December 17, 2017

Hoopdarshan Episode 56: Vishnu Ravi Shankar on Amritpal Singh and Pursuit India

One of Indian basketball's biggest stars, Amritpal Singh, is breaking barriers as the first Indian to play in the Australian NBL league. After watching Amritpal play first-hand in Melbourne, Hoopdarshan's host Kaushik Lakshman joins Karan Madhok to interview Vishnu Ravi Shankar of Pursuit India on Amritpal's NBL journey, opportunities, challenges, and the future of other top Indian prospects.

In Episode 56, Kaushik and Karan also discuss India's performances at the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, the 'Hoopdarshan Derby' (Knicks vs. Lakers), and much more!

Hoopdarshan is the truest voice of Indian basketball, and since we're such hopeless fans of the game, it will become the voice of everything basketball related we love, from the NBA to international hoops, too. On every episode of Hoopdarshan, we will be inviting a special guest to interview or chat to about a variety of topics. With expert insight from some of the brightest and most-involved people in the world of Indian basketball, we hope to bring this conversation to a many more interested fans, players, and followers of the game.

Make sure to follow Hoopdarshan on Soundcloud or search for 'Hoopdarshan' on the iTunes Store! Auto-sync Hoopdarshan to your preferred podcast app NOW!

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December 14, 2017

Basketball Federation of India K. Govindraj elected as Indian Olympic Association's Vice President

The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) announced on Thursday that its president, K. Govindraj, has been elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). It's been a celebratory few weeks for Govindraj, who was also appointed as a member of the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) Competitions Commission recently.

Election results of the IOA were announced in New Delhi on Thursday, December 14, and president of the Indian Hockey Federation (FIH) Narinder Batra was elected as IOA president. The IOA's Annual Generation Meeting also witnessed elections for the eight posts of vice-president, six joint secretaries, a lone treasurer and 10 Executive Council members.

The IOA is the body responsible for selecting athletes to represent India at the Olympic Games, Asian Games and other international athletic meets and for managing the Indian teams at the events. It also acts as the Indian Commonwealth Games Association, responsible for selecting athletes to represent India at the Commonwealth Games. Govindraj's role in the committee could prove fruitful as India's basketball teams hope to participate in both the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games in 2018.

Govindraj, who also held the position of secretary of the Karnataka State Basketball Association (KSBBA), became president of the BFI in March 2015 and secured the position after a lengthy feud with a competing executive committee. His main accomplishment over the past year has been hosting three international basketball events in India: the FIBA Asia Women's Cup in July 2017, FIBA U16 Women's Asian Championship in October 2017 and FIBA 2019 World Cup Asian Qualifiers in November 2017.

December 7, 2017

Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme in India for 2017-18 to engage more than 45 lakh youth in India

The NBA on Thursday, December 7 announced the return of The Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme, a comprehensive youth basketball initiative that applies the values of basketball to positively impact the lives of Indian boys and girls, for its fifth consecutive year. Returning to India for the 2017-18 season, the expanded programme will through March 2018 and expect to engage more than 45 lakh youth and 4,500 physical education instructors and coaches in 34 cities nationwide.

The programme – the largest in its five-year history – will focus on inspiring youth to adopt a healthy, active lifestyle by integrating basketball into the physical education curriculum of the participating schools.

"We are thrilled to enhance the presence of basketball in more cities and develop life skills amongst youth through our partnership with the NBA," said a Reliance Foundation spokesperson. "The Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme is in line with our goal of enabling children to develop holistically through sports."

"Between the launch of The NBA Academy India, the opening of NBA Basketball Schools in Mumbai and Delhi, and our largest Jr. NBA programme in the country to date, we are more focused than ever on growing basketball among young Indian boys and girls at all levels," said NBA India Vice President & Managing Director Yannick Colaco. "The Reliance Foundation shares our commitment to holistic development through sports and teaching the values of the game, including teamwork, leadership and respect."

The programme, which remains free for all participants, includes individual skills competitions; a timed circuit-based challenge incorporating dribbling, passing and shooting; and 5-on-5 competitions. The top performers from each in-school skills competition will qualify to attend the citywide skills challenge, and the finalists from each citywide skills challenge will compete at the City Finals in 2018. The Jr. NBA Coaches Academy will train local coaches from partner schools.

During the 2016-17 season, Jr. NBA reached more than 1.8 crore youth in 53 countries through its youth participation initiatives.

Since its launch in 2013, The Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme has reached more than sixty lakh youth and trained more than 5,000 physical education instructors nationwide. The programme is part of the NBA’s existing basketball and youth development initiatives in India. Students, parents, coaches and teachers can visit, the official destination of The Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program, to learn more.

December 6, 2017

Basketball Federation of India president K. Govindraj appointed as member of FIBA Competitions Commission

K. Govindraj, the president of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), became the first one of his office to be appointed as a member to the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) Competitions Commission a few weeks ago. Govindraj's appointment will be effective from January 1, 2018.

"I’m humbled by the honour of being bestowed this position," said Govindraj. "This is not just an achievement for myself but for all the BFI who have worked tirelessly for the last three years to showcase the true potential of Indian Basketball."

