BEYOND PAPER: SLAM DUNK!
An interview with Rafay Karim and Shaina Shahid
Conducted by Talah Imam and Ayesha Noor
Talah:Let’s start with how it began; because, frankly speaking, basketball is not a very popular sport in Pakistan.
Rafay: Well, I started playing basketball in Karachi, and I’ve been an Air Force brat, so I learned basketball in the facilities we had. Then, I also came on the A Level team, where I once again polished my skills. Phir yahan NUST mein aa ke I played for like two years in the team, and then it’s just a commitment of you regularly playing. Our captain from last year had to announce the new captain before he left, and he chose me.
Shaina: So basically, I also started playing kaafi pehle. Like, I used to play as a child, but obviously, since I belong from an army background, there weren’t that many courts and everything. I started playing in Lahore. Then, there wasn’t a team in my school. So, I made the team, and I used to train them myself because I was really into basketball. I would watch YouTube videos just to learn everything.
After that, I started playing and going into tournaments in school. Over there, we used to have scouts that would see you play and ask you to try out for camps. The coach of the Punjab team once saw me and said, “you should try for the camp”. So I did try for the camp, and I played for the team for a year. Then I came here, and yahan aa kar I didn’t know NUST mein kitna hi kuch hai.
Then in NUST, the girls team wouldn’t go anywhere, and they wouldn’t play a lot. We had practice sessions, but nobody would show up. I started playing, and I also played for the Islamabad team that’s here. I still play a lot there. Since then, as I shifted to captaincy, I’ve been taking it a lot more seriously. Now if there’s a practice, you’ll see at least more than ten people. And a lot of girls are interested. We have a big team now, so there’s that.
Talah: Acha, on the subject of sports in NUST, since I also play myself, I have seen that there are coaches, but people generally don’t know what’s going on, and the people don’t advertise it that much on what you’re supposed to do. What’s your general view on sports in NUST?
Shaina: I feel that it’s not well set up at all. We don’t have any coaches. And we’ve been all the way to Karachi just to play the HEC basketball tournament, and so have they (points to Rafay). We’ve been to Lahore, and we’ve generally travelled so much, yet we don’t have a single coach. We have some weird Ma’ams or Sirs going with us who don’t know anything about basketball, tou it’s really weird.
Talah: Are there any objectives or goals that came to mind the moment you became captains? For example, you (Rafay) were recently made captain, right?
Rafay: When I came into captainship, I had a lot of goals. The way I was made captain was because the previous captain was very disheartened, as we lost a match due to different reasons like difference of opinion within the team, so I decided that this semester, there will be no official tournament for NUST; instead, preferring more and more friendly matches.
I think I did a really good job at that end, and then we went to GIKI Olympiad, and played friendly matches with FAST, and many relationships were established. We also played matches with army and local clubs of Islamabad.
The second goal that I had is still in its initial stages, but since I have very good support (we haven’t discussed that, Shaina, so I guess we should do it soon).
Shaina: So, when I was made captain, for almost two and a half years now, I wanted to make a change. Previously the team was not very good, like we didn’t win a lot of tournaments at that time, and I felt really bad because I loved playing. If training sessions took place, there would literally be two players playing in the whole court, and nobody else would show up. I used to ask my captain, “Why aren’t you strict about this? Why don’t you talk to them? Why aren’t you recruiting more people?”, and she was like “I am too nice to be a captain”. So, when I was made captain, I used to be very strict about practice. If someone is late, she has to pull out at least two laps for sure. That got around, and everyone is on time now. People come to practice because they want to play, not because it is forced upon them. Also, we have a good team now, so people like playing because we know we can win something.
Talah:So, you were talking about your second objective, Rafay?
Rafay: Yeah, so this has a long backstory. I had this idea through the IVY League: so, what I am trying right now is to arrange a series of friendly matches. The major sports being played in NUST altogether don’t require an official event, are mostly supported by various societies, and manage their sports kits themselves. Right now, I am in contact with GIKI, and hopefully on the 28th of March, we are having this competition with GIKI, in which seven major sports are included like football, basketball, cricket, badminton, table tennis, squash, all in a single day. We are waiting for approval now from the DD of sports, because when that is done, hopefully this will happen.
