India’s most successful basketball coach is no more

Col. M. Rajan was in charge of the only Indian team to play at the Olympics.

Col. M. Rajan (R), with Amarnath Nagarajan, at his residence in Kozhikode, a few months before the latter passed away.   -  Special Arrangement

Former Indian basketball team coach Col. M. Rajan passed away at the age of 83 here on Sunday. He was in charge of the only Indian basketball team that played at the Olympics. He was also the most successful coach in domestic basketball: he helped Services win the National title on 21 occasions.

Amarnath Nagarajan, who was part of the Olympic team in 1980, said there was no coach like him in Indian basketball. “Besides the Moscow Olympic, I had also played under him at the Asian Games in 1982 in New Delhi,” he told Sportstar from Coimbatore. “He was a remarkably sincere and dedicated coach. He was an army man, truly.”

He recalled Rajan as a coach for whom only merit mattered. “He wasn’t prejudiced at all,” he said. “He would promote talent all the time and because of that trait of him, players like me benefited. He was also very helpful and took good care of his boys.”

Amarnath said Rajan was good at turning raw talent into top-class players. “I remember Om Prakash (jr.) telling me that he would have been nobody in basketball but for Rajan,” he said. “Another player he influenced greatly was the late Radhey Shyam.”

Radhey was one of India’s few Olympians in basketball. “It was a pretty good team that played in Moscow,” he said. “Of course we got an entry at the Olympics because of the United States-led boycott, but we should not forget the fact we qualified because we had finished fifth at the Asian Basketball championship in 1979.”

He said he was glad that he could meet Rajan at his residence here a few months ago. “I had come to know that he had become very ill and wanted to see him,” he said. “It was after several years that I was meeting him.”