On a basketball court, screaming fans cheer for the win. A young Indian-American player dribbles the ball near center court, dreaming of the same outcome. Reeya Patel, a senior at Huron High School, is energetic both on and off the court and talked to the Indian SCENE about her love of playing basketball and her dreams of one day joining the medical field. This spirited young lady offers sound advice for those who wish to one day pursue a similar path.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
The Indian Scene: Tell me about yourself.
Reeya Patel: Ever since I was a little kid, I have been very athletic and competitive. I feel like it is because I’ve grown up with my brother, uncle and his friends so I have always been going against them. During school lunch, I would be found playing 5 v 5 with the boys. When we go on vacations with family, we always have a basketball, volleyball, or football with us. I have always been very adventurous and active like my dad. I have to be doing something all the time, so I don’t get bored easily. When I switched schools, my parents never had to worry about me meeting people because I am very outgoing and easy to talk to. In the future, I want to create a basketball or sports facility in India when I grow up to give little kids a chance to explore a sport they may enjoy just like the opportunity I got when I was younger. I also want to name it after my grandpa who passed away in 2017. He has a very big impact in Ahmedabad with his business, but a bigger impact on my life. I want to make him proud with anything I do and give back to the community he lived in.
IS: As a soon-to-be-graduating senior, how has your high school experience been so far? What are some of your more memorable moments?
RP: My time at Huron High School has been very special. People used to always know me as “Reeshav’s [my older brother] little sister” my freshman year, however, I started to make a name for myself through basketball and in the classroom by being a student-athlete. I would get picked by the admin as a student representative for the school dean interview and such, which made me feel very involved. The relationships I have built with the teachers, admin, and community assistants have been very unique, where every time they see me in the halls they will stop me and have a quick conversation with me. My friends have also made high school very memorable. Having classes with them makes the boring days go by quicker and we have lots of fun supporting each other and our respective sporting events. Being in the student section cheering for our school is so much fun as we play our rivals and beat them during football and basketball season. Basketball has been a very big part of my high school experience. I have played on varsity since my freshman year, so I was well known throughout the school. I was the captain as a junior for my team, which was an honor. But the most important thing about basketball was the relationships and bonds I built on and off the court with everyone I interact including my teammates, gym staff and coaches.
IS: When did you start playing basketball and how did your interest pique throughout the years?
RP: I started playing basketball in second grade, however I would say my interest peaked in 7th grade. This was when I took responsibility to be a better athlete and didn’t have to be pushed by my parents for healthy food habits, working hard to get stronger, improving my skills and staying in shape. My parents always pointed out to me that “hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”
IS: You have received several scholarship offers to play in college. Can you talk a little bit about where you plan to attend and why?
RP: I am committed to the University of Michigan-Dearborn to play basketball. Basketball has been a big part of my life and who I have become so I didn’t want to let go yet, and at the same time I wanted to get a good education. Despite having more offers from faraway colleges, I have picked University of Michigan-Dearborn because it is close to home, so my family will be able to attend the games and support me.
IS: What are the some of the reactions you receive from the Indian community when you tell them that you are a basketball player?
RP: I get praise from friends and family all the time when they tell me how proud they are of my athletic achievements. A lot of close family friends always keep me posted whenever my name is mentioned in sports media like MLive or the Detroit Free Press. I haven’t had too many bad encounters, but some people would say, “Oh wow, that’s good but make sure you focus on school.” To them, basketball is just a fun activity to do on the side, but education should be more important. I feel like more people who aren’t Indian are surprised. I have gotten a lot of “that Indian girl can ball” because they don’t expect to see an Indian girl being good at basketball and competing with them.
IS: What is one takeaway from your experience as an Indian athlete? Any words of wisdom or advice that you can give to the younger kids who are considering a similar path?
RP: It is definitely an honor to represent the Indian community. It is not common to see an Indian girl play basketball so no one expects you to do much out of it, but I love beating the odds and proving people wrong. I know it is very difficult since we are usually smaller than most people, but I would tell them to just continuously put the work in when in the gym and give it your all. If it’s something you truly love, then pour your heart and soul into it. When you put your mind to something, stick with it and continue all the way through; don’t ever stop just because times get tough. The values and memories you get by playing any team sport is amazing. Basketball has made me more balanced person overall by improving my communication and leadership skills. However, I think the most rewarding aspect of my sports career has been the relationships I’ve built. I know these are friends and mentors that will last a lifetime; it is truly a special feeling.
IS: What do hope the next four years will have in store for you? What do you plan to study?
RP: The medical field has always stood out to me since my mom has pushed me as a young kid. I plan on either going to PA or PT school. I’ve seen how big of an impact the medical field has on people and it is an area that will always continue to grow. I really hope to build new relationships and create memories with new people that I will be in school with, while at the same time taking a big step towards my future career.
IS: What are principles or values that your parents have taught you that you still practice today? How has this shaped you?
RP: My parents have always been big on sticking to my roots and being myself. They would always say “don’t forget where you came from.” Also respecting my elders and giving back to the community. We have always been very family-oriented, since I grew up living with my grandparents and uncle in the house with us which has really helped me learn how to deal with elders. Also, they have taught me to never change how I act or am in order to fit in because I should be myself with all the people I surround myself with. I don’t change the way I act in order to get people to like me. My parents always stay on my case when I may talk with a little attitude, which has helped me think before I speak so I am more aware about the stuff I say and how I say it. They have given me a lot of freedom and I know all my actions will reflect them, I think about them before I do anything. They have shaped me into the woman I am today and I am forever grateful for the millions of opportunities they have given me. I am very lucky to have them as my parents and have the support from the rest of my family.
The Indian Scene: Why do you think are some important aspects of our culture that every young person should embrace?
RP: Staying with your family is an important aspect of our culture. We have a very big family and we may all have our differences, but at the end of the day we will do anything for them. It may not even be our blood-related family, but we treat them like that just because that’s what we have been taught and our bonds are so close that we may as well be blood related. Say someone is sick or their significant other is out of town; they will have 5-6 people either calling to make sure they have food ready for them if they haven’t already showed up to their house with meals prepared for them. Family is everything and I love how we focus on that so much. Our family has supported and provided us with everything they could.
Reeya’s Best List
Favorite NBA Team: Detroit Pistons
Favorite Indian Dish: Paneer Tikka Masala
Favorite City in India: Ahmedabad because that’s where my parents were born and lot of extended family still lives there. I have a lot of childhood memories from that city, especially my Grandpa’s house.