February 14, 2020 09:31 AM NPT
By: URZA ACHARYA
Nikesh Rai has been playing basketball for over a decade. And he confesses that there’s nothing about it that he doesn’t love. He loves every aspect of it—the training, the actual game and everything in between. Rai was even a part of the under 19 team that played in the regional tournaments.
But he wasn’t satisfied with how things were looking for basketball in Nepal. He felt that good players could rarely make much progress due to the severe lack of proper basketball coaching. And Rai, at the young age of 23, decided to do something about it. So, in May 2019, he founded ISA Nepal, a basketball academy that hopes to churn out international-level players who can represent Nepal in tournaments that the world has its eyes on.
The idea of ISA Nepal came across Rai’s mind when two of his students (he has been coaching basketball at Ideal Model School) approached him asking him to train them for a week before they went in for a basketball competition. Rai coached them for one whole week which he describes as being an exciting and motivating experience for him.
“It felt really good to train the students outside of school without being bound by a certain time frame. Moreover, I realized that my coaching was more detailed and personal around these two students and I wanted to emulate that elsewhere in the future as well,” he says.
Though he later found out that the students didn’t actually win the competition, he realized that he wanted to start something that could help kids of all ages continue their passion for basketball outside of their schools. “And that’s how ISA Nepal was born,” he reveals.
ISA Nepal started out humbly with just two students, but in just a matter of a few months has garnered over 50 plus students. ISA Nepal mostly targets children—to come and train in the academy—as it’s no secret that to be able to get really good at a sport, it’s best to start early. “Most of our students are still in school and it’s this age group that we want to focus on,” he says.
To get enrolled in ISA Nepal is fairly simple. One can visit their social media pages or their website to get in touch with them. The classes take place three to four days a week. “Saturday morning is when we train children and older students who can come on their own and can practice on the other days as well. We’ve done this so as to not hamper their studies,” claims Rai. Similarly, 12 mentors (six male, six female) work under Rai to make sure each student gets individualized attention during the training sessions.
The main objective of ISA Nepal is to act as a bridge for future-basketball players to continue their passion for the sport in the days to come. “Usually, children who are interested in basketball play it in school, some get a scholarship to continue playing it in college after which unless you become a member of an exclusive basketball club, that’s pretty much it,” says Rai.
Moreover, to be a part of the national team one has to train at their own expense which is something many talented players can’t afford. “Many brilliant players have had to give up on their dreams because of this very reason,” says Rai adding that out of their 50 plus students, 15 of them are on scholarship.
According to Rai, the process of selecting team players (in higher levels) depends on which school, college or economic background they come from with people giving more priority to those who come from well-known schools, even if their ability is not up to par. “By making our coaching accessible to anyone who is passionate about basketball—irrespective of their economic standing—we want to bring out students who might have otherwise been overlooked,” explains Rai.
Rai says that the feedback from the parents of children they are coaching has been really good. Many parents who were tired of their children wasting their Saturdays and other holidays indoors playing video games got them enrolled at ISA Nepal in hopes of making them active and healthy. But now, some of them have developed a real passion for the sport. Their enthusiasm is evident by the way they focus on their exercises and follow Rai and his team’s command.
Along with the health benefits as well as being a career prospect for some of these children, basketball, according to Rai, has other social benefits as well. “When we’re teaching these children how to play basketball, it’s not just about shooting the ball into the net. It’s also about sportsmanship, teamwork, and perseverance among other things,” says Rai adding that along with basketball, they teach the children things like how to behave themselves in a tournament and the importance of a balanced diet, all of which they hope spills on to their regular life as well. “Along with great players, we want the children who come to us to be good people,” concludes Rai.