Basketball in India made a new type of history when the 62nd Junior National Basketball Championship for Boys & Girls tipped off at the Thyagraj Stadium in New Delhi on July 5th. The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) was already carrying the positive momentum of a successful partnership with IMG-Reliance, the hiring of three world-class coaches for the national teams, and a more organised grassroots development programme: with the inauguration of the Junior Nationals that are taking place in three indoor, air-conditioned, wooden courts at the Thyagraj stadium, the Federation has been able to provide high-quality infrastructure and facilities for the country’s best young players to showcase their talents.
The championship was declared open by Ajay Maken, the Minister for Youth Affairs & Sports (Government of India) who was the Chief Guest of the programme. “Basketball has been close to my heart from the beginning,” Maken said at the opening ceremony, “The Federation has world-class infrastructure to utilise for its National Camps at the Indira Gandhi Stadium and for this championship at Thyagraj – I’m sure that basketball is going to take a giant leap and come up very fast, very soon, on the global level.”
Harish Sharma, the CEO of the BFI, welcomed Maken, and highlighted his support in offering BFI the high-level infrastructure, both at the IG Stadium and the Thyagraj Stadium. “This is the first time in the history of the National Championships in India that we have three indoor, air-conditioned courts for use for the players,” Sharma said, “Basketball is on the rise in India: we want to compete at a high level and show the world that India can be the best!”
The championship certainly started with some high-level hoops action. In a close, back-and-forth afternoon match-up, Karnataka and Rajasthan Boys battled till the end in a thriller, that was finally won by an inspired Karnataka side. Karnataka’s Michael John hit two clutch free-throws at the end of the game to secure a 72-71 win. Karan Joshua led the way with 21 points for Karnataka. For Rajasthan, the duo of Manish Singh (22 points) and Dadhich (17) led a three-point onslaught that almost stole the game from their opponents.
It was a disappointing start for the girls from the hosts Delhi side, who suffered an embarrassing loss at the hands of Tamil Nadu. TN had a blistering start to the game, leading 27-4 at the end of the first quarter, and 41-9 at halftime. A balanced attack from the TN side saw them win by 39 at the end of the game, 74-35.
In another girls’ game, Kerala, the reigning champions of the Junior Championship, began a positive start to their title defense by riding on 40 points by superstar Jeena PS to defeat Punjab, 86-34. Kerala have boasted of great results in the junior levels of basketball in recent years, as they are two-time winners of the Youth title and are hoping to repeat at the U18 level as well. Jeena was assisted by 27 points by Anjana PG. For Punjab, Nagma Mirza scored 26 in a losing effort.
Finally, Chhattisgarh Boys also had a good start to their championship by securing an easier than expected victory against Andhra Pradesh. Chhattisgarh led the whole way, and didn’t take their feet of the accelerator at any point in the game. Sameer Kumar Rai scored 18 points and Bobby Singh added 16 for Chhattisgarh who stood 77-24 winners at the end of the game.
Tamil Nadu (Kiruthika.V 15, Raja Priya 14, Ramaya. R 12) bt. Delhi 74-35 (27-04, 14-05, 16-07, 17-17)