Premila Fernando’s Triple-Threat Triumph Down Under

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MELBOURNE, Australia, Jan 13, 7.15AMPremila Fernando, the former captain of Sri Lanka’s national basketball team, has etched her name in history as the first female basketball player to grace the courts of an Australian Semi-Professional League. Currently residing in Australia, Premila has not only conquered the game as a player but has also excelled as a coach and referee – a phenomenal triple threat in the world of basketball.

Her journey in basketball began unexpectedly in 1990 while attending her school – St Joseph’s Girls’ College Nugegoda in Sri Lanka. Initially involved in athletics, she caught the eye of the school’s netball coach, Ms. Desima Fernando, who encouraged her to join the netball team. It was during this time that Premila, passing by the basketball court, felt a magnetic pull towards the sport. Soon, she found herself on the basketball court, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“I played my first Under-13 basketball match in 1993,” recalls Premila. By then, her coaches were Mr. Ajith Kuruppu and Mr. Hayaz Haroon. She not only captained her school team but also earned the title of the best player in her first year. From there, she continued to represent her school in various categories, earning accolades such as Best Player, Best Defensive Player, and Best Offensive Player.

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Her international basketball journey kicked off in 1998 at the FIBA Asian Junior Women’s Basketball Championship in Japan. She was then selected to the Senior Women’s National Team in 1999. Subsequently, she represented Sri Lanka for an impressive 19 years until 2018, participating in numerous FIBA Asia Championships across Asia. Notably, in 2007, Premila achieved a significant milestone by becoming Asia’s Second-Best Player in the 22nd FIBA Asia Championship held in Korea which was a great achievement for Sri Lanka Basketball Federation.

She with her team, took part in the A.G.S.E.P tournament in Germany where Premila had performed very well, and Premila had been invited by German Clubs to play for them following the event seeing her exceptional performance on the court. Despite the tempting opportunities from German clubs, Fernando remained committed to her duties with the Sri Lanka national team. She even participated in the Jupiters’ Pan Pacific Games in Brisbane, Australia, in 2016, 2018, and 2022 both as a player and referee.

Now based in Melbourne, Australia, Fernando continues her basketball legacy by running the Be Ballers Basketball Academy in Victoria. Her husband, Jagath Kulathunga, a former national player and coach, is by her side, coaching at the academy and playing at the club level.

Reflecting on her career, the 41-year-old cites her achievements in the 43rd South Zone Basketball Championship in 2001 in India, where she was named the Best Player of the Tournament. Additionally, she received an invitation to play as a contract player in the Maldives National Basketball Tournament. Her contributions to the Maldives National Basketball Tournament from 2003 until 2016, where she was consistently the Best Player, showcase her prowess on the court. In 2016, she was recognised as the Best Offensive Player during the same event.

Shaping futures on and off the court

As the final buzzer sounded on Premila Fernando’s illustrious playing career, a new chapter began—one where she embraced her true passion for basketball coaching. From the heart of Sri Lanka to the basketball courts of Australia, Premila’s coaching journey is a tale of dedication, skill, and a deep love for the game.

Her coaching venture kicked off in 2010 when she took on the role of a Sri Lanka Navy coach, lending her expertise to shape the future stars of the sport. The University of Colombo Women’s Basketball Team benefited from her guidance as their coach from 2011 to 2015, a four-year period marked by dedication and commitment. St. Lawrence Convent – Colombo also witnessed Premila’s coaching prowess in 2013 and 2014.

Her coaching journey continued at St Joseph’s Boys’ College in Colombo, where she served as the Junior Basketball Team’s Coach from February 2019 until her move to Australia in October 2019. In collaboration with her former National Coach Hayaz Haroon and her husband, Jagath Kulathunga, along with other coaches who were former national players; Dhanushka Wijesinghe and Diyuni Abeysinghe, Premila co-founded the True Basketball Academy in Sri Lanka in 2018.

