Basketball runs in Ann Mary Zachariah's family. Her parents Zachariah Thomas and Jeena Zachariah represented India while her elder sister Dona Elsa Zachariah is a member of the Kerala junior team. It was natural for her to pick up the sport at an early age. The 16-year-old has become the first Keralite to win the Kansas State Life Preparatory Academy's scholarship for their high-school programme. Nagpur girl Siya Deodhar is the only other Indian to win the scholarship this year.
“I am happy that I could get the scholarship. To be frank, I did not expect this,” Ann told Onmanorama over the phone from Chennai.
“My target is to perform well and win the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) D1 (Division 1) scholarship. My ultimate dream is to play in the WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association),” said the 6' 2'' tall forward.
Ann took up the sport seriously after moving to Mount Carmel Girls Higher Secondary School in Kottayam five years back. “I improved a lot after I shifted to Mount Carmel in Class 6 from Chennai. Our coach Rajamon sir was of great help,” said Ann.
Ann was a member of the Indian U-18 team which won the Asian Championship (B division) in 2018. She played a major role in Kerala's victory in the junior national championship last year.
She was one of the four Indian players who were picked for the NCAA's Next Generation programme in Tampa, Florida, in 2019. “I believe the good showing there helped my cause. The coaches were experienced and they pushed me harder,” said Ann.
Ann makes it a point to thank her parents in moulding her. “I could reach this far only due to the support of my parents.”
Ann's training programme has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. “There has been no school and no training (at Kottayam) and hence I returned to Chennai to be with my family. I have been told that the classes will start in Kansas in September.”
The Plus One Commerce student will lose one year as she has to start afresh in Kansas. But that will only be a small sacrifice in her aim to make a mark for herself in the tough world of professional basketball.
Ann is hopeful that with more exposure, the game of basketball will only get better in India. “I am optimistic about the sport's future in India. The focus has shifted from individual skills to the team's fortunes and with more exposure the game will only grow,” added Ann.