December 15, 2014

2014 Indian School/College Basketball League National Finals begin in New Delhi


Whatever your city, your school, your college, or your favourite player, there is sure to be enough drama for the basketball fan in New Delhi over the next week. It took three months of action in 24 cities, bringing together over 13,000 players from over 1100 institutions, and now, finally, the Finals are here. The national finals of the expanded Indian School Basketball League (ISBL) and Indian College Basketball League (ICBL) - organized by the Basketball Federation of India and IMG Reliance - tipped off at the Thyagaraj Stadium in New Delhi on Monday, December 15. 40 school and college teams in the men's and women's divisions from 10 cities around India are battling for the ultimate honours: becoming national ISBL/ICBL champions after the finals on December 21.

The revamped BFI-IMG Reliance ISBL/ICBL tipped off in late September this year with ambitious expansion to various new cities and the involvement of many new schools and colleges in the programme this year. The tournament featured teams two different formats for each division in the ISBL and ICBL: the Premier League and the Challenger League.

Each of the winners of the Premier League cities are now in New Delhi vying for the national crown, while the Challenger League winners will be getting a chance to win promotion into the upper league. Four categories of national champions will be crowned from the Premier League cities: Men’s National College Champion, Women’s National College Champion, Boy’s National School Champion, and Girl’s National School Champion.

“These leagues have given a much needed platform for players to garner attention from scouts and coaches and that bodes well for students who aspire to make a career in basketball,” said BFI's CEO Roopam Sharma in a report to Ekalavyas.com. “This is the first and most important step in creating a sustainable basketball ecosystem that will nurture and develop talent across India and based out on the turnout at the city levels, I except an exciting and competitive Finals that will help further promote the game. My best wishes to all the national finalists and I hope all the participating teams in both the leagues enjoy themselves and learn more about the game, so they come back stronger next season.”

The total prize money for all the categories is valued at Rs. 43 lakhs. Winnings teams will also be rewarded with court refurbishments at the school or college. Runners-ups will also get support on improving basketball infrastructure in their educational institutions.

“The Indian School Basketball League and Indian College Basketball League are the first national multi-city, pan-India events of their kind and represent a key milestone in the Basketball Federation of India and IMG Reliance partnership," said Ashu Jindal, the CEO of IMG Reliance, "Together, for the past four years, we have been working to grow the sport of basketball and improve the technical quality of play in India; through these leagues, youngsters in over 22 cities have been exposed high quality, structured league competition for the first time. The response we have gotten from schools and colleges is phenomenal, this year an unprecedented 13000 young cagers have participated in the three month leagues and we look forward to reaching out to more players every year."

Apart from the on-court competition, attending players and coaches will also get a chance to participate in clinics conducted by India's National Senior Men's Coach Scott Flemming and National Strength and Conditioning Coach Tommy Heffelfinger.

There will also be the first-ever national Skills Challenge, which will include a dunk contest, three-point contest, and more.

December 13, 2014

Missing the Point


We might be in the golden era of superstar point guards. But are most NBA teams still missing the point? I look back at recent NBA history to see the team that has gotten it right - San Antonio - and how most high-scoring PGs have taken away from a winning system, instead of contributing to it.

Click here to read my full feature on SportsKeeda.

December 12, 2014

For India, 3x3 basketball should be part of the journey – not the destination


This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas.com on December 2, 2014. Click here to read the original post. 

Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Yadwinder Singh, two of the four
members of the current Indian 3x3 team which won silver at
the recently concluded Asian Beach Games, seen here during
the 2013 South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) qualifiers
In the alternate universe of international 3x3 basketball exists a strange and pleasantly surprising reality. In this other reality – across the wormhole of interstellar hoops travel – India is actually one of Asia’s most successful teams, constantly contending for the podium, fielding the best little group of players in the continent, and playing with unmatched confidence.

