93 points per game. That was the average margin of victory for India's U16 Boys basketball team, as they faced U16 teams from Nepal and Sri Lanka on August 2-3, at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi. The purpose of this slaughter? The three teams were brought together to fight for a spot at the 2nd U16 FIBA Asia Championship, which will be held at Nha Trang City in Vietnam from October 18-28th. India's qualification was never in question, but the full destructive force by which the young stars went about their business was remarkable, indeed.
Here is a complete dissection.
India prepared the best possible team for this competition: The U16 probables had already been in camp in Delhi, preparing for the qualifiers and for the FIBA Asia event later this year, for one and a half months. What this side truly boasted of was experience: in players such as Chhattisgarh's Ajay Pratap Singh, Punjab's Kushmeet Singh and Love Neet Singh, MP's Syed Anam Ali, and Delhi's Narender, India had players who had been superstars in their own right of their age level. Added to this group were two players who are currently on scholarship at the IMG Academy in the USA: Chhattisgarh's guard Sanjeev Kumar, and the biggest name of them all, Punjab's 7-foot-1, 15-year-old giant, Satnam Singh Bhamara.
So when this group, along with several others, took the court to play our hapless neighbours, the results were expectedly lopsided. India defeated Nepal by 98 points in the first game, running and gunning behind seven players who scored in double digits. Ajay Pratap Singh and Love Neet Singh led the scoring with 19 and 18 points respectively. One of the true eye-popping numbers in this game was the score at the end of three quarters: 100-20. The final score, no less impressive: 134-36.
Leading the players from the sidelines were Delhi-based coaches JP Singh, J Nehra, and former Indian Women's superstar Divya Singh. I overheard something interesting from one of the probables that didn't make the squad about Coach Singh: "He said that 'When you're in my team, I have no feeders, no forwards, and no pivot players. You must be ready to play whatever position I ask you to play'." And true to this, most of the players, except for perhaps the bigs Satnam and Rakesh Sangwan, played as fluidly as they possibly could.
In the final against Sri Lanka on Wednesday, India fielded a big starting lineup, where our small forward, Ajay, was perhaps as tall as our opponent's Center (6'4"). On PF was 6'6" Sangwan, and Satnam held on to the Center position.
This was the kind of game that would have basketball scouts salivating on Satnam's potential. Let me make a note here that this was the first time really that I was watching Satnam play competitively against guys of his own age group. Despite the fact that he has represented Punjab at the U18 and India at the Senior level over the past month, he is still only a 15-year-old, and qualified to play for the U16 level, too. After a relatively easy first game (13 points, 3-4 blocks), Satnam EXPLODED against Sri Lanka. His teammates did a good job in getting him the ball, and he rewarded them with aggressive inside offense. Satnam was near-automatic against the hapless defenders once he got the ball inside. In roughly 26 minutes of action, he scored 28 points (barely missing any shots), brought down 8 rebounds, and got three highlight-reel blocks.
The rest of the team, meanwhile, continued dominating like they did a day before. The smaller players like Narender, Kushmeet, and Love Neet were too fast for Sri Lanka, as they caused dozens of turnovers with their full-court press, and on the other end, scored with ease on tireless fast-breaks. India cruised to an 88 point victory in the final, 122-34.
Entry into the U16 FIBA Asia Championship secure, this team now has a lot more time before October to continue improving. If they can keep this core together and motivated, they may well spring a surprise or two against Asia's powerhouses. And even if they don't yet, their play over these two games, albeit against weak competition, has proved that Indian basketball fans can rest assured: the future of the game is bright, indeed!
Here are the scores from the two games: