November 29, 2015

India's 2nd National Wheelchair Basketball Championship to tip-off in Delhi on December 2

The Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI) is set to hold its 2nd National Wheelchair Basketball Championship in New Delhi from December 2-6 at Indira Gandhi Stadium Complex. The WBFI is organizing the championship in partnership with the Sports Authority of India (SAI), the Government of India and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The championship will coincide with the International Day for Persons with Disabilities on December 3.

The WBFI are the governing and overseeing body of wheelchair basketball in India. Last year, they held several basketball workshops around the country and the first national wheelchair basketball tournament in Chennai, which was won by Maharashtra.

Both Men and Women's teams will participate in the tournament; the men's championship will feature nine state teams, while in the women's section, two teams from mixed states will play against each other. Additionally, an exhibition match for children wheelchair basketball players will be held as well.

Participating Men's teams for 2nd National Wheelchair Basketball Championship: Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh.

The opening ceremony will be held on December 2nd 2015, at 11 am, starting with an exhibition match by children from the Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust. Several dignitaries from the Government, Corporates and NGOs will grace the opening and closing ceremony as well as witness the championship prosper.

The WBFI hopes to send an Indian Wheelchair Basketball Team to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Paralympics, as well as prepare Indian Wheelchair Basketball for more international tournaments.

November 28, 2015

A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Counting down the top 10 must-watch players for the 2015-16 NBA Season

This feature was first published in my column for Ekalavyas on November 6, 2015. Click here to read the original article.

The new NBA season brings with it a new set of intrigue, drama, ambitions, and storylines. Basketball is first and foremost a team game, but in the NBA, it is the individual stories that truly elevate our sense of connection with the league and bring fans back thirsting for more. We obsess over the legacies of great players, we cringe when they come up short, sob when they’re injured, celebrate when they return, and scream in delight when they finally win a championship.

In a league full of must-watch personalities and stories, there are a few that stand head and shoulders above the rest. This is the league within a league of extraordinary gentlemen. Keep your eyes peeled for the intrigues, twists, and turns that these individuals traverse through for the next six to eight months. This isn’t a ranking of the NBA’s best players (you can find my contribution on this season’s SLAM Top 50 for that!); this is a ranking of the stories you can’t afford to miss.

10. Andrew Wiggins

A week ago, I made an outlandish prediction on the Hoopdarshan NBA Preview podcast that the Minnesota Timberwolves – the NBA’s worst team last season – will climb to eighth seed in the West. It’s the sort of dumb risk that could potentially rob me of all my crumbs of credibility and have a multitude of trolls destroying my online life. Or alternatively, it could make me look like a foreshadowing genius. There were a lot of reasons for my Wolves overrating: Ricky Rubio has returned healthy, Kevin Garnett – in perhaps the last season of his storied career – is shouting advice and blocking your practice shots. Number one pick Karl-Anthony Towns started the season looking like a completed project already. The supporting cast of Kevin Martin, Zach LaVine, Nemanja Bjelica, and Nikola Pekovic looks half-decent.

But the biggest reason for my projected T-Wolves jump is second-year swingman and reigning rookie of the year Andrew Wiggins. Every season, there seems to be one player that takes the leap from being a ‘prospect’ to a ‘superstar’ (see: George, Paul or Butler, Jimmy). I believe that Wiggins will take that leap this season. Wiggins has the talent to become one of the top wing players in the league and his ability on the defensive end ensures that he always earns ample playing time. As the season progresses, watch for Wiggins to blossom into a better player, realize the limitlessness of his own talents, and unleash hellfire on to the rest of the league. The future is very, very bright.

9. Kevin Love

Who is Kevin Love? Is he the slightly chubby rookie who was deemed tradeable on 2008 Draft Night for OJ Mayo? Is he the same guy who defied critics to become the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2011? Is he the person who wins rebound titles, three-point shootouts, and averages 26 and 12 for a season? Or is he only a numbers-monger, a classic good player on a bad team, high on stats but low on overall impact for a winning team? Is he a top 10 player in the league? Or is he a star who may never lead a team to the playoffs by himself?

Last season was Love’s chance to answer these questions once and for all. He was traded to the Cavaliers in exchange for Andrew Wiggins to join LeBron James’ return quest to finally bring a championship to his homeland. Instead, team chemistry (fitting out instead of fitting in) and a playoff injury (thanks for nothing, Kelly Olynyk) suspended the answers a little longer. Love’s first season for the Cavs was forgotten. Now, as he returns healthy and loaded with an extension to his contract, he will once again attempt to answer those questions. Is he overrated? Underrated? Overpaid? Underpaid? A perennial loser? Or a champion?

8. Derrick Rose

The youngest-ever MVP, a force of nature who brought intensity and pound-for-pound toughness to evoke memories of Allen Iverson, a player of passion and fury, and a Chicagoan in every sense of the word. Two and a half years ago, it seemed that Derrick Rose was heading to a legacy of greatness, en route to becoming one of the top players of the decade. And then came the injuries: the ACL tear, the torn meniscus, the hamstrings, and even the recent orbital fracture. Rose seemed curse, and off the court, his comments and controversies suddenly turned this much-loved young star into a figure of pity and annoyance.

He’s back (again). He’s 27. He’s rusty, but he’s healthy. If you’re a Rose fan, you’ve probably been jilted so often by his almost-comebacks that even you don’t believe them anymore. It doesn’t matter, because it seems that Rose never stopped believing in himself. So he’s back, now as perhaps the second-best player in his own backcourt (after Jimmy Butler), but the one player in the one team with a real opportunity to shake up the LeBron Dynasty in the Eastern Conference. He’s back on the court to aim for his top once again; whether he succeeds or he fails, it’ll definitely be a lot of fun to watch him try.

7. Tim Duncan

What more does the NBA’s greatest power forward ever, the most accomplished player in the league since Michael Jordan, have left to prove? Duncan has won five NBA titles in six Finals appearances over the past 16 years, been a three-time Finals MVP, a two-time MVP, a 15-time All Star, and has won over 70 percent of NBA games in an astonishingly dominant 18-year stretch. Now in his 19th season, as ever in the Spurs’ jersey that has become synonymous with his name, Tim Duncan returns as one of the NBA’s oldest players (39) for perhaps one last shot at the title.

While the keys to San Antonio’s destiny now rest firmly in the hands of Kawhi Leonard and new signing LaMarcus Aldridge, my eyes will be on Duncan as he approaches the end of the road. By the end of the NBA season, Duncan would’ve turned 40. He would’ve played a smaller role for the Spurs than ever before, but he would still be around schooling ignorant young’uns in the post offensively or positioning at an elite level defensively. The future is unclear, but if this is indeed the living legend’s final NBA season, it will be fascinating to see him lay everything on the line for one last hurrah.

6. Anthony Davis

On Grantland (RIP), Zach Lowe called Anthony Davis ‘Mr Limitless’, a perfect moniker for a 22-year-old superstar who is both the present of the league and its future. Davis is booming with talent, and is easily the NBA’s most valuable trade chip right now. He’s big, he’s athletic, he’s uber-talented, and he’s healthy. He finished the previous season with one of the highest PER’s of All Time and he’s still got over a decade of dominance left in him. Last season, he averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, and a league-best 2.9 blocks per game. He could only get better.

Watching Davis test his limits will continue to be one of the most intriguing storylines of the season. His future is an empty slate, and he has the potential of filling it up however the need be. Will he become a Duncan prototype or the new-generation Garnett? Will he dominate the post or the perimeter? Will he be the NBA’s leading scorer or the Defensive Player of the Year? Will he be all of the above? The options are limitless.

5. Kobe Bryant

After 19 years in the NBA (longest ‘one team, one player’ tenure), five championships, an MVP award, 17 All Star games, Olympic triumphs, popularity on every corner of the globe, and that one night he scored 81, The Black Mamba is now 37 and transformed into more myth than man. Gone are the days when he challenged to be the league’s finest and carried his team into title contention. Now, Kobe is one of the NBA’s creaky senior citizens, coming off a couple of injury-plagued seasons, and is further plagued by the rebuilt of the team around him.

This was not the way that one of the game’s greatest ever players hoped to ride into the sunset. Will this be Kobe’s last season in the NBA? And if so, what will be the last basketball entry into our box-full of Kobe memories. For better or worse, his thoughts and actions both on and off the court have shaped NBA history over the last two decades and inspired multitudes around the world. Even in a season of potential despair, fans shouldn’t miss their last chance – maybe – of watching Kobe fight against the inevitability of Father Time.

