July 28, 2016

Two Spanish clubs assist basketball camp with rural kids in Anantapur (Andhra Pradesh)

For several years, the Anantapur Sports Academy (ASA) has been organising grassroots sports activities in the Anantapur (Andhra Pradesh) region, with a mission to bring out the hidden talents of rural Indian children in different sporting disciplines. A part of the Rural Development Trust (RDT), ASA is considered to be one of the largest sport for development programs, providing participating youth with infrastructure, equipment and coaching support.

ASA currently runs an established three-tiered structure to develop sports in seven major sporting disciplines, Football, Hockey, Cricket, Judo, Tennis, Softball and Special Olympics. But over the past week, they got some international help to spread their wings and bring some Basketball joy to hundreds of rural kids in Anantapur, too.

From July 16-29, 2016, fourteen coaches from two Spanish basketball clubs from the town of Sant Cugat del Valles - UniĆ³ Esportiva Sant Cugat (UESC) and QBasket Sant Cugat (QBSC) - were in India, and they trained about 220 children from all over Andhra Pradesh at three different venues. The camp was held in collaboration with the RDT, FundaciĆ³n Vicente Ferrer, and the Sant Cugat Esport FC Spanish football club who had been holding football camps in Anantpur since 2013.

Oriol Antras Marti, UESC's coordinator for the duration of this camp, said "We are very glad to associate ourselves with RDT to organise this camp. SCEFC is here for their fourth camp, they have established, a structure for football, and a strong bond with the children and associated personnel. This has helped them grow the game of football greatly over just four years. Which is why we are looking to follow their lead, establish a similar structure and emulate them to try and grow Basketball in Anantapur similar to how they have done with football."

Maxon Sequira, a member of the ASA Communications team, wrote that the prime objective behind organising the camp was to encourage the existing Basketball playing youngsters to continue playing the sport and introduce the sport to the younger non playing children who poured in from some of the most remote villages of Anantapur and nearby districts to learn and play Basketball.

Sequire added that apart from the daily coaching sessions, the coaches also met with local associations, coaches and PE teachers on their visits to the villages in Anantapur. They aimed to educate these people and equip them with necessary skills to carry on the work of promoting the sport till the next camp.

UESC and QBasket are both in the Spanish fourth division and Catalan first division.

July 26, 2016

William Jones Cup 2016: Taiwan visa error costs 2 Indian stars multiple games

After an 11-year gap, India's Men's national team's return to the prestigious William Jones Cup in Taiwan has been a bit of a mixed bag so far. India named their strongest-possible team out of the available pool, but still started the tournament with three consecutive losses. But the 0-3 record looks harsher than it should: India's first loss to California State University was to a miracle three pointer with 20 seconds left in the game and their third loss to Taipei Blue happened in overtime after a neck-to-neck contest. Even without a single win, India have announced their arrival as one of the most improved teams in the continent and a force to be reckoned with at next month's FIBA Asia Challenge.

Alas, India's close call losses early in this tournament now come burdened with an unfortunate - and frankly ridiculous - asterisk. On Monday, The Times of India reported that two of India's crucial players - captain Amrit Pal Singh and swingman Basil Philip - failed to fly to Taiwan with the rest of the team on Friday because of a visa blunder by the Embassy of Taiwan. TOI's Payal Dhawani reported that the Taiwan Embassy swapped the photographs of Amrit Pal and Philip in their visas. The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) only learnt of this gaffe on Friday evening, hours before the flight to Taiwan.

Without their captain and defensive stalwart Amrit Pal, and without the scoring ability of Philip off the bench, India have still played well behind the talents of Amjyot Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, and TJ Sahi, but the team didn't have enough juice to close out some of the close games. Amrit Pal and Philip are expected to miss one more game on Tuesday against Korea and will hopefully rejoin the squad after their visa troubles have been sorted for Game 5 on Wednesday against Egypt.

