August 27, 2014

Nanjing 2014: Lithuania (Boys) & USA (Girls) secure 3x3 basketball golds.


The 3x3 halfcourt basketball tournament at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympics concluded in Nanjing (China) on Tuesday, August 26th. 20 teams participated in each of the men's and women's sections in the nine-day tournament. Lithuania's Boys and USA's Girls emerged as champions after victories over France and Netherlands respectively on the final day of basketball. The Youth Olympics also featured a dunk contest and a shoot-out.

Lithuania defeated France in a thrilling boys final 18-16, while the American girls had little trouble steam-rolling their way through the course of the tournament before defeating Netherlands in their final game, 19-10.

Also on the final day of 3x3 basketball, Argentina's boys won the bronze medal after defeating Russia 17-14. The girls' bronze was settled in a tight contest as Spain sneaked past Hungary for a 12-11 win.

In the boys' semi-finals, Lithuania had defeated Russia 13-10, while France - led by 10 points from Lucas Dussoulier - beat Argentina 16-14. Netherlands girls shut down Spain 11-7 in the girls' semi-final matchup, while USA beat Hungary 21-14.

Medals were also handed out for the slam dunk contest (for boys) and the shootout (for girls) at the Youth Olympics. Karim Mouliom of France won the dunk contest while Spain's Lucia Togores Carpintero was the winner of the girls's shootout.

Final medal tally

Boys Tournament
  • Gold: Lithuania
  • Silver: France
  • Bronze: Argentina
Girls Tournament
  • Gold: USA
  • Silver: Netherlands
  • Bronze: Spain
Boys Dunk Contest
  • Gold: Karim Mouliom (France)
  • Silver: Ziga Lah (Slovenia)
  • Bronze: Fu Lei (China)
Girls Shootout Contest
  • Gold: Lucia Togores Carpintero (Spain)
  • Silver: Ela Micunovic (Slovenia)
  • Bronze: Katie Samuelson (USA)

August 26, 2014

Detour: Will Andrew Wiggins make Cleveland regret?


Andrew Wiggins was picked number one by the Cavaliers, but with LeBron James 'coming home', Cleveland traded him to Minnesota for Kevin Love. There could have hardly been a crazier way for Wiggins to begin his NBA journey – now, he has a chance to turn the shape this fantastic journey ahead on his own terms.

Click here to read full feature

August 23, 2014

NBA Jam 2014 to be held across a remarkable 16 Indian cities!


NBA Jam - the hugely popular college basketball and youth festival - will return to India in its biggest iteration yet for 2014. This year, NBA Jam is going to be held across a remarkable 16 Indian cities, truly spanning the length and breath of India and involving a greater number of young Indian basketball fanatics than ever before.

Held between August 18 - December 4 this year, NBA Jam is set to be held in 16 cities in India: Chennai, Guwahati, Cochin, Lucknow, Jaipur, Nagpur, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneshwar, New Delhi, Mumbai, Indore, Hyderabad, and Pune. For the first time, Indian ballers from beyond just the Tier 1 cities will be connected. Nationally, the hoops festival will involve more than 650 colleges and 3200 teams. Apart from 3x3 basketball in each city, the NBA Jam will also feature music and entertainment competitions like graffiti, DJ-spin off, B-boy dancing, and more.

This year's NBA Jam is a huge step up from last year's event, which involved just four cities and relatively far fewer teams. The 2013 edition of NBA Jam concluded in Mumbai by the end of last September, as national champions were crowned from squads that won their city-level championships going off against each other. Three former NBA legends - Robert Horry, Peja Stojakovic, and Ron Harper - attended the finale in Mumbai last year.

This year's NBA Jam is being sponsored by Jabong, who will also invite some of the lucky participants to earn internships with the company. Like last year, the crucial events and the finals of the tournament will be broadcast on Sony SIX.

To sign up your college/university team, head to Jabong.com and pick the city where you will be participating from. In addition to the news and schedule of your chosen city, the full schedule of all the NBA Jam events across the next three months in India is also listed on the website.

