Originally published in Jan, 2017 on NBA India
You could call it destiny or a fortunate confluence of circumstances, but you shouldn’t. The idea that two of India’s finest basketball talents hail from Kerala, have captained India, have an undying passion for the sport, and are both each other’s better halves, does seem like a story meant to be. Something penned by Cupid with the ink of inevitability. But surrendering to the idea that fate ordained this blessed union would be a disservice to the extraordinary couple that Prasanna Kumari and Jayasankar Menon make.
The truth is neither of these two would be where they are now without a seemingly endless reservoir of perseverance and a deeply rooted love for the game. The young are entitled to their indiscretions. There were flirtations with handball for Jayasankar Menon in his youth. Prasanna Kumari was shining on the track and in high jump. But the moment the basketball started to swish through the net in their teens, everything else washed away to insignificance for this duo as they heard their true passion calling on the hardwood.
Two isolated incidents played a huge part in shaping their lives by nudging them towards basketball. Prasanna could have had a promising career in athletics if a basketball team competing in a mini-state championship in Kerala wasn’t looking for players to fill its ranks. Her athletic background served her well in migrating to basketball. Jayasankar’s transition was a tad bit more painful, to say the least.
Son of government employees, Jayasankar was supported by his parents in his passion for sports. “I first started playing basketball when I was 13, my father encouraged me to participate in a tournament in Trichur. I joined a summer camp after that and put more time in basketball.” His handball aspirations were laid to rest when he was attending the Senior State coaching camp for Kerala’s senior handball team and an autorickshaw ran him over. The resulting injury made him take a step back from sports for a while. When he came back, it was through a foray in Kerala’s U-16 basketball team. His performance paved the way for him to join the Sports Hostel in Kerala in 1984. Three years later he joined the Railways and moved to Chennai where he played his first Senior Nationals. He made his debut for India on the biggest stage in 1987 in the starting lineup for the Asian Basketball Confederation Championship in Bangkok.
While he was finding his footing for India, Prasanna had assumed the mantle of captaincy for the Indian team for the 13th ABC Championship in Singapore in 1990. The same year, she was awarded the Indira Gandhi National Award. Prasanna went on to become the very first women’s player from India to play in five ABCs. Displaying remarkable consistency, Prasanna also participated in 12 Senior National championships and nine Federation Cups as she represented India for almost 12 years.
Jayasankar played the centre position in domestic competitions and power forward when he represented India. But he was a talent capable of filling whatever role a team required of him as he displayed in the 1995 ABCs. With India struggling to counter a full court press, the 6 ft 5 in Jayasankar channelled his inner Charles Barkley by manning the point and bringing the ball up court in addition to working in the post. His stellar performances earned him a spot on the Asian All-Star team in 1997, as he became the first player from India to earn that honour.
Prasanna and Jayasankar met for the first time at the Junior Nationals in Baroda in 1985 and were married almost a decade later in 1994. Together, they’ve acted as a tidal wave to help usher in growth in basketball well after hanging up their jerseys. They’ve formed the Professional Basketball Academy in Chennai in 2000, through which they’ve held numerous coaching camps and tournaments.
“Do you have a problem with a lady being your coach?” asked Prasanna of her team in a pro league. No hands emerged as her pedigree speaks for itself. Prasanna is a part of the national selection committee for the women’s basketball team and is on the coaching staff of the Indian Railways women’s team as well while being employed as the Senior Welfare Inspector/Sports with the Southern railways.
Jayasankar has formed two associations for the growth of the sport: the Integrated Basketball Players Association and the Kerala Sports Person Association. He’s worked with numerous organizations including FICCI, and he’s conducted events across multiple sports including athletics, carom, chess, swimming and powerlifting among others. You may have heard his clear voice giving colour commentary on DD Sports during basketball events as well. “I’m an optimistic person by nature. I always hope for opportunities through which I can give back to the game in some way,” said Jayasankar. With demonetization increasing the workload at banks, he’s been working overtime at his bank branch in Delhi, where he’s monitoring cash movement in about 70 branches of the bank in the capital city.
The couple has two daughters, Archana and Krishna. Krishna, the younger daughter, is showing flashes of brilliance on the field, having won the bronze medal in shotput at the 2016 CBSE All-India U-19 meet. Archana, the elder one, has graduated from college and is pursuing modelling aspirations.
Arjuna from Mahabharata himself would blush at Cupid’s adroit aim that brought these two together. If that auto had been off course by a minute, or if that basketball team was not looking for another player, we might never have heard of these two legends. As it is, the greatest beneficiary from their union has been basketball in India, to which these two continue to give selflessly. And so next time you’re on a basketball court, don’t discount the possibility that the person launching up shots on the other end of the court might just be your future significant other.