November 19, 2014

2014 Asian Beach Games 3x3 basketball: Qatar (Men), Chinese Taipei (Women) win gold; India Men capture silver medal


Basketball may not necessarily be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Thailand's beach paradise Phuket, but it was this very destination that hosted the 4th Asian Beach Games, a 10-day long celebration of various beach sports, which also featured a short 3x3 beach basketball tournament. For four days, 12 men's teams and eight women's teams from all over Asia took part in quickfire half-court basketball games at the Karon Beach in Phuket. On the final day of the knockouts - Tuesday, November 18 - Qatar (Men) and Chinese Taipei (Women) emerged as gold-medal winners.

After a wonderful run through the tournament where India's Men's squad had won all five of their Preliminary Round games, the quarter-final, and the semi-final, they fell by the closest of margins - one solitary point - to Qatar in the Final. India had to thus settle for a silver medal, still an admirable result for the team which finished fifth at the tournament's last iteration in Haiyang two years ago. India's Women - reigning champs from 2012 - could not repeat their success after choosing to send a far less experienced team to Phuket. India lost all three of their games to finish at seventh place.

The Men's final was a memorable affair between Qatar and India, with the latter attempting to win this tournament for the second time after a gold medal back in 2008. In a neck-to-neck game which was decided by just one point, Qatar edged India by the closest of margins - 21-20 - to win the tournament. Boney Watson led Qatar with nine points in the final while India's Vishesh Bhriguvanshi scored eight in the loss.

In a lower-scoring Women's final, Lo Pin scored eight points to help Chinese Taipei defeat China 15-13 and capture the gold medal.

Both the bronze medals were won by hosts Thailand. The Thai women defeated Mongolia 13-7 to win bronze while Thailand's Men edged Bangladesh in a close contest, 17-15.

Earlier in the day, India had shown no mercy to neighbours Bangladesh with a comfortable 21-6 victory in the Men's semi-final. Qatar had secured their place in the Men's final with a 21-16 win over Thailand. In the women's semi-finals, China had defeated Thailand 17-13 and Chinese Taipei had overcome Mongolia 17-10.

India's four-member squad in the Men's competition was led by Pratham Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amrit Pal Singh, and Yadwinder Singh. The star-studded squad - comprising of all players from the senior national men's team - finished the tournament with a 7-1 record with their only loss in the final.

India opened the tournament with a 21-9 win over Bhutan and a 21-4 thrashing of Laos later in the same day. India showed no mercy in front of the hostile home crowd to defeat Thailand 21-4. Their closest Preliminary stage win was against Mongolia, 18-4. India finished off the group stage to finish top of Group B with a head-turning 18-12 win against China. In the Quarter-Finals on Tuesday, India had dispatched Turkmenistan 21-11 before moving on to their semi-final and final contests against Bangladesh and Qatar.

At an average age of 20, Team India sent a younger squad to Phuket for the 3x3 tournament, led by Kavita Kumari, Jeena PS, Poojamol Kochuparambu, and Rajaganapathi Rajapriyadharshini. Despite some exciting young talent on offer, Indian eves failed to impress, finishing bottom of their group with three losses and failing to qualify for the knockout stage of the tournament.

India first game in Group A was also their best, but despite a strong defensive performance, they couldn't do enough to prevent losing 13-11 to the Philippines. Over the next two games, India also lost to China (18-12) and Mongolia (21-12). They finished the tournament 0-3 and at seventh place overall.

Final Standings

Men
  • 1. Qatar
  • 2. India
  • 3. Thailand
Women
  • 1. Chinese Taipei
  • 2. China
  • 3. Thailand

November 17, 2014

Hometown Hoops: Watching Finals of the Indian School Basketball League in Varanasi


To those who have been closely following national-level basketball news in India, you would have known about the expanded Indian School Basketball League (ISBL) and the Indian College Basketball League (ICBL) launched by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and IMG-Reliance this year. The two leagues have expanded to 22 and 21 Indian cities respectively this year, with the new seasons of the leagues beginning around the end of September. Perhaps the most encouraging fact about the expansion was that the well-organized events were now set to be held not just in India's bigger cities but also in the Tier 2 or Tier 3 markets. The potential of basketball fever spreading through to the nation's grassroots through these leagues is immense.