August 22, 2014

Return of the FIBA/Headgear controversy: India's Anmol Singh forced to remove turban at U18 FIBA ABC


The 'No Headgear' policy of FIBA (the International Basketball Federation) has sparked another controversy involving a Sikh basketball player for Team India. This time, the ruling effected Anmol Singh, the only turban-wearing player of India's junior squad that is currently participating in the FIBA Asia U18 Championship in Doha (Qatar).

The Times of India reported yesterday that under-18 rising star Anmol was made to remove his turban during warm-up of India's first game in Doha against Qatar. In their second game against Malaysia, Anmol was allowed to play with his turban for the first 10 minutes, before FIBA officials asked him to remove his turban again.

In a chat with TOI from Doha, national U-18 coach Jora Singh said, "Anmol was not allowed to play with a turban during our opening game against Qatar when the team was warming up. Today, he was allowed to play with the patka in the first quarter, but later on was told to remove it. Anmol then tied his hair with a small band and continued to play."
(via Times of India)

The latest incident occured a little over a month after FIBA forced two of India's senior team Sikh players - Amrit Pal Singh and Amjyot Singh - to remove their turbans in accordance with their 'No Headgear' rule in Wuhan (China) during the FIBA Asia Cup, a controversy that sparked the #LetSikhsPlay movement and since forced FIBA to review their ruling.

Currently, Article 4.4.2 of FIBA’s Official Basketball Rules states, "Players shall not wear equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players," a list that includes headgear like turbans, hijab, etc.

The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) submitted a formal request to FIBA regarding the initial incident in Wuhan soon after, FIBA promised to review Article 4.4.2 during the FIBA World Congress, set to be held on 28-29 August in Sevilla (Spain) during the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Unfortunately, until the 214 members of FIBA Central Board meet next week and decide on the future of this rule, FIBA's officials on the ground will be compelled to continue following the set rules.

But the BFI claim that there had been a misunderstanding regarding Anmol Singh at the FIBA Asia U18 Championship, which ultimately led Anmol removing his turban - or patka - particularly in Game 2 against Malaysia. "The FIBA Commissioner who was assigned to supervise the match initially had no objection and allowed Anmol Singh to play in the first quarter of the game with his patka, which is a religious right of the Sikh community," said the official BFI statement, "The basketball rule says that player shall not wear equipment or object that may cause injury to other players while playing. The patka is made of thin cloth which does not cause injury to anybody, as Sikh athletes are wearing in other team games. We are surprised that why this discrimination by FIBA Asia is being repeatedly imposed on Indian Sikh athletes representing the country at international level."

The Hindu has reported that India's Union Sports Ministry has also sought intervention from the International Olympic Commission (IOC) to resolve the issue.

The BFI questioned the discrimination in basketball when other team games like volleyball, football, hockey, handball and cricket had no restriction on Sikh players wearing the patka.

The BFI's CEO Roopam Sharma has been nominated to attend the FIBA Congress in Spain to resolve the issue once and for all and "avoid such humiliation in future".

6-foot-10 Anmol, who plays backup Power Forward/Center for India, scored 10 points in India first game loss to Qatar. The next day, he played 16 minutes against Malaysia and shot just 1/4 for two points in the game. Nevertheless, Team India overlooked the distraction to bounce back and defeat Malaysia 73-64 in the contest.

Unfortunately, a day later, India were whooped thoroughly by China by 60 points and Malaysia scored a surprise victory over Qatar. With India, Qatar, and Malaysia all tied for second place in Group A, it was India that were knocked out because of their inferior point differential.

On court, India's juniors will be disappointed by this early exit: Qatar were a beatable side and the margin of defeat to China shouldn't have been allowed to run that wide. Hopefully the young players can recover from the setback and bounce back stronger.

Off the court, hopefully FIBA can bring an end to this whole senseless controversy next week. We need common-sense prevails over rudimentary thinking, so we can get back to basketball instead of worrying about whether a little bit of cloth covering someone's head could ever be a "threat". Especially if that bit of cloth has such a deep-lying significance to the culture and religion of the targeted individuals.

August 21, 2014

Great Leap Forward


Last month, American coach Scott Flemming inspired India to their biggest-ever victory. Could this be the game-changing moment for basketball in the country, asks Karan Madhok

This article was first published in Tehelka Magazine (Issue 33, Volume 11) in the magazine's August 16, 2014 edition. Here is another look at the feature.

