June 21, 2018

With unnecessary bans on two star players, Basketball Federation of India has once again proven to be its own enemy

This article was first published in my 'Hoopistani' column for The Times of India Sports on June 10, 2018. Click here to read the original feature.

Last month, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) banned all players hoping to participate in an upstart 3x3 basketball league—the 3BL—from participating in full, five-on-five basketball activities at the domestic or international stage. A few months before that, India’s best players Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh were removed from the national team-list because of “trust” issues. Two years ago, the BFI slapped a ban on 122 players, coaches, and staff taking part in the UBA professional basketball league in the country.

In 2010, the BFI attempted to bar the country’s best player Geethu Anna Jose from playing pro in Australia. Ten years ago, the ban was on India’s best point guard TJ Sahi for alleged indiscipline. In 2006, it was India’s best player at the time—Sozhasingarayer Robinson—banned for missing a training camp. In 2005, one of India’s greatest basketball players Jayasankar Menon was handed a “life ban” for participating in an on-court fight between players.

And earlier this week, the BFI banned Amjyot Singh and Palpreet Singh Brar (both former NBA G-League draftees) for one year for “indisciplinary activities”.

We’ve seen this movie before, and its ending is easy to predict: losses all around for everyone involved in Indian basketball—the players, the federation, the fans, and the sport in itself.

In a stunning decision on Monday, the BFI handed Amjyot (26) and Brar (24)—Punjabi players who have been lynchpins of the national team—one-year bans for alleged indiscipline before and during the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April. Brar’s ban was handed because he abused the national team while drinking on social media. Amjyot—the most-talented player in India—was banned for allegedly striking a teammate and causing division among players in the team.

The federation revealed that both the players’ objectionable actions had rendered them unfit to represent the national side and even be a part of the national team.

“A national basketball player flaunts a picture on social media application Snapchat, abusing the nation after consumption of hard liquor. Is he really fit to be the part of the national squad?” Chander Mukhi Sharma, the secretary-general of BFI, said while sharing the information about suspension of two players from national side.

“Just before the match at the Commonwealth Games, Amjyot had also slapped his teammate and compatriot Arshpreet Bhullar. Moreover, there had been complaints against Amjyot of misbehaviour with the national coach. They did not report to the camp for three days. They were causing trouble at the camp, indulging in groupism. A disciplinary panel was constituted which decided the punishment,” said Mukhi.

…Amjyot was part of the team that went to Gold Coast. Amjyot again tried to break up the team into factions in Gold Coast. As a result, it cost us all the matches in Gold Coast,” he added.

The decision to ban the two players was taken by the BFI’s disciplinary committee, which included India’s interim men’s head coach Rajinder Singh. A disciplinary committee member said that Amjyot and Brar reported late to the national camp in Bengaluru and “disrupted the atmosphere”.

This is a surprising set of allegations, particularly on Amjyot. Sharma is essentially blaming India’s losses at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast on him. Furthermore, even if the allegations on Amjyot are true, Sharma and the federation have announced an unnecessarily severe punishment—one year—for relatively minor issues like rifts between the team and Snapchat insults. 

But then again, Sharma, the current federation, and even the BFI of the past have a history of overreacting to errors made by athletes, the same athletes who are the backbone of India’s national team structure and are the only reason that India were even considered a rising power in Asian basketball.

I used the past tense above—“were considered”—deliberately. By continuously shooting themselves in the foot, the BFI are becoming Indian basketball’s worst enemy, stunting the growth of the sport with the intention of ensuring that they have absolute power over all players and other entities in Indian basketball. They punished Amjyot and Amritpal over a baseless “trust” issue in the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, tried to hurt competing leagues like 3BL and UBA by disallowing players to take part in both events, and unofficially blackballed star players like former women’s captain Prashanti Singh for being absent for a few days. They have had issues with Geethu, with TJ, with Robinson, with Menon.

And with countless more to chose to remain silent in fear that angering the federation would rob them of their only opportunity to make a living through basketball.

Amjyot is among the “Big Three” of Indian basketball and has been the country’s top scorer in every international tournament he has participated in over the past five years. Brar was also a major contributor to the national squad until recently. In 2016, Brar became the first Indian to be drafted directly into the NBA’s G-League by the Long Island Nets, although he was cut before the final roster. Amjyot, who played professionally in Japan in 2016, was drafted into the G-League by the OKC Blue in 2017 and appeared in 30 games.

The exploits of Amjyot and Brar, plus of other important players like Amritpal Singh who played in Australia’s NBL last season, are an exciting, new phenomenon for Indian basketball. The BFI have seemingly been unprepared to have an appropriate reaction to these athletes having their own professional independence. Until recently, nearly every Indian basketball player had to rely on India’s national teams and domestic events for basketball opportunities. But changing times have offered new avenues, and the BFI have responded negatively to this independence. The strange case of Amjyot and Amritpal summoned to India for February’s FIBA World Cup Qualifiers only to find their names off the team list showcased the federation’s troubling attitude towards its top players.

