Sri Lanka Army emerged second runners-up in the recently concluded 52nd Senior Nationals after 35 years. The Soldiers were also victorious in the 2018 Defense Services Tournament after 22 years. Commander behind the troops, Harsha Fernando, revealed his war tactics on Swishing the Nets – Basketball in 05 minutes.
Q: Some memories from your days playing for St Peter’s?
I started playing basketball when I was 15 years old. I started training with the U-16 team but I could not make that team. Then I got selected to the U17 team, I was the 6th man, but, that year we won the U17 All Island Basketball Championship. I played in a couple of U19 championships, in, 1980 and 1981. We won the second runner-up award in the 1981 championship.
Q: How did playing Rugby help you with Basketball and vice-versa?
For a basketball player to get into rugby, it is a very easy thing. The ball handling and the jumping skills that I nurtured during my basketball practices were very advantageous to me. I was an automatic choice for the no. 04 position on the rugby field.
Apart from the ball handling and jumping skills, factors such as speed and endurance which we developed assisted us in rugby and vice-versa, when we step into the court, the robust physical play of rugby upped our basketball game-play.
Q: You represented the Sri Lanka Schools Team for 3 years, take us through that phase.
It was a great learning curve. It was the first time we had the chance to step out of school with another coach, also, meet with the other stars from institutions such as St. Sebastian`s College, Royal College, St. Benedict`s College, De La Salle College, Dharmashoka College and De Mazond College.
03 years with the best of the best, molded us to be better basketballers and better individuals in our life. It gives you an unspeakable amount of exposure.
Q: What were some of the high-points during your SL Air Force basketball career?
I joined the Sri Lanka Air-Force (SLAF) in 1983, straight out of school. It was a golden opportunity to play for SLAF at that age. We were guided by a very experienced and senior set of players. It gave you that fearless confidence booster to engage in the sport.
In 1987, we won the first national championship for Sri Lanka Air Force.
Q: Take us through your coaching journey thus far.
I always wanted to give back to the sport. I thought the best way could be by coaching, but I didn’t have an opportunity. I should be grateful to the administration of the Carlton Sports Club (HSC Blues), specially, Mr. Hiran Wijesooriya and the Head-Coach, Mr. Prasanna Jayasooriya. I joined their coaching staff, initially as a specialist coach for big-men and later on I moved to be the assistant coach. We went on to win a few championships during my 2-3-year stint with the club.
Q: Comments on SL Army`s accomplishments under your coaching?
It was a massive challenge, to win the Defense Services Championship after 22 years and to be crowned second runner-up in the 52nd Senior Nationals after 35 years.
Majority of the players do not grow up with a school basketball background. Some of them have not even seen a ball nor a court as kids. The challenge was to build their self-confidence to take on the big names of the industry.
I had to follow the current trends of the game. For a couple of months, it was only fitness and shooting. After that we moved into basketball. My two daughters who are engaged in the sport in the US, helped me with their college training schedules to achieve this feat.
Q: What would you like to convey to up and coming big men to improve their game?
I was fortunate to meet the US Coach, Mr. Pete Goode. He was the Senior High School coach at the Duke University for 18 years under Coach K. Mr. Goode was also the women`s coach at Vanderbilt, Ohio State Women`s Team and India. I came across him at a 3×3 tournament in Italy and in the USA. He passed on his knowledge to me and I used them during my tenure at the HSC Blues. I was focused on specializing signature moves for players. It is a simple theory, if you are a big man, when on the court, you have to think big and show big. Then, practice and practice.
Q: What are your main areas of focus as a basketball coach?
In basketball, you have to break-down the game into segments. In offense; the set offense, transition offense and secondary transition offense. In defense; set defense and the transition defense. Apart from those, you have to tackle the perimeter players and the big men separately.
The success of SL Army was that we were opting for a support defense filled with fake traps. You need the help your team-mate and rotate after the ball reverses. There was a lot of support from the ball side to the weak side. It did work well.
Q: Any final thoughts?
I must thank the Commander of Sri Lanka Army, who provided us with a tremendous support. Former Chairman, General Athula Galagamage, who provided me with the opportunity to coach Sri Lanka Army and the present Chairman, the basketball administrators, community and the spectators who were with us.