August 30, 2010
A cliché about India is that the country this vast size and population has "all types of everything." It is a country of a thousand religions, tribes, languages, languages, but most importantly, tens of thousands (or millions) distinctly different opinions.
And the same holds true for basketball. India has a rapidly growing basketball community - Basketball is the second fastest growing sport in India (after football) with four million Indians playing the game, and of course countless others who are involved in the game as administrators or as fans. With such a large and rapidly growing population, it is hard to classify the types of fans, but here I would like to give it a real go! (Thank you JD Walsh, by the way, for that awesome pic!)
There seems to be one thing in common about basketball fans in India (or NRI hoop fans) that I have either come across or those that have reached out to me: outside the circle of their own friends/school/teams, every fan thinks that they are a minority, and there is a beautiful thrill in coming across other desis that also adore the game.
This is especially true for NBA nerds in India - for the longest time, my older brother and I staunchly believed that we would never find more of our kind, those that shared our crazed enthusiasm for the league, those that checked box scores every day and threw statistics at each other, those that spent hours discussing and debating our ultimate starting fives (Greatest ever, Most defensive, Most notorious, Best without-a-championship, Best second-fiddles, etc, etc, etc, I could go on all day...)
But as I have delved deeper and deeper into my obsession, I have discovered that I'm far from alone. Basketball (and NBA) fans are a small but loud community in India, but one that is set to continue growing rapidly and continue making their voices heard.
So without further ado, here is my breakdown of The Indian Basketball Fan. Where do you stand?
1). Stalwarts of basketball in India: These are the ones who have represented our country in hoops, have played in tournaments and camps around the country, who have spent hours every day since their teenage years perfecting the game, listening to the barks of a ruthless (but affectionate) coach, and asking for the courts blessings every time they step on it. A large majority of these fans are so obsessed with the game that they are experts at the local knowledge of hoops but don't know much NBA or other world basketball information. To them, the real hoop legends are TJ Sahi, Sambhaji Kadam, Divya, Singh, Geethu Anna Jose, and Trideep Rai.
2. Basketball is religion, and there's the NBA, too: These fans are much like the ones above, as in, they are mostly players of the game. But they also follow the international game and the NBA - they have been waking up at 5:30-6:30 in the mornings two or three times a week for a decade (or more), have been watching the NBA players, trying to emulate them, but still holding the grassroots stars in greater regard. When asked, many of these fans would probably reply that their favourite NBA players are Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, or Shaq, Iverson, and Michael Jordan for the older school.
3. The NBA superstar fans: This category encompasses the legion of fans who play regular hoops at their school or their nearest playground and try to emulate their NBA player obsessions on court. These are the ones who may not have made the game their life and profession, but love it nonetheless, and are also huge fans of the NBA. Again, limited by what's shown on TV, these players love Garnett and the Celtics, Kobe and the Lakers, Dwight Howard and the Magic, or LeBron James and the Cavaliers... Okay... maybe not the Cavaliers any more! You're a fan number three if you supported the Cavs until last season but ever since his trade, you're a Miami Heat fan. You're a fan number three if you follow the player, not the team.
4. The NBA "all-player" fans: Above are the fans who only like the marquee players that are hyped up all the time: (LeBron, Kobe, Dwight, Wade, Garnett, etc), but this category is for the ones who are crazed about the underrated stars of the league. If you're more interested in David Lee's double-doubles, Stephen Curry's shooting percentage, or Shane Battier's defensive intensity, you belong in this category.
5. The NBA teams' fans: This category is usually filled with older NBA fans, or at least the more stubborn ones! These are the ones that will support a team rain or shine. Of course, it is difficult being loyal to an NBA city when we live thousands of miles away, but these fans try. A part of me belongs to this stubborn list too, as I've been a New York Knick fan for over a decade and seen only one year of relevance for my favourite squad! Despite the popularity of the Cleveland Cavaliers, it's hilariously obvious that the team didn't have any real fans - you just need a revisit to your nearest Adidas shop in India to see that all Cavalier merchandise has suddenly disappeared!
6. Fans of the game, and nothing much else!: These are the ones usually go on to become the coaches or the referees! These are the fans that just love basketball - who is playing, who they are representing, where they are playing doesn't matter. They love the game, the Xs and and Os, they love designing plays and reading them, they love to study the arc on the perfect jump-shot and the shoulder-to-knee posture of the perfect defensive stance!
As I write this, I have started to have a sneaking suspicion that many fans could relate to at least two or three of these categories. But wherever you find yourself as a fan, there will be one thing that will unite you all: passion. Despite the relative lack of exposure, popularity, and media hype to basketball, Indian fans have somehow remained loyal to the game.
So if you're not a hoops fan yet, join one or six of the crazed categories above, because I guarantee you will come out rewarded. I did!
August 29, 2010
It has been a great summer for top global competitions in my two favourite sports. The excitement and stinging noise of vuvuzelas from the FIFA World Cup have barely stopped ringing in my ears, but now here's more to celebrate for hoop fans: the 2010 FIBA World Championships, featuring the best basketball teams in the world, tipped off in Istanbul, Turkey on August 28th.
The championships features 24 powerhouses of world basketball such as defending champions Spain (who won the tournament in Japan in 2006), 2006 silver medal winners Greece, a USA team full of young NBA stars, and Argentina. Other countries such as Serbia, Russia, Australia, Lithuania, and Brazil are also participating. Asia is featuring four teams too: China, Iran, Jordan, and Lebanon.
Spain and USA are probably joint favourites for this tournament, even though Spain is playing without the 2006 MVP and recent visitor to India Pau Gasol. Spain will be led by Juan Carlos Navarro, teenage phenom Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, and Marc Gasol.
The Americans have kept home their Beijing Olympics gold medal winning squad: So now Wade, Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, etc, etc, etc... They have instead fielded a young, small team of quick guards, so small that Lamar Odom starts at Center. USA's best player is probably NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant. He will be supported by the likes of Derrick Rose, Andre Iguodala, and perhaps the team's only "elder" statesmen, Chauncey Billups.
The home squad of Turkey will also field an interesting lineup featuring NBA player Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova.
Other players to watch out for in this tournament will be Luis Scola (Argentina), Tiago Splitter and Leandro Barbosa (Brazil), Nicolas Batum (France), Goran Dragic (Slovenia), Dimitris Diamantidis (Greece), and Viktor Khryapa (Russia).
Unfortunately, this tournament has been marred by the injuries or omission of players who will not be able to show their skills at the world stage. After the aforementioned plethora of talented American stars and Spaniard Pau Gasol who will be skipping out, other well known names such as Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni (Argentina), Yao Ming (China), Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), Tony Parker (France), Nene (Brazil), and Andrew Bogut (Australia) won't be playing.
Still, the tournament has been able to gather a lot of hype and interest around the world, and could really be a propellent to help launch basketball even more as a global sport.
The competition tipped off last night with a shock, as an unfavoured French side took down defending champions Spain in their first game 72-66. USA took care of business against Croatia, defeating them easily 106-78. China's Yi Jianlian had an impressive start to the tournament with 26 points and 14 rebounds but couldn't stop his team from being put away by Greece 89-81.