Coming of age: Indian players celebrate their Asia Cup victory over China in Wuhan. Photo: Karan Madhok for Ekalavyas.com


When the buzzer rang to signify the game’s end, all 12 members of the Indian men’s basketball team — affectionately nicknamed the Young Cagers — jumped into each other’s arms, celebrating together with glee rarely felt in the country’s basketball scene before.

For the first time in India’s seven-decade- long basketball history, they had done the impossible, defeating China 65- 58 last month in Wuhan, the most populous city in central China. The Chinese are the Goliaths of Asian basketball and among the top dozen teams in the world. India, placed 61st in the Federation Internationale de Basketball (FIBA) rankings, shocked the home crowd during the 5th FIBA Asia Cup, a biennial tournament featuring the continent’s top teams. Two years ago, the Indians were at the bottom of the pile, while China usually finish at the top more often than any other side. But on 13 July, the tables were turned.

While India’s heroes celebrated the stunning win on the court, the mastermind behind this improbable victory watched in silence from the sidelines, calmly soaking in the once-in-a-lifetime moment for him and his team.

In 2012, American Scott Flemming became the latest in the line of foreign coaches hired to make the most of India’s untapped potential. Two years later, he finally saw the fruits of his labours. India didn’t just defeat China, they became the breakout story of the tournament, as they gave headaches to top Asian teams such as Iran and the Philippines.

“I think we have proved that we belong,” said Flemming, 56, as he looked back at the team’s improved performances. “I don’t think there is anybody here that we feel we can’t beat. We have gotten past that point where we thought we had very little chance of winning. Those days are long gone. Now, we are going into every game knowing that we have an opportunity. It is a new day for India.”

But was this performance just a fluke in India’s otherwise dismal history?

The first national basketball championship was held in New Delhi in 1934 and the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), the game’s governing body in the country, was formed in 1950. Fifteen years later, the men’s team first took part in the FIBA Asia Championship — the highest platform for the game in the continent. Their best finish in the tournament was fourth place in 1975, and they have never reached those heights again. In 1980, as many countries boycotted the Moscow Olympics at the height of the Cold War, India made their first and only Olympic basketball appearance, but lost all seven of their games by an average margin of over 48 points each.

Game-changer Coach Scott Flemming. Photo: fiba.com
Limited to mostly Asian tournaments over the past few decades, the Indian team had been reduced to the role of minnows against the continent’s giants, happy to compete for participation points rather than gold. India’s current FIBA world ranking sees them trail behind the likes of the Virgin Islands, Cape Verde and Georgia.

Which is why the ‘Wonder of Wuhan’ — India’s surprise victory over China last month — will be remembered in the country’s basketball history forever. Although China fielded mostly a second-string squad for this tournament, they still featured those who will play professionally in the Chinese Basketball Association, one of the continent’s top professional leagues. Truly, all the countries India faced had players who play professional basketball for a living. The only exception was India.

All of India’s finest players today, such as Amjyot Singh, Vishesh Bhrighuvanshi and Amrit Pal Singh, are semi-professionals who have other day jobs and only participate in basketball tournaments to represent their state or the government unit that they work for. India is also among the handful of teams in Asia that don’t take advantage of FIBA’s ‘naturalised player’ rule, which allows each country to field one foreign-born player ‘naturalised’ into their nation. Since India doesn’t allow dual citizenship, no foreign player has given up his/her original passport to join India’s cause. Every single member of Team India was born, bred, and learnt to dribble the basketball — for better or worse — in India.

While India managed to defeat China, the latter is miles ahead in the marathon. Basketball is China’s favourite sport and the country boasts of world-class basketball infrastructure, star players such as Yao Ming, who have featured in the NBA (the world’s top basketball league in the US), and concentrated grassroots efforts that have produced hundreds of millions of talented young players.

Meanwhile, India has an unbalanced and mostly disorganised grassroots nursing system, and sorely lacks the necessary infrastructure to support our top talents, and the team’s exploits are mostly ignored by the mainstream media.

Worst of all, internal politics within the national and state federations have stunted any real growth and there is rarely any motivation from those who are in the basketball fraternity to rise higher. Many stay content to swivel around in mediocrity.