4. Russell Westbrook

Watch him play with the fury of a rabid dog on a mission to destroy every breathing soul in his path. Watch him post 40-point nights back to back to back like it’s a savage stroll in the park. Watch him do that while also setting triple-double records. Watch him average 30-point triple doubles for an entire month. Watch him be the human equivalent of ‘basketball cocaine’, a one-man force of nature that descends upon helpless opponents like a tornado. Watch him run past opposing elite point guards as if they were nothing but scared matadors. Watch him score 50. Watch him challenge for the NBA’s scoring title. Watch him when he plays like an MVP. Watch him scream at the top of his lungs. Watch him for his emotional outbursts. Watch him for his athletic prowess. Watch him dunk, watch him shoot, watch him block, and watch him pass. Watch him make game-winning shots. Watch him challenge for a title.

Just watch him.

3. LeBron James

The story has been told multiple times. Small town boy becomes the top draft pick of his home-state squad, a suffering team in a city with a history of failure but expectations of success. Soon enough, the small town boy becomes the best player in the game and gives that team an outside sniff of that ever-eluding success. But he becomes disenchanted by his near-misses and leaves the small town to team up with better players in a bigger city. He is hated, he is booed, he loses; he is loved, he is adored, he wins. And then, four years after his own success played out as a mirror opposite to the failures of his home team, he returns home.

LeBron James – he of four MVP awards, two championships, five consecutive Finals appearances, and an early spot booked in the pantheon of basketball’s greatest – returned to Cleveland last season to share his talents with the place he calls ‘Home’ and bring a title to the Cavaliers. Branded as one of the greatest even as a teenager, LeBron has lived up to most expectations and answered nearly every question asked of his career – except one: can he bring an NBA title to Cleveland? Once again, reloaded with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on his wings, he will try to achieve his lifelong mission. With his own legacy and the legacy of the Cavaliers on the line, this mission will be one of the stories of the NBA season.

2. Stephen Curry

Last season, many called him lucky, despite the fact that he broke shooting records without breaking a sweat, led his squad to 67 wins on a historically great point differential, defeated every other member of the All NBA team in the playoffs, and won an NBA championship. He sat atop the NBA throne, but many believed that this throne had been given away, not earned.

‘Many’ are wrong. Stephen Curry is one of the finest players in the NBA, and he just happens to be in his absolute prime right now. Single-handedly, Curry’s shooting, dribbling, and passing sprees have the ability to entertain and devastate with equal measure. NBA defences don’t yet have an answer for him, and by the looks of his early season success, no solution seems forthcoming. Curry deserved his MVP award and rapid rise to stardom last season, and going forward, he deserves to be in the conversation of the greatest players of the current era. Every Warriors game should be circled as must-watch TV for the rest of the year. This is a team aiming for 70 wins and another title, led by a player with the ability to score 70 if the night is right. Need I say more?

1. Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant is one of the NBA’s top players right now with the skillset of becoming one of the greatest ever. He had already confirmed his place next to LeBron as the most devastating force in the league before turning the dial all the way up to 11 in the 2013-14 season. Durant made that year his fourth scoring title (32 ppg) while also amassing 7.4 rpg and a career-best 5.5 assists per game. He shot over 50 percent from the field and largely in the absence of Westbrook and carried the Thunder en route to an MVP award. Last year was supposed to be a continuation of his growing prowess, but a Jones fracture put a pause to the ascent and placed uncertainty over his future.

Now, Durant’s career stands at a tipping point. He’s 27, and has come up short of his ultimate goal due to youth or injury every year. He’s also in his contract year and has been silent about his future in Oklahoma City. He’s playing for a new coach in the toughest Western Conference pile-up in years. Next summer, he’s going to be the NBA’s biggest free agent since 2010 LeBron. And meanwhile, his own teammate could challenge him for an MVP trophy. Early shines this season show that Durant is still a wizard on the court (pun intended) as he returns healthy back into the Thunder lineup. This season will define the path for the rest of his career. And this is why he’s the biggest story of the 2015-16 NBA season.

November 27, 2015

Basketball "Champions League" to debut next year featuring former NBA players

Basketball never stops.

If you’re a basketball player and fan, you’ve seen that axiom everywhere you look. You’ve seen it on T-Shirts, on TV advertisements, on the Facebook status updates of your friends and as a hashtag on Instagram. It’s three simple words that drive the lifeline of a true hoophead. Come rain or shine, summer or winter, indoor or outdoor, youth, middle-age, or seniority, whether we get new jobs, start or end families, move to new places, and change ouirselves, basketball stays constant. Basketball never stops.