On a side note, the Championships will be featuring three official ambassadors from India as part of the "Children of the World" programme. Two Indian sub-juniors Poojamal and Yogesh Kanderia, along with coach P. Deepa Sundari will be amongst hundreds of other youngsters from all FIBA nations to enjoy a short flavour of the championships and attend training camps.
Stay tuned for more info as basketball continues to take over the globe!
August 27, 2010
From World Basketball Champion to two-time reigning NBA champion, 30-year-old Spanish hoop legend Pau Gasol has a long list of achievements. Spain may be a basketball superpower today, but this wasn't always the case – Gasol was only the second ever Spanish player to make it to the world's top basketball league, the NBA, back in 2001. Ever since, more than half a dozen Spanish players have followed his footsteps. Spain's domestic league has also been improving over the past few decades, and this has reflected into international success.
Following their model, Gasol believes that it is possible for other countries to also become stronger in the game. "In Spain, it began with a competitive league in the country, and people started to have fun watching the game." He said, "Kids went out to watch their idols and watch a good national team. There is complete satisfaction in watching great players defend your country."
"India needs to involve the youngsters to experience the excitement of basketball," he continues, "Basketball is an attractive game. To promote the game here, they have to start with the youngest children, and give them the infrastructure, resources, and opportunities to play. Furthermore, India should continue working with school kids, create competitive school and grassroots leagues around the country."
The NBA has been investing a lot of effort into developing the game in India – just two weeks ago, NBA all-star Dwight Howard was also in India encouraging youngsters to take up the game. Gasol believes that the NBA should continue these efforts. "NBA should continue creating attention for the game, so that younger players can have a chance to see us and start to think of basketball as a real career option. This will encourage their parents to allow their children to participate, too. As the game grows, the NBA can show our other companies and partners that they should continue being involved with basketball here."
Gasol's trip to India, from August 23-28th, has primarily been a journey to promote the social service and community involvement aspect of NBA in India through the ‘NBA Cares' programme. He visited several schools and held workshops in Mumbai and Delhi with young children to promote healthy living through basketball. "The community in India should see that the NBA is involved in a positive way," he says, "It is not just about the sport but also about social work."
While in Mumbai, Gasol was present on August 25th with Ruzbeh Irani, Executive VP, Corporate Strategy and Chief Brand Officer, Mahindra, & Mahindra, Akash Jain, NBA Director of International Development in India, and Harish Sharma, Basketball Federation of India (BFI) Secretary General, as they announced the expansion of the Mahindra NBA Challenge to a total of five Indian cities next year, adding Chennai and New Delhi to the yearly roster and retaining the programmes at Mumbai, Bangalore, and Ludhiana.
Gasol also took a tour of Mumbai and conducted two clinics during his stay there. He conducted a clinic at the Mastan YMCA in hoop-crazed Nagpada on August 25th and at the St. Dominic Savio High School in Andheri East on the 26th.
In New Delhi, Gasol continued the NBA Cares events, teaching basketball drills and entertaining children at the Father Agnel's School and at the Delhi Public School (DPS) at Mathura Road on August 27th. The NBA's Director of Basketball Operations (India) Troy Justice and Indian basketball's legendary player and coach Shiba Maggon also assisted Gasol in his clinics
Another special feature of Gasol's visit to India was that he brought along the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship trophy, one which he won with the Los Angeles Lakers for the second year running in June. This was the first time that this trophy was brought to Indian soil, and it garnered as much attention as the superstar player himself! Gasol unveiled it during his clinics in Mumbai and New Delhi much to the delight of the young NBA fans in the crowds.
Gasol will be skipping the FIBA World Basketball Championships set to tip off in Istanbul, Turkey, from August 28th. He was the Most Valuable Player of the championships when he led Spain to a victory in 2006. Although he won't play this time, he will be heading to Turkey to watch his team perform during the latter stages of the tournament. "I have been playing a lot of basketball over the last few years and I believe that my body needs a rest, physically as well as mentally. I will be able to return to the court for the beginning of the NBA season with more energy."
With his international achievements, Gasol is not only an ambassador to India for the NBA but also for global basketball. "I have seen the game grow so much already. So many countries play the game well now, and so many more countries are getting harder and harder to beat. I find it amazing to see countries that I strong basketball teams out of countries I would have otherwise never expected to be competitive at the highest level. It is rewarding to see the game improve like this."
"The more international basketball gets, the better! It's a sport that teaches good values and a healthy lifestyle!"
August 25, 2010
Time to rejoice: For all those in Chennai and New Delhi, watching enviously as the NBA's recreational league the Mahindra NBA Challenge took place successfully in Bangalore, Mumbai, and Ludhiana, your dreams have been answered. The news was announced under the eyes of reigning two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol and under the gleam of the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship trophy. The NBA Challenge will now expand to New Delhi and Chennai in its second season after the success of the league in the other destinations and the high demand from these cities.
The Mahindra NBA Challenge will take place to five cities in 2011. The programme, which targets boys and girls aged 14 and above, will make first-time stops in Chennai and Delhi along with return visits to Bangalore, Ludhiana and Mumbai. This was announced today at a press conference at Mahindra & Mahindra in Mumbai, in the presence of Akash Jain, NBA Director of International Development in India, and Harish Sharma, Basketball Federation of India (BFI) Secretary General.
The inaugural Mahindra NBA Challenge, conducted in collaboration with the BFI, was held this summer and featured leagues in Mumbai, Bangalore, and Ludhiana that attracted thousands of participants, including top players from each city and members of the Indian National Team. NBA All-Stars Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic and Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers travelled to India this summer to run clinics for participants and coaches.
“The first season of the Mahindra NBA Challenge was extremely popular in the Indian basketball community, and we are excited to expand the program to Chennai and Delhi next year,” said Ruzbeh Irani, Executive VP, Corporate Strategy and Chief Brand Officer, Mahindra, & Mahindra. “The growth of this program demonstrates the shared commitment by Mahindra and the NBA to promote a healthy and active lifestyle among Indian youth.”
The Mahindra NBA Challenge runs for seven weeks in two divisions: youth aged 14-17 and Adult 18+. It provides both basketball enthusiasts and newcomers the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of the game and apply their skills in a fun, competitive environment. BFI and NBA partner to implement and oversee league operations across all markets.
“We saw tremendous interest and enthusiasm for the inaugural Mahindra NBA Challenge, and we look forward to returning with an expanded schedule next year,” said Akash Jain. “Giving young basketball players the chance to play in an organized league and learn from NBA players has generated great interest in basketball in India, and we will work closely with Mahindra and all of our partners to further grow participation in the game.”
“We have seen an incredible response to the Mahindra NBA Challenge in Bangalore, Ludhiana and Mumbai this year, and we anticipate the same reaction in Chennai and Delhi, two strong markets for basketball participation,” said BFI Secretary General Harish Sharma.
New Delhi and Chennai are easily the next most obvious destinations for these type of an event. Both are large cities with a great number of basketball players who would relish at the opportunity of taking part in a league like this.
I'm pencilling in Pune, Hyderabad, and Varanasi for next time around!
Dwight Howard asks: Who's the Big Three?
