June 1, 2011

Despite QF exit, Haryana Boys basketball takes a big step forward



It seemed too good to be true. A side pooled into the lower level of the tournament demolishes every rival that comes its way and finds itself in a dream Quarter Final match-up against its big-name neighbour. Despite being underdogs, it dominates the proceedings, threatening to cause a historical upset.

But in the fourth quarter their dreams come crashing down. Despite leading by 8 points, their opponents make a fierce comeback in the fourth and take the lead. With the game on the line and a little over a second on the clock, the underdog side gets one last attempt at the basket. Their star player attempts a jump-shot from the left corner, one last shot that would win the game for his team and lead them into an unlikely Semi-Final spot.

Miss!

The ball touches on the far side of the rim and bounces off. The fairytale ends, and the losing team leaves the court dejected.

The Haryana Boys team, a side that haven’t made a mark in the tournament for nearly 20 years, went on a dream run at the 28th Youth National Basketball Championship for Boys & Girls at Nagpur and came within a jump-shot of defeating the capital side of Delhi and making it to the last four. But don’t tell them that the fairy-tale is over, because as coach Mahtab Dahiya and his group of hard-working young players will have you believe, this year is just the beginning: with a big step forward in this tournament, this team has ambitions for the gold next year.

“This is the best performance that we have had for many years, and after winning six straight games we lost just by one point,” said Coach Dahiya, clearly dejected after an early end to his team’s run, “But we have done well – and from being a lower level team this year, we have qualified to be amongst the higher level for the next Youth Nationals.”

Their best performance, Dahiya states, came against another stronger side, Andhra Pradesh. Before their Quarter-Final, Haryana played AP in an early morning game on the same day, and his players responded with a strong showing, defeating AP by 73 points en route to posting highest offensive score of the championship with 119 points.

So how did a team, who aren’t known to make a mark in Basketball tournaments in India, manage to do this well? Dahiya and his players claim that there was no magic formula, no superstar addition, and no major tactical change: just the good old cliché of ‘practice makes perfect’. “We just practiced harder for this tournament than ever before,” Dahiya said, “For the first time, we held a month-long camp before the tournament started in Kaithal in Haryana. We used to practice an hour a day first, and now, this team practice for two to two and a half hours daily.”

Haryana Boys won their first six games of the championship, beating Chandigarh, Pondicherry, Kerala, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh before their hurdle against Delhi. “We got unlucky,” Dahiya added, “We had ambitions to win the gold, but our luck didn’t favour our ambition.” Haryana were determined to make a mark in the championship this year, and even though they haven’t progressed beyond the last eight, their promotion from Lower to Higher Level is a result of the hard work that this team had put in.

On the way, players like Himanshu Sharma, Rakesh Sangwan, and Rahul Sharma left an indelible mark on the championship. Himanshu, the team’s leader from the front, has been the team’s best creator, dishing and driving at will throughout the tournament. He also epitomises the unselfish spirit of this team, deflecting any praise away from himself towards his teammates. “My individual play was fine, but our team as a whole showed good chemistry to come this far,” he said.

Rakesh Sangwan, at 6 foot 6, is the biggest player in the side, and was a handful in the post position in each game. After picking up the game just two years ago, he developed quickly to seal the starting role for Haryana.

And then there was Rahul Sharma, one of the youngsters in the side, a strong shooter who will be part of the Haryana U16 side next year, too. “We all had good performances,” Rahum said, “But next year, we plan to play even better. It will be the upper group, and we will play against better teams, but I promise we’ll be ready for it.”

And like his players, the coach also shares their confidence. “70% of this team can be back for next year’s Youth Nationals,” said Dahiya, “We will be back – and we will aim for the gold.”

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