Govindraj, who also held the position of secretary of the Karnataka State Basketball Association (KSBBA), became president of the BFI in March 2015 and secured the position after a lengthy feud with a competing executive committee. Govindraj's main accomplishment over the past year has been hosting three international basketball events in India: the FIBA Asia Women's Cup in July 2017, FIBA U16 Women's Asian Championship in October 2017 and FIBA 2019 World Cup Asian Qualifiers in November 2017.

The FIBA Competitions Commission is mainly responsible for the growth and smooth functioning of different competitions under FIBA. Their duties include: reviewing and recommending the FIBA Calendar for approval by the Central Board, reviewing all official competitions of FIBA, developing recommendations for changes to the manner and method of conduct of the official competitions, giving advice on the allocation of official competitions, studying the regulations governing all international competitions, and making recommendations relating to the transition of players from youth to senior competitions.

November 29, 2017

India’s long journey to qualify for the 2019 FIBA World Cup begins

This article was first published in my 'Hoopistani' column on The Times of India Sports on November 19, 2017. Read the original version here.

Thirty-seven years ago, in the pleasant late-summer in Moscow, Indian basketball made history. A series of fortuitous circumstances—including a golden generation of Indian basketball stars and a series of international diplomatic breakdowns—made India an unlikely entrant in the Men’s basketball fray of the 1980 Summer Olympics. India were the weakest team in the tournament and lost all seven of their games. Still, it was the competitive high-point in Indian hoops, an achievement that has never been matched again.

Indian basketball has since dipped out of contention of major world tournaments, and India has generally been one of the weaker teams in the Asian level, too. But now, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) has introduced a new competition system that could help India gain international experience and have a chance to participate against world superpowers at the highest-level.

In a few days, India will begin their First Round games of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Qualifiers. India has never played in the World Cup (formerly known as the FIBA World Championship), which FIBA is now angling as a competition with equal prestige as the Olympics. The road ahead to be amongst the 32 best teams to play at the tournament in China in August/September 2019 will be difficult for the Indian Men (currently ranked 64). But India has been able to unearth a number of exciting young players in recent years with better scouting and development. For the current “golden generation”, the road to play in a prestigious world tournament begins now.

India have been drawn in Group C for the First Round of the World Cup’s Asian Qualifiers, along with Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. India will play each team in home and away between November 2017 to July 2018. To qualify for the Second Round, India have to finish amongst the top three of their group. The Second Round will be held between September 2018 to February 2019, where India will have to finish top three from their group of six.

India’s last major basketball appearance was at the FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon in August. Despite entering with high expectations, India performed poorly, losing all three of their preliminary stage games and being ousted in the First Round. Two of those losses came against Jordan and Syria, and in the World Cup Qualifiers ahead, India will have a chance to make amends.

India’s first two qualifying games are on the road against Lebanon on November 23 and then, back home in Bengaluru, for a historic first qualifying home game against Syria on November 26. The next international breaks of qualifiers for India will be held in late February and June/July 2018.

After helping India’s women’s senior and under-16 squads put up respectable performances at FIBA Asia events earlier this year, Serbian head coach Zoran Visic has been named head coach of India’s men’s squad for the first string of qualifying games, too. Visic is a FIBA World Instructor and has over 34 years of professional basketball coaching experience across Serbia, Romania, Russia, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, and Singapore. He will be assisted in coaching the team with former international player Sambhaji Kadam.

The final, 12-man roster of India’s squad was released by the BFI on Saturday. India will be captained by veteran point guard Akilan Pari and will feature one of the country's top players Amritpal Singh, who is on international break from his professional club in Australia's NBL, the Sydney Kings. Amritpal is sure to be the team's centrepiece in the next two games. India is loaded with talented bigs, including the country's first-ever NBA draft pick and former NBA G-League player Satnam Singh, former G-League draft pick Palpreet Singh Brar, Rikin Pethani, Jagdeep Singh Bains, Aravind Annadurai, and more. 

However, the team will be without the services of two of their top three players: Amjyot Singh, who is playing for the OKC Blue of the NBA G-League; and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, who is recovering from a right knee injury. 

India has featured a string of talented post players in recent years. Unfortunately, the team will again be relying too much on the performance of the bigs. Amritpal, Satnam, Palpreet, and co. can all be wonderfully dominant under the basket, but India is weak in terms of ball-handlers and creative wing players. There will be a lot of pressure for Pari to outplay opposing point guards, and the qualifiers will also be a good litmus test for his young back, Prudhvi Reddy. Without Bhriguvanshi, however, India will again struggle for consistency in setting up their offense as they did when he was hurt at the FIBA Asia Cup. Without Amjyot, they will also need more offense from sharp-shooter Prasanna Venkatesh from the wing. 