This feature was first published on August 18th, 2010 on SLAM Online
“He is the only Superman to play on the basketball court,” came the introduction, and soon enough the cheering public at the mall in Gurgaon, outside New Delhi, saw Dwight Howard stroll up to the stage with a signature beaming smile. I immediately sensed a potential “Shaq vs.” episode at the “only Superman” statement. The Big Leprechaun was always the only basketball Superman I believed in, but in Dwight, the NBA-starved Indian fans got a chance to meet the next biggest thing. It’s not every day that a devastating two-time Defensive Player of the Year flies down our desi skies.
The relationship between India and the NBA really started to gain momentum four years ago, when the current Basketball Federation of India (BFI) Secretary-general Harish Sharma went into an agreement with the NBA to promote basketball in India. It was around that summer of 2006 that a certain Minnesota Timberwolf, Kevin Garnett, made a low-key visit to the Indian shores. Apart from a few adidas store openings and school appearances, the Big Ticket’s visit went mostly under the radar. After all, this wasn’t China, it was India, where the average person still believed that Michael Jordan invented basketball.
Fast forward four years — KG became a Celtic, became an NBA champion. And NBA kept coming to India. Baron Davis was here, and so was Kyle Korver and Ronny Turiaf for a Basketball Without Borders program. Some legends came too: Dominique Wilkins, AC Green and others.
But it took the Summer of 2010 for the NBA to once again to make its massive presence felt on the Indian shores, and that presence came in the form name of Dwight Howard.
Suddenly, ‘Superman’ became sort of the flavor of the month amongst the basketball circles in India, and for a country full of many, many flavors and masalas, he came in as a hell of a big deal. Dwight was in India from August 10-14, sandwiching his visit here between a couple of visits to East Asian countries like China and Taiwan. Although the popularity of the NBA popularity in India still has a long way to go to match those other countries, it has been growing rapidly in recent years.
When asked what India can do to help the growth of basketball, Dwight had very simple advice: “Just pick up a ball and play. Basketball is such a fun sport — the more people play it, the more they will realize how great it is. Basketball is a very lively sport — it is my sanctuary — I love to put a smile on people’s faces through the game. I encourage people in India to pick it up too because it has the power of bringing people together.”
Over the past few days, Howard has brought his message of the joys of basketball to India, visiting Bangalore and New Delhi in his tour. India is a country that sorely lacks modern sport infrastructure and facilities, but Howard said that this shouldn’t deter young players from working on improving their athletic ability.
“I started playing this game when I was just 3 years old,” he said, “Growing up, I didn’t have the best conditions and facilities around me. And I wasn’t always this tall — I worked at this game every single day to get to this level.”
He added: “Inevitably, the game is more about heart and mental strength.”
Indian players have gotten the reputation of simply not being athletically built enough to survive the toughness of all-world level basketball. This may be true on certain levels, but I feel that we just haven’t developed the right potential into right talent.
In recent years, India’s own talent churning factory has been the state of Chhattisgarh, which has been developing strong, athletic youngsters from tribal villages (sort of like ‘The Air Up There,’ but imagine Kevin Bacon with an Indian accent) into phenomenal basketball players. Similarly, villages in Punjab are filled with giants like the 7-footer Satnam Singh, who, still a few months shy of his 15th birthday, has already been labeled as the country’s “Chosen one.” Raised on buffalo milk and an excess of homemade white butter, these players have been blessed with the right mold, but have no access to the right infrastructure and training to raise their level. India’s most regular hoop culture resides amongst players in the bigger cities like Mumbai and Chennai, yet without the right kind of conditioning and training, they too fade away into obscurity.
Dwight had some sound advice for Indian players hoping to improve their conditioning: The most important thing for Indian players hoping to make the NBA is to keep training all the time. “Train in the offseason, train when you don’t have any games, just keep working every single day to improve. That is the best way to stay in shape.”
Upon his arrival in India at Bangalore on August 10, Dwight soon headed to the Sri Kanteerava Stadium where he turned coach, working with several members of the Indian Senior Men’s team. Players such as Sambhaji Kadam, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Prakash Mishra, Jayaram, Harpal Veghala, Hirendra Singh and Somvir Chahal got an opportunity to get some tips from Howard.
The Indian team, also known as the ‘Young Cagers,’ are currently preparing for the Asian Games, set to be held in China in November. Dwight worked with the team on several drills, screen-and-rolls, and post-up plays. But Howard’s focus remained of defense, as he stressed on the important of defensive positioning to the players.
In Delhi, Dwight visited a mall to tip-off the ‘NBA Jam,’ which is NBA’s “traveling interactive fan event”. A horde of fans followed Howard to the mall to catch a glimpse of their favorite star as he came out, and he didn’t disappoint. The mall was covered with fans in Orlando Magic jerseys and ‘Superman’ t-shirts.
Finally, to rousing cheers of ‘Superman,’ Howard made his way out to greet the eager crowd. “It was my dream to visit India, and I’m very happy that it has been accomplished,” he said.
After some initial words, the floor was opened for the media to question him, and this was where two of my favorite events of the day occurred.
First, a confused Indian journalist, definitely not well-versed with the basketball world, asked Dwight (in Hindi) about his experience of grassroots VOLLEYBALL in India. A few awkward moments of silence later, Dwight was bailed out when Akash Jain (NBA Director, International Development - India) answered the journalist that, yes, the NBA is interested in digging out more sources of grassroots BASKETBALL in the country.
And soon enough, the inevitable happened when a bunch of not-so-well-mannered teenage fans from the back raised their voices for some questions.
“Dwight, how will you defeat the Big Three?”
Without a second’s hesitation, Dwight responded: “Who’s the Big Three?”
I few of us laughed out loud. After some bumbling amongst the kids in the back, another one grabbed the mic and asked: “How are you planning to stop Big Baby?”
Dwight (in a mock heavy voice): “I have no problems stopping him.”
Dwight went on to refuse the kids’ challenge for a one-on-one match-up (again, in a mock voice: “I don’t think you’re ready!”). Later, along with the Troy Justice, the NBA’s Director of Basketball Operations in India, he took the court where he taught shooting and defensive drills to a crowd of eager youngsters. Chants of “We want dunks!” quickly began to rise, and Dwight finally obliged them by slamming one down the basket.
I got a chance to interact with Dwight earlier that morning, where he spoke about his time in India, his work with the national team players, and looking forward to the ‘10-11 NBA season. He stressed how the players here should follow his own training schedule, which went all year round, with or without a game, with or without a season.
He also confessed that his own personal improvement this offseason was going to be more of a mental issue than a physical one. “In one way, I’m always improving, because I’m always growing older,” he said. “With age comes maturity and mental strength which will help me a lot on court. Every team in the NBA has improved this season, and we have to get better too to keep performing well.”
He will have to — and Magic fans will be hoping that his world travels this offseason help in developing the “mental strength” that Dwight talks about. The NBA shrewdly chose a personality like Dwight to come and provide the League as well as the game of basketball some exposure in a large market such as India. His short trip may not have distracted the imaginations of a cricket-crazy country (only the FIFA World Cup managed to do that!), but the interested players and fans got more than they wished for: an experience with a genuine NBA star, and more importantly, good advice on how to improve their own conditioning and take their game to the highest level.
