A week ago, on Swishing the Nets – Basketball in 05 minutes, we unfolded the story of a promising basketballer, Praneeth Udumalagala. This week, we disclose the story of the champion, on how he accomplished his and his father’s dream.
53-56, HSC Blues were leading against Colombo BC in the finals..
The multi-talented Udumalagala was awarded an academic scholarship from the Wesleyan University, Texas, for his academic and sports proficiency.
“It was the dream of mine and my father`s to play basketball in the USA. It was a struggle, financially, for my family. My mother told me, I would probably have to go and work, fund the rest of my education, living expenses”
Gaining maximum advantage of the opportunity, he set flight to Texas. Udumalagala, maneuvered his way through the try-outs, the selection process to play basketball for an US university. There he was, living his dream, playing NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) basketball.
“It was different in all aspects. It was much faster, more physical and there was a lot of movement in the game. I think in Sri Lanka we play the game with just 1 or 2 plays. Over there, you have to remember around 30 to 40 plays for the entire season. So much off-ball screens, they’re more athletic and the shooting percentages are way above us.
I had to put in a lot of work. I was underweight at first, so I had to make sure I ate a lot of food, hit the gym to do weight training regularly. I had to shoot more often to better my shooting percentages to match up. Hard work day in and out”
It was a paradigm shift from the basketball Udumagala was engaged in the island. With hard-work, he set up his own goals and expectations.
“When I got into the team I was like the 11th or the 12th player. I just wanted to go up the ladder. At times I would only get 30 seconds or a minute in a game. I wouldn’t` know when they will call my name, so I had to be ready through-out. Next, I wanted to go up to the 7th player, and in the final year my aim was to be the 6th player”
All of us dream. Some of us turn dreams into life plans. When dedication and an exquisite work-ethic is combined, in life, nothing can be denied.
“Winning a National Championship was not even in my dreams, it was far away from my goals. I only wanted to go to USA and play basketball. However, we ended up winning a national championship, both conferences in my sophomore year. My fondest memory, I still get goosebumps, in Kansas City when we played the finals”
Everything was heading in the right direction, misfortune struck yet again.
“I was training for my senior season. We just won a national champion in the junior season so the expectations were high. My own expectations were to get into the first five. Well, God had another plan. I injured my left knee this time. It wasn’t as bad as my first injury to my right knee and losing my father at the same time. It was bad though, I was off my senior season and the rest of my career was based on senior year. It took away all my options in terms of playing overseas and continuing basketball as a profession”
That was it. Period.
Praneeth Udumalagala, returned to the paradise isle after graduating with honors. As time passed by, the injury did heal, but the timing was imperfect. Udumalagala, began his coaching career through his academy and continues to engage in domestic basketball with the hope of a grand return.
“(I want to) definitely keep serving the national basketball team. I want to win a South Asian medal in SAG, as far as I know Sri Lanka has not won a medal in SAG since 1993 or 1995. I want to win that for Sri Lanka. Then I want to pursue my game to reach greater heights, somewhere down the line play overseas a little bit as well”
His exposure and experience is price-less. Playing in one of the elite, top-tier basketball systems of the globe, Udumalagala`s thinking and the perspective towards the game has transformed drastically.
The modern game of basketball is pacey and up to the minute plays. As a developing nation it is vital that the mind-set adjusts to a more modern approach.
“Sri Lanka needs to focus on the skills at a younger age. Furthermore, Sri Lanka needs to play the game in a faster pace getting into more of running offensive plays. I think it`s getting their level by level. We definitely got to pick our pace and in terms of strength, our basketball industry, we are very weak. We need to get into weights and I think that`s what we need to focus on our basketball career”.
The name Praneeth Udumalagala neither needs an ending nor introduction. The great American football player and coach, Thomas Wade Landry once said, “A champion is simply some-one who did not give up when he wanted to”, and that’s exactly what Udumalagala has done.
Praneeth Udumalagala, we wish you all the best in your future endeavors!