Amrit Pal spoke of his distress to The Times of India on Monday, while BFI's Secretary-General Chander Mukhi Sharma had stronger words to add, alleging that Taiwan purposefully tried to hold back Indian stars from making it to the William Jones Cup. Via The Times of India:

Photo Courtesy: Ekalavyas.com
A distressed Amritpal told TOI, "I was going to play in my first William Jones Cup and was very excited. Now, I am really disheartened that due to negligence of the embassy, I could not reach Taiwan. The entire team is in Taiwan except for me and Basil."
"Since (Saturday) morning, the federation is trying to get the visa issue resolved."

Meanwhile, the BFI suspects it to be a deliberate act on the part of Taiwan embassy since both Amritpal and Basil were strong players of the Indian team. Talking to TOI, Chander Mukhi Sharma, the secretary general of BFI, said, "Due to the fault of Taiwan embassy two of our important players Amritpal Singh and Basil Philip could not go for the William Jones Cup in Taipei. The federation will certainly file a formal complaint to Fiba on this."
Sharma further alleged, "This could also be a deliberate act to make our team weaker. I will get the documents on Monday. After discussing this with the federation a plaint will be lodged against the embassy."

Sharma has made a strong allegation, and it will be interesting to hear FIBA's reaction to BFI's complaint about this error. Whether it was a 'deliberate act' or not, the Embassy of Taiwan has clearly caused Team India unnecessary troubles, and may have even cost us a win or two.

UPDATE: Taiwan diplomat rejects India's accusations, blames travel agency.

Responding to accusations made by BFI's Secretary-General Chander Mukhi Sharma, Taiwanese diplomat in New Delhi Tien Chung-Kwang told China Post on Tuesday that Amrit Pal Singh and Basil Philip's mix-up was caused by the local travel agency that the BFI used, and not the Embassy of Taiwan.

Via China Post:
Tien Chung-kwang said the travel agency used by India's national basketball team to arrange the trip used the wrong pictures of two players in their visa applications, leading to the problems.

According to the diplomat, the travel agency sent information on all of the players headed to Taiwan to his office on July 20 to process visas, and their visas were issued the following day.
But the travel agency realized afterwards that it had switched the photos of Singh and Philip on their original applications, and quickly sent revised files for the two players to the office just before it closed on July 22, Tien said.
The new visas could not be processed in time to allow the players to catch a flight to Taiwan that night, leading them to miss India's opening game in the Jones Cup on July 23.

The William Jones Cup is supposed to be a crucial preparatory tournament ahead of the bigger FIBA Asia tournaments. It's a pity that, while India has performed well, they haven't been rewarded with the morale-boosting victories that they could have clinched with Amrit Pal and Philip. Hopefully, the two players will rejoin the squad safely and will be ready for tomorrow's game. India have four more matches at William Jones over the next five days, and a big victory or two will considerably raise the team's confidence level for the FIBA Asia Challenge next month.

Hoopdarshan Episode 33: NBA Free Agency Reactions with Jonathan Rego

It's been a hell of a summer for the average NBA fan, and Episode 33 of the Hoopdarshan podcast takes a deep, long dive into the most pressing issues on our mind in this historic offseason. NBA superfan and India's first FIBA agent Jonathan Rego joins hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok to talk about all the ramifications and reactions to Kevin Durant in the Warriors, the response from Russell Westbrook and LeBron James, the ever-changing concept of NBA loyalty after Dwyane Wade's move to Chicago, and the news of Tim Duncan's retirement that made Jonathan physically ill. It's all here, and it's going to blow your mind!

Aside from the NBA news, Episode 33 of Hoopdarshan also checks up on recent events in Indian basketball, including India's qualification for this year's FIBA Asia Challenge, the cold war between the BFI and the UBA, and the third season of the UBA Basketball League.

Hoopdarshan aims to be the true 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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July 22, 2016

Indian Senior Men’s Basketball team returns to the prestigious William Jones Cup in Taipei

Held since 1977, the William Jones Cup in Chinese Taipei is one of the most prestigious international basketball tournaments in Asia, an invitational championship that is both a source of pride and an important warm-up run for bigger FIBA Asia basketball events. After 11 long years, India Men's basketball team will finally make a return to the tournament this year.

