February 23, 2015

IOB (Men) and KSEB (Women) win 2015 JCI Basketball Tournament at Athirampuzha

In Athirampuzha (Kerala), the St Aloysius Flood-Lit Basketball Court hosted the 6th JCI All India Invitational Basketball Tournament, where the local state's Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) defeated Chennai's Southern Railway in the final to bring a title for the home fans. In the Men's final, Chennai's Indian Overseas Bank (IOB) won the final against Cochin's Customs and Central Excise.

In the Women's final, Thiruvanathapuram's KSEB fought in a neck-to-neck battle against Southern Railway, before surviving for a 55-50 win.

IOB's Aravind led with 17 points for IOB to completely dominate Customs and Central Excise in the Men's final, winning 62-30 in the end.

Kerala Women's Team was felicitated at the tournament for their maiden basketball title at the National Games earlier this month.

February 22, 2015

Clearing the Deadline cobwebs: The best players traded on the NBA’s record trade-deadline day

In the biggest trade deadline day in NBA history, 37 players moved in 11 trades across the league. 16 of the NBA’s 30 teams will enter the last half of the season with a roster change, including some dramatic moves that could boost various title aspirants. With the number of multiple team trades, draft picks offered, protection on future draft picks, and the reshaping of rosters, it was difficult for even the staunchest NBA follower to clear the cobwebs and find where their favourite players landed or how their favourite teams have reloaded. Here is my countdown of the top ten players who have moved to new teams.

Click here to read my full feature on SportsKeeda

February 18, 2015

Quarter Mania: Klay Thompson and the top scoring quarters in NBA history

The magical 'Klay Kquarter', where Klay Thompson scored an 37 points in the third quarter, gave the Warriors' guard the NBA record for most points in a single quarter by an individual player. Thompson had to outduel several historic moments by other stars over the ages who have also experienced magic in under 12 minutes. Here is a look at the top five scoring quarters in NBA history.

Read the full article on SportsKeeda here.

February 14, 2015

2015 National Games Basketball: Uttarakhand (Men) and Kerala (Women) win gold medals in Kerala

It took four years for the National Games to return back on the Indian domestic basketball calendar. And India's best ball players - hungry to add the prestigious medal to their trophy collections - made it almost worth the wait.

Photo Courtesy: Ekalavyas.com
The basketball tournament of the 35th National Games - held from January 31 - February 14, 2015 across Kerala - came to a conclusion on the evening of Friday, February 13 with two satisfying finales for the energetic crowd at the Indoor Stadium in Mundayad (Kannur). Hosts Kerala were cheered on by their home fans as they raced past neighbouring Tamil Nadu for a victory in the Women's final. The Men's gold was fought closely in one of the greatest finals in Indian basketball, with Uttarakhand finally moving past Tamil Nadu in double overtime to finish as champions.

After a four-year absence, (the last National Games were held in Jharkhand in 2011) the 2015 National Games - which are basically inter-state Olympics - returned this year, organized by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). A total of 16 teams (eight Men, eight Women) took part in the basketball tournament at the Games this year from February 9-13.

On Friday, Uttarakhand and Tamil Nadu Men were the final show at the basketball court, and they gave the fans a night to remember. The two powerhouses - who are the previous two winners of India's Senior National Championship - played in a classic back-and-forth contest, as neither side refused to cave in. Tied at 40-40 at halftime, TN took a 10 point lead at the end of the third quarter, only to see the lead disappear thanks to a strong comeback by Uttarakhand in the fourth. Tied at 81-each, the game went into overtime, and after five more minutes, when there was no one with a clear advantage, double overtime began at 92-92. Finally, the clutch efforts of veteran star Riyazuddin (17) lifted Uttarkhand to a hard-fought 105-97 win. The star of the night was Amrit Pal Singh, who ended with 38 points and 18 rebounds for Uttarakhand. Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (20) and Yadwinder Singh (18 points, 17 rebounds) also put in big performances for their side. At the other end, Prasanna Venkatesh (28), Aravind (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Pratham Singh (18) were the leaders for TN.

Photo Courtesy: Ekalavyas.com
TN faced disappointment in the Women's final, too, as the home side Kerala relied on stifling defense to shut out their opponents and win 56-36. Kerala started strong, limiting TN to just 12 points in the first half and taking an early 16 point lead. Despite improved performances by their opponents after halftime, Kerala cruised to a 20 point victory. Jeena PS (19 points, 13 rebounds) was Kerala's star on the night.