Meanwhile, we in India will be hoping that the efforts of our basketball federation and the NBA can elevate the game to “Number Two” status in the country. It’s considered nonsensical to even discuss overthrowing cricket, so every other sport fights for this glorified silver medal.
As I write this, it also happens to be India’s Independence Day. So Jai Hind, and let’s pray for that Number Two spot.
August 23, 2010
Two Indian sub-junior level players, Poojamal from Kerala and Yogesh Kanderiya from Rajasthan, have been selected by BFI to be India's official representatives in FIBA's "Children of the World" camp in Istanbul, Turkey, set to be held around the FIBA Basketball World Championships. The two youngsters will be accompanied by coach P. Deepa Sundari from Tamil Nadu for this experience from August 24-31.
The FIBA Basketball World Championships, slated to be held in Istanbul (Turkey) from August 28-Sep12, is set to become the biggest event in the world basketball calendar. Although only 24 of the best teams in the world participate, FIBA has designed the "Children of the World" project aiming to provide a possibility for official representation of all of the FIBA member countries through "young ambassadors" - young basketball players and coaches who will come together in a global basketball camp.
One boy, one girl, (both between the ages of 13-14) and one young coach are being sent to Istanbul from each of the FIBA-member countries and being hosted by the Turkish Basketball Federation. Together, almost 400 teenagers from around the world and 200 coaches will get a chance to improve their basketball skills and teamwork through the camps, experience the FIBA Basketball Championships, meet some of the best basketball players in the world, and experience the culture of Turkey.
The children will play 3-on-3 games , take part in workshops and the FIBA CARES project, go sightseeing, and enjoy three World Cup games: USA vs. Croatia on August 28th, USA vs. Slovenia on August 29th, and USA vs. Brazil on August 30th.
The "Children of the World" project is designed to educate, engage, and influence young ambassadors to be aware of and sensitive towards a range of global issues and develop towards playing an active role in their respective countries as "citizens of the world".
Poojamal, Yogesh, and Deepa will fly off from New Delhi to Istanbul on August 24th.
August 22, 2010
An edited version of this article was first published in the August 2010 edition of All Sports Magazine. Here is the full version.
Two years ago, I walked into Vishesh Bhriguvanshi’s room for the first time. The experience was surreal on at least four levels.
Surreal because this room belonged to a 17-year-old boy who just might be the biggest prospect in Indian basketball. Surreal because the little room, with its creaky sofa/bed and flaky wall paint and dozens of LeBron James and Allen Iverson posters was as much the family’s living room (read: guest hospitality/chai offering area) as it was this 17-year-old’s bedroom. Surreal because, despite his accomplishments, Vishesh was a relative nobody, destined to a life of relative-nobodiness.
And it’s surreal to me now because, two years later, despite his continued accomplishments in the basketball world, few outside the basketball world even know/care if this world exists.
But very soon, it might just be the right time to start caring: Somewhere deafened behind the loud noises of the World Cup vuvezelas and the news/updates/criticisms from the CommonWealth Games and MS Dhoni’s “secret” wedding was a bit of sport news sure to get every basketball fan in India jumping and dunking in delight. To change the face of sports in the India, American sports management powerhouse IMG aligned with Reliance, which stands amongst the richest corporations in the world. One of their first moves? The announcement to delve into a 30-year-long deal with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). IMG-Reliance will assist to improve basketball facilities, provide training to young talent, and most importantly, help set up a professional basketball league in India, akin to the IPL or the National Basketball Association (NBA) from the US. It may take a few more years, but with fanfare sure to follow the growth of the sport in India, young talents in the country now have an opportunity to become the stars of the game in the future.
Vishesh, unsurprisingly, is looking forward to it.
Let’s go back two years again: Vishesh, which means unique or special, surely lived up to his name in the early days of 2008, when the NBA, surely the holy grail of all-that-is-great-and-importance-and-where-amazing-happens-etc of basketball, organised a Basketball Without Borders (BWB) – Asia camp in New Delhi. The camp featured over 40 of the most talented under-18s from dozens of countries around Asia and Oceania. Vishesh walked in as one of them, and he walked out after a few days as the Most Valuable Player of the camp’s ‘All Star Game’.
“I just kept working hard,” he had told me then, “Just kept playing and playing. 6-7 hours every day, I just love being on the court.”
It’s been more than two years since. I can still taste the chai and Marie biscuits that I was offered by his parents in that room and I can still remember those LeBron James posters.
LeBron was in a Cleveland Cavaliers #23 jersey then, but will be donning a Miami Heat #6 come next season. Vishesh has changed too, grown, yet somehow, remained the same. He went from being budding young star to national team captain in less than two years, leading the Indian national Men’s team, who are dubbed the ‘Young Cagers’ into the South Asian Games at Dhaka. But he is still the same in the manner with which he talks of his love for NBA basketball, hoping to copy their flashy plays, hoping to dunk on someone and ‘posterise’ them just like LeBron does. His game has changed, as he has evolved further and further into becoming an all-rounded player, and he has added to his CV back-to-back national championships with the Western Railways. But his work ethic is still the same, the same humble young man, the same kid who just wants to get on the court and satisfy his addiction for the game. Just keep playing basketball, all day.
Vishesh deflects every question I ask him about his extraordinary ability on the basketball court, and when I keep probing, he answers with a clichéd, “Just keep working hard” answer. He has said it so often in the past few years that I’m starting to believe the cliché. And he isn’t alone: everyone from the BFI secretary Harish Sharma to renowned American coaches who worked with the national team have had the same, clichéd-but-true words for the youngster: “hunger to learn”, “always wanting to get better”, “always working harder”.
Why do you work so hard? I ask him the most obvious, why-not? question of the day. “Basketball is my life,” he answers, “I still practice all the time, whenever I get time… 6-7 hours a day. The game has given me so much: a job, popularity, and gotten me all the way to the national team. I just respect the game, so I keep on practicing.”
Much further beyond the picturesque ghat and Ganga scenes in the Coffee Table books and the ringing of a thousand temple bells lies the real Varanasi – the Varanasi of nerdy university students, shady office buildings, lazy rickshaw-wallahs, broken roads, and awful traffic.
Probe even further into the holy city and you will find a city that passionately bleeds basketball. Over the past few decades, Varanasi has regularly churned out legends of the game on the national and the international level. The Indian Women’s team has been blessed by the talents of the four ‘Singh Sisters of Varanasi’ – Divya, Prashanti, Akanksha, and Pratima – who have been dominating the game for the better part of this past decade. Many national level players from the city have learnt their trade at the basketball courts of the Udai Pratap (UP) College, which has gained a reputation for becoming a factory for producing Indian hoop stars.
Vishesh is from those same courts. His father was a Biology teacher at the UP College, and when he was around 11, Vishesh started to discover the game for himself. As he grew up, his biggest role model was another Varanasi boy, Trideep Rai, whose incredible talent had made him into a regular fixture in the Indian starting squads and propelled him to captaining the side in several crucial tournaments. “Trideep Bhaiya,” Vishesh says affectionately, “He was the one that brought the game closer to me and so many others. He had a lot of experience and helped us practice hard, helped us play the right way.”
