September 29, 2010

Little Mountain town of Kangra soaks in basketball culture

Think Kangra. Think a quiet mountain town in Himachal Pradesh. Think hilly terrain, twisty-turny Himalayan roads, and cold weather. Think temples. Think a few kilometers away from Dharamsala, picturesque tourist destination and the centre of the Tibetan Government-in-exile. Think a little further from Mcleodganj, the home of the Dalai Lama's monastery and a mini hippie-paradise.

Well, if that's all you think when you think Kangra, you need to think again.

For the last week of September, this little Himalayan town has temporarily become the focal point of basketball in India. The Himachal Pradesh Basketball Association (HPBA) is hosting the IMG-Reliance 37th National Sub-Junior Basketball Championships here, from September 24-31. For one week, the three main courts in town have been invaded by fierce young basketball players from all corners of the country – Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Kerela, Karnataka, Goa, Rajasthan, and many more including the hosts Himachal Pradesh.

"There has always been a craze for basketball up here in Kangra," said Munish Sharma, thePresident of the HPBA, "Even though it's a small town, hundreds of youngsters go out and play the game in our courts every day, practicing hard in the mornings and the evenings. Basketball is a very popular sport here, and apart from the three main courts being used for this competition, we have a few more smaller ones."

Just how popular is basketball here? Well, his opinion may be slightly biased, but 13-year-old Nitin Mehra, a local boy who also played for the Himachal Pradesh Sub-Junior squad, said that most kids are seen playing either football or basketball in Kangra. Cricket comes in third place.

"I first got introduced to basketball through my older sister," said Nitin, "For the past three years, I've been coming out regularly and playing. The games are very competitive here."

There has been an electric atmosphere around town ever since the Sub-Junior nationals tipped off here. The scenes around the man Municipal Corporation Basketball Court are surreal: intense basketball games, cheering crowds, and rap/bhangra music blaring out the speakers, amongst the surroundings of an otherwise sleepy mountain town.

But perhaps the most surreal thing is the confidence in the young players – many of them are playing in this sort of competition for the first time, but seem to show no sign of being unhinged by the stage. "I have been playing basketball for five years now," said Chahana Suresh, the captain of the Karnataka girls' team, hours before the team's Quarter-Final match-up against Maharashtra. "We have a much stronger team this time around than last year, and we are confident that we can win the tournament this time around."

Suresh added that the best team in the Girls' section was Chhattisgarh, but her squad was ready to face them, too. "We will beat them by defence – that is our strength," Suresh added, "Defence is the best offence!"

In the Boys' section, the team from Chhattisgarh have emerged as one of the strongest as well, and their captain Tarendra Kr. Yadav feels that few teams will be able to come in their way to the title. "We will play Madhya Pradesh first, and then Rajasthan, who are probably the best boys' team," said Yadav, "But we are confident we will beat them – we have a good team full of talented sharp-shooters."

Another encouraging scene in this year's tournament has been that several parents (and grandparents) have accompanied their children up to Kangra to watch them play and learn the game themselves. "This is my first introduction to basketball and I'm beginning to enjoy it a lot!" said Dr. Meenakshi Dhar, mother of Kerala player Aniruth, "This is the first time my son is representing the state, and we are going to continue to support him discover his talents as much as possible."

Aniruth has quite a support-squad with him: his grandfather Balbir Singh Yadav has also come up from Delhi to watch the youngster perform.

Aniruth said: "These games are very intense – our team didn't know as well as I expected, but we will work on improving our performance in the future."

Similarly, another parent, Dorothy Gomindes, came with her son and her son's team all the way from Goa for the tournament. "This has been a very well organised event," Gomindes said, "We have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in Kangra."

Back to the basketball courts – the cheering crowds have been showing up regularly to support their favourite teams, or just be witness to some exciting basketball. After all, the finest future Indian hoop stars are sure to emerge out of these talented young players.

There has been a great response by the locals to the tournament, believes HPBA President Sharma, and he is hoping that this spirit will continue. "We have done well with the organisation, but we want to improve," Sharma said, "We are hoping to renovate the Municipal Corporation court and make a more stadium-like structure to provide comfort to the attending audience. We also have hopes to be able to construct an indoor court here in Kangra."

When it comes to hoops, the future seems bright for this little town. Think Kangra. Think Basketball.

September 28, 2010

10 Questions - NBA 2010-11

Despite the fact that the NBA off-season was one of the most intriguing in recent memory, it has still seemed long, barren, and never-ending. Mid-June till the end of October? That's a long time, especially for someone as impatient and NBA-spoilt as I am. So what if the off-season chatter included the cementing of Kobe Bryant's legacy, the NBA draft, the LeBron James Decision and the coup over at Miami, the coming of Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and the NBA trophy to India, Carmelo Anthony's indecisiveness, and a dozen other plotlines? I still want more!

But here we are now. Less than a month away from the beginning of the 2010-11 NBA season (about 28 days, 7 hours according to the countdown on As a matter of fact, the totally inconsequential yet still mildly interesting NBA Pre-Season is set to begin October 3, when my New York Knicks head to Italy to play Olimpia Milano.

Yes, in case you were wondering, I am more excited about a meaningless pre-season game between a weak NBA team and a random European squad than I am for the other thing that will be starting in my own backyard back home in Delhi. I can't remember what it is - people keep on calling it some 'Games' but all I hear about is dirty toilets, expensive treadmills, and infectious mosquitoes.

Anyways, back to the point - Yes, the season is creeping up - and I have many (many) things to get off my chest. So here are the 10 most important open questions I have about the upcoming season. Anyone got the answers?

1. What can we expect from the John Wall - Gilbert Arenas backcourt in Washington?
Believe me, this question is a lot more important than the layman may believe it to be.
First you have Gilbert "Hibachi" Arenas, the NBA's former most intriguing and interesting player who's also gifted with a crate-full of talent and an even bigger crate of crazy. Now, you take this crazy-talented player, suspend him for most of a season for bringing his guns to the arena, and then you bring him back amidst trade rumours. He returns looking serious and motivated and he has a new beard, and he's boasting the same kind of motivation that propelled him to superstardom earlier in his career.
Then you pair this player along with the first pick of the NBA draft, John Wall, a player who plays essentially the same position as Arenas. A player who is being already lauded for his explosiveness and his other-worldly talents, someone who is already a favourite for being the Rookie of the Year and a future superstar.
And then you put both of them together. Boom!

Where the hell will Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul start (and end) the season?
Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul have seen their pals LeBron, Wade, and Bosh take the party and the hype down to Miami, making the greatest three-some since the Musketeers. Anthony, whose contract expires at the end of this season, will reportedly not re-sign with the Nuggets. Nuggets have been trying feverishly to get some return for his talents now and not get short-changed like the Cavs or the Raptors did. The situation is complicated: The Nuggets want Anthony to stay, but can't keep him; Anthony wants to go to the Knicks, who can't have him; The Nets want Anthony, but he doesn't want to go there. Add a couple of mean father-in-laws and some song-and-dance routines around the park and you have yourself an NBA Bollywood blockbuster.
Oh, ya, and Chris Paul, too, who complained a desire to leave earlier to his team, but then changed his time and was suddenly excited about the Hornets again. Yeah, right.

