March 22, 2017

Indian basketball's finest head to Coimbatore for the 2017 Federation Cup

If the Senior Nationals are the largest showcase of talent in Indian basketball, then the Federation Cup is the exclusive inner-club, a competition among only the best of the best. Based on the success at the previous nationals, only the top eight men's and women's teams from the country are invited to this national tournament, setting up a tantalizing tournament of the finest cagers in the country.

This year, the 31st Federation Cup All India Basketball Tournament for Men and Women - organized by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and the Tamil Nadu Basketball Association (TNBA) - tipped off on Wednesday March 22nd at the PSG Indoor Sports Complex courts in Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu). The 16 combined men and women's teams will play until the Finals on March 26th.

Participating Teams

  • Group A: Indian Air Force (Services), Ludhiana Basketball Academy (Punjab), Army Service Corps and Centre (Karnataka), Customs and Central Excise Kochi (Kerala).
  • Group B: ONGC Dehradun (Uttarakhand), Indian Overseason Bank (Tamil Nadu), Central Railway (Indian Railways), Income Tax (Gujarat).

  • Group A: Southern Railway (Indian Railways), Telengana, Chhattisgarh, Punjab.
  • Group B: Kerala, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal.

Reigning champions of the Senior Nationals and last year's Federation Cup Kerala Women will be hoping to continue their golden streak and win back to back titles. The Men's field has been dominated by ONGC (Dehradun) for the past four years, and they will be looking for an amazing fifth consecutive trophy in Coimbatore this year.

March 20, 2017

Hoopdarshan Episode 43: Jeena Scaria becomes a young leader for India's Women's National Team

Kerala's Jeena Scaria has quickly become India's finest women's basketball player, a young leader for the Women's national squad, the team's "chechi" (elder sister). In episode 43 of Hoopdarshan, Jeena joins hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok to talk about her expectations for India at the upcoming FIBA Asia Cup on home soil, her leadership in helping Kerala win the Senior Nationals after a three-decade wait, and the scarce opportunities for women in Indian basketball.

In the new episode, Kaushik and Karan also discuss Kevin Durant's planned trip to India, the superstar players in the UBA Basketball League, and why home food will help India's performances at the Women's FIBA ABC.

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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March 16, 2017

Mumbai Challengers win UBA Basketball League Season 4 championship in Goa

A month ago, before the start of the most-hyped and stacked fourth season of the UBA Basketball League, the Mumbai Challengers looked like the squad with the greatest embarrassment of riches. The team, coached by former India international coach Jora Singh, featured a dangerous balance of both Indian and international stars. Players with international experience like Jagdeep Singh Bains and Prasanna Venkatesh shared the court with American stars Inderbir Singh Gill, Jimmy Scroggins, and the brief-NBA veteran, Alex Scales. With these many weapons, the result was either going to be spectacular success or a disappointing implosion.

A month later, Jora Singh's squad put to rest any doubts over chemistry issues around this great collection of talent. Mumbai completed their 2-0 sweep over the Bengaluru Beast in the Best-of-Three finals series in Goa on Wednesday, March 15, to be crowned UBA Basketball League champions for the first time. The season's championship series (knockout stages) were held at the Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Stadium in Goa from March 10. The Finals were a continuation of a month-long period of success for Mumbai, who had finished with a league-best record of 5-1 during the regular season in Chennai and swept last year's silver medalists Punjab Steelers in the semi-finals 2-0.

At one point or another, all of Mumbai's big names stepped up in sealing the deal for the challengers. Scales and Scroggins contributed 34 and 32 points respectively in Game 1 to down Bengaluru 110-95. Scales doubled-up with 34 again in Game 2, Inderbir added 33, and Scroggins 21 to win the high-octane Game 2 118-105. Bains and Nikhil also made valuable contributions for the champions. On the losing side, the combination of Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Chris Solomon, Pratham Singh, and Palpreet Singh Brar played well enough to get to this stage but ultimately couldn't handle Mumbai's firepower in the Finals.

Bhriguvanshi was named the tournament's Indian MVP last week, while the foreign MVP award went to Punjab's Dermaine Crockell.

The UBA announced that they will be holding their first-ever All Star game between the best players of the North and South Division in Goa on Thursday, March 16. On the day of the Finals, they also held their first-ever Slam Dunk and Three-Point Contests.

March 10, 2017

UBA names Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (Bengaluru) and Dermaine Crockell (Punjab) Season 4 MVPs

The first stage of UBA Basketball League's fourth season, held in Chennai, is over. Now the top four teams - Mumbai Challengers, Punjab Steelers, Pune Peshwas, and Bengaluru Beast - have taken their talents to West Beach, I mean, to Goa, to play in the tournament's Semi-Final and Final stage.

