India’s Kavita Akula awaits next big leap in basketball

Last month, she became the first Indian-born female basketball player to receive a full scholarship from a Division 1 college in the U.S.

Kavita Akula is in Bengaluru to train with the Indian team for the upcoming FIBA Asia Women’s Cup.   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

Kavita Akula chuckles and states that until a few weeks ago, none of the top North American colleges showed any interest in recruiting her.

“No scholarship offers, no selection trials,” she says, “Then suddenly, big things began to happen.”

By the end of May, Kavita enrolled at Grand Canyon University, and became the first Indian-born female basketball player to receive a full scholarship from a Division 1 college. The point guard made her move up after a successful junior college stint at Garden City Community College, where she finished just nine points shy of breaking the college's all-time season scoring record.

“My coach made a highlights video for me and posted it on Facebook. The people at Grand Canyon University saw it and recruited me,” she says.

Her American dream started in 2010, when IMG Academy (Florida) selected eight young Indian hoopsters for a basketball scholarship. Among the chosen few was Satnam Singh, who in 2015, became the first Indian-born player to be picked at the NBA draft.

While Satnam grabbed all the headlines, Kavita - a consistent performer in her own right - was left on the sidelines. Satnam, an imposing 7’ 2” centre, had the physical attributes needed to catch the attention of the basketball kingmakers. Kavita, on the other hand, did not.

“He is very tall, which is a big advantage. When he was picked by Dallas Mavericks, I was upset, because he got the chance to jump straight from high school to professional basketball. I’m pretty short, so I didn’t get that option. I have to go step-by-step - high school, junior college, college and then the pros,” the 21-year-old says.

Blow

Even as she tried to overcome this disappointment, Kavita was dealt a huge blow. Her father, who worked at a steel plant in Bhilai (Chhattisgarh), passed away. “When my dad died, I was a senior in high school. I had received a number of college scholarship offers, but I decided to return to India to be with my family. I missed the paper work involved in the recruitment process and lost the chance to get play college basketball,” she says.

An upset Kavita considered giving up the ghost. “Losing my dad hurt me a lot. I didn’t want to go back to America. Himamshu Dabir (Chief of Basketball Operations, Basketball Federation of India) convinced me to return and complete my education. It has turned out to be excellent advice,” she says.

Now that things have fallen into place, Kavita looks back at her journey with pride. “At the age of 13, I moved from a Hindi-medium school in Bhilai to an English-medium school in Florida. I had to learn English, and I missed my family and friends. I’ve had to earn my success right from the start. It has been tough, but worth it,” she says.

Kavita, who is in the city to train with the Indian team for the upcoming FIBA Asia Women's Cup, states, “I want people to think, ‘Wow, if this girl can achieve this, so can I’. This is my goal.”