3. Which young team will get over the hump?
I already know which young teams I'm thinking about when I ask myself this question.
Over in the East you have the Bucks, an exciting young squad that showed considerable improvement last season, and were one win away from making it to the second round of the playoffs. The Bucks are led by talented big man Andrew Bogut (who actually missed the playoffs) and are supported by Brandon Jennings, one of the most potent young men in the league. Along with the likes of Carlos Delfino and Ersan Ilyasova (both who performed wonderfully at the FIBA World Championships), Corey Maggette, John Salmons, and the potential return of sharp-shooter Michael Redd, the Bucks have a good team which could turn some heads this year.
And then there is everybody's new "second-favourite" team - the Oklahama City Thunder. The Thunder play an exciting brand of basketball, full of tough defence, sprints down the court, and sharp-shooting. They haven't really made much changes in the off-season, but a core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, Nenad Kristic, James Harden, and Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder will continue to be trouble. Don't be surprised if they emerge as the Lakers' biggest challengers to the Western Conference crown.

4. Can Yao Ming dominate again?
I feel sad for Yao Ming. He was once the man solely responsible for making China the basketball-mad crazy it is today (and concurrently, giving hope to India that the same can happen back home. Today, he is trying to recover from a career-threatening injury, and will only feature in limited minutes this season. That's okay, because Limited Yao is still better than No Yao. Here's hoping that the talented giant can dominate the game again.

5. Will anyone watch a Cleveland Cavaliers game?
So, one player left. Wasn't this one of the most popular teams in the league over the last two or three or seven years? What, no more Cleveland? Where have all the bandwagon fans gone?
On second thought, there is one game which will make the Cavs temporarily relevant again. You know, when a certain someone returns to his old Arena to be attacked by booing crowds, burning jerseys, and comically-angry fonts.

6. Which young star will finally live up to potential - Greg Oden, Michael Beasley, or Blake Griffin?
It's frustrating to watch the careers of these three players. Especially the first two.
Greg Oden (first pick of 2007 draft), Michael Beasley (second pick 2008 draft) and Blake Griffin (first pick 2009 draft) all came into the league with great expectations in quickly faded into relative obscurity in different ways.
Oden, who I shudder to call young, has had an injury-riddled career and has thus never been able to play and produce as much as expected. He still has "no timeline" for his return.
Beasley had a great opportunity to blossom next to Dwyane Wade in Miami, and he never did. Now, he has been shipped away to have a fresh start in Minnesota.
And Griffin, who is still technically a rookie since he missed all of last season, is finally healthy to take the court and dispel the Clipper Curse. Or flop and totally confirm it.

7. Will Shaq help an ageing Celtic squad achieve one last hurrah?
I love the way the Celtics have played their basketball ever since the epic Kevin Garnett trade three years ago. They won a championship that year, and two years later, were one game away from winning another one. Most importantly, they did it as a team, playing good defence and by sharing the ball.
But they are oh so old. Paul Pierce (33), Kevin Garnett (34), and Ray Allen (35) can only take them so far. They needed the young legs of Rajon Rondo and the defensive intensity of Kendrick Perkins last year.
This year, they hire a couple of more older guys, a couple of O'Neals, to help them out. Jermaine O' Neal (32) and the Big Leprachaun aka Shaquille O'Neal (38) are in Beantown. Can Shaq really gel with this Celtic squad? Will he make a difference? Will he completely destroy team chemistry? Or will he suddenly resurrect himself in the special atmosphere around the Celtics squad and make an important contribution, especially in the playoffs? I can't wait to find out.

8. Will Kevin Durant become the best player in the league?
I have little doubt about this. All the right signs are pointing in the way, and if I was a betting man, I would place my bets on Durant being the league MVP by the end of the season. Here is why:
- He was the leading scorer in the league last season, the youngest to be so (21), and he will only improve.
- He was the MVP of the FIBA World Championships.
- He is the best player in the Thunder, and will have ample opportunity to prove himself.
- His main competitors are either too old to dominate the regular season any more (Kobe Bryant), have gotten together to share their load (LeBron and Wade) or are a tad bit too inconsistent (Anthony and Dwight Howard).
- The Media likes him.

9. Will the Heat live up to the hype?
Public enemy told me not to believe it, but when you get LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh on the same squad, how can I not? Jeff van Gundy claims that this team will the Bulls' 72-10 season record, adding, "They will never lose two games in a row this year." Phil Jackson told everyone to calm down, saying that teamwork wins, not talent. Either way, this is the big story in the NBA, and all eyes will be on Miami to pull off a historically good season or a shockingly average one.

10. Will the Lakers three-peat again?
Lost in the midst of the Miami Hype was the fact that the reigning champs are the Los Angeles Lakers, who are still here, still consistent, still the team to beat. Lakers have won two in a row, and their core of Coach Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, and Andrew Bynum will return for another shot at the title. It might be Jackson's last season, and the man who has won an incredible THREE THREE-PEATS (wowaweewah!) will be looking for his fourth and his 12th ring as coach.
Not much I can say about Kobe's drive to win that hasn't already been said. No matter how he starts, you know he'll be there at the end, taking the most crucial shots in the most crucial games.
And India-visitor Pau Gasol, who has had a rested summer, will be back to continue building up his legacy.
Lakers have made a couple of important additions too - Steve Black, Matt Barnes, and Theo Ratliff have beefed up their bench.
This is still the best team in the league. Will they win again?

September 24, 2010

FIBA World Championship for Women tips off in Czech Republic

Following the success of the FIBA World Championship for Men last month, attention turns to the Czech Republic, where the best women basketball players in the world have gathered for the FIBA World Championship for Women, set to be held from September 23 – October 3 in the cities of Karlovy Vary, Ostrava and Brno.

The tournament will feature current women’s World Champions Australia, Olympic basketball champions USA, and hosts Czech Republic. Other participating nations are: Senegal, Mali, China, Japan, Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Russia, Spain, Belarus, and Greece.

Indian referee Snehal Bendke has been nominated to participate as one of the officials at this event.

September 23, 2010

Sub-Junior National Championships tip-off on Friday

The season of National Championships has returned! The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) will be organising the 37th All India National Championship for Sub-Junior Boys and Girls in the picturesque town of Kangra in Himachal Pradesh from the 24th-31st of September. Hosted by the town’s Municipal Corporation Basketball Courts, the championship will feature the youngest members of India’s basketball family.

This will be in invaluable opportunity for the best sub-juniors in the country to showcase their skills. The preliminary group games will take place over the first few days, before the tournament will move on to the knockout stage from September 27th. The Final is slated to be held on Thursday, September 30th.

Only players born on or after January 1st, 1997 are eligible to participate in this competition. The age verification of all the players will be done by the Age Verification Committee/Medical board on Thursday, September 23, one day prior to the beginning of the tournament. The Technical Commission will also conduct the Referees’ Clinic on Thursday at the venue.