And soon came the national camp invitations, the championships, the selection. Sub-Junior. Junior. And after the BWB experience, Senior. Vishesh was the youngest player in the Young Cagers side that went to play in Kuwait in 2008, his first national team experience. “I didn’t get to play much,” he remembers, “But it was still a chance to have fun with the team, learn and improve my game.”
Like most other young sportsmen in India, one of the Vishesh’s first major hurdles started from home. “When I was younger and playing and improving, my family told me to focus on studies, ‘Basketball should be a hobby’, they said, But when I made it into the Indian team, and when I got a job with the government even before I turned 17, they started to believe that I had a future here and they encouraged me.”
It has already been a wild ride for the youngster who, unbelievably, is still in his last days as a teenager. He has won two National Championships with Western Railways. “We were an extraordinary team this year,” he speaks of his Railways squad, “It was a team of young players who were struggling before, but were able to improve slowly and find form at the right time.”
And the clichés continued – talking about team before self, refusing to highlight his own strengths.
He had done the same thing two years ago, so the only way for me to discover his skill-set was to watch him play. After the tea and biscuits, Vishesh and I headed out to the UP College court, where I decided to test his competitive spirit (and of course, my own) when I challenged him to a game. One on one, first to five points, uber-competitive journalist versus the country’s most talented youngster. Vishesh laughed, but when I insisted, he agreed.
I scored the first two points, leaving only a bemused smile on Vishesh’s face and an unblinking focus on mine. And suddenly, the pace of the game changed. Vishesh switched on his incredibly swift first step, beating me ragged for four straight points in a matter of seconds. Lay-ups, jump shots, rebounding and tipping in his own misses.
“He has a world of talent and is an unbelievably gifted player,” said Harish Sharma, the BFI secretary, “He has a great quality to control the ball, quick execution, and then finishing well around the basket.”
I could’ve done with this scouting report before, because Vishesh did all of the above, and more. I did manage one more jump-shot, but the game was over as quickly as it began. Another move from the top of the key, near the three-point line – fake shot, cross-over dribble, a blur passed by my left, three large strides to the basket, lay-up, game over.
“If he keeps focused off the court, and stays disciplined on it, he has a lot of potential,” Sharma had added, “He has the potential to make to the lower leagues in the USA, maybe even the NBA’s Development League (NBDL).”
Sharma believes that he has the god-given talents and the perfect physical ability to dominate the game. Vishesh is still nit-picky, pointing out how his jump-shot can be improved, and how he can hustle harder, how he can be better.
He will need to be, too. A basketball league in India is not far away, and Vishesh, along with thousands of other basketball players and fans are anxiously awaiting its development. “This is amazing news,” says Vishesh, “And if not the current crop of stars, then at least the future basketball players will be able to have a league of their own. We’ll be able to have top-level matches and involve players from different countries, which in turn will improve our own game.”
“A league like this will help in selling basketball to youngsters as media interest and broadcast coverage increases as well.”
Vishesh is still young, and if the dream of such is league is implemented as planned, he is on his way to becoming one of its stars. There are many others like him in the country, other young basketball players hungry to make their hobby into work, hungry to keep playing this addictive sport. They come from all over the country, from Varanasi to Bhopal to Indore to Chennai and Bangalore and Pune and New Delhi, Ludhiana, Kapurthala, Hyderabad, Ahmadabad, and Mumbai. They have made something out of a sport that has been nothing in this country, and are on their way to having their skills noticed by a national audience.
And yet, what remains surreal is how Vishesh, like many of these other young boys and girls, loves to remain home. He loves his little living room and the LeBron posters and the labyrinthic Banarasi gullies and the UP college court.
“I am never more comfortable than when I’m playing basketball back in Varanasi, back with my friends and my family,” he says, and when I ask him the secret behind the town’s basketball pedigree, he answers: “There’s no secret! It’s just a good atmosphere to practice and play. We don’t do anything else but work hard, because it’s fun.”
Welcome to Vishesh’s world, a world soon to be exploding with a lot more fun and a lot more noise. Welcome to the surreal world of Indian basketball.
August 21, 2010
Ever since the announcement several months ago that the NBA was going to be organising recreational leagues around India, I have been curious to attend and watch the proceedings. The Mahindra-NBA Challenge has already concluded in Mumbai, and is currently in progress in Bangalore and Ludhiana. The latter was the closest destination to me, so I decided to finally take the plunge and mark my attendance.
Now, I admit I have been an unfair critic of Ludhiana in the past: although it may lack the big city status that Mumbai and Bangalore carry, it makes up for it with its historic basketball pedigree. I didn't really know what to expect when I visited the Guru Nanak Stadium on Saturday, but I left feeling a) impressed at the amount of passion that basketball evoked amongst the kids here and b) envious that I didn't have the same opportunities growing up!
The league was fully under way. Nine matches had concluded before lunch in the three courts (two outdoor and one indoor), and with the same expected to be played in the afternoon. I got the opportunity to catch a junior boys (U17) game between Ludhiana's Greenland Senior Centre School (in red) and the New Public School from Chandigarh in Black. The league was initially made open for any kind of team or school from Ludhiana to sign up, but soon, as popularity grew, sign-ups opened up for other teams from around Punjab, too. No wonder that Troy Justice, the NBA's head of Basketball Operations in India, had commented that he faced a "wonderful problem" of having to deal with too many teams!
As I watched the players in their pre-game warm-up drills, I couldn't help but think about the great number of talented and passionate lovers of basketball around India. There is no shortage of young players, but the sad part is that most of them quit the game as they get older. Some of the most talented ones are picked for state teams, but the rest just decide to settle for some other profession. Eventually, even the ones that are picked start to become disillusioned with the lack of ambition and the low ceiling for progress surrounding the game in India. I'm hoping that with more avenues, such as the upcoming professional league in India, we can convince more such youngsters to not quit on the game and become talented senior players.
There was a small but interested crowd in the arena. The numbers began to grow steadily, and I was most impressed by a bhel-puri vendor that drifted inside to find customers - hey, if the vendor believed that it was worth his time to sell to an audience here, then it says something positive about the spectacle that is gathering enough of an audience!
Back to basketball, though, here is another thought that passed my head as I watched these youngsters: We really need to shift the attention in India away from the bureaucrats, administrators, coaches and other alumni of the game and make the young players the stars. Players of yesteryear have incredible passion towards helping the game of basketball, but that passion needs to be channelised away from a thirst that many of them have for buttering their own legacy and towards the youth. This is a tough call, because it would be breaking an Indian mentality of seniority and unquestioned respect to the elders. Of course, the seniors need to be respected for their efforts and lauded for still being involved with the game, but we need to move on from the old mentality and make the current players the centre-pieces. It is they who make the basketball masses today and deserve most attention.
Speaking of the youngsters, ten of them were now ready on the floor for the game's tip-off. The game started exactly 23 minutes late. I had overheard a prediction during the pre-game preparations that this match-up was going to be one-side towards the New Public School from Chandigarh, and minutes after the game began, the squad from Chandigarh didn't disappoint. They quickly raced to a huge lead, stealing every loose pass, converting every fast-break lay-up, hitting their outside jumpers, and making it damn near impossible for the Greenland School to score.