Now, stretch your imagination and conceive the life of a veteran NBA player: you have played the game for a decade or more, your body and mindset is attuned completely to preparing for basketball and basketball alone, you spend the majority of your off-court time in practice, in locker-rooms, or on travel from city to city for more basketball. And suddenly, it all ends. You retire, take home your last pay-check, and those professional days are gone. Sure you have options to keep playing overseas, in smaller tournaments, or in recreational league, but it’s never the same, and it will never be the same again.

If the best-laid plans of one entreprenuer can come to fruitation, there will soon be an option for former NBA players to get a whiff of that NBA experience again, even after their playing days in the world’s finest basketball league are over.

With names like Rasheed Wallace, Brandon Roy, Rip Hamilton, Josh Howard, Al Harrington, Keyon Dooling, and Maurice Ager already committed, chairman and CEO Carl George is bringing elite basketball players and die-hard fans the ‘Champions League’, a venture not affiliated with the NBA, as an alternative basketball league for former NBA players and young talents looking for basketball employment. According to George, the first season of the league is scheduled to be held in July and August 2016, during the NBA offseason.

(This ‘Champions League’, has of course nothing to do with that ‘Champions League’, although my head automatically starts chanting “The champions!” song whenever I hear that phrase. FIBA - the world's governing body of basketball - has also planned their own unrelated European Basketball Champions league for 2016-17, which sounds like a tweak on the existing EuroLeague.)

In his comprehensive piece on USA Today, Sam Amick does a complete breakdown of the upcoming basketball Champions League.

Sixteen teams to begin competing in the summer of 2016, with a strong preference for players who have competed in the NBA during the last three years. According to George, the New York team is already fully formed and includes former NBA players Al Harrington, Rasheed Wallace and Maurice Ager. Teams in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and Cleveland are up next, with the goal to employ approximately 250 players in all (170 on teams, others as player-coaches or in other roles). Each team would have two former NBA All-stars on the roster and a Hall of Famer in the front office. George said that 60 players have committed to this point, with many more “in the pipeline” while the subsequent teams are rolled out.
Approximately 30 games to be played in July and August, with 10 charity/marketing events in non-NBA markets during the non-season months also included as part of a player’s compensation package. On average, George said, players would make approximately $200,000 per year (for 80 or 90 days of work) in their pay structure if they take part in both the season and the charity events.

“As surprising as it might sound, it comes as a surprise to most of (the players) when their career does come to an end,” George told USA TODAY Sports. “What we become, then, is a transition from that point forward. And we’re thrilled to be at that place. We’re the next step in the evolution."

"It’s not about the money," [Keyon] Dooling, who still serves the NBA Players Association as the Western region player representative, told USA TODAY Sports. "Most guys will tell you that they miss the community in the locker room, the camaraderie in the locker room, they miss their favorite restaurants that they used to travel to in all these different cities, that they miss the noise of the crowd. Those are some things that even a hundred million dollars can’t fill that void.

You should really go out to USA Today and read Amick’s full article to get every bit of detail about this exciting venture.

The Champions League will play an exhibition charity game on Jan. 29 in Saint Louis University’s Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis. Hamilton, Roy, Howard, and Harrington are expected to participate in the game.

November 26, 2015

Basketball and education brings Phillips Academy students from Massachusetts to Chennai

For several years, the relationship between Massachusetts and Tamil Nadu has been strengthened by basketball, specifically through the efforts of the Crossover Basketball and Scholar's Academy who have been flying from the USA to Chennai every year and using basketball as a vehicle for learning and education for Indian children. This year, one member of Team Crossover has extended that relationship by passing it on to students of Andover's Phillips Academy, who are currently in Chennai organizing basketball workshops and working with NGOs.

As part of the Niswarth Hoops 2015 programme, Phillips Academy's Biology instructor Raj Mundra has brought a team of 15 students and head coaches of the varsity basketball team "to explore the intersections of sport, education and culture." The group aims to interact with government and private classrooms, organize basketball workshops, learn from NGOs, and visit cultural sites in and around Chennai during their trip. They landed in India on Sunday, November 22.

The American International School of Chennai, Crossover Basketball, and Teach for India have partnered or are supporting Niswarth Hoops in this programme.

November 24, 2015

Second leg of ACG-NBA Jump basketball talent search held in Ludhiana (Punjab)

Last month, the NBA launched a unique talent hunt programme in India to find the young basketball player with most potential in the country. Joining hands with the ACG Worldwide Group, the NBA introduced the ACG-NBA Jump for players between the ages of 18-22 from around India. Tipping off in the third week of October in New Delhi, the ACG-NBA Jump is scheduled to be held in six Indian cities, pick a shortlist of the finest talents, and then train them to find the best among the best. The winner of this talent search will be given a shot to attend the NBA D-League tryout in the USA next year.