Nine teams - a mix of international, clubs, and college - will take part in the 38th William Jones Cup International Basketball Tournament at the Hsinchuang Gymnasium in the city of Taipei from 23 to 31 July. The matches will be played in a round robin league format, with each team playing 8 matches. The team with the best record will be crowned champions.

This tournament will give India the opportunity to gain valuable exposure ahead of the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge, which is set to be held in Iran next month. The Indian lineup remains largely unchanged from the team that won the SABA Qualifiers earlier this month in Bengaluru, except for the return of star forward Amjyot Singh and the inclusion of Tamil Nadu’s Prasanna Venkatesh. Amrit Pal Singh will again take the captain's mantle for India and will be joined in the flanks with star Vishesh Bhriguvanshi. The team will be coached by Sebastian Padipurakkal Joseph.

"Being a prestigious tournament, the Indian men’s team got an invitation from the Taipei Basketball Association," said K Govindraj, the President of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) during the kit distribution ceremony at the Kanteerava Stadium Complex in Bengaluru earlier this afternoon on Thursday, "This will be excellent exposure for all our players who can correct themselves keeping in mind the upcoming FIBA Asia Challenge." Also present at the ceremony to convey his best wishes to the departing contingent was newly appointed Superintendent of Police & Director, Youth Empowerment & Sports Department, Bengaluru, Anupam Agarwal.

"It is going to be a great opportunity for us to prepare for the upcoming FIBA Asia Challenge," said Assistant Coach CV Sunny, "In all our positions, we have excellent depth and our chances are bright, so we can definitely put up a good fight against all the teams."

Participating Teams: Egypt, Iran, India, Japan, Korea, Mighty Sports (Philippines), California State University (USA), China, China B.

Indian Squad for the 38th William Jones Cup 2016
  • Arshpreet Singh Bhullar
  • Amjyot Singh
  • Vishesh Bhriguvanshi
  • Amrit Pal Singh Captain
  • Basil Philip
  • Rikin Pethani(
  • Aravind Annadurai
  • Arvind Arumugam
  • Ravi Bhardwaj
  • Akilan Pari
  • TJ Sahi
  • Prasanna Ventakesh
  • Head Coach: Sebastian Padipurakkal Joseph
  • Coach: CV Sunny
  • Physiotherapist: Navaneeth Atholi Thiruvoth
  • Manager: Chengalraya Naidu Talipinani

This is an impressive-looking Indian squad, and the addition of Amjyot can definitely help India achieve something special. Amjyot and India's captain Amrit Pal played last season for Japan D-League's Tokyo Excellence and helped guide them to a third-consecutive title. The last time Amjyot donned India colours, he was one of the top performers at the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship finishing among the top 5 in scorers (20 ppg), and among the top ten in rebounds (8.3 rpg), blocks (1.1 bpg), efficiency (+17.1), and freethrow percentage (73.1 FT%). India has an interesting core of youth (Ravi Bhardwaj, Arshpreet Bhullar) and experience (Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Prasanna Venkatesh). Explosive point guard TJ Sahi continues his return to the national scene. Talented young big men like Rikin Pethani, Aravind Annadurai, and Bhardwaj will also make India one of the longest teams at the tournament. India has long needed this type of exposure tournaments before bigger FIBA Asia clashes - the William Jones Cup will provide the team with the perfect platform to fine-tune their chemistry and cause some shocks at the Asian stage.

Team India's Schedule - All timings IST
  • India vs California State University – 23rd July, 12:30 PM
  • India vs Japan – 24th July, 12:30 PM
  • India vs China – 25th July, 4:30 PM
  • India vs Korea – 26th July, 12:30 PM
  • India vs Egypt – 27th July, 10:30 AM
  • India vs Mighty Sports – 28th July, 10:30 AM
  • India vs China B – 29th July, 10:30 AM
  • India vs Iran – 31st July, 10:30 AM

The schedule, as you can see, is relentless. All the teams will play in eight games in nine days, which is sure to take a toll on the players by the end of the tournament. On paper, India is the lowest rank national team, and the other squads from the USA, Philippines, and China will also prove to be huge challenges for the Young Cagers. Hopefully India can avoid injuries, post a respectable finish, and be in decent health and form for the FIBA Asia Challenge next month.