But before the final week, the UBA celebrated the best performing individuals from the regular season. Usually, the UBA has given one Most Valuable Player (MVP) award every season. But this time around, with the addition of a dozen foreign players boosting up the talent level around the league, they have handed out two MVP awards, one each the the tournament's best foreign and Indian player. Not surprisingly, both awards went to new additions to the league, which has been boosted by the arrival of both foreign players and international-level Indian players this season.

UBA's Indian MVP award went to India's superstar swingman from Varanasi and the Bengaluru Beast, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi. One of the most successful and popular players in Indian basketball, Bhriguvanshi led Bengaluru to a 3-3 record in the regular season, averaging 28.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 10 assists (tied for 2nd). During the course of the season, he recorded UBA's first-ever triple double with a 29 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists performance in a win over Pune. Another highlight of his season was the 57 point, 11 assist game against Hyderabad. Bhriguvanshi was awarded Bajaj Pulsar RS 200 with his MVP trophy.

The foreign MVP award went to the 6'2" American guard Dermaine Crockell, formerly of the Minnesota State University and now playing with the Punjab Steelers in the UBA. Crockell had two 50-point outings during the course of the season. He averaged 41.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists and led Punjab to a 2-4 record before winning the subsequent play-in game for the semis. He was awarded $2500 for this MVP achievement.

Both these players are still in the tournament with their teams in the semi-finals in Goa. Winning MVP is just the first step of the process: will one of them be able to cap off this individual achievement with team success and bring home the Season 4 title?

March 8, 2017

NBA plans to woo larger Indian audiences with Hindi commentary soon

With broadcasts over the decades on ESPN/Star, Ten Networks, and most-recently, Sony SIX, NBA fans in India have become relatively familiar with the voices behind the NBA. The English commentary featuring the voices of Marv Albert and Jeff Van Gundy, Mike Breen and Kevin Harlan, Doris Burke and Mark Jackson, and a personal favourite - Walt Frazier - have become as legendary as the biggest moments in the game itself. The commentary has played along as the NBA's perfect soundtrack, providing fans in India (and around the world) the perfect language of basketball expression.

Very soon, it seems that India's other official language - Hindi - is set to enjoy its own moment of verbal basketball gymnastics.

At a conference in Mumbai organised by Asian-pacific digital broadcasting association CASBAA, NBA India's Managing Director Yannick Colaco mentioned that the NBA was very close to featuring Hindi commentary during Sony SIX broadcasts of live games in India.


Speaking at the CASBAA OTT summit in Mumbai, NBA India executive Yannick Colaco said that, since audio was very important for sports content, they were actively looking at going regional. "We are already having the audio for 600 games in Chinese," he stressed, adding that, in three months, NBA planned to have its games commentary in Hindi as well.

The NBA's decision follows a familiar blueprint pursued by the English Premier League (EPL) for football, which was a promising thought but was received to mixed reviews. The NBA was reportedly watched by over 140 million viewers in India over the course of last season.

Hindi is the second-most spoken language in the world (after Mandarin), with nearly 500 million speakers combined who speak it as a native or a second-language. With this move, the NBA could reach out to millions of viewers in India who are much more comfortable with Hindi than English as the language of broadcast, potentially expanding their fan-base further. It will take away from some of the perceived "elitism" of the game - of basketball as a foreign sport just for comfortable English speakers - and bring it down to the grassroots.

But on the other hand, I can also expect some backlash. Just like the reaction to EPL in Hindi, many habitual viewers will not be comfortable with the change in language and terminology from something that they have become accustomed to. Furthermore, there are millions of basketball fans in India who don't speak Hindi. Hindi and English are the most spoken languages in the country, but a large percentage of the population speaks various regional languages like Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Kannada, etc.

Of course, hardcore Indian basketball fans already have some experience of Hindi commentary and broadcast, and we can thank DD Sports for that. For decades, India's national championships have been broadcast both in English and Hindi (and often, in other languages too). They haven't always been very good.

Abroad, the most famous example of a crossover of American sports and Indian language has been the success of Hockey Night Punjabi, the Canada-based broadcast of the Ice Hockey league NHL. The Sacramento Kings have been ahead of the "India outreach curve" in the NBA thanks to their Mumbai-born owner Vivek Ranadive. At recent "Bollywood Nights" in Sacramento, they have made pre-game P.A. announcements in Hindi and had players wearing warm-up jerseys in the devanagari script.

