On an evening where India’s best young basketball talent competed against each other to win the top prize, the real winner was the spectacle basketball. The Finals of the 28th Youth National Basketball Championship for Boys & Girls were held at Divisional Sports Complex at Nagpur (Maharashtra) on Thursday – in both the boys’ and girls’ Finals, each team saved its best defense for last. The boys from the capital side Delhi used their length to snuff out a strong Madhya Pradesh side to lift the title. In the girls’ section, last year’s youth winners Kerala continued their hot streak, going undefeated in this year’s edition and beating a strong Chhattisgarh side in the final to become repeat champions.
The Boys Final was a defensive juggernaut, as both teams played their toughest defense to deny their opponents from getting any shots at the basket. Both teams were quick and athletic, but baskets weren’t coming easy for anyone. Delhi led most of the way though, especially behind the rare combination of skill and size shown by Pradeep Kumar. MP committed too many turnovers as Delhi took a big lead – MP attempted a comeback in the fourth quarter, even making it a three point game with just 5:24 left on the clock, but Delhi regrouped well after a timeout and enjoyed their best offense in the tournament’s last five minutes, cruising to a 58-47 win.
Neither side was spectacular from the field, as MP shot 26 percent, and the winners, Delhi, just 21 percent. But Delhi’s players, led by Akimjeet Singh, did an incredible job attacking the basket, winning fouls and getting to the free throw line. The 17-5 difference in free throws made was also the difference maker between the two teams.
“We prepared for this tournament one day at a time,” said jubilant Delhi coach JN Nehra, “We studied the strategy and playing style of each opponent that we faced, and we prepared for each one differently. That helped us get to the top.”
There was no stopping Kerala as they out-dueled Chhattisgarh in an entertaining Girls’ final. Poojamol KS, who had been Kerala’s best player all tournament, put up her best performance in the Final, putting in 40 points and grabbing 13 rebounds – her opposite number, Anjana Ekka of Chhattisgarh, also gave a tough fight, scoring 37 points to go with 13 rebounds and game-high 6 blocks.
The Girls’ final started slowly, but Chhattisgarh quickly took control of the game. Kerala boasted of several long and athletic players, but they ran into a big roadblock as Chhattisgarh’s 6 foot 6 inch Centre Poonam Chaturvedi guarded the post. But Poojamal was too swift for even Chhattisgarh’s defense, and she shot a high percentage en-route to her 40 point night. Kerala did a great job in combating Chhattisgarh’s size with speed.
The game was reminiscent of Chhattisgarh’s semi-final with Maharashtra, where they came back big in the second half for a close win. It was a different story in the Final: Kerala continued to play well in the second, isolating Anjana Ekka who was on a shooting spree for Chhatisgarh. Poojamal and the rest of Kerala went blow for blow with Anjana, and in the end, there would be no comeback as Kerala won 70-61.
“I was very confident about this game,” Poojamal exclaimed after clinching the title for her side, “Our team had a lot of practice before this tournament to deal with pressure situations such as this final, and I was ready tonight. I am very happy about winning this championship and it is a great achievement for the state of Kerala.”
Mr. Harish Sharma, CEO of the BFI, congratulated all the players who participated in he championship, and added, "I'm proud of these young stars, they have worked hard for this achievement and I hope that they will have a great future. Basketball in India is at a turning point and it will be these young players who will lead the way in the coming years."
Earlier in the day, the host Maharashtra side, whose boys’ and girls’ teams had both lost at the Semi-Final stage, played in the third-place playoff matches. Maharashtra Boys faced a motivated Chhattisgarh, who led the game from start to end for a comfortable 73-56 win. Akash Bhasin, one of the tournament’s best scorers, had 32 points for Chhattisgarh, while T. Shantanu paced Maharashtra with 26.
In the Girls’ playoff, the highly-touted Maharashtra team shrugged off the disappointing semi-final loss to Chhattisgarh from a day earlier and won a highly-competitive game against the speedy girls from Haryana. Haryana Girls, one of the stories of the tournament, stayed neck to neck with Maharashtra throughout the game. In the third, Maharashtra finally opened up a big lead as their stars Shireen Limaye (17 points) and Shruti Menon (16) began to click. Haryana’s fourth quarter comeback wasn’t enough as they lost 70-63. Rimpy Hooda had 21 points for Haryana and Bharti Sihag added 18.
3rd/4th Place Playoffs