In the mainstream basketball universe, India is a hoops underdog, ranking 61st in the world and usually finishing in the bottom rungs of Asian tournaments. But, as recent results have shown, the 3x3 format has been a whole different ballgame, as India have collected gold medals and accolades and returned home with their heads held high in pride.

Since FIBA began to hone the official rules of the halfcourt 3x3 game for the international level, India has been one of the federations to take full advantage of the quicker, less popular style of the game, sending out their best players to tournaments that other nations usually reserved for players outside the regular national team system. India has won the 3x3 basketball gold medal twice (once for men and once for women) at the Asian Beach Games since 2008, including our Women’s squad defeating China for the gold in China’s home court in Haiyang in 2012. In May last year, India’s Women won the FIBA Asia 3x3 gold in Qatar. A week later, India’s under-18 men and women both won silver medals at the U18 FIBA Asia 3x3 championship in Thailand. India dominated the South Asian Beach games, winning double gold for both men and women a few years ago. India’s under-23 men’s team have also won a bronze at the KFC 3x3 international challenge in China.

Most recently, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) sent men’s and women’s squads to Phuket for the 4th Asian Beach Games. The women failed to continue their recent momentum, but the men’s side – featuring India’s top players like Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amrit Pal Singh, Pratham Singh, and Yadwinder Singh – defeated all comers with ease until the Finals, where they lost to Qatar and had to settle for a silver medal.

There is no better feeling for an Indian basketball fan than to see Indian basketball players on the podium, enjoying the fruits of their success, draped with a tiranga flag over their shoulders and basketballs in their palms. Even if it’s “just” 3x3 basketball, it’s still kind of a big deal for the athletes responsible for this success.

Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, the Varanasi-born player who has been the captain of India’s national team for several years and one of India’s best domestic and international level players, has also been part of nearly every senior international 3x3 men’s team that India has fielded since 2008. With Bhriguvanshi in the lineup, India won the 2008 Asian Beach Games gold medal, the 2011 South Asian Beach Games gold medal, and the 2014 Asian Beach Games silver. If there is any singular athlete most responsible for India’s successful results in this modified version of the game, it is him.

“3x3 basketball is a ‘fun’ thing,” he told me in a conversation recently, “You can enjoy basketball playing it. But the “proper”, full version of the game, is of course more important to me.”

As it should be: call me old-fashioned, but 3x3 wins are not satisfying for me as a fan of Indian basketball. I would rather see India beat China in the group stage of the FIBA Asia Cup – and still ultimately finish at 7th place – than see a dozen 3x3 gold medals. The level competitive is just not the same, and the format leaves more room for chance than for the validation of actual talent.

In many ways, 3x3 halfcourt basketball is one of the common formats of the street, casual game. Almost every basketball player has played this modified style of hoops among their friends or pick-up with strangers at their nearest court. What FIBA 3x has done is basically brought official structure to basketball’s unofficial cousin.

In the half-court basketball competition, each team has four players: three starters plus one substitute. Each game is 10 minutes long, with two halves of five minutes each. A one-minute overtime is held if the score is tied at the end of regulation. The shot-clock is 12 seconds, and the scoring limit is 21 points (that is, the first team to 21 wins). No time-outs are allowed: substitutions are made in dead-ball situations.

The games are short, fast, unpredictable, and thus, can be exciting. At international tournaments that feature 3x3 tournaments, you could watch dozens of countries play in a couple of hours, around the same time period of a full-length basketball game. But the unpredictability and faster format of the game also takes away from the full potential of the tactics and athletic abilities that make basketball such a lovable game – something that deters many serious players and fans from taking the 3x3 format seriously.

Which is also why most of the top basketball teams around the world (USA, Spain, Argentina, Lithuania, France) and even the top Asian teams (China, Iran, Korea, Jordan, Philippines) name ‘B’ or ‘C’ or junior players in their 3x3 rosters and save their biggest stars for the version of the game that matters: 5-on-5, full-court, 40 minutes per game. Not India, though, who, in the young history of official 3x3 events, have had no qualms about doubling up the same stars for both formats.