After a successful opening tip in New Delhi last week - which featured India's first NBA pick Satnam Singh as a special guest - the ACG-NBA Jump moved to the city that made Satnam the teenage star that he was: Ludhiana, Punjab. The second leg of the ACG-NBA Jump was held at Ludhiana's famed Guru Nanak Stadium on Saturday, November 21st. Senior Director of Basketball Operations for NBA India Carlos Barroca was among the coaches headlining this event and keeping their eye out for potential star talent from the city and nearby.

The first-of-its-kind ACG-NBA Jump programme will be split into three phases. In the first phase, six regional, one-day elite camps will be held in six cities: Delhi (Oct 26), Ludhiana (Nov 21), Hyderabad (Nov 28), Mumbai (Dec 12), Kolkata (Jan 9), and Chennai (Jan 16). Around 3-5 international coaches from across the globe will conduct the open try out session in all the six cities.The second phase will consist of a national elite training camp where 32 players selected from the six regional camps would assemble for a four-day training period. In the third and final phase, one top player from the national elite training camp would be selected to attend the NBDL Tryout in the USA for the opportunity to earn a spot on a D-League roster. The selected player would continue to undergo training up until the tryout in June 2016. Sony SIX, the official broadcaster of the NBA in India, will create a feature around ACG-NBA Jump, following the programme through its various stages and tracking the winner till his NBA D-league tryout.

November 23, 2015

Calicut University win 2015 All India Inter University Women Basketball Tournament in New Delhi

A close-fought win in the final handed Calicut University of Malappuram (Kerala) the 2015 All India Inter University Basketball Tournament for Women title on Thursday, November 19. The tournament was held at the Jamia Hamdard University in New Delhi.

This was Calicut's first victory in this tournament after a gap of 13 years. The final was a well-contested matchup between Calicut and Hindustan University (Chennai). Calicut led 34-27 at halftime and kept up their close advantage to end the game with a 60-54 win. Aswathy S Thampy scored 22 for Calicut, while Elizabeth Hilarious added 16. Hindustan's leading scorer was Sruthy, who had a team-high 18 points in the loss.

November 20, 2015

Game On: a basketball collaboration between USA and India to assist Dalit girls in Hyderabad

One of the worst things to afflict India - through its history and continuing into the present day - is the caste system. For centuries, the fate of certain human beings has been decided by society from birth simply because of the caste they were born into. In India, the caste system has been used to oppress certain sections of society or for political gain by creating further fissures between different castes. One of the most oppressed castes historically in India has been the Dalits: and over 200 million of them in the country oscillate between the extremes of unequal treatment and vote banks.

Fortunately, there are many in India and abroad who are fighting for Dalit rights. One of these organizations is the Dalit Freedom Network (DFN), created in 2001 by Indians of all different castes with a mission to "end atrocities against the Dalit people through a foundation of education, healthcare, and economic empowerment." Recently, the DFN joined hands with former American athlete Cassandra Irving to support their movement with an unexpected vehicle: basketball.

Irving played basketball in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where she was 1995 Western Slope League Player of the Year, and then went on to play NCAA basketball for Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. In 2013, a trip to India with her son Cooper Irving gave her life a new mission. She learnt about the unfair treatment of Dalits and decided to take action: Irving started the Game On Youth Basketball Camps in Glenwood Springs to teach basketball to young players from ages 5-13. The proceeds from her camp will be used to support 40 Dalit girls in Hyderabad, India, all of whom were rescued from slums by the DFN.

Next year, Irving plans to bring the Game On camps to India itself, in partnership with the DFN. Their first basketball camp is scheduled from February 15-19 at OM Campus in Hyderabad.

Further report via Post Independent

Although this will be the first camp of its kind for girls and sports, Irving sees it as more than just a camp to teach the girls about sports, nutrition and fitness.
“It is life-changing,” Irving said. “Sports gives kids a team around them, a coach behind them and the courage, confidence and competitive mindset inside them to dream bigger, dig deeper and work harder to overcome the challenges that they face in life, both on and off the court. It is also incredibly fun, which is something Dalit kids rarely get to have.”

The first official Game On camp was held this past summer in Glenwood.