Ruth Riley: 'Indian women in need of a pathway in basketball'

Ruth Riley is currently training the top 18 young Indian girls as well as players from China and Australia.

Ruth Riley is the technical director of the NBA Academies women's program.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

In its 21 years of existence, no Indian has ever graced the WNBA, perhaps the premier women's basketball league in the world. During this period, countries which were ranked lower than India in the FIBA rankings had several representatives in the league. To remedy this situation, Ruth Riley, a two-time WNBA champion, called for more courts to be made available to women in the country.

Riley, the technical director of the NBA Academies women's program, is currently training the top 18 young Indian girls as well as players from China and Australia, as part of NBA's 'Basketball without Borders' camp at the National Academy in Greater Noida.

According to her, the Indian women's team, ranked 45 in the FIBA rankings, is in need of a holistic approach in order to improve. "It is not just one thing (on areas of improvement required), you have to build courts, you have to build a pathway - they need to start younger so that they develop at an earlier age. You have to provide opportunities for them to play five-on-five. It cannot be just skills development only. They should be able to compete in games as well," the former U.S.A international said here.

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Riley, who won the Gold medal with the U. S. A. at the 2004 Olympics, was impressed with the facilities at the National Academy but stressed on more similar infrastructure across the country. "This is a great facility, where they can play. How many gyms like this are there around the country? The infrastructure is needed. And, there is also a need for tactical knowledge. We are here today and will have a coaching clinic, teaching both the players and coaches as well. Ranked 45 in the world only means that there is room to develop quickly, you invest in these girls now and you will see tremendous growth," she said.

Return to inferior facilities

However, quality infrastructure will continue to elude these young women. The camp will end on Saturday and they will return to their respective academies with inferior facilities. The NBA academy at the capital, a first of its kind, was set up in 2017, currently only houses male prospects. 

Nevertheless, Riley spotted encouraging signs at the camp, the first-ever NBA academy women's camp held last week. "We have been really impressed with the young ladies. We did not know what to expect, coming in. This is the first camp in India for me. They have technical and shooting skills, and the ability to put the ball on the ground and to create (chances) for themselves. The most impressive thing about them is that they are smart. You teach them something once, and they are able to apply that into a game," said the former Detroit Shock forward. 

She also added that the girls must continue to look beyond the camp and be open to opportunities outside the country in order to take their game forward. Riley picked out Syia Deodhar, who made it to the U-16 probables last year, as the most improved player during the camp, praising her all-round ability on the court. 

Grassroot investment in WNBA 

Riley also recognises the challenges faced by women in the sport in her own country. The WNBA, where she played for 14 years, continues to remain in the shadows of NBA. Riley pointed to the fact that the structure is in place for the women's league to take off. "I think they have done a really good job, by starting younger with the JR. NBA (junior program) program in school, which is now throughout the country. Once they get in touch with the ball, they fall in love with the game. It is the first introduction and providing them with a pathway," she told Sportstar.

The young girls work on the different attributes of their game under the watchful eyes of Ruth Riley.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

There is also a massive disparity in earnings between the players from both the leagues. According to a 2017 Forbes report, WNBA's top-earner Sylvia Fowles annual salary of 1.2 million USD is dwarfed by Stephen Curry's salary of 34.7 million USD in the NBA. "It comes down to economics. It is also down to if the sponsors want to pay more and the ticket sales. A lot (of money) goes into professional sports," explained Riley. 

The salaries for both men and women basketball players are derived from the television rights. The NBA's 2016 TV deal for their broadcast right is about 2.6 billion USD whereas the women's game brings in only about a fraction of that amount, 25 million USD. Riley added, "You need to get equality at the grassroots level and in college and grow the (women's) game. Media providing coverage of the women's game will help."

The issues confronting the women's basketball - infrastructure, grassroots framework and the need to continue promoting the sport among women - appear overwhelming. Riley, however, remains optimistic. "These are the challenges but this is a time where women are getting a lot of new opportunities," she said.