Yes, these kids definitely needed a lot more work to improve their game, I don't think that with some strenuous, focused coaching, they could be that far behind. The Mahindra NBA Challenge has at least encouraged these kids and other amateur players to treat a basketball competition seriously, and I predict that by next year, we will see teams twice as talented taking part in this competition.
New Public School were led by Sartaj Sandhu, who seemed to be at least three steps ahead of everyone else on court. He won every rebound which was in his vicinity, scored more than all of his teammates combined (and more than all of the opposition combined, too), plus he hounded his counterpart defensively, racking up steal after steal. He had a devastating offensive game, scoring every open long-range shot and was unstoppable when he decided to drive in, too. Well, we could probably credit the Mickey Mouse defence played by the Ludhiana squad for that one.
New Public School held on to a 30 point lead by the end of the first half. It was all garbage time after the interval.
I strolled to watch the games outside after the one inside finally came to its inevitable conlusion. Even a light drizzle couldn't stop the two outdoor games (one boys' and one girls') from losing their pace! And yes, there was a much bigger crowd out here, which could only meet one thing - more snacks! Bhel-puri-wallahs were joined by vendors selling cotton candy, popcorn, and ice cream. Where there is snacks there is excitement. Book it.
Anyways, I came away feeling positively positive after my few hours at the Guru Nanak Stadium. Ludhiana and Punjab are proudly flying the flag for basketball in the country, and the NBA Challenge has provided an excellent base for the young players to finally get a chance to play ball in an organised fashion - with official refs, good coaching, and under the expert eye of NBA trainers that pay regular visits to these leagues as well.
August 20, 2010
The first thing I notice is his shoes. Size 22, made of some obscure shoe brand that I haven't heard of. That is the first thing I ask him, too, and he confirms to me that they are custom made. "Straight from Amreeka!" he says. He confirms that he has another, better pair coming his way. Sure enough, the next time I meet him, he is sporting a pair of black Nikes. Size 22.
I shake his hand and watch my fingers disappear behind his monstrously large grasp. When we disengage, I'm relieved to have my hand back unharmed. It seems that Satnam, still only 14, has learnt to exert minimal pressure during introductory handshakes, because a casual clasp by him could mean certain broken bones for us mere average-sized mortals.
Meet the Satnam Singh Bhamara of the Past: a village boy, a son of a farmer and carpenter from the middle of nowhere in Punjab. His home address has no house number, just a family name and the name of their village,'Ballo Ke'. "District Barnala," he adds, and then he says a few other things in Punjabi so thick that I had to occasionally call on a translator (and I call myself a Punjabi - tssh!). I'm not ashamed though, because even a pucca Punjabi would be confused with his thick accent; his words come out muffled, half-eaten on their way out of his giant mouth.
Until the age of 10, Satnam was just an average youngster who attended a village school and brought refreshments to his father who was hard at work at the farm.
Well, not completely average: Mr. Bhamara Senior stood an imposing 7 foot 2 inches; his 10-year-old son, who seemed to be following in his father's giant footsteps, was already 5 foot 9 and a big, broad, beast of a pre-adolescent. Satnam had never even heard of this game called 'basketball'; not until one of this father's friends saw him and recommended that he take the boy to Ludhiana and teach him the game.
Satnam only needed a few years of work before his coaches realised that there was more to his skill than his size. He was soon a natural, and like every young player, still fondly remembers his first dunk (age 13). He grew a ridiculous 15 inches in four years, and after blazing his way through all the sub-junior competitions, he forced his way into the Youth (U16) team.
Meet the Satnam Singh Bhamara of the Present: still four months shy of his 15th birthday, Satnam now stands 7 feet tall. He's already made a name for himself in the Indian basketball circles across the country. After blazing his way through the Punjab inter-school and junior leagues, Satnam began to collect his international credentials. He represented Indian in the FIBA Asia U16 Championships at Malaysia in November 2009. Back home, he took Punjab to the gold medal of the National Youth Championships at Trichy (Tamil Nadu) in June.
There was no more doubt it - the son of a farmer, who would've had a hard time pronouncing 'basketball' four years ago, had become the country's best young player. Satnam's success led him to be recommended by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to be part of a three-player contingent of Indian youngsters sent to Singapore for the NBA's Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Asia camp, which featured 44 junior boys from 19 different countries in Asia and Oceania.
And then came the biggest step yet - barely returned from his BWB experience, Satnam was again nominated amongst 50 of the country's best sub-junior players to take part in a tryout for the IMG Basketball Academies in Florida, USA. Sponsored by IMG-Reliance, expert coaches from IMG descended down to Delhi to watch the Indian youngsters slog it out for two tough days in late July. Only eight of the 50 were to be chosen. Satnam was taller, stronger, bigger than the rest.
When the final list was released, not one was surprised to see Satnam's name amongst the eight. Dan Barto, who is a basketball coach and athletic trainer from IMG, admitted that the youngster was an "intriguing" prospect. By the end of the August, Satnam will be taking his talents to Bradenton, Florida, where he has been fully sponsored to stay as a student-athlete at the IMG Academy, perhaps the best multi-sport training facility in the world. The Basketball Academy at IMG has featured the likes of Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Chauncey Billups, Joakim Noah, Kevin Martin, Jrue Holiday, Earl Clark, Kyryl Natyazhko (freshman at the University of Arizona), Dwight Powell (committed to Stanford), and others.
His world about to turn upside down, Satnam seemed surprisingly bindaas about things. He had a childish exuberance about him, and then I remembered that's because he is still only a child!
I ask Satnam if he follows the NBA.
"Yes," he answers.
"Which is your favourite team?"
Satnam looks a little embarrassed. "I don't know, whichever team Kobe Bryant plays for."
"Oh - Lakers," I laugh, "But shouldn't you like a player closer to your size. A centre. Kobe Bryant must look small to you."
I shudder as I say that. If Kobe friggin 6 foot 6 Bryant is small compared to him, I'm closer to being a Leprechaun.
"What about Shaq?" I ask.
"Oh, ya, Shaq!" his eyes light up - Shaq seems to have that effect on people - "I like Shaq! And that other guy who is coming here - what's his name?"
"Dwight Howard," I tell him.
"Yes, Dwight Howard. I want to meet him."
I remind Satnam that he's bigger than Dwight, too. He may not garner the same kind of attention that 'Superman' did during his visit to India, but Satnam has his own little celebrity legend. He gushes and tells me how strangers ask him for autographs and ask to touch him. He tells stories of how he has to struggle and fit on a bus seat from Delhi to Ludhiana, and how people on the bus line up to photographs snapped next to him.
But despite his growing popularity, the young man-child has managed to remain humble. Credit his farm upbringing, the advice of his many coaches, and the fact that a committed basketball player rarely has time to concern himself with other things. In Satnam, India has been blessed with a hell of a committed player.
"I'm very fond of this game," Satnam says, "It was given me so much, and I want to continue improving."
Before he took claim to the giant centre position on the floor, Satnam was initially trained to play as a forward. His early training shows - he is an efficient shooter from the three-point range and says that his strongest feature is probably his ability to drive the ball in. With size came the evolution of polishing his post-up game and making him devastating on the defensive end of the floor as a rebounder and a shot-blocker. Few brave souls would dare run full speed into this giant brick wall guarding the basket.