One of these smaller markets is Varanasi, the tiny but culturally/politically important little city in Eastern Uttar Pradesh which has given rise of some of the best Indian players in recent years, including Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Trideep Rai, Divya Singh, Prashanti Singh, Akanksha Singh, and many more. The city also happens to be my hometown, and thus, obviously holds a extra-biased place in my heart. Varanasi was one of the cities chosen by the ISBL and the ICBL in their expansion this season; in both the leagues, Varanasi was placed in the 'Challenger League', the lower division where the best teams can have a chance to be promoted to the 'Premier League' depending on their performances.

Last night - November 11th - I happened to witness the ISBL Varanasi city finals, held at Sunbeam School-Bhagwanpur. Earlier in the day, Sunbeam School-Varuna (Girls) and Sant Atulanand (Boys) had already clinched the bronze medal at the city championship.

In the Boys final, Uday Pratap Inter College streamrolled passed DALIMS-Rohania 93-68 to win gold medal. The girls final was a much closer affair, where the hosts Sunbeam School-Bhagwanpur survived a neck-to-neck matchup against Rani Murar Kumari Ballika Inter College for a 34-33 victory. Sakshi Singh of Sunbeam-Bhagwanpur (Girls) and Dheeraj of Uday Pratap College (Boys) were named 'Best Players' at the tournament.

It was awesome to see next generation of potential basketball stars out of a city that has already produced so many great international talents for India recently. Hopefully, one of the young players from last night will also get a chance to breakthrough at the big stage in the coming years. Varanasi may be known for the ghats, the Ganga, it's temples, and its saris, but it's now time to add the city's hoops pedigree to the list, too.

November 15, 2014

A New NBA season for a New India


Anticipating a transformative year for NBA fans in India

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas.com on November 3, 2014. Click here to read the original post.

Pau Gasol is one of the many NBA stars to have visited India in recent years.
Photo: Karan Madhok

I remember the first time I watched the NBA on TV. It was the mid-90s and I was more interested in watching Duck Tales on Doordarshan than ‘alternative’ games like basketball on Star Sports. The definition of sport used to begin and end with cricket. Although I’d heard of names such as Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson, they hardly meant anything to me.

I remember catching a brief glimpse of a regular season game between the Utah Jazz and Orlando Magic, featuring stars like Karl Malone and Penny Hardaway. A few years later, my interest spiked when the Los Angeles Lakers signed this rookie named Kobe Bryant, who was making every basketball fan excited for the future. I began to play basketball more often, and thus, I cared more about the highest level of the game. The names seemed larger than life: Payton. Iverson. O’Neal. Rodman. Miller. Robinson. Garnett, and more.

I watched the Jazz once more in 1998. This time, they were in the NBA Finals, and by sheer luck, it happened to be the final game in a Bulls uniform for a certain Michael Jordan. I saw the steal, the push-off, and the last shot. The seeds of a love affair had been sowed. A year later, Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell, Marcus Camby, and Larry Johnson carried the eighth-seeded New York Knicks to an improbable Finals’ appearance, and in the process, the team won me over as the primary object of my affection.

Those who have followed the NBA in India from the early internet or pre-internet days will attest: it wasn’t the easiest love affair to have. We were limited to two or three early morning live games a week. We got our hands on SLAM Magazine occasionally, played NBA Live 99 on our computers, and waited 10 minutes each time on a dial-up network for the old nba.com website to load.

It was all worth it though, because the challenge of access made us treasure the NBA even more. There were no casual fans: you either cared deeply about the NBA or you had never heard about it at all. While many of my friends discussed Sachin and Ganguly or The Undertaker and Kane, I wanted to jump like Vince Carter and pass like Jason Williams.

Fast forward to the present day, and the smaller, more connected new world has made life wonderfully easier for the new Indian NBA fan. The internet has been a boon. Now, even thousands of miles away from Los Angeles or New York, you can follow your favourite players minute-by-minute updates on social media like never before. NBA highlights are only just a couple of YouTube clicks away. The League Pass has made almost any game accessible live through the course of the season every day. There is no bit of news, rumour, or meme that escapes the attention of a fan.

