Sports Spotlight: Vignesh Rajagopal
Until he started high school, Vignesh Rajagopal was sure that he wanted to be a soccer player. He had been playing since he was ten years old and loved it. While in high school, his friend convinced him to try playing basketball one day and his journey with basketball began then, and continues today as he plays for the Illinois Tech men’s basketball team.
“The main reason I wanted to go to college in the U.S. was because I wanted to continue playing basketball,” said Rajagopal, who grew up in a few different places around the world before graduating from high school in Mexico. His journey with basketball at Illinois Tech began before he even came to the school. He had been corresponding with the coach about the possibility of joining the team and was told that there was the likelihood of a spot for him on the team when he got here. Soon after he got here in Fall 2013, he went through tryouts, made the team and has been playing for the school for the past the three years.
Asked what his favorite thing about playing basketball at the school is, he easily says, “the people,” adding that his teammates, coaches and other athletics staff have made the experience what it is. Then asked about a challenge he faces on the team, he says that time management has been a skill that has challenged him. With practices starting at 6 a.m., and his determination never to be late to practice, Rajagopal has had to learn to schedule the rest of his academic and personal life around his life in athletics.
Earlier this semester, Rajagopal was awarded the Student Athlete of the Year award by the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA.) He says that his initial reaction was one of shock and that he “couldn’t believe it.”
As co-captain of the team, Rajagopal not only uses the team’s losses to make his own game better, but he also works actively to encourage his teammates to push themselves to achieve their full potential. For the past few years, the team has been facing a lot of losses but Rajagopal is optimistic that this will change in upcoming semesters. Asked what he thinks about the current state of student awareness and support of athletics on campus, Rajagopal says, “[he thinks] it’s picked up this year,” in comparison to his first two years at the school. He adds that the athletes themselves try to attend sporting events for other teams on campus to show support but also as an opportunity to bond with their own teams, often trying to recruit friends outside athletics to go with them. He says, “involvement could definitely be a lot better, especially because we are transitioning into DIII, and that’s a pretty big deal,” hoping that incentives like earning points by going to athletic events and trading them in for merchandise will help boost attendance.
Rajagopal also talked about ways that we can cultivate a culture of sports here at Illinois Tech. While he recognized that that is not a mission that can be accomplished in a short span of time, he notes, “blowing up athletics as much as we blow up our academics” to visiting prospective students may be a good way to expose them to the sense of school spirit here before they attend so that they can help maintain and improve the appreciation of athletics and our athletes on campus when they do attend.
Lastly, in response to being asked in what capacity he sees basketball in his life post college, Rajagopal says that the skills and discipline he has learned through the sport and being on the team are priceless. Being able to step back, analyze his mistakes and learn from them effectively is only one of many such skills that will help him no matter his chosen career path. He ends with a call to fellow students, saying, “come out to these games with your friends, it could be fun!”