Lopamudra: Basketball was her calling

Lopamudra: Basketball was her calling

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Lopamudra Thimmaiah is blessed with speed, strength and agility to make it in basketball. DH Photo/ Krishnakumar PS

The basketball fraternity in Bengaluru is a small and vocal one. Given its long tradition of exporting talent to the Indian side, there’s always talk of the next big player among those seated on the bleachers. Over the last decade, the faithful have all but run out of names to haggle over, but ‘Lopa’ still comes up with a hint of reverence. 

She is perhaps the only baller on the circuit who is unanimously agreed upon - across generations too - as the finest from the State in recent memory. That’s largely because Lopamudra Thimmaiah is the name, and she got game - an ode to the Spike Lee’s cult classic. 

As the daughter of an athlete, and not just any athlete either (her father Thimmaiah held the State record in 110 metres hurdles until recently), it was in Lopa’s genes to take to sport. As children do, she thumbed through the list voraciously only to settle on triathlon. At the time, basketball was a pastime, something to kill PE classes with at the Bishop Cotton Girls’ School and socialise over. 

“I started as a triathlete but I never really trained for it,” she says. “Basketball was for fun until I realised I could go places with it. Arthur sir (the school coach) showed me the way. It was pretty straightforward once I understood that I would get more opportunities with basketball.”

“I was able to use the speed from athletics in basketball, and the endurance I had built up in basketball, I used in athletics,” she adds.

It didn’t take her long to put to use her athleticism. In the fifth grade, she was playing the senior team. Organically, she gravitated towards Mounts Club. With Jayavanthi Shyam - the former Indian captain - at the helm of affairs, it was a natural fit. The State Under-13 side came a calling. 

“My first experience was in Himachal Pradesh. We were in the lowest pool but we made it all the way up and finished runners-up Maharashtra,” she said. “Sachin Belavadi was the coach of the team and he really pushed us. He used to make us run rounds around Cubbon Park and we were doing so much. 

“No one really expected us to win or be good but we proved them wrong. Around this time is when I decided that I would give up triathlon and focus on basketball. It was turning out to be too difficult to juggle two sports.”

Be that as it may, she was still going to benefit from the years of pursuing athletics. Swimming 750 metres, cycling 20 kilometres and running five kilometres (distances subject to organisers) tend to do that for your body. 

With the ingredients necessary to make a career out of what was once a hobby, Lopa had built a reputation on stamina and hard work. While her basics weren’t as dialled in like the others, she was eager enough to grasp them over a period of time. With strength never in question, the two-way guard worked on her jumpers, the off-hand, the floaters and her range. The bricks stacked and she was now part of the Indian Under-16 squad. 

Things went swimmingly until they didn’t. It was an inter-college game within the confines of the St Joseph’s Arts and Science college. She drove in and didn’t stick the landing. Pain shot through her back and out her mouth. Those at the game still recall the horror. Her ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) was done for.

“I had that injury two days before I was supposed to join the Under-18 Indian team. The tickets were booked,” she recalls regretfully. 

Given the quality of concrete courts in the country, basketball players endure far too much strain on their knees and subsequently, their ACL gives way.

Physiotherapy isn’t usually enough, meaning surgery is unavoidable. The road to recovery - six months or so in most cases - is littered with doubt and a yearning to play. Most succumb to it, braces and other supporting paraphernalia, not Lopa. Her understanding of her body from the years of being an athlete and coming from a family with prior knowledge of recovery meant she stayed away from the space for as long as she had to. 

Eventually, she was back in the mix, and after months of constantly proving herself, she made to the senior Indian team for the FIBA Asian Championship in Bengaluru. She didn’t get much playtime there either but at least she was where she belonged. With time, she was convincing enough to become one of two people to make it to the Indian side from Karnataka for the South Asian Games in Kathmandu, Arvind Arumugan was the other.   

“I had a tough time breaking into the side. It isn’t easy when there are so many players. It was tough from the time I was trying out for the Under-16 side, and even once you’re in, you aren’t sure of how long you’ll remain there. It’s a constant struggle. 

“Each day is like selection trials so every day you have to put up a good show and assume each day is going to be your last, but when you have a solid family and very helpful people like (K) Govindaraj on your side, it really helps,” she explains.

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