Commentary

Changing Culture

Originally Published: February 1, 2012
By Glenn Nelson | HoopGurlz

Sophia Bhasin Glenn Nelson/ESPN.com Senior guard Sophia Basin, a Long Island University recruit, has been on a scoring and triple-double tear for Cajon (San Bernardino, Calif.).

Sophia Bhasin's father played cricket, which is to India what soccer is to nearly every other country in the world, save the U.S. Still, he learned to embrace the new game his daughter picked up in America.

And obviously so has she.

Sophia Bhasin didn't move to the U.S. permanently until she was 8. She didn't start playing basketball until the seventh grade. But she certainly has become conversant in it.

Born in Punjab, in northern India, Bhasin has become fluent with the term "triple double," for example. She has produced seven straight of them for Cajon (San Bernardino, Calif.), heading into its game Tuesday night against Rialto (Calif.). During that stretch, she had four straight games with 33, 45, 39 and 38 points.

"I knew I had to step up," said Bhasin, a Sikh who maintains dual citizenship in the U.S. and India. She did because Angelica Guardado, the team's 5-foot-10 "post," good for 10.6 points and 8.3 rebounds for Cajon's 29-2 team last season, suffered an ACL tear in December.

Bhasin's backcourt mate, 5-5 Dejaunee Brooks, also has stepped forward, averaging a triple-double with 12.6 points, 10.9 assists and 10.4 rebounds. And, oh by the way, coach Mark Lehman has collected his 600th career varsity coaching victory during this magical 19-3 season for Cajon.

But this clearly has been Bhasin's show ("If she doesn't shoot the ball, we don't win," Lehman said. "It's as simple as that."), made all the more compelling by the cultural hurdles she's had to overcome.

[+] EnlargeShilpa Tummala
Glenn Nelson/ESPN.comShilpa Tummala, whose parents are from India, overcame cultural inhibitions to become the No. 68 prospect in 2012 and a Harvard recruit.

Basketball is not completely alien to India. The country, for example, sent a team to the FIBA 3x3 girls' tournament in Rimini, Italy, last September. However, there are longstanding beliefs in Asian countries such as India that girls are not to participate so publicly in sports. It's been a slow road from the mentality on display in "Bend It Like Beckham," the 2002 film in which Punjabi Sikh parents fight their daughter's interest in soccer.

If this year represents a cultural transformation to "Shake It Like Shaq," Bhasin has company in the vanguard. Shilpa Tummala of St. Mary's (Phoenix, Ariz.), which is No. 1 in the POWERADE FAB 50, was born in Phoenix, but her parents are Hindus from Andhra Pradesh in South India.

"Honestly, it wasn't very common for an Indian girl to be so actively involved in sports," Tummala said via email. "The fact that I played basketball competitively and devoted so much of my time to basketball shocked many people in my community."

Tummala's devotion to basketball was such that she was ranked the No. 68 prospect in 2012 by ESPN HoopGurlz. That led to her signing to play for Harvard, an ultimate prize for a culture that so stresses academics.

"I do have family back in India," Tummala said. "And yes, most of them know that I am going to play basketball in college. They seem to enjoy the fact that I am going to Harvard next year to play basketball. But, I believe, the 'Harvard' part is what really excites them as they don't know much about my basketball career in America."

Both Tummala and Bhasin have fathers who became active supporters of their basketball pursuits. Bhasin's twin brother, Ranjit, was who dragged her into the sport. She became a quick study, mastering for example the advanced skill of creating jump shots off the dribble, an attribute that is the foundation of her 25.2-point scoring average this season.

Like Tummala, Bhasin has earned a Division I scholarship, also on the East Coast, to Long Island University in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"I'm trying a new adventure," she said of her looming career at LIU.

Or continuing one.

Bhasin said she is occasionally asked about her background and frequently is confused for being Mexican, which is not far-fetched for a region that is some 60 percent Latino. But she and Tummala are not as much curiosities to outsiders as much as they are to their own ethnic communities.

They both even were fascinated by the existence of each other.

"I think it is awesome that there is another Indian girl playing basketball out there," Tummala said. "Sports is such a great way to stay active, develop lifelong friendships and learn valuable life lessons. It makes me very proud to know that people of my culture are allowing their children to participate at a high level of competitive athletics. It is not very common, like I said, so the fact that they are opening their minds to the positive aspects of sports makes me very happy. To be honest, outside of my older brother, I don't know of any other Indians who play competitive basketball."

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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.

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