September 22, 2010

The Purple Room, live from Ludhiana

Over the last month, fierce Toronto Raptors fan, the author of the Raptors Game Time blog, and the face behind the Inside the Purple Room videos Payal Doshi was in India to see sights and catch flights. In the midst of it all, the Indian-origin Canadian also got a chance to witness some of the games at the Mahindra-NBA Challenge in Ludhiana.

A voice-data operator for a Canadian sports channel, Payal has literally brought home her love for the Raptors, and then broadcasted it all over the world. Her "Inside the Purple Room" videos, featuring colourful analysis of Raptors-related stories, have been hitting YouTube from her own room at home, customised to the colours of her favourite team.

Now, Payal hopes to join the growing numbers of young people hoping to give back to basketball in India in her own way. In the future, Payal and her associates are also hoping to launch a basketball website for Indian players, in Canada, and worldwide.

"My first experience with basketball in India was a few years ago," said Payal, "I got the chance to visit a camp held by Baron Davis in Mumbai. As I see now, most Indian youth are still in the beginning stages of understanding the game - what they need is a lot of practice, teaching, good coaches, and need to absorb all information and tips that are passed on their way."

She added: "I am a big fan of what the NBA is trying to do for the game of basketball globally. And with the Mahindra-NBA Challenge, Indian kids are being given a great chance to enhance their involvement in the sport. Basketball is fun, exciting, and inexpensive - find a backboard and you're set!"

Additional to her blog and videos, Payal is also working on her own web-show, entitled Always Looking Up In A Short Girl's World, where she is hoping to focus on the more unknown and underrated basketball talents, and on their journeys in the game.

The city of Toronto itself has many of inner-city basketball leagues, many of the leagues created for the large number of Indian-origin basketball players. Payal has had the chance to follow the careers of the Giant Bhullar Brothers, the seven-footed teenage children of Punjabi parents from near-Toronto, who are set to light the basketball world on fire.

"Both the brothers are currently in High School in the US," Payal said, "Right now, they're popular, but not yet famous. If they keep doing what they are doing, then the sky will the limit for them. They can be a dominant force in basketball."

Payal interacted with several young players at the NBA Challenge in Ludhiana, and was happy to note how excited they were to just play basketball. She will soon be doing a feature on her experiences watching the games and talking with the players, coaches, and organisers at the event.

For now, watch an episode of "Inside the Purple Room", as Payal discusses the (somewhat unfortunate) off-season suffered by the Raptors.

September 21, 2010

U18 team for FIBA Asia Championship for Men in Yemen

The Indian U18 men’s squad, set to represent the country in the 21st FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Men in Sana’a (Yemen), from September 22 – October 1, was recently finalised. The contingent of 12 players, accompanied by two coaches, a physiotherapist, and two FIBA referees, left for Yemen on Sunday, September 19th.

The Young Cagers will play their first game against Japan on September 22nd.

The full U18 squad is:

Rakesh Kumar Yadav
Shadab Khan
Bobby Singh
Rajan Sharma
Arjun Singh
Amjyot Singh
Sunny Raut
Jaskaran Singh Gill
Anant Singh
Dishant Vipul Shah
Ajay Pratap Singh
Berdinent Carmel Joseph Charles Patrick

Head Coach: Ram Kumar Gahlawat
Coach: Senthilselvan Ventriselvan
Physiotherapist: Nilesh Bharat Shah
FIBA Referee: Rajan Vellingirinathan
FIBA Referee: Sharad Vasant Bansode

The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) has also named two stand-by players for the competition: Kirti Goswami and Sukhjeet.

India is amongst the 16 teams in this tournament, qualifying in Group D along with Japan, Iraq, and hosts Yemen. The squad will try to improve its performance in this tournament from the last U18 FIBA Asia Championships which were held in Tehran (Iran) in 2008 – India only managed finish 13th in that competition.

The schedule for India’s first round games is (With Local time at Sana’a):

Sep 22 – 12:00: India vs. Japan
Sep 23 – 19:00: India vs. Yemen
Sep 24 – 09:00: Iraq vs. India

The top three teams from each group will move on to the second round stage from September 25-29th, before the Quarter and Semi-Finals. The finals of the tournament will be held on Friday, October 1st.

India showed a strong performance to qualify for this competition when the Middle Asia Zone Qualifying Round games were played in Bangalore from August 12-14th, as they went on to beat rivals Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka by an average of 39 points in each game.

September 20, 2010

Basketball helps young players realise their dreams

Last week, eight young India basketball players, blessed with good fortune and backed up with hard work, finally made their way to begin their education as student athletes at the IMG Basketball Academy in Bradenton, Florida (USA). The eight were chosen as part of a scholarship programme devised by IMG-Reliance to provide budding Indian athletes with an opportunity of a lifetime to reach their potential in sport.

Hundreds of talented young sub-juniors took part in a Sub-Junior national championship last year, and 50 of the best ones were nominated by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to show up for IMG-Reliance's try-outs in New Delhi in August. Out of these, four boys and four girls were rewarded by being picked up as the representatives of basketball from India at the IMG Academy. This is no small achievement, because the Academy in Bradenton is considered to be the best multi-sport training facility in the world. The basketball academy itself 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 in the past.

They are from different parts of the country, and have very different backgrounds, but all eight of these youngsters have one thing in common: hard work. Most of them have revealed that even at a young age, it was their addiction to keep working on basketball that elevated them to the level they have reached today. Only between the ages of 13-14, these youngsters spend hours upon hours perfecting the game of basketball every day.

Ashiv Jain, who is from Bhopal, began playing basketball four years ago, when he was only 10. "I first started playing the game when I was in school. As I was blessed with good height, I was able to master it early, but I still need to practice for several hours every day."

The 'biggest' attraction amongst the chosen few, literally, is Satnam Singh Bhamara, the 14-year-old seven footer, son of a farmer from the small Ballo Ke village in Punjab. Satnam was recruited to start playing the game at age nine to Ludhiana, and he hasn't looked back. He is now one of the best junior players in the country and his height has already brought the international media home raving about him.

"I still have many aspects to improve in my game," says Satnam, "But right now, I believe that my post/pivot skills are the strongest aspect of my game."

Incredibly, the selection of eight features four youngsters from the state of Chhattisgarh two boys and two girls all of whom who have been trained at the academy in Billai. Dinesh Kumar Mishra, who is from the south-Chhattisgarh town of Jagdalpur said, "It feels good to get an opportunity like this in something I love to do, which is, playing basketball. I am yearning to get there and do really well!"

Kavita Akula, who is from Billai, was put on to the game of basketball through her aunt, who also used to play. Now, on the brink of this incredible opportunity, Kavita has plans to do more than just play. "I want to go there and improve my English," she says, "And of course, I want to see America!"

