These three members of one family represent Nepali basketball at the national levelAlisha Malla, Anusha Malla and Binod Shrestha will all be representing Nepal at the upcoming South Asian Games.
For Alisha Malla, Anusha Malla and Binod Shrestha, basketball is in the blood. Sisters Alisha and Anusha are on the women’s national team while Shrestha is on the men’s and all three of them will be playing for Nepal at the upcoming 13th South Asian Games. Nepal is staging the regional sports extravaganza from December 1-10 in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Janakpur.
“It is something we are very proud of, to represent our country at the international arena is not a normal thing for three members from one family,” said Shrestha, who has been playing basketball for the past two decades. “Even during family gatherings, we three are often talking about our performances and room for improvement.”
Alisha, who is a power forward and supports the Golden State Warriors in the United States’ NBA, met Shrestha, an ardent follower of the Los Angeles Lakers, 10 years ago during a college-level tournament. Point-guard Anusha, who recently won the Most Valuable Player for the Nepal Police Club during the women's edition of the Nepal Basketball League in June, got into the game by following her elder sister’s footsteps. Both sisters play for the Nepal Police Club in domestic tournaments while Shreshta plays for Golden Gate International Club.
Being sisters, 27-year-old Alisha and 24-year-old Anusha have great chemistry on the courts, say their teammates.
“Both of them have important roles on the team and they seem to have a proper understanding of each others’ game,” said power forward Sadina Shrestha, the Nepal women’s team captain. “Despite all of us having our own set of skills and abilities, Anusha has been emerging as a top player for Nepal.”
Anusha too finds it comfortable to play alongside her sister as they’ve been playing together for years and they understand each others’ moves, she says.
“We also talk frequently about each others’ performance, and that helps a lot,” said Anusha.
Meanwhile, when Golden Gate International Club thrashed South Siders Basketball Club 104-65 in their league win earlier this year, Shrestha was judged player of the match for his 21 points, six assists, three rebounds and three steals. While Shrestha remains a good player, he acknowledges that he is in the twilight of his career.
Despite the years that these family members have put into playing national-level basketball, there are still challenges they continue to face.
“Pursuing a career in basketball is quite tough as it is not possible for everyone to make a career out of basketball,” said Alisha. “We just don’t have adequate tournaments like other sports. To keep ourselves sharp throughout the year, we need to play regularly and against better opponents.”
Alisha, who attends Himalayan Whitehouse International College, cannot participate in college-level tournaments as the organisers do not allow national team members to play in such competitions.
Nepal currently has one domestic women’s league, where five teams participated, from May 29 to June 22. In the league, which is the biggest basketball event in the country, the men's event played over 55 days with 66 matches in total, including nine playoffs and a final. In the women’s category, four teams played six matches each before the play-offs and the tournament final.
But even this league is organised privately, by the Play for Deprived Children Nepal organisation, not the Nepal Basketball Association, which is the national basketball governing body.
“The private sector has entered basketball and is organising the national league, the only tournament we have, but the signs are good,” said Alisha. “If we had at least two leagues a year, the players would do well financially. The association has a significant role to play in this regard.”
But the association has largely been ineffectual, doing little to support talent in the country. Bipendra Maharjan, who captained the Nepal basketball team for over a decade, was honoured by the Nepal Basketball Association with just a certificate of appreciation and Rs 5,000 cash.
“Nepal produces talented players as well, but most of them decide to go abroad as there is not much in Nepal when it comes to financial returns,” said Shrestha.
With little to do the rest of the year, the sisters and Shrestha engage themselves in coaching jobs.
“There is great interest and passion for basketball among the youth,” said 34-year-old Shrestha, who plays point guard.“Most academic institutions in urban areas have a basketball court with the sport being a favourite pastime for students. However, we don’t have school-level tournaments anymore.”
At one point in time, there were at least two dozen school-level tournaments in the country. But slowly, they’ve all stopped for one reason or the other.
According to Shrestha, the country would benefit immensely from the establishment of basketball academies as that would help produce and retain good players.
“In addition to the existing league, it would also be beneficial for everyone if the Association itself comes up with a domestic league,” he said. “The sporting calendar is very important as it would keep players occupied and sharp throughout the year.”
The men’s national basketball team last played an international tournament at the South Asian Basketball Championship in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2018. The men’s team had a tournament to forget, without no wins. In sharp contrast, the women’s team won silver in their previous international, back in 2016, finishing behind Sri Lanka after losing 49-75 in the tournament final.
The South Asian Basketball Championship is the only annual international basketball tournament played in the region.