The William Jones Cup is a prestigious annual invitational tournament, the inaugural edition of which was held in 1977. The Cup was conceived and named to honour Dr. Renato William Jones, who served as one of the founders of FIBA and served as its first Secretary General for 44 years. Iran is the tournament's defending champion, while the team from the USA has been the most successful in the competition, with 15 gold medal finishes. The last time the Indian men’s team competed at the William Jones Cup was way back in 2005. The Indian Women's team, however, played in the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Cup.

July 21, 2016

Preview: India's campaign at 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship to tip off in Tehran (Iran)

The qualifying round was a breeze. India's Junior players, the future stars of the senior national squad, easily swept aside South Asian rivals at the SABA Qualifiers in Bangladesh last month. The average margin was victory was over 68 points each, and India - in impressive fashion - had secured their spot at the 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship.

Now begins the real test.

India's U18 squad was officially announced by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), as the 12-man contingent headed for Tehran (Iran) for the FIBA Asia U18 Championship, set to be held from July 22-31. The tournament will take place at the Azadi Sports Complex in Tehran. India will be among 12 teams taking part in this tournament, which is the highest level of competition for junior players in the continent. In the last iteration of the FIBA Asia U18 in 2014, China won the championship for the third time in the row while the disappointing Indian squad finished at last place (13th).

For the preliminary round of 2016 FIBA Asia U18, India have been grouped with reigning champions China, Philippines, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, and Iraq. India will be captained by Tamil Nadu phenom Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi and head coached by Dilip Gurumurthy, a former Indian Olympian from the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Participating teams
  • Group A: China, Chinese Taipei, India, Iraq, Philippines, Thailand.
  • Group B: Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Lebanon.

Team India roster for 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship
  • Hansraj (Delhi)
  • Saqlain Jamir Sayyed (Maharashtra)
  • Rachit (Delhi)
  • Vishal Kumar Gupta (Uttar Pradesh)
  • Mohammed Ali (Rajasthan)
  • Deepak (Haryana)
  • Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi (Tamil Nadu) - Captain
  • Hariram Raghupathy (Tamil Nadu)
  • Daniel Richards Arthur Wilson (Tamil Nadu)
  • Gineeb Benny (Kerala)
  • Muhammed Shiras Noushad (Kerala)
  • Sahil (Haryana)
  • Head Coach: Dilip Gurumurthy
  • Assistant Coach: Paramdeep Singh
  • Physio: Dr. Kannan Ratinasamy Bose
  • Team Manager: Ashok Sahu

India's Preliminary Round Schedule - All Timings IST
  • India vs Thailand – 22nd July, 5:00 PM
  • India vs China – 23rd July, 1:00 PM
  • India vs Chinese Taipei – 24th July, 5:00 PM
  • India vs Iraq – 26th July, 9:00 PM
  • India vs Philippines – 27th July, 9:00 PM

The top four teams from each group will qualify for the Quarter-Finals and Placement Rounds, which are set to begin on July 29th. The Final is scheduled on July 31st.

For India, qualifying for a Quarter-Final spot is a real possibility if the team can provide up to its potential. India, on paper, is better than Thailand and Iraq in Group A. If they are able to defeat both those teams, they can be ensured of a fourth place finish. Anything more - against better-seeded sides like China, Chinese Taipei, or the Philippines - will be a bonus.

India's fortunes will depend largely on the performances of Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi, who has played well for the national squad in the SABA Qualifiers and the FIBA Asia U16 Championship last year. He also represented India at the Basketball Without Borders Asia camp earlier this year. Fans should also keep an eye out for talents such as Gineeb Benny and Vishal Kumar Gupta.

The favourites for the tournament will again be China, while Group B giants Korea and Iran could also be in the mix for ending China's unstoppable run at the top.

July 16, 2016

3rd season of UBA Basketball League tips off in Pune with focus on improved infrastructure

Less than four months after the Delhi Capitals won the second season of the UBA Basketball League, the short-term professional league has returned to India for a surprise third season - their second season of the calendar year. Season 3 of the UBA Basketball League tipped off at the Balewadi Stadium in Pune on Friday, July 15, featuring the same eight teams that have been a part of the league since its origin. In Season 3, the organizers have stressed focus on improving the basketball infrastructure at the games, securing deals with international flooring and equipment companies.

Season 3 is scheduled to be held in Pune from July 15-31, 2016. The eight participating teams are: Delhi Capitals (reigning champions), Chennai Slam (season 2 runners-up, season 1 champs), Pune Peshwas (host team and season 1 runners-up), Mumbai Challengers, Bengaluru Beast, Hyderabad Sky, Punjab Steelers, and Haryana Gold.

One of the main new features to the Season 3 action will be an international standard floor at the Balewadi Stadium. For the first time in India, the wooden flooring has been imported especially for this tournament, and will be laid out in Pune. The new floor is of NBA quality and was last used at the NBA All Star Weekend in Toronto. The floor is an exclusive design for the UBA.

Apart from the floor, the season will also feature goals provided by Spalding and official balls from Evo1.

The third season will be shown live on Ten Sports Network channels, Ten 1 and Ten 2.

Present at the press conference at the announcement for Season 3 were Michael Yanke, Chief Marketing Officer – UBA, Todd Mack, Managing Director – UBA, Nandini Basappa, Vice President – Basketball Federation of India and Vivek Mehta, Director – UBA.

When speaking about season three, CEO of United Basketball Alliance (UBA), Tommy Fisher said, “After an overwhelming response to the earlier seasons of the UBA Pro Basketball League, we endeavour to make this edition bigger than before."

While the UBA League has brought an exciting new avenue to basketball in India, it has not been without its share of controversy. The Basketball Federation of India (BFI), the governing body of Indian hoops, recently announced that players/officials in any 'unauthorized' competition in India, like the UBA, will not be allowed to take part in India's official national and international events. This has created an 'outcast' feeling to the league, much like the ICL was to Indian cricket a decade ago.

July 10, 2016

In Your Face: Zhou Qi

I originally wrote this article for the August 2016 edition of SLAM Magazine (SLAM No. 200).

Xinjiang, 7-2, C

When Yao Ming announced his retirement in 2011, he left a 7-foot-plus hole in the hearts of the world’s most-populous nation. But months before Yao’s career officially ended, China already got a promise of the future. Proudly wearing China’s colours at the little know Turk Telecom youth tournament in Turkey, 15-year-old Zhou Qi helped his country to an unlikely gold medal, putting up 41 points, 28 rebounds, and 15 blocks in the semi-final against Germany and providing a game-winning encore with 30-17-8 against the hosts in the Final.

For the next five years, Zhou slowly turned his promise to reality. He made his name in China’s youth circuits, destroyed Asian opponents, and become a young star in the Chinese Basketball Association.

But now, the skinny (listed at 218 lbs), 7-foot-2, 20-year-old from the city of Xinxiang is ready to bulk up into an even larger pair of shoes: after years of success in China, the young man must prove himself all over again in the United States.

“I want teams and fans in the US to know, first and foremost, that I’m a team player,” Zhou says. “I wanna be in an environment where I can help my teammates to be the best they can be.”

“Today’s NBA is asking so much more from a single player. To be more than a single position. The game is much faster. I need to adopt to different styles of play. On offense, I must learn to attack from the outside, be both a perimeter and a post player. On defence, I must learn to guard guards as well as centers.”

Zhou hopes to find long-term success in the league. But even before he ever steps on an NBA court, he’ll know that the weight of Yao be hanging over his slender shoulders.

“I don’t feel any pressure. If I can take the torch from Yao, I hope I can have a good career and pass the torch to someone to else. Right now, I just want to be myself.”