Pooja Ambashta , from Ambikapur in Chhattisgarh, is the tallest girl in the group. "I liked basketball straight away!" she claims, "I used to watch my seniors playing in Ambikapur and joined in. When I started to improve and get good results, I was recruited to train at the hostel in Billai. That has helped improve my game a lot more."

Chhattisgarh's fourth representative doesn't originally hail from the state Sanjeev Kumar was born in Patna, Bihar, but due to lack of facilities and opportunities around him, he went out to seek another avenue to develop his game. The answer for him came in Billai, where he has been for the last two years. Although short, Sanjeev is a quick and talented player, who says that he will be looking to improve his dribbling and jumping ability with the help of the basketball coaches in IMG.

Then there is Barkha Sonkar, the daughter of a humble mechanic from Varanasi, a town that has produced many Indian basketball talents in the past. Barkha will be taking a different route towards stardom than the rest. "I really like basketball," said the determined young point guard. "I saw my seniors play this game and I wanted to follow them."

Finally, the last representative in this group is New Delhi sensation Saumya Babbar. Saumya has been showcasing her skills in recent weeks at the IMG-Reliance School Basketball League in Delhi, but the Sachdeva Public School will have to make do without her now, as she heads across the ocean and towards the USA. "I have great ambitions," she stated, "I want to help basketball in India and take the Women's team to the highest level. I also want to play for the WNBA one day."

The youngsters already have a healthy habit of practice to start with. Whereas Barkha said that she practiced over six hours daily, the players from Chhattisgarh have been going through a rigorous training of eight hours every day. Satnam hasn't taken his size for granted either, saying that he has had days where he has spent up to 10 hours on the basketball court.

Their training will have a lot more discipline and organisation at IMG, as the expert coaches will be helping the kids through the right kinds of workouts, gym exercises, a variety of new drills, physiotherapy, as well as taking dietary precautions.

We are still four or five years away from fulfilling our dream of watching a professional basketball league unfold in India. But with the hard work put in by the youngsters in America as well as the training that their peers are going to continue back home, it seems that when the league is finally launched, there will be no shortage of explosive talents to propel Indian basketball into the bright future.

September 19, 2010

"Practice hard so the games are easy" - Troy Justice at Coaches Clinic in Ludhiana

Ever since the NBA Mahindra Challenge began to hold its league in Ludhiana, the city's Guru Nanak Stadium hasn't had a calm weekend afternoon. Every Saturday and Sunday has seen hordes of teams from all around Punjab suit up to play in this exciting and competitive league.

But this Saturday was different. With exams in the air, most youth teams decided to take a break from the hoops, leaving the stadium eerily quiet. Well, mostly eerily quiet, because this was the day that NBA-India's Director of Basketball Operations Troy Justice chose to hold a clinic for about 20 experienced coaches from around the state. With the help of the Ludhiana Academy Basketball team, Justice worked on several defensive, dribbling, and offensive drills.

If you're like me, even the relative quiet of the stadium, free from all the hype and the blaring speakers and cheering crowds, would've resulted in a different kind of excitement. Relishing the opportunity, I got to observe Justice teach several drills to the players and the coaches, especially as he focused on every tiny detail that effects the big picture. It is as important to perfect your shooting action as it is to know where to position your feet when defending between two players. It is as important to make that extra pass on offence as it is to know exactly when and and where you should raise your elbow to block off a player trying to make cutting move to the basket.

Justice spoke to the coaches about the importance of being patient with the players, even the ones who were slower in picking up the little details. The constant repetition of the defensive and offensive plays, done over and over again with each players could have been boring to the layman, but to these coaches, it was a fascinating exercise in perfecting your practices. The coaches also took the time to hold intense discussions amongst themselves about these drills. They took notes, watched, and learned several of the drills. I don't think the players involved realised how lucky they were!

Justice's motto for the day seemed to be: "Practice hard so that the games are easy." He said that if the coaches put the players into extremely difficult situations during the practices, they would not only find a lot to teach from these situations, but the players would then find the in-game situations easier. Justice held difficult offensive drills such as pitting three players against six or asking one player to dribble down the court to score at the basket on the other end while being defended by two players.

Additionally, Justice and the players worked on post defence, weak-side help defence, several dribbling drills with two basketballs, and defensive positioning.

At the end of the day, the coaches were presented with a coaching tips DVD and NBA-India Coaching guides by Justice. He also encouraged them to create their own detailed playbooks so that they could be more involved with the design of each aspect of the game.

An afternoon well spent, then. In taking their time to summit together to theorise and practice the teaching of hoops, each of the coaches will be able to go back and influence hundreds of other basketball players around the state and the country.

September 18, 2010

FIBA launches new ranking system

Following the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Men which concluded last Sunday in Istanbul, Turkey, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) have launched a completely new ranking system. For the first time ever, the U19 and U17 FIBA World Championships for Boys and Girls as well as all U16 and U18 continental championships weigh in to determine the new FIBA categories for Boys and Girls.

Therefore the new FIBA ranking now includes five categories: Men, Women, Boys, Girls and a Combined Ranking that takes into account results from all genders and all age categories. The new system makes for a more accurate pecking order of the world's basketball nations.

India’s FIBA World rankings are:
Men: 50
Women: 43
Boys: 45
Girls: 34
Combined: 49

India’s FIBA Asia rankings are:
Men: 10
Women: 7
Boys: 11
Girls: 7
Combined: 8

"I am very happy to see these new and complete world rankings including the youth categories," said FIBA Secretary General and International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Patrick Baumann.

"This is a great initiative and one that has been a long time coming. We have to make sure we reward the countries that perform well in youth competitions because the young players coming through the junior ranks are the best investment in the future of basketball."

The United States of America (USA), whose Senior Men’s team won the World Championship recently, currently rank supreme in all categories, including the new youth rankings for Boys and Girls which have been added in the new system.

See full rankings here.

September 16, 2010

Young basketball stars head to IMG Academies on scholarship programme

Eight young Indian basketball players, all between the ages of 14-15, have been chosen by IMG-Reliance and Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to go to the esteemed IMG Academies in Bradenton, Florida (USA) to continue their education on full scholarship as student-athletes. The youngsters will board their flight to USA at midnight on September 17th along with other Indian youngsters chosen for a scholarship by IMG-Reliance in sports such as football and tennis.

The youngsters will be accompanied to the USA by experienced football coach Bipan Singh

After 50 of the most talented sub-junior basketball players took part in a try-out programme organised by the IMG coaches, four boys and four girls were chosen based on their potential to head to the IMG Academies this year. The eight youngsters will study at the Templeton School in Bradenton and train at the IMG Basketball Academy. They have been accepted to complete their education until Grade 12 from the school and will be re-evaluated in their academic and athletic progress at the end of each year.