When he first came to India, an important part of Flemming’s mission was to change this attitude. So far, he has helped India take baby steps to success. On the court, the team has vastly improved on the defensive end and takes better care of the ball on the offence. Additionally, a growing sense of team chemistry through continuity has helped produce improved results in international tournaments over the past year, such as the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship in the Philippines and the Lusofonia Games in Goa where India won gold.

Flemming succeeded fellow American Kenny Natt, a former NBA player and head coach. But with limited time and resources, Natt couldn’t provide the team the needed turnaround in his 18-month stint. In 2012, Flemming came to India with 30 years of coaching experience, mostly at top college programmes in the US. He last served as an assistant coach to the NBA’s Development League side Texas Legends.

“My mission has been to improve India’s total national team programme from the under-14 team to the senior team,” says Flemming. “This can be done only with some consistency in player development methods and installing the same system of play. I also wanted to be a coach to other coaches in the country.

“It was my goal to narrow the gap between the top teams in Asia and our Indian national team. I have really emphasised the defensive part of the game with our team. I think this is being demonstrated by our opponents’ lower field goal percentages and lower scores. Defence will always help neutralise teams with more talent.”

India’s improved performances are a perfect underdog story, but it shouldn’t be. The country has the population and enough wealth to take bigger strides in the sport than they have taken so far.

Jayasankar Menon, who captained the national team in the 1990s, says that although India has taken real steps forward, only a professional league can herald a period of sustained success.

“Without a pro league, India cannot improve any further,” he says, “As far as players are concerned, playing for India once or a hundred times is the same. I have come across this situation after playing for India for a decade. The players need to be financially settled and only a pro league can make this happen. It is the right time for the administrators to act. Watch how the kabaddi and badminton leagues have done it. I know there are a lot of ifs and buts but the pro league is the answer.”

The responsibility for providing this answer will ultimately fall upon the BFI and its sponsors, a partnership between global sports/media company IMG Worldwide and India’s biggest conglomerate, Reliance. IMG-Reliance and the BFI have been planning to launch a professional league for years, and their efforts to grow the game at the grassroots with school and college leagues across cities has been a major step forward to get the game to more youth than ever before.

The recent launch of the football Indian Super League (ISL) — also organised by IMG-Reliance — provides a ray of hope for Indian basketball, as IMG chairman Mike Dolan announced that the ISL model would be used to launch India’s first professional league next year.

As many global observers have noted, basketball is one of the world’s fastestgrowing sports. With the interest of IMG-Reliance and the NBA, the 1.2 billion-strong country has the potential to become the game’s next lucrative market. But only a high-quality product will capture the fans’ attention, and the future performances of the national squad will determine if India can continue to provide a product to market to the larger masses.

“After the Asia Cup we have the confidence that we can compete with the top teams in Asia,” says Flemming, “We need to take the next step and win more of those games. We have come a long way, but still have a lot of room for improvement.”

Flemming’s two-year contract with Team India will come to an end in a few months, and he has said that he will evaluate the plans of his family and of the BFI before taking any future decisions. But regardless of his future, he has already secured his name in Indian basketball history by helping the Young Cagers finally grow up to defeat China and giving basketball fans in the country a moment that could change the game forever.

August 20, 2014

Carlos Barroca takes over basketball operations in NBA India, replacing Troy Justice


Over the past 35 years, Carlos Barroca carved up a legendary career as a leader in the game of basketball back in his home nation of Portugal. Now, he gets the opportunity to bring in that experience and leadership qualities to carve up a new legend in India.

The NBA recently announced that Barroca will be taking over as the Senior Director of Basketball Operations for NBA India. A former basketball coach, general manager, television analyst, and ambassador, Barroca will replace Troy Justice, the much-beloved American coach and basketball ambassador who had enjoyed several successful years closely aiding the growth of hoops in India.

Barroca will spearhead the NBA's basketball development initiatives in India, which include training local coaches and players, executing grassroots programmes and working with key basketball stakeholders across India to grow the sport. His 35 years of experience has given him several different roles involved with basketball, mostly in Portugal. During the 2000-2001 season, Barroca served as the head coach of the Portuguese Basketball Federation and the national U-20 squad, and has joined the NBA’s Basketball without Borders programme as a guest coach since 2006. Following his time on the sidelines, Barroca was appointed as National Director of High School Sports Programme and selected as a member of the Supreme Council for Sports as well as the Olympic Committee of Portugal. Barroca also served as a consultant for Adecco, a Swiss HR company, S.A., where he promoted team building and motivation in corporate HR.