Part of the reason for this is to give India a chance to get a competitive result at such events. The other reason is that India doesn’t have a professional basketball league back home and India’s best players rarely get the international exposure to match top players from other nations. Through the 3x3 circuit, top players like Bhriguvanshi get another rare chance to showcase their skills internationally.
But is there a benefit that can cross over from 3x3 success to the full version of the game?

“It’s a different thing,” said Bhriguvanshi, “And we can’t convert it [3x3 success] to “proper” basketball, because it’s small court, only up to 21, etc.”

Sure, 3x3 has its benefits. It helps to promote the game to a newer, more impatient fanbase, who only have the time or attention span for the shortest blimp of competition possible (call it the ‘twitterization’ of basketball). It brings a more level playing field between players from different countries, and thus every country – be it the USA or India – has a real chance of winning any team. Like T20 remixed the longer version of Cricket to a shorter, faster pace, FIBA wants 3x3 to do the same for basketball.

But, just like there is nothing to match the class and timeless quality of Test Cricket, there is nothing like ‘Real’ basketball success that can be matched by 3x3.

3×3 Basketball is here to stay. Even though the International Olympic Association (IOA) ruled the format out from the 2016 Olympics, FIBA will continue to push the game internationally. 3×3 World Championships and tours are now being heavily promoted by basketball’s governing body. The NBA is boosting it with 3×3 tournaments across India (and Asia). And India’s national teams have begun to participate (and dominate) Asian 3×3 tournaments.

Last year, the BFI launched the first-ever national 3x3 basketball championships in India, holding competitions for Men and Women at the senior and the under-18 level. The tournament became a vehicle to better prepare and scout Indian players for 3x3’s global rise.

India’s growing national and international clout in 3x3 basketball is a wonderful thing, but the last thing that the BFI and Indian players need to do is grow complacent with 3x3 success. If India chooses, we can still occasionally send our best players to international 3x3 tournaments to help expand their international exposure, but like other countries, we should also think about using it as a vehicle to develop youngsters. 3x3 success is one thing, but the BFI cannot boast of gold medals at the Asian Beach Games if they are losing by 30 or 40 to the same teams in full FIBA Asia tournaments.

Despite recent improvements, India are still the minnows in traditional basketball tournaments at the international stage. Good performances at 3x3 tournaments have been a flicker of hope, but this success should be part of the journey, not the destination. Instead of resting our laurels with 3x3, we should use the confidence of those performances to propel our game where it matters.

December 9, 2014

WBFI to hold Wheelchair Basketball workshops and national tournament in India this month


Basketball has its benefits: physical fitness, competitive spirit, social interaction, teamwork, and a sharpening of the mental senses are just some of them. And there's no reason why our favourite sport in the world and its benefits should be limited just to able-bodied individuals. The Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI) is looking to bring the joy of the game to disabled individuals this month with wheelchair basketball and boccia workshops across five different cities over the course of two weeks - starting on December 5 - before a national tournament in Chennai on December 20.

The WBFI are conducting the workshops in collaboration with Choice International, the International Red Cross, and other partners.

The workshops are free of cost and are being conducted by international coaches from around the world, including Mark Walker (Australia), Jess (USA), Mike (Nepal), Manoj Soma (UK) and Aram Voerman (Netherlands). Former Captain of the Indian National Basketball Team and Asian All-Star Jayasankar Menon is also extending his support to the initiative.

The workshops were inaugurated at the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC) in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi December 5. The Chairman of the ISIC, Maj. HPS Ahluwalia was present at the inauguration and said, “While Wheelchair Basketball is one of the leading international paralympic sports, it is hardly played in our country. We need to promote the sport not only to create professional sportspersons but also for rehabilitating people with disability.”