The eight youngsters are:

Ashiv Jain (Madhya Pradesh)
Barkha Sonkar (Uttar Pradesh)
Dinesh Kumar Mishra (Chhatisgarh)
Kavita Akula (Chhatisgarh)
Pooja Ambastha Chhatisgarh)
Sanjeev Kumar (Chhatisgarh)
Satnam Singh Bhamara (Punjab)
Soumya Babbar (Delhi)

Harish Sharma, the secretary-general of the BFI, congratulated the players before they left for Florida, and added, "Thanks to IMG and Reliance, these children are going to be presented with an incredible opportunity with a scholarship at the IMG Academy in Florida. This programme will open a new world of experiences for them in America as they study and train at the best multisport academy in the world."

"We are looking forward to them to return to India as basketball stars and influence the level of our game here," said Sharma.

September 14, 2010

India to play to face Japan, Iraq, and hosts Yemen at U18 FIBA Asia Championship

A team of Indian youngsters will head to the city of Sana’a in Yemen to take part in the 21st FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Men, held from September 22 – October 1.India is amongst the 16 teams in this tournament, qualifying in Group D along with Japan, Iraq, and hosts Yemen.

India will try to improve its performance in this tournament from the last U18 FIBA Asia Championships which were held in Tehran (Iran) in 2008 – India only managed finish 13th in that competition.

This year, they will face a strong Japanese team in their very first game on September 22nd. India will play the hosts Yemen on September 23rd and Iraq on September 24th. The top three teams from each group will move on to the second round stage from September 25-29th, before the Quarter and Semi-Finals. The finals of the tournament will be held on Friday, October 1st.

Iran, the defending champions, once again come as strong favourites for this year's competition.

India showed a strong performance to qualify for this competition when the Middle Asia Zone Qualifying Round games were played in Bangalore from August 12-14th.They were led by great performances by players such as Arjun Singh, Dishant Shah, Shadab Khan, Amjyot Singh, and others as they went on to beat rivals Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka by an average of 39 points in each game.

The completed 12-man roster set to represent India in the FIBA Asia U18 Championship in Yemen will be announced soon.

Here is the complete group breakdown:

Group A: Iran, Sri Lanka, Taipei, Malaysia

Group B: Kazakhstan, Lebanon, South Korea, Qatar

Group C: Syria, Philippines, China, Saudi Arabia

Group D: Japan, Iraq, India, Yemen

Can no NBA team use an Answer?

I have been an Allen Iverson fan for over a decade. If you were born any time between 1975-1995 and you like basketball, there is a good chance that at some point in your life, you fell in love with Allen Iverson. If you're short, quick, and like to dribble the ball a bit too much, Allen Iverson is probably your guru.

But in recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to support the former MVP/former Rookie of the Year/former 11-time All Star/former 4-time scoring champions/former two time All Star MVP, and this is because there are a hell of a lot of 'former' great things that he has done and not much in the present. Still, it is a shocker to see someone go from 26.1 ppg and 7.1 apg guy in his last full season in Denver (2008) to being tossed around to Detroit and Memphis and back to Philadelphia and now being jobless.

Yes, 2008. Iverson was averaging over 26 points a game in a Nuggets team two years ago. He played all 82 regular season games that season, but in 2009, managed only 57. That number dwindled to 28 in 2010. It was a mixture of minor injuries, foolish pride, and personal circumstances that pushed him so far away so soon.

And now, with less than two months remaining before the beginning of the upcoming NBA season (YEAHH!), Iverson isn't being courted by a single NBA team. Not one. So what does he plan to do? Well, if certain "sources" are to be believed, he's going to pull a Stephon Marbury. No, I don't mean eat a jar of vaseline and broadcast his life live on the internet.

I mean China:

Unwanted by the NBA, Allen Iverson is considering playing in China.
Gary Moore, Iverson’s personal manager, said Iverson has not been contacted by any NBA team with training camps set to open in less than two weeks. Moore said there is “legitimate interest” between Iverson and a team in China to work out a deal. Moore did not know the team’s name and was vague on details.
“We’re very astonished, to say the least, that not one team has contacted us with any interest,” Moore said. “I just don’t understand it.”

Moore says a Chinese team first approached the 35-year-old Iverson last month.

Furthermore, The Hoops Market reports that "the 35-year-old guard is in talks with Foshan (the new name of Shaanxi) for the next season, according to sources from the Chinese team."

Wow. So it seems AI is ready to follow Starbury on his Chinese adventure. Sure, he'll be popular as hell there. Chinese ball players have long been Iverson fans - maybe its the (lack of) height, or the quickness, or the flashy game, or the flashy off-court persona, or maybe they think that 40 bars is the greatest song ever. Either way, if he does show up there he'll undoubtedly be a success.

But I hope I'm not jumping ahead of myself here. This is Allen Iverson we're talking about. Allen friggin Iverson. Come on, someone in the NBA needs to pick him up already. Knicks? Raptors? Suns? SOMEONE needs an Answer, right. Right?

September 13, 2010

Team USA are World Basketball Champions

The americans are officially back on top of the basketball world.

After what seemed to be like an endless stream of upset losses, mediocre play, underwhelming performances, and bronze medals in the international game, Team USA completed their process of redemption by winning gold at the FIBA World Championships in Turkey. USA beat the hosts 81-64 in the final on Sunday, providing the perfect ending to an impressive unbeaten tournament. Paired with the awe-inspiring exploits of the 'Redeem Team' which won the Beijing Olympic gold in 2008, the US have left no doubts on being the best international team in the business.

But, unlike the 'Redeem Team', the World Championship squad, labelled the 'B' team by their detractors, did not arrive with the same superstar hoopla. The team had no super-duper-star except for Kevin Durant. Gone were the Dwyane Wades, the Kobe Bryants, the LeBron James', and the Carmelo Anthonies. They were replaced by the likes of Lamar Odom, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Andre Igoudala. The only other veteran presence except for Odom in this team was Chauncey Billups.

The 21-year-old Durant, the NBA's leading scorer last season (the youngest ever!) grabbed this opportunity with both hands to become the best player in the world. He ended up as the tournament's MVP, averaging 22.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game during the course of the tournament. He showed up as the going got tougher, scoring 33 in the Quarter Final against Russia, 38 in the semis against Lithuania, and 28 in the final against Turkey. He was the USA's most consistent and trustworthy player, game after game, and has staked his claim to replace some of the other "stars" when USA prepare their squad for the 2012 Olympics.

Durant scored more points than any American in the World Championships ever (205) and scored more points in a single game than any American ever (38). If I had to bet today, I can see him easily becoming the NBA's MVP in the 2010-11 season.

Hosts Turkey put up a brave show, going undefeated until the final, led by Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova. Lithuania defeated Serbia to win the bronze medal, and both teams an excellent overall tournament. The play of the tournament would probably be Serbia's Milos Teodosic's game-winning three to shock Spain.

Speaking of: Spain were probably the biggest disappointments of the tournament. Playing without last World Championships' MVP Pau Gasol, Spain failed to really make a mark, finishing sixth, below Argentina, who were fifth. Argentina featured some amazing play by Luis Scola, who averaged 27.1 ppg (tournament leader), 7.9 rpg, and was an influence all over the court.

