“We need a professional league to help the game grow."
Indian female basketball players are famous as the “Sleeping Giants” in the sport.
Most of these Indian female basketball players have had the skills, fulfilling their potential to succeed and grow.
On March 1, 2021, they were 68th in the FIBA world rankings, which is better than the men’s team who fell behind at 76th.
However, despite making nineteen appearances at the Asian Championships, there is still room for improvement.
The sport continues to develop within India, with Indian female basketball players clearly playing their part in the success.
Players such as Anitha Pauldurai are prime examples of this, with her once being a former captain of the women’s team.
Four sisters from one family have all played basketball and shined in the sport too.
Hopefully, the Indian team and players from India will continue to build on their Asian Division B Championship win in 2017.
We take a look at the 11 top Indian female basketball players to have made an impact on the game.
Shiba Maggon is amongst the greatest Indian female basketball players from the country. Born on March 16, 1980, she is a former Indian female basketballer.
Known as the ‘Queen of Indian Basketball,’ she has been relentlessly working with Team India for more than ten years.
Standing at 5 feet 8 inches, she was a forward whilst playing for the national team.
Shiba began playing the sport in 1989. In 1992 she made it into the Indian junior team.
In 2002, Shiba went to MTNL Delhi, staying with the capital side until January 2011. She has many accomplishments to her name, going back to her younger days.
Her national honours include one gold and bronze medal in 1991 under the youth category. She won another gold medal in 1993 and a silver at the 1994 youth nationals.
Playing twenty senior nationals from 1989-2010, her achievements are also very exceptional.
Spanning from 1997-2002, she won six gold medals for the Indian Railways.
She went on to win a further gold medal and eight silvers, whilst playing for Delhi from 2003-2011.
She had also gone on to receive six Federation Cup medals, including three gold and three bronze.
In addition, at the All-India University level, she collected two gold medals and one more bronze.
Receiving the ‘Best Player’ award several times, Shiba also had a hattrick at the PNC All-India Championship.
Consistency was key to her success, with Shiba being a great scorer for over twenty years.
This was evident as she scored an average of 20 points at the PNC All-India Championship.
Additionally, playing across three National Games, she won a bronze at the 1994 games in Pune. She then repeated this feat, winning bronze in the 2007 games at Guwahati.
Shiba has also played for the women’s team in five FIBA Asian Championships. She was in the top five rankings for Asian players during 2002.
Away from the sport, she has seen much success academically too. In 1998, she obtained a scholarship to the Southern Oklahoma State University.
Majoring in physical education, she applied for a diploma course in Olympism and Humanism.
She completed this at the International Olympic Academy in Athens, Greece, successfully finishing the diploma at the historic city.
She was also the first Indian woman to be an international FIBA certified referee. Being an international coach, Shiba has previously worked with NBA in India.
Divya Singh is part of a renowned “Basketball Family of India.” She is amongst four from five sisters having played for the national team.
Her playing career spanned from 2000-2007. Divya was born on July 21, 1982, in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India.
She stands 6ft tall, whilst playing as a guard for the national team. Being a former captain of the Indian women’s basketball team, she had seen much success like her sisters.
Known for her skilful play and qualities as a leader, she led Team India at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Following a different path to some of her sisters, she has gone onto have a successful coaching career.
For this, she went to the University of Delaware from 2008-2010, studying sports management. Coaching the university side was helpful later in her career.
She began as an assistant coach for the Under 16 men’s team at the university. During her time there, the team claimed bronze at the Lusophony Games in Goa.
Also, she was the assistant coach for the women’s team at the 17th 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
Divya was able to lay claim to a somewhat successful playing career during her stint. However, she was also able to apply her trade successfully abroad at university.
Returning home, she tries and help shape the careers of future players.
Prashanti Singh at 5 feet 8 inches is a shooting guard for the Indian national team. She was born on May 5, 1984, in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India.
In 2002, Prashanti became part of the Indian women’s basketball team and shortly afterwards captained the side.