The workshops aim to increase awareness on the positive impact of disability sports, specifically Wheelchair Basketball and Boccia, among disabled persons in India. The workshops specifically target the disabled persons, coaches, community leaders, referees, physiotherapists interested in disability sports. The organizers seek to use disability sports as a tool to promote equality and access to disabled persons and also, to develop and train disabled sports-persons to enable them to compete at national and international disability sports tournaments.

The workshops will cover various areas on Wheelchair Basketball such as the fundamentals (basic basketball skills with an introduction to the rules of the game), contact, stretching, basic chair skills, ball-handling and passing.

The workshops will be rounded off by a mini-tournament in Chennai on December 20 with the best wheelchair basketball players selected from the workshops competing against each other.

Programme Schedule
  • Delhi: Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC) - December 5-10.
  • Delhi: Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust - December 8-9.
  • Cochin: Mar Athanasius College of Engineering - December 12-13.
  • Pune: Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre - December 12-13.
  • Bengaluru: Sri Kantaveera Indoor Stadium - December 14-15.
  • Chennai: Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium - December 15-23.
Those who want to get involved in the project can contact the WBFI through their website, wbfi.org.in or the contact information on the flyer attached to this post.

December 8, 2014

2014 NBA Jam National Finals conclude in Pune


For the past three and a half months, 3x3 basketball events have been brewing across the country, pitting the most competitive college teams against each other at the NBA Jam. After a record 16 cities 'jamming' with the NBA and basketball, the finals of the 2014 NBA Jam - the biggest iteration of NBA India's annual college basketball and youth festival - came to a conclusion with the national finals in Pune on December 7. The winning teams from each city eliminated each other before two champions in the men's and women's division stood at the top of the podium on Sunday at Pune's Ness Wadia College.

Between August 18 to December 4 this year, NBA Jam was held in 16 cities in India: Chennai, Guwahati, Cochin, Lucknow, Jaipur, Nagpur, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneshwar, New Delhi, Mumbai, Indore, Hyderabad, and Pune. Nationally, the hoops festival involved more than 650 colleges and 3200 teams. Apart from 3x3 basketball in each city, the NBA Jam also featured music and entertainment competitions like graffiti, DJ-spin off, B-boy dancing, and more.

The National Finals were held in Pune with winners from each city form December 5-7. Punjab Warriors (Boys) and Pune Ballers (Girls) were crowned the national champions. Indian VJ/actor and basketball fan Raanvinjay Singha was present to witness the finals and award the winning teams.

NBA Jam, organized by NBA India, was powered by Jabong and held in partnership with Sony SIX. One of the highlights of the NBA Jam was a guest appearance by three-time former NBA champ Bruce Bowen, who visited the tournament's iterations in Kolkata and Chandigarh last month.

December 7, 2014

Vivek Ranadive and Vlade Divac represent Sacramento Kings / UNICEF visit to LTMC Medical College in Mumbai


Sacramento Kings' owner - Mumbai-born businessman Vivek Ranadive - is currently in India for his first official trip back to the homeland since he became the first Indian to purchase the majority share of an NBA franchise. Ranadive is being accompanied by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, former Kings' legend Vlade Divac, and a host of staff with the team. While most of the trip has been related to the business and sporting growth of NBA and basketball in India, the Kings family - along with NBA India - found time to help make a difference to the underprivileged in Mumbai.

Ranadive, Divac, the Senior Director of Basketball Operations for NBA India Carlos Barroca, and more visited the Nutrition Rehabilitation Ward at the department of Pediatrics, LTMC Medical College Sion Hospital in Mumbai on December 3 in a visit organized in partnership with UNICEF. The Kings are a partner of UNICEF Kid Power – a new programme where as American kids hit their daily activity goals it triggers a donation of RUTF (Ready To Use Therapeutic Food) to severely malnourished children around the world. The group donated RUTF to malnourished children at the hospital.