For Amjyot and Brar, the bans might be about a bigger issue than the alleged misconduct. Both players were involved in the build-up of the upcoming 3BL, a first-of-its-kind 3x3 basketball league in India. But on the same day that the 3BL was announced, the BFI released a memo to all secretaries of India’s affiliated basketball units, giving an update on their own 3x3 event and banning all players hoping to participate in opposing 3x3 leagues from 5x5 basketball in/for India (and vice versa). Amjyot has since been back in the US with hopes to train for a call-up to the G-League again, while Brar—already cut from the national squad—committed to the 3BL.

The 3BL launched on Saturday, June 9 in New Delhi. The BFI’s latest ban on these two players came earlier in the same week.

On Friday, Amjyot released a statement while in Philadelphia in regards to the BFI ban. “I am disappointed with this action from the BFI,” he said, and added that the altercation between him and Bhullar at the Commonwealth Games occurred in the “normal course of practice”.

“I am the last person to indulge in any alleged violence and my reaction was only in self-defence… I feel that my actions do not even remotely warrant a one-year ban as imposed by the BFI.”

Amjyot also denied Sharma’s allegations that he was trying to break the team up in factions. “I strive to be selfless and a complete team player both on and off the court and I am confident that majority of the players who have interacted or played with me will tell you the same.”

“This one-year ban has taken away the opportunity to represent my country at the international level… I am always ready to play for my country and will be privileged to do so if called upon by the BFI in the future.”

On the same day as Amjyot’s statement, his father in Chandigarh told TOI that the family would consider legal action if his ban is not lifted by the federation. 

Regardless of how this messy situation untangles, one thing is for sure: the years of over-reaction has proven that the BFI has to mature and react appropriately to competition—like the 3BL—and small infractions. But for now, the federation’s ban will hurt the team’s immediate future and push young players and outside investors from losing faith in the system.

For years, those outside the Indian basketball world have wondered how a country with such a large population has never reached its potential in basketball (and many other sports). Part of the reason for this failure has been on display in this saga. The federation needs to realise that basketball growth will not be a simple lay-up; it will be messy and unpredictable, it will be full of hiccups, and it will sometimes happen without their permission. Sometimes outside competition will spur on this growth, and sometimes our star players will find new opportunities for themselves that might clash with the federation’s path. For basketball’s sake in India, the BFI has to get used to this unpredictability instead of trying to control or suppress it.

If Amjyot and Palpreet truly deserve to be discipline, then they should definitely be handed a reasonable punishment. The players need to keep the federation happy, and the federation needs to do the same for the players.

A reaction like this, however—a groaning repeat of history—is only going to suppress the sport. The sport is bigger than the federation, and all sides must get over their infighting and work together to help India reach its hoops potential.

June 13, 2018

Hoopdarshan Episode 64: EXCLUSIVE - Amjyot Singh opens up about BFI ban and his disillusionment with Indian Basketball

Last week, the Basketball Federation of India dropped a bombshell, banning Indian basketball players Amjyot Singh and Palpreet Singh Brar for 1-year based on alleged indiscipline by both players. On Episode 64 of Hoopdarshan, Amjyot Singh tells his side of the story to Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok, addressing all of the federation's allegations, his relationship with his coaches and teammates, and his state-of-mind looking forward as he prepares for the NBA Summer League workouts.

Originally hailing from Chandigarh, Amjyot Singh has been one of India's top players for the past six years, has been the national team's captain in the past, and played professionally abroad with the OKC Blue of the NBA G-League and with the Tokyo Excellence of Japan's D-League. He most-recently represented India at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia in April.

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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June 5, 2018

Indian prospects Princepal Singh, Amaan Sandhu, and Aashay Verma attended NBA Global Camp in Italy

Just days after rounding up the Basketball Without Borders Asia camp in Greater Noida, some of India's top youth basketball prospects headed international with an eye towards bigger things: the upcoming NBA Draft. Dozens of players from around the world were listed to attend the NBA Global Camp 2018 in Treviso, Italy, a pre-Draft showcase for top Draft-eligible prospects from outside the USA. Future Indian stars Princepal Singh, Amaan Sandhu (both from NBA Academy India) and Aashay Verma (NBA Global Academy - Australia) were among the prospects at the Camp at the La Ghirada Sports Center in Treviso from June 2-5.

The camp included team interview sessions, five-on-five games, shooting drills, and strength and agility testing in front of representatives from all 30 NBA teams, all under the direction of NBA personnel. The Indian players were invited as part of a series of scrimmages among prospects from NBA Academies, the league’s network of elite basketball training centres around the world.

