A country that boasts a history of over a century in basketball, sadly neither possesses a national pool to prepare for a tournament nor a properly equipped indoor training facility. Premila Fernando, a veteran national player, an adept referee and a long-standing ambassador of the game in Sri Lanka, spoke to Swishing the Nets – Basketball in 05 minutes about her experiences in the island.
Premila Fernando, an old girl of St. Joseph`s Girls` School – Nugegoda started her life in sport with athletics.
“I was participating in the inter-house athletics meet when the teacher in charge of netball came up to me and asked me whether I would like to play netball. I always liked sports so I said yes. After a few days on the way home after netball practices, I saw other girls playing basketball, which drew me towards the game and made me curious. I played both but when I stepped into the national arena I had to choose one and I put up my hand up for basketball”
Her pick worked out well for him in the end. Being a player, who moves swiftly across the court, dishing out passes and sneaking through defenses, Premila transformed into a player who the national team could not afford to lose. Taking on the role as point guard for many years, her game sense, awareness, and ability to adapt in seconds, confirms her as one of the best players we have seen in Sri Lanka over the last decade.
Premila`s commitment helped her achieve an incredibly important feat.
“The best memory for me was when I was ranked second in Asia. In 2007, when FIBA announced the rankings, we were playing the FIBA Women`s Asian Championships in Korea”.
Premila is admired for her playing skills but that did not keep her from trying her hand at refereeing. Basketball refereeing in Sri Lanka is dominated by males. In this predominantly male business, Premila creates a balance by playing an all-around role as a referee.
“Prasad Ranasinghe, who was a senior referee in Sri Lanka, asked me whether I would like to take up refereeing since I was engaged in the sport for quite some time. In 2009 I joined the referee`s association and in 2011, I was able to obtain the FIBA license”.
Being a national player and a referee is not an easy task. Premila is seen very often officiating in matches. SO how is it that she keeps her playing career going with such success?
“I prioritize playing because I still play and I like that aspect of the game. If I have a national assignment, I inform the referees association and obtain a release from them. But well, from their end there are a lot of requests coming to officiate more since they want to improve the quality of the referees. I would also like to make this an opportunity to thank the referee’s association for helping me to balance both sides of the game”.
Over a decade of experience in national basketball, from athletics to netball and finally ending up with basketball, Premila`s knowledge of the game is immeasurable. For a youngster who would want to pursue the sport, Premila`s has some advice,
“If you want to become a national player, point one, there is a lot of sacrifices to be made from your end. Most of the time the practices are carried out in a team format. So, there is very little time for an individual to work on the finer points to make yourself better. So, work tirelessly on your own fitness, shooting, and defense if you`d like to stand out. Also since the local system does not offer many facilities, the more time you spend fine-tuning yourself, the more chances you will have towards becoming a fine player”.
Even though the system is not the best support to achieve greater heights, Premila believes that we have performed beyond expectations in the international arena as the Sri Lankan Women`s team went on to be crowned champions in the South Asian region in 2016.
Read and Watch: South Asian Basketball Champions 2016 – An anecdote
“After playing for the youth basketball team, I started representing the senior women`s national team in 2008. With the experience of a decade, I can say that I feel that our standards have dropped. We never have adequate time to practice and we don`t have the chance to practice enough in an indoor facility prior to an international tournament”. Premila Fernando said about the major obstacles to Sri Lanka’s success.
With the teams selected just days prior to the tournament and the national body not equipped to provide the necessary facilities to the players to carry out training, Sri Lanka has fallen behind many of their Asian counterparts
Read: 100 years, No national pool?
“Not just developing playing skills but even fitness, it is in a state that we have to develop them individually. In other countries, fitness is focused on as a team activity which helps to develop the entire group’s performance immensely”
The problems with the structure of Sri Lanka Basketball have been brought to the attention of the administrators but it has all fallen by the wayside. Without proper execution of plans and lacking a long-term vision, Sri Lanka will not progress beyond this point but may even slide further back.
Read: 3×3 Asia Cup 2018, Sri Lanka down to qualifiers
We have seen Premila in various roles, Premila the player, Premila the referee. With time, Premila the coach will unravel as well. Having already completed the FIBA Level II coaching exam she is en-route to mentoring the upcoming basketball stars of the nation.
Fernando, a sturdy disciple of hard work, proper work ethic and apt planning, rang an alarm, not only for the administrators to drive the sport but also to the rest of the coaches to do what they do right in every manner.
“I have seen a lot of people who come to national team are without basics which means I believe that at the school level there are lapses in their training”
We wish Premila Fernando, all the best in her future endeavors!