Satisfaction is ample motivation

by Rex Clementine
oing a non cricket feature can be an exhaustive exercise. The reason being the data base on the country’s sportsmen sans cricket is minimal. Say you want a feature of Sanath Jayasuriya, you can get ample details on the player on the internet and that makes your work that much easier. The vast database the internet gives you include where the player is from, when he was born, the clubs he represents, his records and what not. But if it is any other sport, the story is quite different. You got to do your own research and get things from the horse’s mouth itself. And at times, even the player finds it hard to recall things.

So without having a proper database, we spoke to Sri Lanka’s national basketball player Danushka Wijesinghe to get to know more about her. Although popularly known as Danushka Wijesinghe, the 23-year-old’s full name is Danushka Sashimali Wijesinghe. It’s said that an international sportsman/woman has three phases in his/her playing career. The first is where the player spends as the formative years. Then comes a period where more responsibility is thrust on the player and he/she falls into the "senior" category and a chosen few are privileged to captain the country. Then comes the final phase when one finishes captaining the side and continues to play as yet another player. In Danushka Wijesinghe’s case what’s remarkable is that she has achieved the triple feet in a very short period.

Having started to play basketball at the age of 10 for St. Joseph’s Girls’ School, Nugegoda, which has produced a host of exceptional players to the national team, Wijesinghe’s progress towards national level was a steady one. After leaving school, she continued playing for her club, Colombo BC and few years later she along with several of her colleagues were picked to play for Sri Lanka Navy as contracted players. Recently, she quit the Navy and started representing her club which participated in the recent Colombo Super League 2003 Tournament under the name Track Master.

How did it all start? What made her to take upto basketball, we queried, "When I was at school, the senior students came to our classes looking out for players who were keen in playing the game in the inter house meet. So I went to take part in them and then gradually I was drawn into the school team," she explained.

Wijesinghe has won accolades from her superiors for being regular at practices. She hardly misses a practices session whether it be club or country, unless of course, it’s indispensable. This habit has helped her in many ways. Undoubtedly the ability to be the best in the business has come her way through constant practice. She also values this habit because it gave opportunities that she didn’t expect when she was young. "My first year with the school’s under 13 team was when I was 10 years old. That was way back in 1989. I was not a part of the team that was picked to play the school tournament, but since I was constant for practices my coach drafted me to the team as an additional player," she recalls. Monday to Saturday, Wijesinghe, the second child of a family of five children, practices. The only break comes on Sunday. But if there’s a match or a special practice session, she’s forced to miss the off day too.

She might have won the admiration of her superiors and colleagues for being regular for practice. However for the same virtue plenty of scolding too has come her way, that’s from her family, "Yes there are often complaints saying that I don’t spend enough time visiting my relatives," she chuckles when speaking about the pluses and minuses for being regular for practices. However, her interest and commitment to the game has impressed her family members too. Her younger sister Rukshika Wijesinghe too has gone in her footsteps and toured with the Sri Lankan national basketball team to Germany and India recently.

The impressive days at school

The time the ex-Sri Lankan captain spent at school was quite an impressive one. She along with a few other brilliant players dominated the school competitions and had landslide victories in almost all the matches they played due to their regular training and the depth they had to produce quality players at any given moment. During her days, St. Joseph’s Girls’ School won all the under 13,15,17 and 19 championships without any trouble at all. However impressive she was, Wijesinghe only captained the under 17 and 19 sides of the school. Not the under 13 and 15 teams, which some consider as a must to put a sportsperson in the "exceptionally" category. The reason? "There were better players I guess. In particular, there was someone called Anuja Subashini and she was exceptional. She had the honour of captaining those sides. It’s pretty unfortunate that the club or the country doesn’t have the services of her anymore," Wijesinghe says speaking of her colleague from the smaller days.

She also won many "Best Player," "Best Defensive Player," and "Best Offensive Player," awards on quite a few occasions playing in school tournaments. But it’s the collective efforts to win the championships that she remembers more. She also feels that the commitment and dedication the players at school level showed during her time is fading away, "The players coming out from schools aren’t committed as we used to be. That might probably put the standard down," is a concern she’s got about her younger colleagues.

Although as a player Wijesinghe achieved quite a bit for her school, she couldn’t add the same credentials her academic career. "Probably I should have spent a bit more time with my studies," she reminisces. "The thing was you know basketball was giving me so much of satisfaction as it gives me today. So my heart and soul was in it and it was difficult for me to part from the game,," she says.

While still being at school she represented the country to play in the Youth Championship in Thailand. The first time she represented the Sri Lankan national side was in 1999 on a tour to Japan. Although players in general spend quite a bit of time playing as substitutes at the national level before getting the nod to play in the starting five, it wasn’t the case with Wijesinghe. Right from the beginning, she has represented the country as one of five players who went out to start the game," another attribute of an exceptional player.

From school to bring honour to club and country

The school was fortunate to have a player of Wijesinghe’s calibre as they kept on winning. So were the clubs that she represented. She was playing effectively for Colombo Basketball Club when she got the opportunity to represent the Sri Lanka Navy along with the players who made the core of Colombo BC and the national basketball teams. As long as they were playing for Navy, the results were there to be seen. They took part in six championships and came up by winning five of them including three national championships. The one they lost was the finals of the national championships in the year 2000 to Sri Lanka Schools by a mere one point. That defeat continues to torment her as she regrets for not being able to finish off things on a perfect note. "In that tournament we lost the rhythm a bit and lost a group game earlier on. After that it was difficult for us to get back the momentum and by the time the finals came we weren’t fully prepared she recalls.

A year back she decided to quit Sri Lanka Navy and represent her club in the domestic tournament. As soon as that happened, her club started winning. We asked her for the reasons to quit Navy, "There was a change of policy in the Navy. They wanted us to stay in the camp and take part in training and all that. We thought that it might hinder our practices and decided to quit the Navy," Wijesinghe recalls.

Wijesinghe thoroughness in the fundamentals along with her natural talent has helped her to be what she’s today. Her accuracy in shooting, quick movement and the ability to make life difficult for the opponents when defending has made her deadly.

Surprisingly despite all her achievements, Wijesinhe has remained unemployed for quite sometime now. On several occasions, she has also thought of quitting the game. Not because that the game didn’t give her the proper returns she deserved, but she became miserable after seeing the trouble they had to go through in representing the country. It’s a known fact that when going on tours the national players had to do the needful to find the finances. This had discouraged her greatly, "There had been occasions where I have felt that I should give up playing and do something else. The urge was that hard when we were preparing to go on the German tour this year because finding finances was extremely difficult. But that doesn’t last that long. I love the game so much that whatever the negative thought that creeps into mind gets away the very moment I enter the court," the player who captained the team on the tour to Germany says.

It hurts at times when Susanthika Jayasinghes go on speaking about what they have not got for representing the country. But we have plenty of consolation when we look around and find individuals like Wijesinghe and certain others who despite without any substantial returns still motivate themselves to get to the playing arena everyday. "The satisfaction that I gain from playing itself is enough for me," she maintains.

The basketball player also is grateful for those who’ve been part of her progress, "There are so many people who’ve helped me. I must remember my mother above everyone else. When I was small she used to stay at school for long hours until I finished my practices. That was great of her. I am sure she’s happy about the distance I have come today. And then there are my coaches, Ajith Kuruppu and Hayaz Haroon who’ve played a vital role. I am grateful to all of them," she says.