Creating opportunities for Bangkok’s best buckets.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
Despite the decade plus (to my chagrin) that it’s been since I was applying to universities for my Bachelor’s degree, the struggle for recognition among the hundreds of hopefuls from Thailand alone is still clear in my mind’s eye. Though I was not particularly inclined towards sports, I recall that the pressure was manifold among my peers pursuing sports scholarships or degrees abroad, who were often overlooked in favour of those from countries with a more robust scouting system; mere drops in the bucket of worldwide applicants.
Taking that proverbial bucket and turning it upside down is Alekhya Mangharam, an 18-year-old student and avid basketball player at the International School of Bangkok (ISB), who refused to settle for mediocrity and founded Bangkok Buckets (Facebook and Instagram:@BangkokBuckets) to take on a system that relegates those from non-Western countries to the back seat.
Born and raised in Thailand, Alekhya recalls how basketball had a presence in her household long before she was born, starting with her father and continuing with her older siblings, Anavi and Adit. “At a young age, I developed a fascination with the sport, and it soon became my escape,” she tells me. “As I grew older, my passion for the sport grew simultaneously, leading me to strive towards higher aspirations.” She tells me about how consistent dedication led her to her four-year goal of becoming captain of her school’s Varsity Team, despite never being the best player, and how afterwards, she’d set her sights on the natural progression in her basketball career – playing at the collegiate level. However, at 15, she was “hit with the harsh reality that living in Thailand, basketball players like myself had nearly no exposure that would enable us to pursue this.”
“In the United States, the culture of basketball is incomparable to that of Thailand,” she explains. “Talented individuals as young as seven are recognised on social media by organisations such as Overtime and Ballislife.com for their abilities. These organisations, each with several million followers, provide immense opportunities to players through their exposure. This includes recognition at the collegiate level, increasing the possibility of being recruited, and possibly even offers of full-ride scholarships.” However, after contacting several coaches in the US, she was told that Thailand’s geographical distance was a seemingly insurmountable barrier for them to scout and assess potential players. And thus, Bangkok Buckets was born in 2019.
“I launched Bangkok Buckets to begin providing local players with a chance to pursue their passions,” she says. “It’s a company dedicated to showcasing Thailand’s best basketball players. I scouted the most talented athletes in Bangkok, then curated highlights to post on social media, helping these athletes gain visibility from collegiate coaches on a global scale.” Since then, the organisation has grown, and Alekhya has meanwhile also decided to explore further avenues, launching the Bangkok Buckets Pro League in just March this year.
She speaks to Masala further about her entrepreneurial journey so far as a teenage woman, and the ways she’s chosen to overcome barriers in sports and in life itself.
Tell us a little more about Bangkok Buckets. Where did the name come from, what sparked the idea, and what exactly does the organisation do?
Bucket: adjective; A term used in basketball used to describe someone who is a proficient scorer.
I remember coming up with the idea for Bangkok Buckets one morning after a frustrating conversation with my coach in the US, who explained how moving there for school may be my only option to gain recognition. I soon realised that if college coaches were unwilling to make the trip to Bangkok, I would have to put Bangkok on display for them. I knew little about filming and editing, but I also knew that if I didn’t start this company, no one would. So I grabbed a dusty Canon camera from my shelf and set out to capture the best buckets in Bangkok.
Over the years, I have single-handedly gone to several basketball tournaments and practices, filming Thailand’s top talent. I then edit the clips, curating one-minute highlight reels to be sent out to college coaches and spread across social media. Although this company is young, my efforts have gotten players in contact with several teams and coaches already, and I hope to help many more in the future. I have also designed and sold merchandise that are available for order through our Instagram page.
You’ve also started a basketball league. Tell us about the inspiration behind it, and what it’s accomplished so far.
It had been a long-term goal of mine to start a league since the early days of Bangkok Buckets. In March of 2022, I launched the Bangkok Buckets Pro League, which aimed to provide professional and amateur players the chance to compete at one of the highest levels Thailand can offer. The professional players included Christen Charles, Phil Hawkens, and Deangelo Hamilton, alumni of Villanova University (D1), Texas State University, and Washington State University, respectively, and the league consisted of five teams, each representing a different charity. These teams competed in a round-robin tournament throughout April. After the rounds, the two teams with the best record had the chance to advance to the finals, where the winning team received THB 30,000 to donate to the charity of their choice.
Turning this league into reality was definitely the most challenging project I’ve been able to tackle alone, but it’s also taught me lifelong lessons, like patience and perseverance.
As someone who’s still in secondary school, what have been the unique challenges and opportunities of starting such a big initiative at such a young age?
Starting my own business has come with copious opportunities: I’ve had the chance to film and curate highlight tapes for several professional players such as Tyler Lamb and Moses Morgan, as well as work for local companies to promote their brands. Without Bangkok Buckets, I would not have been able to build these lifelong relationships and networks.
However, challenges have also arisen from still being in secondary school. I’ve had to learn how to manage my time, curating a rock-solid schedule that allows me to balance being a full-time IB Diploma student and an athlete. Gaining a following was also initially difficult for me. I learned that I had to be consistent with producing engaging content, and it was not until my second year that Bangkok Buckets truly started gaining viewership, and I am so grateful to have recently reached 1,000 followers on Instagram.
Similarly, being female in the majorly-male industry of sports, it is easy to be undermined for my work and efforts. I have chosen to embrace my identity, using it as a platform to highlight women and girls in sports, and I hope to serve as an inspiration to other young girls, showing them that they, too, are capable of anything if they work hard.
I believe that finding my passion and doing something with it has prepared me as an entrepreneur and brought life skills that I will enforce in the future, regardless of what I do. These skills such as leadership, responsibility, and perseverance have become ingrained in my life, in the classroom, and on the basketball court and off. Of course, support is key, and there were so many people who have guided me on this journey.
Who would you say were your biggest support systems as you tackled these challenges?
Firstly, my parents, Sally and Dinesh Mangharam, have provided me with everything in the world, giving me the support and opportunities I need to succeed, and teaching me that everything in life happens for a reason and nothing can be done without hard work. My older siblings, Adit and Anavi, have also taught me so much.
My basketball coaches, specifically Bay Gordon and Toshi Benson, as well as my school teacher Sarah Barnes, have served as major mentors for my journey, alongside some other individuals who have truly helped me along the way: Anmol Jhaveri, Aashir Mandrekar, Natalia Yepes, Jenna Jokhani, Pinn Pithayanukul, Grace Mahakeeta and Milan Pant. With all their help, I want to be remembered for creating a positive change for others around me.