During Prashanti’s illustrious career, her accolades consist of over twenty medals.
Her medals came at the National Championships, National Games and Federation Cups in India.
This led her to hold the national record of most medals at a senior level in the National Championships.
She is also the first woman basketball player in India to represent the national team on different levels.
This includes the 2006 Commonwealth Games and two appearances at the Asian Games in 2010 and 2014, respectively.
She is an Arjuna Award recipient in 2017 for her contribution to the sport. Prashanti became the third woman to receive the prestigious award.
She also went onto win the Padma Shri award two years later in 2019.
With the NBA gaining more popularity within India, Prashanti has a suggestion for the development of the sport at home:
“We need a professional league to help the game grow.
“Women players need more jobs. There is not enough competition, apart from about 20 days for the national championship and the Federation Cup.
“Basketball players work hard all through the year and hardly get a chance to compete.”
There needs to be a culture change within India, re-examining mindsets further.
Prashanti stresses about players not receiving the recognition they deserve and being behind other nations when it comes to facilities and so forth:
“Some of our achievements went unrecognised. We missed a lot of celebrations because people understand only medals.
“Basketball is played by 215 countries, and the standards are very high.”
Irrespective of financial help and competition, Prashanti is one of the most glamorous and cool Indian female basketball players in the country.
Anitha Pauldurai who stands at 5 feet 7 inches was a shooting guard in the Indian women’s basketball team. She had a career spanning eighteen years.
Anitha was born on June 22, 1985, in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. Picking up the sport at the age of eleven, she was able to balance her sporting and academic life.
She is a Bachelor of Commerce graduate from Madras University, Tamil Nadu, India.
She also went onto complete an MBA from Annamalai University, Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, India.
Anitha represented the Southern Railways, winning thirty medals at the National Championships.
Making her debut for the national team in 2001, she quickly became a permanent member of the team.
By captaining the country at nineteen, she was the youngest player ever to skipper India’s senior basketball team.
She was captain for eight years and led the team at events like the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
During her captaincy, she also helped India win the inaugural 3×3 Asian Basketball Championships in 2013 in Doha, Qatar.
After taking a break in 2015 to start a family, she came back in 2017. Anitha was the first female basketballer to make a sensational comeback.
Following her return, she led the nation to the Division B FIBA Women’s Asia Cup title.
Later, she became the coach for the U16 side, which became champions of the Division B FIBA Women Asia Cup.
Considered the face of Indian women’s basketball alongside Geethu Anna Jose, she never received the Arjuna Award.
Reflecting on her career she tells DT Next:
“Although I was a national team player for a long time, I didn’t get enough recognition.
“Only when you are bestowed with awards like these, the general public will become aware of your achievements.”
But the 2021 Padma Shri Award gave her the recognition she finally deserved.
Geethu Anna Jose
Geethu Anna Jose who stands at 6 feet 2 inches played centre for the Indian women’s national team.
She was born on June 30, 1985, in Changanasserry, Kottayam, India. During her playing days, she had the honour of being the national team captain.
After getting a start with the Kerala Junior Basketball Association, the best was yet to come.
From 2006-08 she played for the Ringwood Hawks in the Australian Big V seasons.
As a result, she became the first Indian female basketball player to play for an Australian club as a professional.
In 2011, she also became India’s first player to attend tryouts for an American professional league – Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).
With this being seen as the top women’s league, there was a lot at stake:
“There is pressure and high expectations.”
She went onto mention the importance of this big break at the time:
“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.”
She also won the 2006 Most Valuable Player (MVP) award at the Commonwealth Games in Sydney, Australia.
In recognition of her services to the sport, she was bestowed with the Arjuna Award in 2014.
These awards have helped to cement her status one as one of the greatest Indian female basketball players, especially following her retirement in 2017.
Born on February 2, 1989, in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, Appoorva Muralinath was an active athlete from 2005-2017.
She played with the Indian national team from 2010-2015, being a power forward/centre.