Kings' President Chris Granger, US Fund for UNICEF staffer Matt Meyersohn, and Kings Senior Director of Communications Laura Braden were also a part of the visit.


December 2, 2014

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver visits India for the first time - with Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and Vlade Divac


It took the NBA's previous commissioner David Stern 29 years of holding office before venturing forth to relatively uncharted waters, visiting India for the first time in 2013, just months before passing on the crown to his successor. Fortunately for the NBA's growing fanbase in the country, that successor didn't wait as long before ticking India off his global checklist. Adam Silver - the new NBA Commissioner who took over from Stern earlier this year - is rounding off his first calender year as the top man in office with his first-ever India trip, to the nation's financial capital Mumbai.

Silver is travelling with a couple of famous friends, too: Sacramento Kings' owner Vivek Ranadive - the Mumbai-born tech mogul who is the first and only Indian owner of an NBA franchise - took it upon himself to be Silver's guide through this hometown. Ranadive obviously has a long-standing personal and professional relationship with his homeland, but this incidentally is also his first time visiting India in a official position after purchasing the majority share of the Kings last summer.

The third major member of the travelling party to India is former NBA and international basketball star Vlade Divac, who enjoyed a long and successful tenure in the league for the Lakers, Hornets, and notably, the Kings. This is the Serbian's first-ever trip to India as well.

In the first official stop of their trip, Silver, Ranadive, and Divac visited the IES School in Dadar, Mumbai on December 2 for a Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA clinic. Nita Ambani - the chairperson of the Reliance Foundation - welcomed the group at the clinic, where they interacted with young fans and got a chance to speak about their vision of basketball's future in India. (all quotes via The Times of India).

"Our goal is to provide children in India with the opportunity to play and enjoy basketball, and I thank the Reliance Foundation for supporting our efforts to grow the game across the country," Silver said at a skills clinic.

Ranadive added, "The way the Junior NBA program is progressing, the day isn't far when an Indian boy or girl will be playing in the NBA or WNBA."

"Reliance Foundation is committed to developing multiple sports at the grassroots level. We are delighted that the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme got off to an exciting start, by reaching out to hundreds of thousands of children in the very first year itself and providing them opportunities to discover and experience the fun and techniques of basketball," said Ambani.

By prioritizing India early in his tenure as commissioner, hopefully Silver has made his intentions clear that the country's untapped potential can truly be a goldmine to develop an exciting future destination for NBA activities. India has a good model to follow in northern neighbours China, where basketball has become the favourite sport of the billion-plus population and a healthy cycle of grassroots-to-elite players system has been churning out for over a decade. Because basketball is still a fringe sport in India, it would be unrealistic to dream of matching NBA's success in China here - but India is still a big enough country with a lot of young fans ready to jump on the league's bandwagon.

A few months ago, I had interviewed Vivek Ranadive for NBA.com/India on the future of basketball in India and the Kings. Ranadive had spoken about his plans to learn from the China model to apply in India and why he believed that the country can be a special destination for the NBA. Looking ahead to the trip with the NBA Commissioner, he had told me that, "The goal is really to introduce [Silver] to the Indian market, and to show India that we’re very committed to the market. The NBA has embraced my vision of NBA 3.0, which is, really using technology, globalization, and sport as an agent of good to drive the future of basketball."

(Ranadive had also said that part of the India contingent would be former superduperstar and Kings part-owner Shaquille O'Neal. Unfortunately for all fans of the Big Aristotle, that hasn't happened - yet).

While Stern's trip to Mumbai last summer was primarily a vehicle to push forward an NBA Cares event, Silver's visit - where his first stop was a basketball clinic - signifies a focus on the development of grassroots basketball in India. If India hopes to take the next major step and one day feature a player at the NBA level, this is where the groundwork will have to be laid. With Ranadive on his side - a man who has clearly focused on India as the next big market for his Kings - this visit can be mutually beneficial to all parties.

Including the most important 'party' of all in this equation: basketball in India!