The three Indian players representing India presented a tantalising combination of youth and size: Princepal Singh (17, 6'10"), Aashay Verma (19, 7'1"), Amaan Sandhu (15, 6'9"). Princepal and Sandhu are from Punjab while Verma originally hails from Hyderabad. Princepal is probably the most experienced of the trio, already having starred for India and Punjab at the junior and youth stages and taken part in several international camps already. Verma has been improving dramatically in Australia over the past few years and was invited to a Basketball Without Borders global camp in the past. Sandhu is the baby of the group but has the size to hopefully develop into a dominating player in the future.

A handful of other Asian players also took part in the scrimmages in Italy.

June 2, 2018

2018 Basketball Without Borders Asia concludes in Greater Noida; India's Sanjana Ramesh named camp MVP!

With the best junior players from around Asia/Oceania in attendance, playing on the country's best basketball facilities, coached by Indian basketball stars, NBA and WNBA players, and world-class coaches, the 2018 Basketball Without Borders Asia Camp was held in India for just the second time from May 29-June 1. The fourth and final day of BWB Asia 2018 concluded in thrilling fashion as the 66 campers from 16 countries and territories in Asia-Pacific competed in championship games and a pair of All-Star games.

And at the end, one of the brightest shining stars was India's own Sanjana Ramesh. The Bengaluru girl stood brightest among her competitors at the camp and was awarded the camp Most Valuable Player (MVP) trophy on Friday. In the boys' division, the MVP award was given to Rence Forthsky from the Philippines.

Corey Brewer (Oklahoma City Thunder), Caris LeVert (Brooklyn Nets), Kelly Olynyk, (Miami Heat), Dwight Powell (Dallas Mavericks), two-time WNBA Champion Ruth Riley, and former WNBA player Ebony Hoffman will coach the top high-school age campers from throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Indian basketball stars like Satnam Singh and Amjyot Singh also took part in the coaching efforts. Also in attendance was Coach Scott Flemming, former head coach of India's national men's team and currently the head of NBA India Basketball Operations.

The camp got underway in the morning with the girls championship game between the New York Liberty and the Minnesota Lynx. Coached on the sidelines by Ruth Riley and Sakshi Sheoran, the Lynx defeated the Liberty 20-13. Paige Price from Australia led the Lynx with a game-high 7 points.

The boys championship game then followed, with the Milwaukee Bucks going up against the Brooklyn Nets. Led by coaches Darvin Ham and Satnam Singh, the Bucks edged past the Bret Brielmaier and Caris LeVert led Nets team 22-18. Samuel Jenkins from New Zealand scored 8 points in the winning effort.

At the conclusion of the championship games, the two boys and two girls All-Star teams were announced. Team Red of the girls All-Star team was coached by Ruth Riley, while Ebony Hoffman served as coach for Team White. Team Red defeated Team White 27-18, with Dan Zhao from China leading her teamto victory with 8 points.

Following that, the boys All-Star Game was played between Team Red(coached by Bret Brielmaier, Caris LeVert, Darvin Ham and Satnam Singh) and Team White (coached by Ryan Saunders, Mike Wells and Corey Brewer). Team Red emerged with the 39-37 win thanks to a team-high 8 points from bothClancey Bird and Mac Stodart.

During a break in the boys All-Star game, the boys and girls 3-point champions took part in fun shooting games. Boys 3-point champion Amir Hossein from Iran went up against Caris LeVert, while girls 3-point Champion Indiah Bowyer from Australia competed against Ebony Hoffman.

"I have not only improved as a basketball player but also as an individual," said Forthsky. "The focus here was on your overall development at the personal and professional level, and I am glad to have won MVP at the end of all of it."

"Whatever I have learnt here playing with international players and coaches I am going to take that back and share the knowledge with my fellow players," said Ramesh. "Basketball is my life and these four days at the camp were the best I have had in my life."

Indian players Rajvi Desai, Suniskha Karthik, Sreekala Rani, Pushpa Senthil Kumar, Siya Deodhar, Grishma Niranjan, Khushi Dongre, Sanjana Ramesh, Priyanka Behal, Harshwardhan Tomar, and Princepal Singh made the All Star teams on the camp's final day. Yadav won the Girls Grit Award at the camp, too.