Ultimately, the success of NBA in Hindi will depend not on the language but on the quality of commentators. The NBA will have a tough job at finding those rare individuals who are both articulate in Hindi and also experts in the NBA and basketball. Hindi speakers who cannot tell their Wilson Chandler from Chandler Parsons will not do. NBA experts without expertise in smart and coherent Hindi will be a let down: even many of us First-Language Hindi speakers would falter at instinctively remembering our paryayvachis and viloms. I also hope that the NBA looks at current and former Indian basketball players who have a natural understanding and experience of the game.

The NBA is ultimately a North American league and will always be first identified by its English commentators. But I hope that the move to switch to Hindi can be done the right away so we can have Hindi's own response to Marv Albert's "Yes!" and Walt Frazier's most popular "Clydeisms".

February 28, 2017

The Biggest Season Yet

India's top international basketball superstars join UBA Basketball Season 4 rosters

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas on February 18, 2017.

The most important basketball decision in India this season didn’t take place on the court. It wasn’t a coaching decision, a new defensive scheme, a right pass, or a clutch three-point shot. That decision, instead, was taken in some far less dramatic settings: in sterile meeting rooms, ears plugged into cold mobile-phone screens, pens scribbling signatures over warm sheets of printed paper.

That decision was taken between the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), the governing body of basketball in India, and UBA India, the international company who have launched three seasons of short professional league basketball in the country. That decision could usher in a brand-new direction for Indian basketball.

The folks over at UBA India expanded and experimented in almost every possible direction to bring greater visibility and legitimacy to their league. They held three quick seasons of high-quality basketball in the space of one year in India. They showcased their league live on cable TV (Ten Sports) and produced high-level off-court material. They featured an experienced and highly-professional broadcast team. They found the help of Indian celebrities to celebrate and promote their product, expanded to a handful of cities in India, employed several high-calibre players and coaches, and took their top stars to the US for special pro training camps. In the announcement of Season 4 of the UBA Basketball League - set to tip off in Chennai on Thursday - they even brought ten international professional players to spike up the talent pool of the competition.

And yet, the league missed the most important of factors: the presence of India's best basketball players. A rift between BFI and UBA India had kept the best players in the national/international fray away from UBA participation. The secondary players in the UBA League were of course stars in their own right, but the names mentioned in absence were more notable than those who were marked 'present'.

That is, until now. On the eve of Season 4, the UBA Basketball League announced the rosters of all eight teams, where the biggest news here is that, in addition to the returning UBA stars of the past and the first-time international players from the pro camp in the USA, this season of UBA will feature India's top international basketball superstars. Some of India's best current players, including Amjyot Singh, Amrit Pal Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Palpreet Singh Brar, Yadwinder Singh, Prasanna Venkatesh, Rikin Pethani, and more have joined UBA rosters.

“The UBA has always been about raising the game of basketball in India,” said Paul Crane, the VP of broadcasting for the UBA Basketball League, “Not just from providing more opportunities to compete, but to teach more fundamentals, training and conditioning.”

“Having more of the top players from India joining new international players from the United States and others countries such as Australia, the level of play and competition continues to rise,” Crane added. “One of the many ‘big picture’ hopes and dreams of the UBA is to one day see Indian basketball be more competitive on the world stage.”

The new names will bolster the already-stacked UBA rosters and help make this into the most exciting professional competition Indian basketball has yet witnessed. The league stage of Season 4 will be held in Chennai's Satyabhama University from February 16 to March 1, before moving to Goa for the championship round (semi-finals and finals) from March 10-16.

Here is a more detailed breakdown of all the eight UBA teams.

Bengaluru Beast: Bengaluru have instantly become one of the must-watch teams for the league this season. Their roster includes Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, India's most talented guard and one of the best shooting guards in Asia, and Palpreet Singh Brar, the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA D-League last year. Current and former India internationals of various age levels Pratham Singh, Kaif Zia, Loveneet Singh, and Khushmeet Singh are also in this team. Indian-American player Chris Solomon, who played college ball in Florida at Northwood University, will be the foreign import for Bengaluru.

Chennai Slam: For the first three seasons, Chennai have been the model of excellence in the UBA. They have reached all three UBA Finals and won the title two times, including the most recent championship in July last year. Former Indian player Prasanna Jayasankar coaches this team, who’s strength is in their depth. Nigerian star Agu Chukwunanu (who scored a UBA record 50 points on opening night) will lead a squad of UBA veterans including Cammy Carmel, Jairam Jat, and Gopal Ram. This year, they will be boosted with the presence of national team big man Rikin Pethani and former University of Minnesota Duluth player Brendon Pineda from the USA. Home court advantage in the group stage and a winning habit makes Chennai one of the top threats once again.