Highlighting the importance of coaching qualifications, Fernando obtained a Level I Coaching Accreditation from FIBA in 2013 and upgraded to a FIBA Level II Coaching Accreditation in 2015. Not stopping there, she secured an NCAA Gold License, an American coaching credential renewable annually, starting in 2016.

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Upon migrating to Australia, Fernando continued her coaching journey, joining as the Assistant Coach for the Hampton Park Pioneers Under-12 Team in 2020. Her dedication and passion for the game led to the establishment of the Be Ballers Basketball Academy, a venture shared with her husband and former national player, Diyuni Abeysinghe.

Be Ballers Basketball Academy has flourished under Fernando’s guidance, now operating professionally in three locations—Wantirna, Narre Warren and Hallam. With nearly 60 enrolled players participating in practice sessions, the academy has become a hub for developing basketball talent. Plans are underway to expand to more suburbs within Victoria, reflecting the growing demand for their coaching expertise.

Premila takes pride in seeing young players develop through their sessions, eventually playing in Australia’s leagues. Her coaching role extends beyond group sessions, as she provides one-on-one training and serves as a personal trainer for young Australian Basketball players.

Reflecting on her journey, Premila expresses joy in her current position. Her love for basketball led her to a remarkable trifecta—player, coach, and referee. Despite the low focus on academics during her school days due to her passion and dedication to basketball, Premila pursued formal education in Australia, earning a Diploma in Leadership and Management from an Australian Educational Institute which assisted in excelling her management skills.

Mastering the art of refereeing and dominating the court Down Under

In the field of basketball, Premila Fernando stands not only as a formidable player but also as a trailblazer in the field of refereeing. Guided by the expertise of renowned referee Prasad Ranasinghe, Premila started on her journey into the field of officiating in 2010, setting the stage for an extraordinary career in refereeing.

In 2011, she achieved a historic milestone, becoming the first Women FIBA Referee in Sri Lanka. Armed with this prestigious license, Fernando took on the responsibility of refereeing international FIBA tournaments, including the 21st FIBA Asia Under-18 Women’s Championship in Malaysia and the 2nd FIBA Asia 3×3 Youth Games in China in 2013.

Her commitment to the game transcended borders, as she joined as a Basketball Referee in Australia in 2021 with the invaluable guidance of Mr. Allan Manhire who was the Referee Advisor of the Dandenong Basketball Association. In the same year, Fernando earned a Level I Referee License in Australia, a significant step in her ongoing pursuit of excellence. She has then started refereeing as a Panel Referee in the Victorian Basketball Junior League (VJBL) until now, a pivotal league for young players in Victoria and also in the Kumon National Junior Classic Tournament which young players across Australia take part.

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The pinnacle of her refereeing career in Australia came in April 2023 when she was promoted to a Level II Referee in Basketball Victoria. This prestigious certification paved the way for her participation in the illustrious BigV tournament, marking a monumental achievement in her refereeing journey. Premila expresses gratitude to Allan Manhire, whose support played a crucial role in her integration into Australian refereeing.

While her contributions as a referee are commendable, Premila’s prowess extends beyond the sidelines. In 2023, she made history by becoming the first Sri Lankan basketball player to compete in the Big V Tournament, a semi-professional Basketball league in Victoria. Despite facing a shoulder injury last year, Premila remains in the recovery stage, with aspirations set on making her mark in an Australian Premier League.

Looking ahead, Premila’s ambitions are vast. She dreams of playing in the NBL 1 League. Her vision for the future includes expanding her coaching empire, the Be Ballers Basketball Academy, across Australia, with the aim of nurturing a larger number of players. Additionally, she intends to continue her role as a referee, contributing to the growth and integrity of the sport she holds dear.

In the dynamic field of basketball, Premila Fernando is not just a player, coach or referee; she is a force driving change, breaking barriers, and leaving an indelible mark on the courts, both in Sri Lanka and the basketball arenas of Australia.

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