List of Awards:

  • Boys Grit Award: Taine Murray (New Zealand)
  • Girls Grit Award: Vaishnavi Yadav (India)
  • High-Flyer Award: Lachlan Joseph Bofinger (Australia)
  • Boys 3-Point Champion: Amir Hossein (Iran)
  • Girls 3-Point Champion: Indiah Bowyer (Australia)
  • Boys All-Star Game MVP: Chen Chiang-Shuan (Chinese-Taipei)
  • Girls All-Star Game MVP: Dan Zhao (China)
  • Boys MVP: Rence Forthsky (Philippines)
  • Girls MVP: Sanjana Ramesh (India)

Ramesh's MVP trophy was a repeat of a similar feat achieved by Vishesh Bhriguvanshi at the last BWB Asia event in India in 2008. Bhriguvanshi was the MVP of that camp in New Delhi and went on to become India's best backcourt player and a national team captain. Hopefully, this award is a sign of greater things to come for Ramesh, Yadav, and the other top Indian performers at this camp.

BWB Asia 2018 was receded by a first-ever basketball development camp May 27 – 29 for the 18 female prospects from throughout India as part of The NBA Academies Women’s Program. 1996 Olympic Gold Medallist and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame member Jennifer Azzi, Riley and former college coach Blair Hardiek – the global technical directors for women’s programming across the league’s seven academies – oversaw this camp. India's starlets Ramesh and Yadav shared the co-MVP awards at this event.

May 31, 2018

Customs (Chennai) and KSEB (Thiruvanathapuram) win 2018 All India Basketball Tournaments in Coimbatore

The five-day invitational basketball tournaments in Coimbatore - Nachimuthu Gounder Cup for Men and 17th CRI Pumps Trophy for Women - came to a conclusion on Thursday, May 31, with victories for Customs (Chennai) and KSEB (Thiruvanathapuram) in the Men's and Women's tournaments respectively.

Top club teams from around India were invited for these prestigious tournaments, featuring eight Men's teams and and eight Women's teams. The tournaments were organised by the Coimbatore District Basketball Association (CBDA).

Customs beat Indian Railways 69-63 in the Men's final of this 53rd All-India Championship, led by Hari Ram (26).

In the women's section, KSEB beat Eastern Railway (Kolkata) 59-43 in the final.

NBA Academy's first-ever Women's Camp concludes in India with MVP awards for Sanjana Ramesh and Vaishnavi Yadav

Last year, the NBA launched its first-ever elite basketball Academy in India - at the Jaypee Greens Integrated Sports Complex in Greater Noida - with the mission to train and educate the top young prospects from the country. The first year of the Academy housed a few dozen players in the facility, who received world-class coaching and took part in several major basketball tournaments. But all these players were young boys, while their female counterparts still waited for their opportunity.

This week, the Academy took a major step forward with a programme for some of the best young female prospects in India. The first-ever NBA Academy Women’s camp was held at the facility in Greater Noida from May 27-29, featuring international women's basketball legends, coaches, and Indian basketball stars in attendance. The camp concluded on Tuesday, May 29 with a championship game between 'Team Liberty' and 'Team Sparks', won by Liberty 18-8.

After the game, Sanjana Ramesh of Bengaluru and Vaishnavi Yadav from Allahabad were named the camp's Co-MVPs. Other award-winners included Siya Deodhar (Most Improved Player), Grishma Niranjan (Sharp Shooter), Rajvi Desai (Defensive Player), Pushpa Senthil Award (Sportsmanship and Leadership Skills) and Khushi Dongre (Best Teammate).

For the past three days, the 18 top female prospects from across India received training from 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame member Jennifer Azzi, 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist and two-time WNBA Champion Ruth Riley, former WNBA player Ebony Hoffman and former college coach Blair Hardiek, along with former Indian women’s basketball team captain Divya Singh.

"These three days have been the best of my life," said Ramesh. "Honestly, every player here is an MVP. We all have improved and I am really grateful to win this award. The camp has taught us so much about team spirit and unity and that’s something that I am going to take back from here."

"It’s a dream come true to win this award, especially in a camp organised by the NBA," said Yadav. "The three days here have taught me so much more than I have learnt in past. I am pretty sure I will only improve as a player from here on."

Starting on Wednesday, the Academy will host the 2018 Basketball Without Borders Asia camp for 66 participants from 16 countries across Asia. A number of former NBA/WNBA players, international coaches, and Indian basketball stars will assist with this event. The 18 prospects from the Women's camp are also set to remain at the Academy to take part in BWB 2018.

May 30, 2018

Hoopdarshan Episode 63: Warriors-Cavaliers Part IV Preview with Thejas Balaraman

The entire lifetime of Hoopdarshan - India's top basketball podcast - has had a singular inevitability: Warriors vs. Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. For the fourth consecutive time, the two franchises meet again, meaning more Steph, more LeBron, more Durant, and Klay and Green(s), and Love and even JR & Swaggy P! Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok invite Episode 63 guest Thejas Balaraman to wrap-up the Conference Finals & make our predictions for the Finals ahead!

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!

Hoopdarshan can be found on...