TV broadcasts have improved dramatically, too. From the time of two games a week, Sony SIX and Ten Sports double and tripled that number, and now, we are at the apex of NBA viewing options in India: Last year, Sony SIX signed a deal with the NBA to broadcast an NBA doubleheader nearly every day of the season, showing up to 14 games live weekly. That schedule is likely to continue again this year, making an NBA game as essential part of an Indian breakfast as that cup of masala chai or filter coffee.

Perhaps the biggest step forward over the last half decade is how, instead of the Indian fan constantly reaching out to find the NBA, it’s the NBA that has reached back to find the Indian fan. The NBA’s presence in India has grown steadily over the past six years. Now, the NBA has an India-specific website, an office in Mumbai, and staff dedicated to further help grow their presence in the country. Over the past six years, dozens of NBA players have visited India to hold clinics, take part in charity events, and promote the game.

There was a time when finding an old Michael Jordan poster among scraps in a random stationary shop in Mussoorie was one of the highlights of my year. Those days are long gone. From social media interactivity to regular, easy access to all types of NBA related information, jerseys, and other products, nothing is too out of reach for a fan anymore. The power of the NBA’s most popular teams and superstars have made names of places like San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Cleveland seem almost as familiar as Ranchi, Aurangabad, or Coimbatore. The NBA has taught me – and many other fans – more about North American geography than any school-teachers ever could have.

Once known only among small niche circles, basketball has become one of the fastest-growing sports in India. Viewership of live NBA games – according to NBA India Managing Director Yannick Colaco – went up by over 200 percent last year. NBA India has close to half a million fans in India on Facebook. Everything – from jersey and merchandise sales to celebrity endorsements – is on the upswing in India.

The new Indian NBA fan lives in a world where an Indian (Vivek Ranadive) owns an NBA team (Sacramento Kings). That owner has plans to bring the NBA’s Commissioner for a trip to India next month and is looking forward to hosting India’s first-ever NBA exhibition game.

When I asked Ranadive a few weeks ago about why he felt that India can be a special destination for the NBA and basketball, he replied, “I think that basketball is destined to be the premier sport of the 21st century. It’s a game that can be played by boys, by girls, indoors, outdoors, by one person, a few people, in cities, in villages, in rich countries, poor countries. It doesn’t require a lot of space. I don’t expect it to surpass cricket as the national pastime [in India], but I think it can be a strong number two... I think basketball is perfect for the Indian situation…”

Ranadive’s Kings also made Indo-Canadian Sim Bhullar the first player of Indian descent to sign with an NBA team. Bhullar was cut from the team recently, but his brief flirtation with the NBA opportunity brought even more attention towards the Indian fanbase. Although Bhullar was born and bred in Canada, the NBA and the Kings made sure to highlight him for his Indian heritage, and he was invited by Ranadive to be a part of the ‘India Day’ parade in New York this Independence Day. 

It is in this exciting new environment that the new NBA season begins over the pond in North America. Just like it has been over the last few years, I’m excepting another transformative season for NBA fans in India, where the numbers of online followers, TV watchers, merchandise customers, and most importantly, NBA-inspired basketball players in India will all rise.

Indian basketball fervour will never match China, where it is estimated that there are 300 million basketball fans. While it will remain a niche activity here in comparison to cricket or football, NBA basketball is carving out its own unique space in the Indian sport ‘fanosphere’. Rest assured, there is much optimism in the air for Indian NBA fans and the future is much brighter than the past.

If you’re already an old fan of the game, rejoice, for we are at the cusp of the NBA’s golden years in India. If you’re not on the NBA bandwagon, now would be a good time to jump in. Just like the English Premier League (EPL) before it, the NBA is primed to become one of the favourite foreign leagues for more and more mainstream Indian sports fans to follow.

When I look back to 20 years ago, it’s strange to imagine a world where NBA access to me was limited to little more than a couple of games per week, old trading cards and repeat broadcasts of ‘Space Jam’. Today, it gives me immense pleasure to see a large number of Indian fans embracing the game and to see their love affair become into a smoother ride. Like Ranadive said, basketball can be perfect for the Indian situation. I hope that 20 years from now, the NBA would have helped the rise of basketball as a sport across every city and village in our nation.