"I still have to improve my dribbling though," he concedes.
More than any one specific thing, I believe what Satnam needs is experience playing games at the highest possible level for his age, and this is where his stint with the IMG Academy will be nothing short of life-changing.
So what will we see in the Satnam Singh Bhamara of the future? If all goes as scripted, he has the potential of becoming one of the finest Indian players of this generation, if not one of our brightest prospects ever. Alas, few scripts in real life have this kind of filmy ending - in Satnam's case, each Indian fan will be hoping for the holy grail of basketball for him.
"NBA... That is my dream," Satnam admits, "I want to play in the NBA."
He has ambitious dreams, but the NBA is the toughest of all basketball nuts to crack - time will tell if he will ever become good enough to ever play there. Fortunately for Satnam, all the signs are pointing the right way. His greatest assessment came out of a man who knows a thing or two about basketball talents. Troy Justice, the NBA's Director of Basketball Operations in India, worked with Troy and the rest of the Youth team at Ludhiana a few weeks ago. "If I could, I would work with this kid every day," Troy said, "He can be the chosen one for basketball in India."
Those size 22 feet have come a long way from the village to the basketball court to one of the world's greatest academies. Now, Satnam Singh Bhamara has the opportunity to do something a giant of his size rarely has the opportunity to do - look up, even above himself, and dream!
August 18, 2010
For all those in India STILL craving for an NBA fix, even after the Dwight Howard visit, here is something to excite your senses a little more. The news has been in the air for a while, but now it's official: Following last week's visit by NBA All Star Dwight Howard, basketball excitement is set to continue in India. For the first time, India will be visited by a reigning NBA Champion. Los Angeles Lakers forward/centre Pau Gasol will be visiting Mumbai and New Delhi from August 23-28, and he will be bringning the the Larry O' Brien Championship trophy to India for the first time. Gasol, who is a two-time NBA champion and also the reigning FIBA World Champion with his nation Spain, will conduct clinics at the Mahindra NBA Challenge and host a first-ever Live Fan Chat on NBA.com/india.
“I have always wanted to visit India and I am very excited to represent the Lakers and the NBA in a country where basketball is on the rise,” said Gasol. “As an international player in the NBA, I know how important it is to do my part to grow the game globally and would love to compete against a player from India in the NBA one day.”
Gasol will make appearances with the Larry O’Brien Trophy to take photos with fans in Mumbai and Delhi. This will be the first time that the trophy will be in India. He will also conduct clinics in Mumbai on Aug. 26 for participants of the Mahindra NBA Challenge, the league’s first community-based basketball league in India, which tipped off in Mumbai,Bangalore, and Ludhiana this summer and attracted thousands of participants, including top players from each city.
This past season, the NBA enjoyed its broadest reach ever in India through television and digital technology. To continue this momentum, Gasol will become the first NBA player to host a live fan chat on NBA.com/india during his trip.
Gasol will also conduct an NBA Cares clinic on Aug. 28 in Delhi at Father Angel School in Gautam Nagar, a missionary school that serves underprivileged communities. NBA Cares is the league’s social responsibility platform and these clinics will continue the NBA’s commitment to using the sport of basketball to engage communities and promote healthy, active lifestyles.
“Giving youth in India the unique chance to step onto a court and learn from a reigning two-time NBA champion will inspire more athletes to play the game of basketball,” said NBA President of International Heidi Ueberroth. “Pau is a great ambassador for the NBA and his visit is part of our continued efforts to work with our partners to increase participation in communities throughout India."
“Our goal is to increase basketball participation and improve the level of play in India and we are thrilled that the NBA shares our long term commitment to accomplish these goals,” said BFI Secretary General Harish Sharma.”
“Our collaboration with the NBA has generated a tremendous amount of interest for the sport in India, including the recent visit of All-Star Dwight Howard, and the arrival of NBA world champion Pau Gasol will help popularize the game even further.”
Thank you, NBA, the best way to follow the visit of an All-Star big man is to bring another All-Star big man. It also helps that he's a two time champion and a FIBA world champion. The Lakers are also a far more popular team in India (and everywhere else in world) than the Magic.
I'm not much of a Laker fan myself, but I love Gasol. Yes, yes, Kobe Bryant is one of the best players of our generation, but ever since Gasol was traded to LA from the Memphis Grizzlies, the Lakers have been to THREE STRAIGHT NBA Finals and won twice. Oh, and thad I mention that he's a world champion? With the Turkey Basketball World Championships right around the corner, there is no better time than now to welcome the last championship's brightest star. Too bad he won't be representing Spain this time around.
Also, I know everyone and their mother here will be trying to ask him how it feels to be playing alongside Kobe. I, for one, want to know how it's like partying with Ron Artest.
August 16, 2010
Imagine being in school. It’s the morning session, and the recess bell has just rung. Well of course, the first thing you do is run out to the playing field to chase your friends around, kick a football, or head down to the basketball court. Now imagine that you have the opportunity to not just bounce around a ball amongst your friends, but represent your school in an organised inter-school basketball league. Imagine your school’s name on the front of your jersey and yours on the back.
Now you don’t have to imagine anymore. The season for the 1st Delhi School League, for boys and girls, tipped off on Monday the 16th of August at the Montfort School and the Sachdeva Public School. The league, organised by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and IMG-Reliance, is set to involve 20 boys and girls teams from schools around New Delhi who will play each other nearly every day for a month. The 10 boys and 10 girls teams have been divided into two groups each, and each team will play the other teams in their groups twice on a home and away basis.
"This league is an exciting new beginning for us," said Harish Sharma, the secretary-general of the BFI, "It is an important early step in the promotion of basketball at the grassroots level. I want to thank IMG-Reliance for stepping forward and helping us with this league."
There was an electricity in the air at the Montfort School, which hosted two games for their girls and their boys against girls and boys of Delhi Public School (RK Puram). Stepping out to the school’s outdoor court in their custom-fitted league jerseys, the players looked ready to relish and make the most of this opportunity. Montfort’s basketball players didn’t disappoint their cheering supporters, as both the girls and the boys picked up convincing victories.
Although it was only the first day of the competition, the passion was already burning amongst the players and the fans. At one point, when the Montfort boys held a convincing 30 point lead, their coach VP Niroola continued to drive their players to perfection from the sideline. There was to be no room for mistakes – this was all business, serious basketball. Every possession and every game had to be won.
Naroola hopes that this league will be successful. “I hope we continue to organise it in a good manner. I think it has the potential to be a great event.”
“It’s great that this league is happening – basketball will get a lot more recognition because of this,” said Anika Sharma, a basketball player for the Montfort girls’ team, “This is the first time that a league like this is happening in India and it’s really nice for us basketball lovers.”
The top two teams from each group will then qualify for a ‘Super League’, and the top two teams from the Super League will play each other in the Finals. Each team will earn two points for a victory, one for a loss, and zero for a loss by forfeit.The first round games will finish on September 7th, before the competition proceeds to the Super League stage. Games are set to be played between 9 - 11 AM every morning starting from Monday, August 16th. The first round games will finish on September 7th, before the competition proceeds to the Super League stage. Further schedule shall be released later.