Delhi Capitals: Delhi know how to win, too: they are Season 2 champions and feature former MVP Vinay Kaushik. Now, they have added the player who is perhaps the country’s most electric talent, Amjyot Singh. Amjyot has played professionally in Japan’s Development League, taken part in the NBA D-League draft, has been India’s top player in several big international wins, and is one of the top ranked 3x3 basketball players in the world. Delhi have surrounded these two stars with Ajay Pratap Singh, Sunil Rathee, and the American Ronald March.

Haryana Gold: Haryana’s big addition is Indian basketball’s seasoned Punjabi veteran Yadwinder Singh, who will join a squad consisting of explosive Indo-Australian guard Eban Hyams, Akashdeep Hazra, Prakash Mishra, and American player De’Sean Mattox.

Hyderabad Sky: The Sky have an interesting mixture of new and old, and foreign and domestic on their roster. Watch out for former India international point guard Joginder Singh, Indo-Australian swingman Mahesh Padmanabhan, Tamil Nadu’s veteran Gnanasekaran Sivabalan, and American additions Mak Boskailo and Tevin Kelly.

Mumbai Challengers: Mumbai have the potential to be one of the few teams with an embarrassment of riches at the league. Led by Jora Singh Gulia – who has coached India’s national squad in the past – this team will feature the up-and-coming talent Prudhvi Reddy from Hyderabad, veteran former international Jagdeep Singh Bains, Gagandeep Singh, and current international Prasanna Venkatesh. In addition, they also feature three high-calibre foreign players in Alex Scales (who has played in 11 countries internationally, including one game for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs in 2005), Inderbir Gill (Indo-American former Canada NCAA Player of the Year) and Jimmy Scroggins (USA).

Pune Peshwas: Silver-medallists in Season 1 of the league, it’s going to be hard to deny Pune this season. Their head coach is India’s legendary basketball star and coach Ram Kumar, and he will marshal a team that features the league’s most recent MVP Narender Grewal and superstar new addition and captain of India’s senior men’s team Amrit Pal Singh. Filling the gap between this irresistible post-and-perimeter combination will be talented players like Siddhant Shinde, Ajinkya Mehta, Gaurav Ohlan, Arshpreet Bhullar, and the American addition Pierre Newton from the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Punjab Steelers: Punjab will definitely be feeling the push of positive momentum after they surprised better-favoured teams to reach the Season 3 Finals last season and pushed Chennai to the brink. Their roster features Season 1 MVP Ravi Bhardwaj, popular rising young star Gurvinder Singh ‘Gary’ Gill, international point guard Akilan Pari, and American Dermaine Crockrell, a product of Bemidji State.

There seems to be a fairly even distribution of talent this season, which will make it all the more difficult to predict which four teams will qualify for the championship round in Goa, and which one will eventually be the last squad standing with the Season 4 championship trophy. In particular, I expect Chennai, Delhi, and Pune to be among the top contenders for the title. But the favourites just might be Bengaluru, who have the right explosive mix of experience and youth and could separate themselves from the pack for the Finals in mid-March.

All games are televised live on Ten Networks from February 16 to March 16 in Chennai and Goa from 4:30 PM to 7:00 PM each gameday.

February 26, 2017

Orlando Magic celebrate India Day 2017 with Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty

The most important thing for the home fans at the Amway Center on Saturday night was that they got the win. The Orlando Magic, the second-worst team in the Eastern Conference, played one of their best games of the season, running past the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks to a 105-86 victory. New addition Terrance Ross from Toronto led his squad with 24. High-flying dunker Aaron Gordon added 18. Point guard Elfrid Payton even nearly had a triple-double. On-court, it was as good a night that the suffering Magic fanbase could've hoped for.

The bonus on this Saturday night was how the Magic scored an off-court victory - desi-style.

The Indian-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) continued their annual tradition in Orlando by hosting one more edition of 'India Day' at the Amway Center on Saturday, February 25. This was their fifth consecutive celebration of Indian heritage and culture with the local basketball team and after their win over the Celtics last year, the desi blessings helped the Magic pull off some jadoo on the court this year, too.

The big highlight at India Day this year was the special guest, the Indian film actress, producer, and former model Shilpa Shetty. Shetty was introduced to the fans at the game and also presented with a custom Orlando Magic jersey.

The night featured an 'India Day' fan-fest in Downtown Orlando and entertainment by Bollywood Dance Mania and even the Orlando Magic Dancers performed a routine in traditional Bollywood style. Fans were also able to take part in fun events such as cultural dancing, saree draping, yoga and Indian cuisine tasting. (So basically, all the usual desi cultural stereotypes that we're supposedly proud of).

Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins said, "India Day is just one way for the Magic to show to show its appreciation to this segment of our fan base for their support and dedication."

Great job for Orlando and the IACC for continuing with this tradition: it's about time more franchises around the league recognise the growing clout (and basketball fandom) of the Indian diaspora.