Shaina: You should call EME as well, like do you see the triathlon that it does, and it calls three teams including LUMS, etc? I mean it seems like a triathlon.
Rafay: Actually, right now it is in its initial stage, which is why I am thinking we should keep it to a smaller level, and then proceed gradually.
Talah:I’ve noticed you’ve (Shaina) been a captain for a long time, and you’re (Rafay) also now a captain, so anything about leadership in that regard? For example, sometimes you have to be hard on your players, and sometimes you have to be soft on them, and in sports, I think a special side of leadership comes into view. Do you have anything to say about that?
Shaina: Sometimes it is really hard, because a lot of these people are your friends, so sometimes they don’t take you seriously. Like, there is a player in my team who’s very good, but gets angry very easily. Sometimes it’s very difficult to control her, and I have to be very harsh with her and tell her that she can’t do this no matter how good a friend she is to me, because this is not going to work. So it’s very difficult, you know, to keep it professional and keep your friend circle aside as you go through matches and training and other stuff. Other than that, I think you need to be strong and gentle at the same time, because if you’re harsh all the time, people will just end up hating you. You have to help them achieve everything.
Rafay: I completely agree with her because that’s how it happens. We are all friends, and we’re in the team together, and when you eventually become captain, you have to keep things a little strict, and then people can take it the wrong way. So, sometimes you get the feeling that your friends aren’t happy with you, but it is something you just have to put up with.
Shaina: There have also been a lot of fun times too – for example, when we went to GIKI. So, whenever we go somewhere as a team it has also been a lot of fun and it is always nice
Talah: So, the scope of the tournaments you have participated in: is it mainly limited to the HEC?
Shaina: No, there are others which are open to all of Pakistan, have no age-barrier, or other requirements, like GIKI. There are also tournaments that are open to all in Lahore, so you can play in a lot of places.
Talah:Is there a particular tournament that everyone looks forward to, in the sense that it is the biggest and most important one? I mean a tournament that everyone wants to win?
Shaina: There are a few of them: GIKI is big in Islamabad, and NasCon is pretty big too. LUMS Sportsfest is also a big one, and NUST Olympiad was also big. When they conducted the NUST Olympiad, a lot of teams showed up, so I would consider it a big tournament.
Talah: I guess all the difficult questions are out of the way. Any short questions from your side?
Ayesha: Yes, I want to know what the recruitment criteria is for the women’s basketball team. What’s the process?
Shaina: Every semester, we have a two-day trial, so I just conduct some drills and a match after splitting the players trying for the team into two. Through this, you can tell how good someone plays, and their attitude regarding how much they are willing to learn. A lot of it is about having the right attitude than knowing how to play, so if there’s someone who is like “I know everything, and I don’t have anything new to learn”, I can’t have them in the team, because no matter how good you are, you can’t have them in the team with that attitude.
Rafay: I think it is important to see if people are committed and disciplined about being in the team. I mean they should be coming to the trainings. So, the people who don’t show up to training because they aren’t committed will have to be in the substitutes, because I’ll have to prioritize people who are committed.
Talah: Okay, your favorite basketball player – for the record?
Shaina: I like LeBron.
Rafay: I have a few. Firstly, LeBron, and then there are Westbrook and James Harden from the Houston Rockets.
Talah: You both actively watch basketball?
Shaina: Yep. It’s like how people watch the Premier League, right? So yeah, we enjoy watching the NBA.
Rafay: Yes, it helps to develop your interest in the sport
Talah: I guess that’s it. Thank you for giving us your time!
(Parts of this interview have been edited for sake of conciseness and clarity. This interview was conducted before the Corona shutdown, hence the mention of the match with GIKI on 28th March. We hope you all stay safe, and that things return to normal, so that we can have such matches in the near future)