July 24, 2010
Moulding the stars of tomorrow
IMG-Academy coaches train with talented youngsters
Seated amongst the anxious and excited parents of 50 sub-junior basketball players a few days ago, Andy Borman, the director of Basketball from the IMG-Academies in Florida (USA), warned, "We are going to really make them work. Make them work hard."
Two days later, after hours of practice, litres of sweat, and miles upon miles run by squeaky sneakers across the Sanskriti School basketball court, the young athletes knew exactly what Borman meant. They were pushed harder than ever by Borman and his colleague, professional trainer and coach Dan Barto, their conditioning tested, and their skills examined.
And now, all that is left is for the IMG Academy coaches to choose eight youngsters amongst the 50, who will get the enviable opportunity to get a full scholarship to go and complete their education at the IMG-Academies campus in Bradenton, Florida, and to graduate from school as student-athletes.
"This is a great and memorable step in the history of Indian basketball," said Harish Sharma, the secretary-general of the BFI, "With the IMG-Reliance now set to work with the BFI for the next 30 years, we will project these first set of youngsters as the faces of the future professional basketball league, which we are hoping will be launched in India within four years."
These are exciting times indeed for basketball in the country. And exciting times for the sub-junior players, most of them still hovering around the age of 14. But once on the court, the jitters ended, the nervousness faded away, and the players had their game-face on, ready to compete for the final eight.
The youngsters, hailing from 14 different states in the country, were shortlisted as per their performance from the from the Sub Junior National Championship held in January at Chittorgarh, Rajasthan. They included of 25 boys and 25 girls. After registration on Thursday, the girls were first to get a taste of the hoop action on Friday (23rd) morning at the Sanskriti School in New Delhi. After warm-up, the girls started the session with basic athletic evaluation work with Borman, Barto, and Indian coaches. They moved on to do drills on their technical and fundamental basketball skills, before being divided into five teams to play quick-fire four minute games against each other.
One of the best performers in the games was 14-year-old guard from Chhattisgarh, Saranjeet Kaur. "The teaching style of the IMG coaches is great, it's very different," said Saranjeet, "This is the first time that any of us are taking part in a programme like this - I hope to keep trying hard so I can be selected!"
Saranjeet did indeed play her role as a successful floor general in the games, being vocal both on the offensive and defensive ends of the. She hounded the ball defensively, and was involved with everything good her team did on attack - her prettiest move came when she slid off a screen and scored a little tear-drop from the top of the key.
The boys followed the same schedule with the coaches after lunch, and at the end of an eventful first day, both the trainers and the students of the game were hungry for more.
Things got a lot more technical on Saturday - the girls preceded the boys in a similar schedule, but this time, the warm-ups, stretching, and skill evaluations were more advanced. Before the boys took centre-stage, the IMG coaches also welcomed 30 Indian coaches who came to observe the drills and ask questions. One of the first points that Barto stressed that the sessions will pay priority to the importance of the kids' physical training and conditioning.
"These aren't exactly new drills, but the IMG coaches are using new ways to implement them," felt NS Rathod, who has been a basketball coach for over 30 years and currently coaches at a private school in New Delhi, "They have correlated warm-up and drills together for ball handling exercises to be more efficient. In basketball, conditioning is absolutely necessary to cope with the speed and stamina needed for the game."
Several of the boys continued to stand out, including Satnam Singh, the seven foot giant from Punjab, who commanded all of the attention on and off the court. Satnam is a few years older than most of the other kids in the programme, but his explosive talent made his attendance essential for this opportunity. He earlier was one amongst three Indian youngsters to have attended the NBA's Basketball Without Borders - Asia programme at Singapore earlier this month.
The IMG Academies are the finest multi-sport training facility in the world, with alumni including NBA players such as Renaldo Balkman and Michael Beasley. Other stars who have trained at the academy include Kobe Bryant, Chauncey Billups, Vince Carter, Loul Deng, Al Harrington, Brendan Haywood, Kevin Martin, and Tayshaun Prince, and Joakim Noah.
Their motto is 'Rise to the next level' - and Barto believes that he can help the chosen youngsters from India to do so. "The kids here need to get a true understanding of their lower body conditioning," Barto said, "If they are able to get the connection of speed, movement, and conditioning right, they can really elevate their game to 'the next level'."
He commented that there are still many things that the kids could improve on, including their precision on outside shooting. But Barto did find positives in the youngsters' aggression and ability to make an attacking finish around the basket.
"I have worked very hard to get here, and would love to be selected and join the Academy," said Yogesh Kanderia (13) from Jaipur, "The style of coaching was good and we have really enjoyed training here."
Once Borman, Barto, and others make their decision, eight of the youngsters will be invited to join the Academy, starting their school year from the end of August. But there are positives for the others, too, because a major part of the IMG-Reliance (IMGR) union with the BFI includes setting up several basketball academies for youngsters in India. In addition, IMG Basketball Academy will continue to recruit young players from India in a similar programme every year.
Basketball is India is poised to explode exponentially, and the scholarship selection for the first batch of young stars is an important early step in shaping the talent that will form our future leagues.
Read this article on the official website of Basketball Federation of India