The Bronze Medal games were also held earlier on Friday. Karnataka's Navaneeta played one of the best games of her career with 24 points and 21 rebounds to help her side score a hard-fought 74-70 win against Maharashtra. Karnataka had to fight back from being down five at halftime to secure a win. Savitha added 23. For Maharashtra, the leading scorers were Manisha Dange (21) and Renu Maurya (18). The Men's game was a wash in the favour of Services against Karnataka. The efforts of Narender Grewal (25) and Joginder Singh (16) were too much for Karnataka to handle, who trailed big early in the game and got no respite as Service cruised to a 90-53 win. Anil Kumar had 20 for Karnataka in a losing effort.

Final Scores
  • Women: Kerala (Jeena PS 19, Poojamol KS 13) bt. Tamil Nadu 56-36 (16-8, 12-4, 11-16, 17-8).
  • Men: Uttarakhand (Amritpal Singh 38 pts, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi 20, Yadwinder Singh 18, Riyazuddin 17) bt. Tamil Nadu (Prasanna Venkatesh 28, Aravind 20 pts, Pratham Singh 18) 105-97 2OT (17-23, 23-17, 25-15, 16-26, 11-11, 13-5).
Bronze Medal Games
  • Women: Karnataka (Navaneeta 24 pts, Savitha 23) bt. Maharashtra (Manisha Dange 21, Renu Maurya 18, Geo Blessen 13) 74-70 (14-18, 20-21, 22-16, 18-15).
  • Men: Services (Narender Grewal 25, Joginder Singh 16) bt. Karnataka (Anil Kumar 20) 90-53 (19-15, 28-11, 26-17, 17-10).

February 13, 2015

Sony SIX has launched India's first NBA wrap-up show

It's one to show NBA games in India. It's another to make NBA games Indian.

TV channels in India, particularly Sony SIX over the last few years, have been doing the former for years now. It is not uncommon now for basketball fans to wake up for 'NBA Mornings on SIX' every day to catch an NBA doubleheader live in India. But Sony SIX are going one step further this year: launched over this past Sunday, the TV channel will show a weekly NBA wrap-up show exclusively produced for Indian audiences.

The show, entitled NBA Weekly, debuted at 11:30 AM on Sunday, February 8th, one week ahead of the NBA All Star Weekend. It will be broadcast on Sony SIX every Sunday at 11:30 AM until the season ends. TV anchor/artist Manish Anand is the host of the show.

Via IndianTelevision.com

NBA Weekly will provide viewers with a complete panorama on the sport, offering fans a unique perspective on the game by highlighting the best headlines of the week gone by as well as an insight into the upcoming action for the week ahead.
The show will present its own local spin off with in-depth reporting of the latest news on the NBA's biggest stars and most exciting teams, to enthrall Indian sports fans. The weekly show will provide fans an all access look into the best of on-court action, game highlights, top plays, moments of the week, player and team profiling amongst many other exciting stories.
Sony Six EVP and business head Prasana Krishnan said, "The show's format has been specially produced to connect with Indian audiences by offering comprehensive analyses on all the scheduled games during the NBA season. Through the years, we have seen a phenomenal rise in the viewership for NBA and that has propelled us towards making major investments in the continued development of the game both on-ground and on-air in the country."

The Head Coach of India's Senior Men's basketball team Scott Flemming will be a special guest on the show to provide wrap up coverage from the NBA All Star Weekend. Catch Coach Flemming as he discusses the NBA Saturday Night events on Sunday morning in India and on another special coverage after the All Star Game on Monday morning in India.

Great job Sony SIX! The channel had already launched India's own version of the NBA Inside Stuff last year, and this is the necessary next step for the continuing NBA growth in India. There are enough fans now who don't just want to watch the games - we want to here expert views about them, catch highlights, and keep our eye on the overall entertainment around the league. We don't just want NBA games in India, we want to make the NBA experience more Indian, too!

February 12, 2015

Former India international basketball player Akshay Bhosale dies at 24

Less than a month ago, Akshay Bhosale (24) was one of the top players for Pune's Bharati Vidyapeeth University at the UBA All India Inter University Basketball Tournament in Chennai. In his last major game of basketball, he led his team valiantly with 36 points in a loss to Jain University to see his team finish at 4th place at the national inter-university tournament. But on Wednesday morning, while on a routine warm-up jog, the former young star for Pune, Maharashtra, and a brief international player for India, collapsed and was declared dead by cardiac arrest on arrival at a nearby hospital.