FIBA's team of the tournament was:

Kevin Durant (USA)
Luis Scola (Argentina)
Hedo Turkoglu (Turkey)
Linas Kleiza (Lithuania)
Milos Teodosic (Serbia)

Unfortunately, for us hoop fans in India, the World Championships were not shown on TV, because apparently fixed Pakistan-England cricket series' are more important.

The tournament was by far the most hyped World Championships ever, but it still lost a lot of credibility after many of the world's best players decided to skip it. Players such as Gasol, Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni (Argentina), Yao Ming (China), Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), Tony Parker (France), Nene (Brazil), and Andrew Bogut (Australia) did not play. Of course, USA played without and of their Redeem Team players, such as Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Carmelo, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Chris Bosh, and Chris Paul.

It is sad that so many great players (by choice, fatigue, or injury) did not show up for this competition, because a tournament like this deserves to have a stature in basketball equal to the FIFA World Cup. Fortunately, the teams that did show up put up an amazing show, and Durant's heroic contributions will be remembered for years to come.

September 10, 2010

India to participate in World Military Basketball Tournament

Nothing says diplomacy like sports, and as the International Military Sports Council expands to include more sports-related diplomatic affairs, it will be organising the 50th World's Military Basketball Championship in Seoul, South Korea, from Sep 9-17.

India is amongst the 13 Men's team participating. Other participants are South Korea, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Syria, Sri Lanka, Cyprus, Brazil, USA, China, Canada and Qatar.

Source: Central Asia Online.

September 9, 2010

Chelsea FC to tie-up with NBA to bring facilities to India?

I'm not a fan of Chelsea Football Club. I'm a Real Madrid fan, and in England, my favourite team is Liverpool. So when I think Chelsea, I think Luis Garcia.

That out of the way, let me move on to more pressing (and relevant) matters. Business Standard (or 'BS', as they like to be acronymed), have released a bit of news today that announcing that Chelsea FC, the English Premier League champions, are looking for a partnership with an Indian corporate house to promote "football schools, merchandise, cafes, and restaurants" and India.

But that's not all, according to this report, Chelsea is also looking to tie-up with the NBA in India to work together to set up infrastructure.

“We are looking at an anchor partner which has to be an Indian corporate house, which understands the Indian market and not a foreign MNC. It is through this route that we plan to enter India and set up our football schools and franchise our brand,” said Ben Wells, head of marketing of the Chelsea Football Club.

Chelsea is also in talks with the US-based National Basketball Association (NBA) to jointly set up schools — having facilitates for both football and basketball. “There is no clash between these two and as NBA is already in India, we are open to talks with them to build the infrastructure” said Wells.

More good news for football and basketball fans in India... I can't wait till the day when I wake up, switch on a news channel, and I don't see a bunch of cricketers whining about bookies, 99-not-outs, and having to actually run a little from time to time.

September 6, 2010

Pau Gasol in India: Q & A

‘No, I don’t sleep with the championship trophy!’

This article was first published on September 2, 2010, on SLAMOnline.

The first thing that drew my attention toward Pau Gasol was how little attention he commands. Scheduled to start his only day in New Delhi with some media interaction, Gasol inconspicuously entered the VIP lobby and walked through to the meeting rooms. No entourage, agents, body guards, fanfare, nothing. Just a solitary friend who waited for him outside. If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s a 7-footer, Gasol would have passed by virtually unnoticed. Midway through his interaction inside the meeting room, he rushed out to quickly have breakfast with his friend in a corner, in the same lobby area.

India has had a big summer in terms of basketball and NBA promotion, from the visit of Dwight Howard, to the expansion of NBA’s recreational leagues around the country. And, of course, there was the big news that dropped a few months ago that IMG-Reliance and the NBA plan to build infrastructure, train players, and help to eventually launch a professional league in the country. The arrival of Pau Gasol, a Laker (India’s favorite team — blame the TV programmers!), a world champion, and one of the most skilled big men in the game, beefed up the summer’s basketball events in the sub-continent.

Gasol’s trip to India, from August 23-28, was primarily a journey to the community in India through the ‘NBA Cares’ program. As an ambassador for the NBA, 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.”

Gasol 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 25 and at the St. Dominic Savio High School in Andheri East on the 26th. His appearance in the Nagpada region in particular was of special significance: Nagpada is largely a poor, Muslim-dominated area where people live amongst the close-quartered chawl housing settlements, and it’s an area which has also been home to some of the greatest players in Indian basketball history.

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 27. 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.

Gasol again turned into a quiet crowd-pleaser in Delhi, speaking softly and letting his skills do the talking. He worked with the kids on dribbling drills, showed off his pivot, Hakeem-esque fadeaway, and of course, did a variety of dunks at the DPS basketball court, including doing a “jumpman” style dunk over a hapless kid in a ‘Starbury’ t-shirt!

When asked about who he feels is the best basketball player in the world, Gasol didn’t hesitate to answer: “I gotta go with my teammate Kobe Bryant!” When asked if he, a Barcelona native, hates La Liga rivals Real Madrid, he gave a semi-diplomatic response: “I’m not a hateful person. I don’t hate Madrid. I don’t hate the Celtics, either. I don’t like them, but no, I don’t hate them!”

Another special feature of Gasol’s visit to India was that he brought along the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy, which he won with the Lakers for the second year running this past June. This was the first time that the trophy was brought to Indian soil, and it garnered almost 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.

But back to that same hotel lobby, where I finally got a chance to have a Q + A session with legendary Spaniard. Humble and gracious, it was almost like he has forgotten that he’s a two-time, reigning NBA champion, reigning World Champion (and MVP), and generally, awesomely talented. But, don’t let the humility fool you, behind it lay a quiet confidence to keep succeeding and keep cementing his legacy. Gasol talked about Ricky Rubio, the USA team, and the World Championships, the future of India and world basketball, the Lakers, and about carrying around an NBA trophy.

Hoopistani: How does it feel to be in India? Is this your first time here?
Pau Gasol: Yes it is my first time. It is very exciting to get to know this country and promote basketball. It has been an intense and enjoyable experience so far.

Hoopistani: How would you compare your homeland — Spain, not L.A.! — to India?
PG: Well, each country is different from the other in its customs, cultures, tradition and people. India is growing rapidly — but I hope to come back here and have time to explore it for myself later.

Hoopistani: On Spain — How do you think they will perform in the World Championships? (The interview was conducted one day before the Championships tipped off.– Ed) Obviously, they will miss you, but are they still favorites?
PG: I think they will do well — there is a lot of competition at the Championships, and it’s not going to be easy. We have a good team and good players. We have performed well so far in the practice games, winning each game convincingly, and only losing one game to the US, that by 1 point. I will be going to watch them play in Turkey during the latter stages of the competition.

Hoopistani: Why have you decided to skip out of this tournament?
PG: It’s just fatigue… I have been playing a lot of basketball lately, and have been busy with the national team almost every offseason. It is important for me to get this rest this offseason because I honestly felt physically, as well as mentally, completely worn out. I really needed a summer away from basketball because I have a long-term plan to continue playing at the high level I have been playing for my team for several more years.