Her father K.Muralinath played for the men’s national team at the 1982 Asian Games in Delhi, India.
The years between 2006-2008 saw her focusing on her junior and youth level growth within the sport.
She represented and captained her state as well as school teams at the National Championships. Her accolades at this level include an MVP and the ‘Best Rebounder’ award.
During the next four years from 2008-12, she played 5 Inter-University National Championships.
She was able to collect two gold and three silver medals, whilst representing two teams at the nationals. This includes SRM University and Madras University teams.
She was the captain of both teams. Appoorva also competed in five professional All-India Inter-Railway Championships.
During these championships, she was awarded four gold and one silver medal, as well as bagging various awards as captain.
The accolades were never-ending for this Indian female basketballer.
In the ten National Championships she participated in, Appoorva won two gold, two bronze and three silver medals.
She also won another gold medal, whilst representing her state team in the National Games Championship.
This championship was organised by the Indian Olympic Association, making the feat more impressive.
In terms of international honours, she represented India at the William Jones Cup in Tapei, Taiwan in 2012.
She flew the flag for her nation yet again three years later at the 26th FIBA Asian Championship for Women held at Wuhan, China.
Later, she took on coaching, like so many other former female Indian basketball players to help shape the future of younger players.
From 2019, she became the assistant women’s coach at the private Dean College, Massachusetts, United States.
She will be hoping to go from strength to strength in her coaching chapter of life.
Akanksha Singh was born on September 7, 1989, in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India.
She began her journey with the national team in 2004, playing point guard/small forward.
Standing at 5 feet 11 inches, she also became captain of the women’s national team.
In 2003, she made her senior nationals debut, also playing for the Uttar Pradesh team. The latter she represented whilst only being an 11th grader.
And like her sister, Prashanti, she made it to the Delhi team in 2004. What separates Akanksha from Prashanti was her own piece of history, which she made in 2010.
Akanksha picked the MVP award during the first women’s professional basketball league in India, MBPL 2010.
She was also amongst the first-ever top four players to attain the “A grade,” courtesy of the Basketball Federation of India. This has allowed her to be recognised as “the small wonder” in basketball.
Throughout her career, she has been given many ‘Best Player’ awards. This includes at the National and State Championships and during her captaincy at the University of Delhi.
Akanksha also received a gold medal at the 2010 All-India University Basketball Championship in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, India.
She bagged the joint ‘Best Player’ award with her other sister, Pratima Singh.
Pratima Singh was born on February 6, 1990, in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Standing at 5 feet 6 inches, she has played for the national team.
Her siblings have either played or are playing for India as is evident by the aforementioned names.
With her playing career beginning during 2003 in Uttar Pradesh, she was destined for more like her sisters.
And with her ever-growing skills, she was selected for the Indian Junior team in 2006. This would manifest into her captaining the junior team later in 2008 also.
Under her captaincy, the Delhi team claimed many medals, including at the Junior National Championships in Bhilwara, Rajasthan.
Other gold medals include the 2010 All-India Inter-University Championships that took place in Kottayam, Kerala, India.
She was also able to pick up a gold medal at the 2010 All-India University Basketball championships at Nellore.
This is an honour, which she shared with her sister, along with the joint ‘Best Player’ award.
Despite receiving many personal accolades, including ‘Best Player’ titles at the university level, there was more to come.
She became a gold medallist during the inaugural 3×3 FIBA Asia Championship.
Other than her unquestionable talent on the court, Pratima has also shown how strong mentally she is off it.
Fighting a knee injury which she sustained, Pratima was able to battle through and avoid an operation.
Following this setback, she came back stronger and became the highest scorer at the 2012 3×3 FIBA Asia Championship.
She tied the knot with Indian pace bowler Ishant Sharma on December 10, 2016.
Prachi Tehlan is one of the most interesting Indian female basketball players, especially with her career trajectory.
Born on October 2, 1993, she stands at 5 feet 9 inches. Besides being a basketballer, she has also enjoyed stints in both netball and acting.
