December 16, 2010
Vishesh Bhriguvanshi: Striving for success
In Varanasi, one of the oldest living cites in the world, they say that history of the world moves in a cyclical motion. Events repeat themselves one after the other every generation in the city, a cycle of good and evil and life and death, over and over and over for infinity in time. They say that even if the rest of the world stops, in Varanasi life will go on just as usual.
There is another kind of cyclical history being made at the famous UP College basketball court. Situated in the North-Western corner of the city, time and again, these courts have proven to be the nursery of some of Indian basketball’s finest talents. When taking a closer look, one can see how, every day, day after day, the basketballs continue bouncing without end, every morning and every evening, over and over again. With every year there is the development of a new batch of talented players and every generation gives birth to a select group of superstars.
On a chilly December evening at the UP College, all is as it has always been: the balls are bouncing, the shots are falling, the sneakers are pacing up and down the court. Except that today, there seems to be a distraction: a familiar face has shown itself again, and the court’s regular players, from the young toddlers with palms barely large enough to control a dribble to the experienced older ones with graying hair, have all stopped to welcome back their hometown hero.
Fresh out of captaining India to its first appearance at the Asian Games basketball tournament in 28 years, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi returned home to Varanasi for a few days of rest before the next challenge – the Super Kung Sheung Cup in Hong Kong. Still only 19, Vishesh already has several years of senior international appearance under his belt. He was called upon to captain the Indian side at the South Asian Games (SAG) in Dhaka at the beginning of this year, and the young shooting guard hasn’t looked back since.
Now back at the court where he learned how to master the game, Vishesh goes back to what he does best: showing up every morning and evening to meet his old friends, divide himself and the rest of the participating players into fair teams, and set the ball rolling. In a few years since his national and international exposure, he has earned an aura of awe and respect amongst the youngsters at the court. Refreshingly though, he is still the same old Vishesh with his peers: challenging, taunting, laughing, and competing. A small crowd gathers to watch as he lazily bounces around the court, sometimes wowing the spectators with great plays but mostly just blending in.
The Asian Games in Guangzhou (China), was a tough competition for the Indian squad. Led by coach Bill Harris, the first ever American hired to coach the Indian basketball team, the Young Cagers defeated Afghanistan in their first game of the tournament, a pre-qualifier that allowed them to enter the main group stage of the competition. India were not only able to exact revenge on an Afghani squad that had beaten them twice at the SAG (including a heart-breaking win at the tournament’s final), but the team also made history by celebrating Indian basketball’s first ever win at the Asian Games.
India then proceeded to lose all five of their group games, but they did put up some memorable performance in defeat. Against Asian powerhouses Iran, India managed to stay neck-to-neck in the second half after succumbing to a big deficit in first. Against Philippines and Japan, India performed well in the first halves to keep the games competitive before losing focus in certain stretches of the game to lose out.
A natural wing player, Vishesh (6 foot 4 inches) was forced to play the point guard or ‘feeder’ position at the game due to the team missing several key players. He gracefully took over the role to run the floor, sacrificing some of his scoring numbers to be able to lead the team better.
“The Asian Games were a great experience,” said Vishesh, “We showed great improvement as a team. Coach Harris was able to instill a defensive philosophy in the team which made us competitive. Throughout the tournament, I think we played some good defense and were better prepared with set plays for our offense, too.”
Comparing the current feel of the squad to the one that lost to Afghanistan at the SAG, Vishesh said that the players have begun to feel more like a cohesive unit. “Earlier on, it felt like everyone distrusted each other and just wanted to do their one thing,” he said, “This time, we were able to beat Afghanistan even without some great players because of good team unity.”
Vishesh admits that the Indian team had some glaring faults that were exposed at the Games. “It was hard for us to stay at the top level for the full game,” he said, “We would play well for one half and then not be able to keep up. I think our lack of experience showed. We just have to keep working.”
For the team to improve, Vishesh believes that they have to keep working harder, especially on the defensive end. Coach Harris has left all of the players he worked with in Chennai and in Guangzhou with specific exercise and training regiments to work on to improve their individual games. “If we keep working hard, I feel that we can improve a lot,” says Vishesh, “I hope that the next time we can get up to the top 8 in the Asian games and at least be able to put up a good challenge against one of the greater teams in Asia.”
The Indian team that has now headed to Hong Kong has a very different look. For starters, Coach Harris has gone back, and the squad has been playing without some great performers such as Jagdeep Singh, Trideep Singh, Hareesh Koroth, and Eudrick Pereria. They lost their first two games at the Super Kung Sheung Cup to hosts Hong Kong and the Southern California Fukienese Association (SCFA).
Before heading to Hong Kong, Vishesh acknowledged that the Indian national teams suffered from a lack of consistency – the teams keep changing and the players hardly get an opportunity to gel well together. Players get separated to go and represent their home states or service teams, sometimes become a higher priority for them than the Indian national team. Before leaving, Coach Bill Harris had proposed the idea that the national squads should be chosen yearly only to live, train, and play together as a team all year round to help build better chemistry and understanding.
“It is a good idea to keep the team together, but we obviously need a good coach to make it work,” Vishesh said, “All of us really liked Coach Harris – he was straight-forward and honest with us.”
He continues: “Too often, you see good players coming together from different parts of the country, and when they play for India, their performance becomes much worse. You can check the statistics and see this is happening – as Indian players, we need to be together and improve together.”
Clearly, Vishesh has embraced the role of captain much beyond just the ceremonial position. He seems to understand that in India’s success lies his own success, and he is ambitious about his future with basketball in India.
His next challenge: the Sr. National Basketball Championship, set to be held at New Delhi on December 28th. Vishesh has been an integral part of the strong Indian Railways squad that has won back to back championships, and he is ready for another win. “We want to make it a three-peat at the Nationals,” says Vishesh, “We will have to show a good performance if we are to have a chance to win. Teams like Tamil Nadu, Uttranchal, Service, and Punjab will definitely put up a tough challenge.”
Whether it’s his UP College home court in Varanasi, the grand courts in Guangzhou and Hong Kong, or the Talkatora Stadium in Delhi, where the Nationals will be held, Vishesh continues to do what he loves most: the game of basketball. And as long as he the youngster keeps improving, it seems the future of Indian basketball is in good hands, and his own name will be added to the history of Varanasi basketball idols who have been making the city proud, over and over again.