Hoopistani: Of course, there is a lot of hype surrounding Spain’s next “big thing,” Ricky Rubio. Do you think he can be a success in the NBA?
PG: Ricky will do well — he’s a very hard worker, and although he’s really young, he has always been very mature for his age. He’s extremely gifted — there are few players in the world who see the game like he does. He’s a great point guard and I really like playing in with him.

Hoopistani: What about the US team? How do you see them performing in the Championships?
PG: USA is loaded with guards. They are a speedy team who will be hard to beat. There is a lot of young talent there. They are strong, and will be tough to beat, but they are not unbeatable. Anything can happen in the World Championships — one game can change everything.

Hoopistani: Coming back to India — What do you feel we need to do here to improve our level of basketball to be able to compete on the International stage (India’s men’s team is ranked 52nd on the FIBA rankings)? Countries like China, although not world-beaters, are now good enough to at least compete with the best in the world — how can we reach that goal here?
PG: India needs to involve the youngsters to experience the excitement of basketball. 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, and create competitive school and grassroots leagues around the country.

Hoopistani: How did Spain grow to be a basketball superpower that it is today?
PG: In Spain, it began with a competitive league in the country, and people started to have fun watching the game. Kids went out to watch their idols and watch a good national team. There is complete satisfaction in watching great players defend your country.

Hoopistani: The NBA has been investing a lot of effort into developing the game in India — just two weeks ago, Dwight Howard was also in India encouraging youngsters to take up the game. What steps should the NBA take for India in the future?
PG: 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.

Hoopistani: You have brought along your NBA Championship trophy to India — Is it your most prized possession? Do you sleep with it?
PG: [Laughs] I don’t really carry it, it’s too heavy! Someone else carries it as we fly around! Obviously this trophy carries with it a lot of meaning; it is very precious to me because it’s so hard to get — But, no, I don’t sleep with it!

Hoopistani: Does Kobe call you every day to make sure you’re treating it right?
PG: [Laughs] No, it’s nothing like that. Now that we’re champions, we all have a trophy in our hearts which is more than a material thing. The real thing is too heavy anyway!

Hoopistani: Tell me about your Laker teammates — for two years, the Lakers have proven to be the best team in the League. Outside of the fact that you guys have a great roster and a great coach in Phil Jackson, what makes you tick? What should any squad — be it an amateur team in India or a pro team in the NBA — learn from the Lakers as a team?
PG: Yes, we do have a great team with great chemistry, and we all do well to play our role. It’s a great block of players that obviously starts with Kobe. We have a talented coaching staff supporting us, and have made some great new additions to the team this offseason. We’re obviously the team that everyone else wants to come hard at since we’re the champions, but it’s an exciting kind of pressure situation to be in to have the opportunity to go out and defend your title. We have a clear goal — to win a championship — and we’ll do anything to get it. It takes great dedication, discipline, sacrifice, and commitment to your goals to make your team work. And you have to remember that to accomplish that goal you have to do it as a team, do it together.

Hoopistani: What are the challenges that your Laker team will face in the upcoming season?
PG: Well, there is a lot of expectation on us, but it is a good position to be in. We will have tough competition this year. Many teams have gotten stronger and signed good players — their moves are an incentive and motivation for us to do better. Actually, the biggest challenge to be able to star in the League is to stay as healthy as possible. This is something you can’t always control and you need luck on your side. It’s a complicated situation. Otherwise, we as a team have to make sure to come out this season with a hungry mentality and do whatever it takes to win again.

Hoopistani: What about yourself? What will be your own personal challenges this season?
PG: I have to improve the little things. Since I haven’t been working with the national team this offseason, I have been able to rest and train myself to work on certain specifics of my game. I want to be prepared with the right energy and excitement when I show up for training camp at the beginning of the season.

Hoopistani: Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on this recent championship victory, as well as your successes in the past, how do you foresee your future? You are 30 years old now — how would you like to end your career?
PG: The most important thing I feel is to end on a good note. I want to be in good shape and be healthy enough to keep giving my best for many years and become one of the top players in the world. I want to continue to win championships and continue playing at the highest level. My contract with the Lakers will expire after four years — after that, I will either look to resign or maybe explore other options. I will see how I feel then — it is hard to predict right now because every year is a different story.

Hoopistani: Last question — although you are here in India as an ambassador for the NBA, your international achievements have made you into an ambassador for global basketball. How do you see basketball growing around the world over the next 10 years?
PG: I feel lucky to have seen basketball grow so much already over the past 10 years. 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 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. I think that the game will continue to grow like this. The more international basketball gets, the better — it’s a sport that teaches good values and a healthy lifestyle!

September 4, 2010

Dwight Howard vs. Pau Gasol: Battle of the India visitors

You knew this was inevitable, didn't you? After being relatively starved of NBA star-power for years, the world's finest basketball league decided to spoil us this summer. I already feel that August 2010 will go down in NBA India lore as the summer/monsoon season where India took its biggest splurge towards becoming a large NBA market.

In the space of two weeks, All-Star Orlando Magic Center Dwight Howard and All-Star Los Angeles Lakers Power Forward/Center Pau Gasol landed in India. Now apart from being recent fans of India, these two players have a lot more in common: they are both big players hovering around the 7 foot range, they are both in successful teams who have been going deep in the playoffs the last few years, and they are both devastatingly talented players.

But the question remains: which one of the NBA's All Star visitors to India is a better player: Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol? The two players faced each in the 2009 NBA Finals where Gasol, Kobe and the Lakers beat the Howard and the Magic 4-1. I'm going to lay down my stats and opinions, and finally my choice.

But first, I must answer the more important question of "What is better?" Is the better player the one with the better statistics? Is the better player the one who wins more? Is it someone who can carry a team better? Is it someone who performs better in tougher circumstances? Is it someone with a bigger worldwide influence?

Maybe it's a combination of all these things. And I'm going to use all of those factors, and then finally determine it through a final determining factor: "If I am starting a new team today, which player would I pick first?"

So here we go...

Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic): 24 years old, 6"11, 120 kg, Center
Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers): 30 years old, 7"0, 113 kg, Power Forward/Center

Basic Individual Statistics: 2009-2010 season - PPG: points per game, RPG: rebounds per game, APG: assists per game, BPG: blocks per game, SPG: steals per game.

Howard: 18.3 ppg, 13.2 rpg, 1.8 apg, 2.8 bpg, 0.9 spg
Gasol: 18.3 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.7 bpg, 0.6 spg

Howard and Gasol averaged the same points per game, despite Gasol being the second option in his team (behind Kobe) whereas Howard being his team's "main man". In his last full season in Memphis before going to the Lakers, Gasol averaged 20.8 ppg. Howard, who is the two-time reigning defensive player of the year, scores better in rebounds and blocks (where he has led the NBA), and other important defensive factors that don't appear on the scoresheet.

The "Real Season", as many believe, actually begins in the playoffs, where the games are much tougher and a player's talents are tested more. Here are the statistics from last season's playoffs for both these players: Gasol played 23 games and went on all the way to win the title, whereas Howard's Magic were knocked out in the Conference Finals after playing 14 games.