Via the Pune Mirror

Pune lost one of its most promising basketball players after 24-year-old Akshay Bhosale suffered a cardiac arrest on Wednesday morning. The youth reached the BMCC ground half an hour before the usual practice time of 7.45 am and started a warm-up jog but collapsed midway. The six foot two inch-tall forward was practising to make it to the Maharashtra squad which is scheduled to host and play in the Federation Cup in Balewadi next month. The ambulance arrived around 30 minutes after the collapse and Bhosale was rushed to the Joshi Hospital where he was declared dead on arrival.

"I am not sure if he had some preexisting medical condition. He did face some breathing issues between a match a couple of years ago but we all thought it was due to physical exertion. I am not sure if he went through any check-ups for that," informed a team mate.

According to The Times of India, Bhosale had started his basketball career when he was in class V in Modern High School in Pune. He had represented India at the U-19 SGFI held in Vietnam in 2007. He had played ten nationals in various age groups. He would've been part of Maharashtra team at the upcoming Federation Cup National Basketball Championship.

This is terrible, shocking news. Pune, Maharashtra, and India have all lost a promising talent just about to hit his prime years. I wish the best to Bhosale's family, friends, and teammates in this tough time.

February 10, 2015

Lost opportunities have limited the potential of many Indian star basketball players

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas on January 31, 2015. Click here to read the original post.

Amrit Pal Singh rises over his opposition during the recently concluded
 Senior National Basketball Championship. Singh was named the Most
Valuable Player in India’s marquee annual event - Photo courtesy:
From the very first time I saw Amrit Pal Singh play basketball, I knew that it was already too late.

Back in 2011, Amrit Pal had been one of the new additions to India’s senior national team, led by former Head Coach Kenny Natt to play in the Middle Asia Zone qualifiers in New Delhi. As hosts, India had to get past South Asian opponents like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan to qualify for the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship. Amrit Pal – an unknown quantity in Indian basketball until then – played just 12 minutes a game off the bench in India’s three contests but ended up becoming the qualifiers’ biggest breakthrough story. He averaged 13.3 ppg to finish as India’s second-leading scorer and was a beast in the block on both ends of the floor. India won all its games by an average margin of nearly 68 points per game and qualified for the bigger continental tournament.

Usually, the progression of a breakthrough young player to stardom can be tracked back much earlier at the national level in India. Youngsters who perform well at the under-14 level usually graduate to under-16 teams, the best under-16s get to represent the nation’s colours in youth FIBA championships, the improving talents among them move on to dominance at the under-18 or Junior FIBA Asia games, and finally, the best of the best get the opportunity to don a Team India jersey at the senior level. Occasionally, some bright young talents fizzle away and some forgotten bench players become late bloomers.

But no one ever jumped into centre stage as quickly and surprisingly as Amrit Pal. At 19, he was in the village of Fattuwal in Punjab, helping his farmer father plough a rice field. At 20, he was playing for India at the FIBA Asia Championship. By 23, he was India’s best post player and team captain, helping the side pick up its greatest ever basketball triumph with a memorable victory over China last summer.

Amrit Pal’s rise is the ultimate story of a late bloomer who defeated the odds to make the most of his natural talent in limited time. In four years, he had graduated from never seeing a basketball to being the captain of the country’s senior national squad. But interlaced with this heart-warming story is also a sobering reminder of an opportunity lost, a potential left unfulfilled. By the time Amrit Pal was discovered at 19, it was already too late. He has made the most of what he could, but, if the circumstances had been right, he could’ve been so much more.

And Amrit Pal isn’t alone. Over the last decade alone, there have been several Indian players – like S. Robinson, TJ Sahi, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amjyot Singh, and Palpreet Singh Brar – who’ve had the potential to become more dominant stars on the Asian and global scale, but due to late discovery or mismanagement, their potentials were never realized.

Most expert scouts will tell you that many of the players named above – if given access to better coaching and opportunity at an earlier age – could’ve developed into professional players worthy of international recognition. If a player of Amrit Pal’s natural gifts had been honed and trained a decade earlier, he could’ve been on his way to becoming the first Indian national to play at the NCAA Division 1 level and have a real shot at the NBA.

In North America, Europe, and more competitive Asian countries like China, young players with promise are given regular exposure and top coaching opportunities from the age of nine or 10. Basketball for those who improve and specialize in the sport because a clear goal to achieve instead of just a pastime. Most of the top players in the world start playing the game earlier in their lives and thus have much more time to improve their physical and mental approaches to by the time they reach the professional or senior level.

Of course, we still have years (if not decades) before we can match the efficiency and professionalism of scouting and training in the best basketball nations, but India has its own advantage: the world’s largest youth population. Most states in India have functional basketball federations or associations who have access to players from many of their chief districts. Some chhupa rustams (hidden talents) will always go unnoticed, but we have the numbers and the capability to help the development of the majority that we do find.

