In her school exams, Tarin Akhter Khushi, a student of class eight of Arjat Afarjan High School of Kishorganj, has long been writing that she wanted to be a doctor whenever she wasasked to write essays about her ambition.
“Now I want to be a basketball player,” Khushi told me when I met her in the gymnasium of American International School Dhaka (AISD).
A basketball match had just finished. Clad in basketball shorts and T-shirts, more than 50 girls like Khushi however were found singing and dancing inside the gymnasium. A song of Shakira was being played at the background. The ambience inside was just electric.
“I want to be a basketball player too,” Lima Akther, another student from the same school of Kishorganj who stood beside Khushi, told me ecstatically even though I wasn’t finished asking my next question to her friend (Khushi).
Their aim in life didn’t change all of a sudden; rather four days with a person had prompted the change.
That person is Ruthie Bolton, one of the best known female basketball players in the world today.
“I still can’t believe that I had the chance to practice and play with an Olympic gold medalist,” Shampa Akhter Tuli, a class nine student of Lalmatia Girl’s High School said. “She is amazing. I have learned so many things from her.”
“I didn’t just learn basketball from her. She inspired me to be what I want to be,” Tuli added.
Raysa Habib, a member of Bangladesh women national basketball team, told Dhaka Tribune that within these four days she had learned more skills from Ruthie than she had in her entire career. “Technically she is the best ever. She proved height is not a barrier in playing basketball,” said Raysa, a 5 feet 2 inches tall member of the national women basketball team of Bangladesh.
Why in Dhaka?
Ruthie Bolton came to Dhaka as a part of the Bangladesh’s American Center Sports Diplomacy program.
At the gymnasium of AISD, she provided trainings to over 60 Bangladeshi young female athletes during a four-day intensive basketball workshop sponsored by the US Department of State’s Sports United program and Nari Uddug Kendra.
In addition to the intense basketball workshop, Ruthie Bolton conducted outreach sessions with Bangladesh’s emerging national women’s basketball team players, Bangladesh Special Olympics team members, JAAGO School and US Embassy Dhaka’s English Access Micro scholarship program.
In conversation with Ruthie Bolton
The first thing that Dhaka Tribune asked Ruthie Bolton was to express her feeling about her four day experience in Bangladesh in one word. She replied, “Amazing.”
She went on saying that she thoroughly enjoyed her times with the girls that she trained. “They might not be the most skillful players in the world but have great attitudes and work ethic. I think if they are provided with proper trainings, then they have the potential to be very good players.”
The average height of Bangladeshi female isn't much, considering usual basketball players. What’s your take on that?
She replied, “I am not that tall either.” Ruthie is 5 feet 9 inches, which is almost below the average height of the female basketball players. “But I can play,” she smiled.
She said that height is obviously an important factor for playing basketball but it’s not the most important. “If you have the skills and most importantly the attitude, then you can be the very best in this,” she said.
Ruthie told us that she found some great potential among the players from Bangladesh national women’s basketball team. “I think with right training, they have the capacity to play at international level.”
Asked her about the best moment of her illustrious basketball career, she replied “Her game against Ukraine 1996 Olympic.” Bolton was the leading scorer in the game with 21 points. She helped the team win all eight games to win the gold medal for the USA team in the Olympic. Bolton averaged 12.8 points per game and led the team in steals with 23.
Four years later, she helped her team to win the gold medal in Basketball in Sydney Olympic as well. When I reminded her about that, she replied, “I think 1996 was more memorable because I won that in my own country.”