November 14, 2014

FIBA/BFI Coaching Certification courses in five more Indian cities this month


Back by popular demand! After holding basketball coaching certification courses for Indian coaches in various Indian cities in August and September this year, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) in partnership with the international governing body of basketball FIBA have announced that the certification courses are set to return once more to the country. The new set of five courses will be held between November 24 to December 22, 2014 in five new locations: Chennai, Kochi, Chandigarh, and to be determined cities in Maharashtra as well as in the North-Eastern states.

Once again, FIBA Instructor Nelson Isley will return to India to be at the helm of the coaching team, teaching Indian coaches about the basics (Level 1) and intermediate (Level 2) fundamentals of Basketball Coaching.

Schedule of clinics are as follows:
  • November 24-28 - Chennai, Tamil Nadu (Level 2)
  • November 30 - December 4 - Northeast (City To Be Determined) (Level 1)
  • December 6-10 - Kochi, Kerala (Level 1)
  • December 12-16 - Maharashtra (City to Be Determined) (Level 1)
  • December 18-22 - Chandigarh (Level 1)
Each city will host the clinics over a five-day programme. This is the tentative schedule for each city:
  • Day 1 and 2 - Theoretical Courses (2 sessions per day)
  • Day 3 - Practical Courses (2 sessions)
  • Day 4 - Practical Course (1 session) and Examination (1 session)
  • Day 5 - Practical Courses (2 sessions)
At the end of the event, there will be a written examination along with a practical evaluation. Upon passing both pieces, the participating Coach will receive a Level 1 or 2 certification.

Interested coaches can sign up for Level 1 here and Level 2 here. Note that only those who have passed Level 1 prior to June 2014 are eligible for Level 2. See more about the selection criteria here at the BFI's website.

It seems like Coach Isley will have another busy month travelling all across India and working to help improve the level of our coaches. Hopefully, the coaches who attend will make the most of this unique opportunity to help elevate their mind-game to higher levels.

November 13, 2014

India back at 4th Asian Beach Games in Thailand to continue stellar basketball record - Rosters & Preview



India may still be taking baby steps up the Asian basketball ladder, but when it comes to the 3x3 version of the game, the country has been able to enjoy consistent success in the continent over the past few years. Most notably, India have been stellar in the Asian Beach Games, with the Men's team winning gold at the games' first 3x3 basketball tournament in Bali in 2008 and with the women winning gold at the most recent iteration of the tournament in Haiyang (China) two years ago.

Now, both of India's senior men and women head back to the beach to continue their streak of success.

The 4th Asian Beach Games will begin in Phuket (Thailand) tomorrow - November 14th - and held until the closing ceremony on November 23rd. A total of 43 Asian nations will participate in 26 sporting events, including 3x3 beach basketball.

The basketball tournament for men and women is slated to be held over four days from November 15-18 at Karon Beach in Phuket. 15 Men's teams and nine Women's teams are schedule to compete for the basketball medals. (You can find the full draw here). India's Men were drawn in Group B with China, Kuwait, Bhutan, Indonesia, Mongolia, Thailand, Laos, and India's Women were placed in Group A along with China, Mongolia, and Philippines. The top two teams from each group – in both sections – will qualify to play criss-cross Semi-Finals.

The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) released the roster and coaching staff list of names representing India at the tournament yesterday. FIBA Referee Zanim Hashim will be travelling with the teams as well.

Women
  • Kavita Kumari
  • Jeena PS
  • Poojamol Kochuparambu
  • Rajaganapathi Rajapriyadharshini 
  • Head Coach: Ashok Rangeen
At an average age of 20, this is a young Indian team, but still loaded with a lot of experience. India may not have the supreme talents of Geethu Anna Jose or Anitha Paul Durai that helped us win the gold two years ago, but the new crop of stars - out of whom I'm expecting the Kerala duo of Jeena and Poojamol to shine the brightest - should still be able to play at a high level. India will play against China - the team they defeated in 2012 to win the gold - in the preliminary round.

Men
  • Pratham Singh
  • Vishesh Bhriguvanshi
  • Amrit Pal Singh
  • Yadwinder Singh 
  • Head Coach: KK Chansoria
After finishing fifth in Haiyang in 2012, India's Men's team aren't messing around, naming a roster with their eyes focused only on winning the gold. This is a strong Indian team, with all four members a regular part of India's senior basketball squad and all four experienced at the Beach Games or 3x3 level too. Like the Women, India's Men will have to deal with China, too, but as long as they can make it in good form into the semi-final stage, this team has the talent required to go all the way. I expect national team captain Amrit Pal Singh to be the difference-maker for this squad.