Currently, with Indian educational culture focusing on academics over other talents in a child, schools rarely have a programme to allow serious exploration of a non-academic speciality – like basketball – at an early age. By the teenage years, regular tournaments for the luckier ones may see them make an impression at the district level, and the best ones may be considered to represent their state. But by then, a lot of fundamental hoops education has already been skipped over by the child’s first coaches and it becomes too late to properly learn those early fundamentals. This is one of the issues that India’s national coaches are hoping to address with ‘Train the Trainer’ programmes, where coaching philosophies and techniques are taught from one coach to another until they reach children at all the grassroots.

But age isn’t the only hindrance. In many situations, the coaches or team management in India’s grassroots have overzealously guarded their players from exposure or blocked them from exploring other, better opportunities. Ideally, if a talented young player is discovered in a state with poor infrastructure or coaching resources, the player should transfer elsewhere where a system can best enhance his or her natural penchant for the game. Unfortunately, there are too many players around the country who were never given that release – or even that encouragement – from their early coaches, and remained battling with mediocrity.

Punjab’s duo of Amjyot Singh and Palpreet Singh Brar are other examples of discovery left too late. Brar, like Amrit Pal, was a relatively unknown quantity before having his big breakout as India’s best player in the junior team at the FIBA Asia Under-18 Championship in Mongolia. Amjyot, at 22, might already be India’s best player. He was another one of the country’s top players at last summer’s FIBA Asia Cup and has the talent to be a professional player in Asia’s top leagues. But, just like Amrit Pal, the late bloom of both these players is only an example of how much more they could’ve done if their talent had been spotted earlier. With the right exposure and training earlier, all three bigs – Amrit Pal, Amjyot, and Palpreet – should’ve had an opportunity and earned a scholarship to develop their game further at a top US college.

Then, there are the cases like Tamil Nadu great Sozhasingarayer Robinson, known more simply as S. Robinson. The fan favourite power forward reached cult status when he scored 36 to help India beat South Korea at the 2004 Stankovic Cup. But clashes with authority led him to be banned from state and country, an early retirement, and an underwhelming comeback. Without proper guidance and a support system, the cold war between Robinson and the Federation robbed India of one of its great performers of the last decade.

Punjab’s explosive point guard TJ Sahi – nicknamed Air India – was a similar story of rebellion gone wrong and potential gone awry. On pure talent alone, Sahi should’ve been India’s starting point guard for the majority of the past 10 years. He has enjoyed a decent national team career and has had some notable highlights for India, and once outdid Blake Griffin’s ‘over the car’ dunk, with a more Indian remix. But Sahi only received his big break for Punjab at the junior level, when years of potential for the skilled young ball-handler were already wasted. Like Robinson, clashes with authority and lack of discipline denied him further greatness.

The one notable exception has been Satnam Singh Bhamara, the talented 7-footer out of Ballo Ke in Punjab, who was scouted and picked to play at the IMG Basketball Academy in Florida, USA, at 14. Bhamara’s game has developed gradually. Equally as importantly, he has learned invaluable lessons on improving his game off the court, such as his work in the weight room through strength and conditioning opportunities that would’ve never been available to him back home. But the IMG scholarship to Bhamara and a few others in 2010 was a one-off, and opportunities like that won’t be falling into the laps of our other good young players anytime soon.

Before he headed to Florida, Bhamara was a produce of India’s richest ‘bread basket of basketball’ in Punjab. In recent years, Bhamara, Sahi, Amrit Pal, Amjyot, Sahi, Brar, and other players like Jagdeep Singh Bains, Yadwinder Singh, Loveneet Singh Atwal, were all found and honed through the Ludhiana Basketball Academy in Punjab. The academy – and the state – has done a good job at developing the athletic talent available in the ‘Land of Five Rivers’, but their efforts need to dial up to begin training players at an earlier age, not just when it is a convenient time to start participating in state or national championships.

Hindsight, of course, is 20/20, and nothing can now change the lost opportunities of the past. What we can do is learn from the past to help improve the future. The players named above prove that ‘lack of talent’ is not an excuse anymore for India’s performances at the international level. India, and our billion plus, have a wealth of potential basketball talent, but unfortunately, it is too late by the time most of them are discovered and developed.

If scouted and trained in the right fundamentals of basketball earlier, India should be able to field a unit capable of challenging the best teams in the continent and feature star players who can play professionally in basketball leagues in Asia, Europe, or even the NBA.