Basic Individual Statistics: 2009-2010 Playoffs

Howard: 18.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 1.4 apg, 3.5 bpg, 0.8 spg
Gasol: 19.6 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.1 bpg, 0.4 spg

Both players improved on their blocks average, but as you can see, there is a sharp rise in Gasol's scoring and a slight fall in Howard's in the playoffs. Howard also became a worse rebounder. Most of these struggles are due to the Celtics Conference Finals series.

Team Success

This is where the intangibles begin - I place a lot of importance on team success to determine a player's value. Dwight Howard, still only 24, joined the Magic as a rookie in 2004. After closely missing the playoffs in his first two seasons, Dwight has led the Magic for four straight years. For the last three years, Magic have been the best team in the Southeast division over the regular season. In 2009, Magic went all the way to the Finals only to lose to the Lakers. In 2010, they lost in the Conference Finals to the Celtics.

Gasol has had a lot more success with his teams. He has been in the NBA for nine years, six of which he spent with the Memphis Grizzlies. The team moved from Vancouver to Memphis in his first season there. In six full season's with the Grizzlies, Gasol saw Playoffs three times, each time to lose out in the first round. To be fair, the Grizzlies were a much inferior team who overachieved every year in a tough conference. But Gasol immediately showed his class after being traded to the Lakers half-way through the 2007-08 season. The Lakers became a world-class team again and made the NBA Finals for three straight years, winning the Championship twice. What is more astonishing is that he Lakers have only lost three straight games once in the Gasol era!

Both Howard and Gasol have had international success with USA and Spain respectively. Howard followed the "disappointment" of a Bronze medal in the 2006 World Championships with a Gold over Gasol's Spanish team at the 2008 Olympics. Gasol's Spain won the 2006 Championships Gold (with Gasol named the MVP of the tournament) and his team won Silver at the 2008 Olympics. In the FIBA European Championships, Gasol and Spain have won Gold (2009), Silver twice (2007, 2003), and Bronze (2001).

Howard never got the opportunity to star in a packed US squad filled with players like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, etc, whereas Gasol has always been the first option for Spain.

More Valuable?

The last few categories may have made the questions of better statistics, better performance under pressure, and more team success, but the question remains: Given the same set of circumstances, which player would perform better? Would the Lakers win even more games if they traded Dwight Howard for Pau Gasol? Would the Magic continue to perform so well consistently if they had Gasol instead of Howard in the middle for them?

Gasol has had the luxury of having one of the NBA's best players in Kobe Bryant, the NBA's best coach in Phil Jackson, and an amazing supporting cast including Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom and others backing him. Howard's Magic may not be as star-studded, but they are certainly one of the deepest teams in the League, with talent pouring out of even their 11th and 12th best players. Last season, Dwight was surrounded by players like Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Matt Barnes, Brandon Bass, Adonal Foyle, Jason Williams, Mikael Pietrus, Marcin Gortat, and others. Stan Van Gundy isn't a bad coach, either.

My opinion is this: Gasol wouldn't be able to carry his team as far as Howard does every year. But conversely, I don't think Howard has the ability to carry a team with a different system (like Spain), or be able to play an ideal complementary player to someone like Kobe in LA. The biggest reason for the Lakers' consistent success since the Gasol trade has been the fact that Gasol eases can ease between being a main player to a complementary team player with ease. His shooting and passing make him stand-out in Phil Jackson's system, something that Howard would've struggled with.

The two also have a curious distinction: Howard is a stronger player physically whose biggest drawback may be his mental ability. Gasol is a relatively softer player but has shown championship caliber and toughness - especially against Garnett and the Celtics these last finals. I am actually of the opinion that Gasol should have been named the Finals MVP this time instead of Kobe.

The other major difference is in offence and defence: Gasol is one of the best offensive big men in the league (perhaps second only to Dirk Nowitzki), but has been exposed for his defensive problems in the past. Howard is a two-time defensive player of the year, a monster in the paint on defence, but hardly has any offensive post moves to stand amongst the greats.

There is one other clear advantage Howard has - he is about six years youngster than Gasol, and thus can be potentially a much greater player.

So, who do I pick?

So if it comes down to it today: I'm starting a new NBA franchise, I have no player on my team yet, and can make my first choice between Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. There is also no guarantee how good my supporting cast will be - it could be LeBron James and Dwyane Wade or it could be Mo Williams and Jamario Moon.

And with my first pick I choose... (drumroll)... Pau Gasol!

He may be older and lacking in some of the raw atletism that Howard is gifted with, but Gasol will guarantee me a competitive team with any kind of roster.

Phew! Do you think I'm right? Or do you think I need to get some more sleep to think clearly? Both of them came to India, but who do you choose for your team - Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol?

September 3, 2010

Indian team returns with a 2-5 record from Youth Olympics

The Indian youth basketball team may have come back from the Singapore Youth Olympic Games (YOG) with a losing record, but gained valuable experience playing with youngsters from some of the top hoop countries in the world, as well as became part of a select few countries to play in FIBA's new 3-on-3 form on an official world stage.

Four Indian youth players – Shyam Sunder (Chhattigarh), Sukhjeet (Delhi), Amit Kanarjee (Madhya Pradesh), and Kirti Goswami (Madhya Pradesh) – represented India in the basketball tournament at the YOG. The four youngsters were accompanied to Singapore by their coach Shanmugam Sridhar. The team finished 18th out of the 20 participants.

Each game in the tournament was set to be 15 minutes long, with three quick five minute periods. The first team to 33 or the team that is leading at the end of regulation time wins. It was a fast-paced affair since each possession was only allowed a 10-second shot clock and a shot could only be pulled up after at least two passes per possession.

"This competition was a great experience for these youngsters," said Sridhar, "The YOG is a big competition. All the players performed well – we always managed to keep the games close in the first half before conceding heavily in the end. I think we would have performed better had we had taller players."

India were pitted in a group with Puerto Rico, Greece, New Zealand, and Gold Medal winners Serbia. Although they lost all their group games, they fared well in the 17th-20th place playoffs, beating Panama and South Africa before losing to hosts Singapore in the finale. Another positive was that the team showed an improved performance after every result until their last game.

Kirti Goswami was the leading scorer of India, pitching in 47 points over the seven games, at an average of 6.71 ppg. Goswami also received third place in a shooting competition held at the YOG.

"The 3-on-3 format made for very quick games," added Sridhar, "It especially helped in showcasing the talent's of individual players."

The complete results were:

Boys Preliminary Group A

- India – Puerto Rico: 15-33
- India – Serbia: 19-33
- India – Greece: 20-33
- India – New Zealand: 12-17

Boys Round Robin 17-20

- India – Panama: 28-22
- India – South Africa: 27-11
- India – Singapore: 20-31

The Boys' Gold was won by Serbia, who beat Croatia 22-9 in the Final.

Here's a video with highlights of India's win over South Africa