Barroca joins the NBA India team at a crucial time: in India, the league is currently involved in various grassroots initiatives to grow the NBA brand as well as the brand of basketball, such as the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme, NBA Jam, and more. The rise of the NBA in India will not be isolated from India's overall improving basketball fortunes, and Barroca will have to keep an eye on the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), the performances of the India's national squads, and the promise of a potential professional basketball league in the future. Meanwhile, India and the NBA have been drawing closer together abroad, too: an NBA team now has an Indian owner (Vivek Ranadive of the Sacramento Kings) who will be visiting India along with the NBA's new commissioner Adam Silver this December. Plus, the same team also made Canadian national Sim Bhullar into the first-ever player of Indian descent to be signed by the NBA.

With so much on their plate, it is an exciting new beginning both for Barroca and for NBA India. But every new beginning signifies an end too; and in this case, it marks the end of a fruitful tenure by Troy Justice as NBA India's basketball operations' senior directory. Justice will join the NBA's Basketball Operations department in New York at the end of September, working closely with each member of the Basketball Operations staff in the regional offices to support their efforts to grow the game of basketball at both the elite and grassroots level. He will also focus on expanding the NBA’s global youth basketball programming through the Jr. NBA/WNBA programme.

In India, Justice will leave behind some big shoes for Barroca to fill. India can be a challenging place for many outsiders, but Justice took to the country's many idiosyncrasies with ease, and soon, became as popular draw across the country's grassroots basketball circles. From Kerala to Mumbai to Punjab and more, Justice traveled the length and breath of India over the past half a dozen years preaching the gospel of hoops. His personal approach to coaching, his acceptance of everything Indian, and of course, his deep knowledge of the game, all made him a fan favourite among both players and coaches in the country.

A personal thank you from my end to Justice for being just the right fit for basketball and for the NBA in India. He got his start in Indian basketball around the same time I did, and I will always remember our initial correspondences and meetings as we worked to help the game rise from the ground up. Of course, I will always remember our little trip to Aman's in Ludhiana for the best butter chicken in Ludhiana, but that's another story for another day.

Good luck to Justice for his endeavours ahead, and a warm welcome to Barroca, who will hopefully continue to expand on the path of his predecessor.

August 19, 2014

Thrissur teams lift 31st Kerala State Youth Basketball Championship trophies in Irinjalakuda


Thrissur's boys and girls under-16 teams both celebrated on Monday as the city bagged double titles at the 31st Kerala State Youth Basketball Championship, held at the Christ Vidyanikethan indoor basketball court in Irinjalakuda from August 14-18, 2014. In two close finals, Thrissur's girls scraped past Kozhikode while the boys survived an intense finish against Ernakulum.

In the boys final, Thrissur held on to a double digit lead at halftime, but Ernakulum made a brave comeback in the second half behind stellar performances by Ebin Wilson (20) and Joshua J George (18). In the end, Thrissur held on to a close 70-64 victory. Gokul Babu (20) and Gineeb Benny (17) led the scorers in the winning side.

In the girls final, it was Thrissur who were left to fight back after going down by eight at halftime to Kozhikode, the tournament's reigning champions. But behind a team-high 18 points by Aleea Seby, Thrissur never gave up and bounced back to edge for a 65-61 victory as the final horn sounded. Anusha IP led the game with 19 points for Kozhikode in the loss.

Gineeb Benny and Nimmy George - both of Thrissur - bagged the Best Player award in the boys and girls divisions respectively, instituted in memory of PKS Naidu, the former Technical Committee Chairman of Kerala Basketball Association.

In earlier games, Niya Scaria scored 18 points as Kannur secured the girls' bronze medal with a 57-44 victory over Pathanamthitta. Bronze medal in the boys' competition went to Kottayam, who had no trouble blowing past Alapuzha for a 45-25 win. Jacob Jaimon led the winning side with 16.