha Bopaiah wasn’t even a first-choice player for India.

“I committed a few mistakes in the practice and it was also the first time I was training under our coach Zoran Visic,” she said. “So I was a bit nervous.”

But by the end of India’s victorious campaign she had emerged as the country’s top performer, averaging 14.8 points and 11.2 rebounds across five games. That she became a perennial double double threat in just her first five-a-side international competition was noteworthy.

‘Biggest achievement’

“I am very happy and I received a lot of appreciation,” she said. “It is my biggest achievement since I started playing basketball. I always wanted to be the top performer but I wasn’t that confident. But my coach Sathya (at DYES), parents, team-mates, everybody encouraged me.”

It wasn’t until five years ago that Harshitha started playing the sport. “I was into athletics early on,” she said. “There was a DYES Sports Hostel selection in Mysuru in 2013 and I had gone for the athletics test. That was when coach Sathya told me that I had the attributes to excel as a basketball player like height (5 foot 9 inches). So he was a big influence.”

“When I first joined sports hostel, a lot of people told me not to. They said my education will take a backseat and that it will ruin my career. But my coach said that it was my capability that mattered and I have proved that I can do well.”

Harshitha, a first year B.Com student at Shashib College, credited her parents and coach Visic. Her father, Dore Bopaiah, being a sportsperson himself helped, she said. “My father represented the State hockey team. So as a sportsman he could relate to how I felt.”

“Coach, too, was very patient with all of us [players]. He can get really angry with you and initially it used to run at the back of my mind. But after a couple of games I was positive and played freely.”

For Harshitha, though, tougher challenges await. Already 18, this will be her last year in juniors and the step up to the senior level will be a big ask. “I need to improve a lot and be stronger mentally,” she said. “But the preparations have already started with my coaches and I am confident.”