Lebanon, who made it to the Quarter-Finals of the FIBA Asia Cup, will be a handful for India, especially on their home court. It is unlikely that a weakened Indian squad will be able to earn a victory in Beirut in their first game, but they should be prepared for the second matchup against Syria later in the week. India will be in the comfort of home, playing in front of home fans at the Sri Kantaveera Stadium in Bengaluru, against their weakest competitor in this group. Syria defeated India two months ago, but a more focused performance this time around could help India get a morale-boosting international victory.

Finishing in top three in the group is attainable for India, and with the rise of the next generation of young stars, the team can hope for a strong performance looking ahead into the Second Round of qualifiers, too. Qualifying for the 2019 World Cup might be unlikely, but the matches will surely help India gain some valuable international experience. Hopefully, it prepares the next generation of the squad to make new history and have the national team playing at the highest basketball level once again.

November 28, 2017

Former NBA superstar Michael Ray Richardson is in India, visiting the NBA India Academy

Once upon a time, Michael "Sugar" Ray Richardson was one of the brightest young stars in the NBA, setting the league alight with electrifying performances. After a 24-year-career playing in the NBA and abroad, and a decade in coaching in the US and England, Richardson has briefly brought his talent to India. The former NBA superstar is at the NBA India Academy for two weeks, where he has been interacting, practicing, and coaching some of the best young players in the country.

Richardson also visited Mumbai for a special taping of Sony SIX's "Around the Hoop" NBA show past Sunday.

Now 62-years-old, Richardson was once one of the most highly-touted young players coming into the NBA, and was drafted fourth in the 1978 draft - two ahead of Larry Bird - by the New York Knicks. The 6-foot-5 guard paid dividends immediately. He became an All Star in his second year in the league and became only the third player in history to lead the league in both assists and steals. He also made the All Defensive Team that year and the next and was an All Star with the Knicks for three consecutive years. Eventually, Richardson was traded to the Golden State Warriors for Bernard King and then returned to the Eastern Conference to play for the New Jersey Nets, where he became an All Star again.

In 1986, Richardson was banned for life by NBA commissioner David Stern for violations of the league's drug policy, bringing an early end to what could have been a glorious career in the league. He admitted to using cocaine and later regained the right to play in the NBA in 1988, but decided to continue his career in Europe. He played a few seasons in the Continental Baskebtall Association (CBA), and in Italy, Croatia, and France, winning the French League, two Italian Cups, and a Cup Winners Cup. Richardson returned to the game as a coach in the CBA where he won two championships, won two more championships as an NBL Canada coach, and joined the London Lightning in England where he was the PBL coach of the year.

November 27, 2017

12 basketball stars from UBA League in India head to USA for 3rd annual pro camp

For the third consecutive year, UBA India will take twelve of the brightest Indian stars to the USA for the annual UBA Pro Performance Camp. The camp will be held in Phoenix, Arizona, from December 4-15, featuring the Indian players, top training professionals with the UBA, and dozens of additional American/NRI professional players and trainers based in the US. According to UBA India, the training camp is designed to help the players maximize their skills as a basketball player, increase their overall strength as an athlete and learn to train in ways which they can maintain when returning home.

Photo courtesy: UBA India
"Every day, our goal is to be stronger and faster than we were the day before," said Jody Basye, the UBA's Director of Coaching. "This year, more players are coming, increasing the talent pool from around the world to play in the UBA. This camp plays a big role in making the game even more exciting for our fans in India."

The UBA has already held for short-term pro leagues in India over the past two-and-a-half years. Last year's Season 4 - which featured several of India's top players and foreign imports - was the grandest showcase for the league yet and was won by the Mumbai Challengers.

The players heading to the USA for the 3rd Pro Performance camp are:
  • Chukwunanu Agu (Chennai Slam)
  • Ajinkya Mane (Pune Peshwas)
  • Gurwinder "Garry" Singh Gill (Punjab Steelers)
  • Jagdeep Singh Bains (Mumbai Challengers)
  • Muin Bek Hafeez (Delhi Capitals)
  • Narender Grewal (Pune Peshwas)
  • Nikhil Kumar (Mumbai Challengers)
  • Palpreet Singh Brar (Bengaluru Beast)
  • Prudhvi Reddy (Mumbai Challengers)
  • Rikin Pethani (Chennai Slam)
  • Siddhant Shinde (Pune Peshwas)
  • Yadwinder Singh (Haryana Gold)

Photo courtesy: UBA India
According to the UBA, invitations were based on the players' performances in last season's league, but missing on the list is Season 4's Indian MVP Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (injured). Big man duo of Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh are busy with their obligations in foreign leagues. The list does include Na number of players who have made recent national team appearances for India, including Gurwinder Gill, Jagdeep Singh, Muin Bek, Palpreet Singh, Prudhvi Reddy, Rikhin Pethani, and Yadwinder Singh.

Additionally, up to 36 additional international professional players from North America, including players of Indian origin, will be attending the camp, vying for a coveted spot on a UBA team for Season 5. These will include UBA Season 4 International MVP Dermaine Crockrell, Jimmy Scroggins, Pierre Newton, Brendon Pineda, Alex Scales and Inderbir Gill, all four of whom played in Season 4.

The players will be put through a rigorous 2-weeks of training. Read more about it here.