Her sporting career began with basketball, playing at the national level, whilst still in school.
Following this, she was part of the Indian camp three times during 2004, in Cuttack, Orissa, India.
From 2002-2007, she played two sub-junior nationals (under-14), these being Pondicherry and Karnataka (2002-2003).
Representing Delhi eight times in the under-17 category, she helped the team secure a position on three separate occasions.
She then went onto represent Delhi thrice at the under-19 level, securing the first position all three times.
In 2008, she secured the first position again at inter-college, whilst also gaining the first spot in Inter-University.
The first took in Bhubaneshwar, with the latter taking place during All-India in Nellore.
Finally, in 2009, she clinched first place yet again in inter-college basketball and competed in the Inter-University competition, which took place in Punjab, India.
It’s evident that Prachi’s netball career is far superior to her basketball. But the fact that Prachi applied her trade in the sport, proves how versatile she actually is.
Prachi states that she put her sporting career on hold due to a lack of opportunity and sponsors for Indian female basketball players in India.
Like Prashanti Singh, she believes more opportunities need to be available to women athletes in India.
Jeena Palanilkumkalayil Skaria
Jeena Palanikumkalayil Skaria who stands at 5 feet 8 inches is familiar as PS Jeena. She was born on January 9, 1994, in Kalpetta, Wayanad, India.
Her role model and inspiration from the basketball world is Geethu Anna Jose.
She began her career in the Kannur Sports Division, before earning her first international call up in 2009. This was for the U16 FIBA Asian championships.
Afterwards, she went on playing college basketball for Krishnamenon College in Kannur, Kerala, India.
Later, she represented the coastal town’s university. This was only the beginning for Jeena.
She had her breakout moment in 2012 at the U18 FIBA Asian Championship for women.
Despite the weight of being the leader of her team, she still outshone her opponents. She was the second-leading scorer in the championship with 20.2 points per match.
She also had an impressive ratio for rebounds per game, which was 13.6. This was the highest in the entire competition.
With such great statistics, she became a focal point five years later in 2017. This saw her lead Kerala to their first Senior Nationals victory.
In 2018, she also was the captain of Team India at the Asian Games, which were held in Jakarta-Palembang.
Jeena became the second Keralite to achieve the feat after Smrithi Radhakrishnan, who did so previously in 2014.
Speaking on her captaincy with the team before the games, she told Times of India:
“I’m so grateful for this opportunity to lead the Indian team.
“We will be looking to do our best and qualify for the quarter-finals from the group stages.”
Similar to Geethu before her, she was also signed by the Ringwood Lady Hawks in 2019. Jeena also took a job as a senior assistant with Kerala State Electricity Board.
Barkha Sonkar who stands at 5 feet 4 inches is one of the youngest members on this list.
She was born on December 24, 1996, in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Her career path has also been somewhat different to that of her peers.
She is a member of the Indian women’s basketball team, representing her nation since 2016.
In 2017, she represented India at the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup Division B Championships.
She gained selection for the IMG Reliance scholarship programmes for education and training in the US.
Barkha attended high school at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. After graduating from the academy in 2016, she went to study at Hillsborough Community College.
She was playing for the Hillsborough Hawks (National Collegiate Athletic Association) for two years, whilst at the college.
She also played for Lindsey Wilson College, which is situated in Kentucky.
Most memorably, during the 2017 FIBA Asian Cup, Barkha had a good tournament.
Her contribution saw India beating Kazakhstan 75-73. She was named the 3rd best player in the game.
Barkha had certainly made a promising start to her career.
Despite being well known within their home nation, these Indian female basketball players deserve more recognition.
As some stars mention, more opportunities need to be made available to these players so that they can develop.
Developing their careers will allow more of them to apply their trade abroad. This will definitely bring more popularity to the sport within India, presenting an opportunity to grow further.
Thus, India can move forward as a nation and become a serious contender in the future.
Also, perhaps this can lead to the introduction of Indian stars in the top league of the Women’s National Basketball Association.