The participating teams are:
Group A: Montfort School, Army Public School, Delhi Public School – RK Puram, GD Goenka School, and Carmel Convent School.
Group B: Delhi Public School – Mathura Road, Modern School, Oxford School, Sachdeva Public School, and Convent of Jesus and Mary.
Group A: Montfort School, Army Public School, Delhi Public School – RK Puram, GD Goenka School, and New Green Field School.
Group B: Delhi Public School – Mathura Road, Modern School, Oxford School, Sachdeva Public School, and St. Columba’s School.
August 15, 2010
The future always looked promising for young basketball stars in India, and the U18 team came out and proved it with three massive victories over their neighbouring countries to qualify for the 21st FIBA Asia U18 Championships. India were always favourites to finish top in the Middle Asia Zone qualifying games against teams such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh, but few expected the dominance that the young cagers displayed over the three games, winning each with an average of an incredible 39 points.
The games were played at the Sri Kantaveera stadium in Bangalore from August 12-14th. India defeated Nepal in the first game 50-30, Bangladesh 91-44, and destroying a Sri Lankan side 84-44 in the finale.
India were led by great performances by individuals such as Arjun Singh, Dishant Shah, Shadab Khan, Amjyot Singh, and others.
Sri Lanka will qualify as a second place berth from the Middle Asia Zone along with India. Kazakhstan, who had a podium finish in the 2008 edition of the competition (they lost to hosts Iran in the finals), are an automatic qualifier to the event from the group. India have some way to go to improve on their previous performances, as they finished a measly 13th out of the 15 teams in the 2008 competition.
In the 2010 competition, set to be held in the city of Sana's in Yemen from Sep 22 - Oct 1, India will have a chance to face off against other qualified countries such as Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Philippines, Malaysia, China, and Japan.
The top three teams from this competition will play in the FIBA U19 World Championship 2011 in Latvia.
India's squad for the qualifiers was:
Ajay Pratap Singh (Chhattisgarh)
Sunny Raut (Madhya Pradesh)
Dishant Shah (Gujarat)
Rajan Sharma (Punjab)
Jaskaran Singh (Punjab)
Anant Singh (Rajasthan)
C. Berdinent Carmel Joseph (Tamil Nadu)
Bobby Singh (Uttar Pradesh)
Rakesh Kumar Yadav (Uttar Pradesh)
Arjun Singh (Indian Railways)
Shadab Khan (Indian Railways)
Amjyot Singh (Chandigarh)
1. Mr. Ramkumar, Head Coach
2. V. Senthilselvan, Asst. Coach
3. Nilesh Shah, Physiotherapist
August 14, 2010
When asked what India can do to help the growth of basketball, Dwight Howard, Centre for the Orlando Magic, had very simple advice:
“Just pick up a ball and play. Basketball is such a fun sport – the more people play it, the more they will realise how great it is.”
Over the last few days, Howard has been bringing his message of the joys of basketball to India, visiting Bangalore and New Delhi in his tour. India is a country that sorely lacks modern sport infrastructure and facilities, but Howard believes that this shouldn’t deter young players from working on improving their athletic ability.
“I started playing this game when I was just three years old,” Howard said, “Growing up, I didn’t have the best conditions and facilities around me. And I wasn’t always this tall – I worked at this game every single day to get to this level.”
He added: “Inevitably, the game is more about heart and mental strength.”
The player nicknamed ‘Superman’ due to his Slam Dunk competition theatrics said that the most important thing for Indian players hoping to make the NBA is to keep training all the time. “Train in the off-season, train when you don’t have any games, just keep working every single day to improve. That is the best way to stay in shape.”
Upon his arrival in India at Bangalore on August 10th, Howard soon headed to the Sri Kanteerava Stadium where he turned coach, working with several members of the Indian Senior Men’s team. Players such as Sambhaji Kadam, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Prakash Mishra, Jayaram, Harpal Veghala, Hirendra Singh, and Somvir Chahal got an opportunity to get some tips from Howard.
The Indian team, also known as the ‘Young Cagers’, are currently preparing for the Asian Games, set to be held in China in November. He worked with the team on several drills, screen-and-rolls, and post-up plays. But Howard’s focus remained of defence, as he stressed on the important of defensive positioning to the players.
Howard should know – he is the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, having won the award for the second year in a row. His broad shoulders carry with him several accolades, including four all All-Star, three time All-NBA first team, and most entertainingly, the 2008 NBA Slam Dunk Champion.
But there are two moments that he cherishes over all else – the gold medal that he won in the Beijing Olympics while representing the US basketball team, and his appearance in the NBA Finals last year, where the Magic lost 4-1 to the Lakers. “We lost, but people should know how difficult it is to get to the NBA Finals. That accomplishment showed the togetherness and the strong self believe that we all had.”
Howard worked with the Indian team for another day, and also taught some drills to young players taking part in the NBA-Mahindra Challenge in Bangalore. He then came to New Delhi to tip off NBA’s travelling interactive fan event, the NBA Jam, at the Ambience Mall in Gurgaon on August 13th.
A horde of fans followed Howard to the mall to catch a glimpse of their favourite star, and he didn’t disappoint. The mall was covered with fans in Orlando Magic jerseys and ‘Superman’ T-Shirts. A makeshift basketball court was installed in the ground floor of the mall, surrounded by many other hoops, NBA merchandise stalls, video games, and other interactive goodies to present a gala NBA event in India like never before.
Finally, to rousing cheers of ‘Superman’, Howard made his way out to greet the eager crowd. “It was my dream to visit India, and I’m very happy that it has been accomplished,” he said. Howard, whose hometown is Atlanta in the US, says that he felt extremely privileged to go to places such as China and India and continue spreading the message of basketball to people. “I have come a long way, thanks to hard work and the blessing of God,” he said.
“Basketball is a very lively sport – it is my sanctuary – I love to put a smile on people’s faces through the game. I encourage people in India to pick it up too because it has the power of bringing people together.”
Along with the Troy Justice, the NBA’s Director of Basketball Operations in India, Howard took the court where he taught shooting and defensive drills to a crowd of eager youngsters. Chants of “We want dunks!” quickly began to raise, and Howard finally obliged them by slamming one down the basket.
Howard has raised fan interest for the NBA Jam event, which is set to be held in Delhi, Chennai, and Mumbai over the next month.
Additionally, this event also marks nearly four years of the relationship between NBA and the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). Harish Sharma, the Secretary-General of the BFI, was all praises for Howard. "He's 'Superman' both in his game, but also in his heart," Sharma said, "I hope his visit here encourages NBA to continue investing in their work in India and help us in making basketball the second biggest sport in the country."
Howard’s journey will continue in India for one more day, as he continues to take part in the NBA Jam activities on Saturday. He is slated to make one more visit to China before returning to Orlando for another season of NBA basketball that is slated to begin in the end of October. “We have to continue improving as a team, because every other team in the NBA has become stronger.” He further added that his own personal improvement will be more to do with his mental game. “As I get older and more experienced, I need my game to reflect that experience.”
Until then, he can leave India satisfied, discovering not only that he has eager fans thousands of miles away from home, but that he has been able to get through his simple yet important message across to them: Go out and play!