October 30, 2014

FIBA Asia to conduct clinic for basketball referees & commissioners in New Delhi in December


FIBA Asia will work with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to organizers a special FIBA basketball clinic for referees and commissioners in India. The clinic is set to be held in New Delhi on December 6-7, 2014 under the supervision of Lubomir Kotleba, the director of sports for FIBA.

The BFI has suggested that, to register for this clinics, all the State Associations/Units need to nominate an active 'A' Class BFI Referee - preferably below 35 years of age - who will be willing to appear as a fresh candidate to obtain the FIBA License.
Click here for the registration form and email the forms through the State Association to . The last date to submit the form is 15th November, 2014. The Technical Commission will scrutinize and recommend the final list of fresh candidates.


October 29, 2014

Former Champion Bruce Bowen to visit India for NBA Jam and Reliance Foundation events


A three-time NBA champion and one of the fiercest defensive players of his time, Bruce Bowen is set to visit India from October 31 - November 6. Bowen will be attending events at this season's NBA Jam in Kolkata, Gurgaon, Chandigarh, and Ludhiana. The week-long visit will be part of a promotional tour to support the growth of basketball and to connect with fans in India, and it happens at an opportune time, too: Bowen will get a chance to promote the new NBA season, which tipped off earlier today with his former team (and reigning champions), the San Antonio Spurs.

Bowen won all three of his NBA championship rings in San Antonio (2003, 2005, 2007), playing alongside the likes of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and (briefly) David Robinson. Known for his fierce competitiveness on the defensive end and his ability to hit the occasional big shot, Bowen was named to five NBA All Defensive First Teams and three All Defensive Second Teams. Bowen retired in 2009 and the Spurs retired his jersey (12) two years ago.

Bowen will make the first official NBA player visit to Kolkata, and only the second trip by an NBA player to the 'City of Joy' since Kyle Korver in 2008, who was there for charity work. Bowen will also be the first NBA player to visit Ludhiana and Chandigarh; apart from the Delhi-NCR region, the majority of official NBA visits had been limited to further south in the country.

Bowen would make his first stop in Kolkata from October 31 to November 1, where he will engage with students at St. Xavier's College as part of NBA Jam. From Kolkata, he will travel to Gurgaon on November 2, where he will participate in a special fan engagement event. He will go to Chandigarh on November 4 to take part in the next leg of the NBA Jam at Punjab University. His final stop will be Ludhiana on November 5-6 at the Guru Nanak Stadium during the Reliance Foundation Junior NBA City Finals, where he will work with standout young players and coaches from across Punjab.

The NBA Jam is a hugely popular college basketball and youth festival, which is being held in a record 16 Indian cities this year from August 18 till December 4. The Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme is a school-based programme - held in eight Indian cities this year - which focuses on inspiring youth to adopt a healthy, active lifestyle by integrating basketball into each participating school’s physical education curriculum.

"I understand that the popularity of basketball is growing rapidly in India and that more and more children are picking up the game," said Bowen of his upcoming visit, "I can't wait to experience this myself and help train and interact with the promising young talents the country has to offer."

Yannick Colaco, NBA India Managing Director, said, "We are committed to the growth of basketball in India and Bruce Bowen's visit is another step forward in this endeavour."

Bowen's story is as remarkable as it is inspirational. Undrafted coming of out Cal State Fullerton in 1993, Bowen was a struggling basketball pariah, spending four years as a professional playing in France and for various teams in the former CBA. The Miami Heat finally brought Bowen to the NBA in 1997. He played for the Heat, Celtics, 76ers, and was back in Miami again before finally finding his eventual NBA home in San Antonio in 2001. The rest was history: Bowen was a perfect fit for the Spurs and became a regular starter as the team won three championships over the next six years.

Of course, we can't mention Bowen without mention the dark side, can we? Just YouTube search his name for a further exploration of Bowen's infamous antics, including a video hilariously named, 'Dirty Player Mix'.

Welcome to India, Mr. Bowen: hopefully your defensive intensity, competitiveness, and championship pedigree is able to rub off on the next generation of basketball players at the grassroots level in India.