July 29, 2011

India Youth Boys to face Nepal & Sri Lanka in Delhi

The Indian Youth (U16) Boys basketball squad will face youth teams from Nepal and Sri Lanka at the KD Jadhav Indoor Hall of the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi from August 1-3, 2011. These games will decide on the team which will qualify for the 2nd FIBA Asia Championship for Youth Boys at Nha Trang City in Vietnam, from October 18-28th.

The 12-member squad to participate in this team was announced on Friday, July 29, 2011:

  • Akash Bhasin (Chhattisgarh)
  • Ajay Pratap Singh (Chhattisgarh)
  • Sanjeev Kumar (IMG Academy / Chattisgarh)
  • Narender (Delhi)
  • Akimjeet Singh Sohal (Delhi)
  • Pradeep Kumar (Delhi)
  • Rakesh Sangwan (Haryana)
  • Syed Anam Ali (Madhya Pradesh)
  • Kushmeet Singh (Punjab)
  • Love Neet Singh (Punjab)
  • Satnam Singh Bhamara (IMG Academy / Punjab)
  • S. Karthickeyan (Tamil Nadu)

  • Coach: JP Singh
  • Coach: J Nehra
  • Assistant Coach: Divya Singh
  • Physiotherapist Neelesh Shah

    Amongst the young stars highlighting this squad are the likes of Satnam Singh Bhamara, the 7-foot-1 Center who has already represented India's Senior squad. Chhattisgarh's electrifying superstar Ajay Pratap Singh will be a major force in this team, as he is one of the most talented and confident young players in Indian basketball today. Three players from the Delhi team which won the Youth Nationals in Nagpur earlier this year - Narender, Akimjeet Singh Sohal, and Pradeep Kumar - will also star in this side.
  • July 28, 2011

    The Mahindra NBA Challenge to tip off Season two in Ludhiana

    NBA Press Release: MUMBAI, India– The Mahindra NBA Challenge, the largest, multi-city, community-based basketball league in India, is returning to Ludhiana for its second season on July 30. The programme, conducted in collaboration with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and the Punjab State Basketball Association, will run for eight weeks, culminating on September 18.

    In order to give more youth the opportunity to participate this year, the programme has expanded to four divisions, up from three in season one: sub-junior for ages 12 to 13, youth for ages 14 to16, and junior for ages 16 to 18 and adults 19 and over. This has resulted in 120 teams registering to play in Ludhiana, up from 72 last season.

    Participants in the Mahindra NBA Challenge will receive NBA-style basketball training in a fun environment and have the chance to compete against each other over the course of eight weeks at the Guru Nanak Stadium. Season two of the programme, which already visited Mumbai and Delhi starting in November 2010, has seen participation increase by 30% from the first season.

    The league will culminate with a weekend-long celebration of basketball from September 16 to 18 that will feature an All-Star Game, semi-finals and finals. The event will engage the community with NBA-style entertainment, musical and dance performances and on-court basketball contests where fans can win exciting prizes.

    The inaugural Mahindra NBA Challenge, held from April 2010 to September 2010, included leagues in Mumbai, Ludhiana, and Bangalore and attracted thousands of participants, including members of India’s Men’s and Women’s National Basketball Team. For more information please visit www.facebook.com/mahindranbachallenge.

    July 25, 2011

    BFI to launch second season of the Delhi School League for 10 boys’ & 8 girls’ schools in New Delhi

    Delhi’s biggest school basketball competition, the Delhi School Basketball League for Boys & Girls, organised by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and IMG-Reliance, will be back in the city for a second season, starting from Wednesday, July 27th, 2011. The league will be held between teams of 10 boys’ and 8 girls’ schools. Each game will be hosted by the home team on a home-and-away basis around the city.

    To promote a competitive basketball environment amongst youngsters in the city, the first edition of the Delhi Basketball League was held successfully around the capital last year. The league returns with the same format this season: the boys’ teams have been separated into two groups of five each, while the girls’ teams into two groups of four. Each team will play all of its opponents in the group twice (home and away) before qualifying for the next round, the Super League, the winners of which will then meet in the Final.

    The league will tip off at the home of the reigning champions, Montfort School, who will play DPS (RK Puram) in both the boys’ and the girls’ divisions on Wednesday morning. Last year’s runners-up Modern School will host DPS (Mathura Road) in both the boys’ and girls’ divisions on the first day.

    League matches will be held from July 27th – August 14th. The Super-League and the Finals will be held between August 16th – August 25th, 2011. The winners of the league will be given cash prizes and bonuses from BFI and IMG-Reliance.

    “We will be looking to continue the positive momentum that we build with this league from last season into this year,” said Harish Sharma, the CEO of the BFI, “This is a unique sports league for the school-level, and it will continue to help us identify young talent in the city as well as help promote the exciting game of basketball amongst youngsters here.”

    Last season, both the boys’ and the girls’ teams from the Montfort School were crowned as champions, after both of them defeated opponents from Modern School (Barakhamba).

    Participating Teams:


    Group A: Montfort School, Delhi Public School (RK Puram), Bal Bharti School (Pitampura), Oxford School.
    Group B: Modern School, Delhi Public School (Mathura Road), St. Michael’s School, Carmel Convent School.


    Group A: Montfort School, Delhi Public School (RK Puram), GD Goenka School, Bal Bharti School (Pitampura), Oxford School.
    Group B: Modern School, Delhi Public School (Mathura Road), New Green Field School, Air Force Bal Bharti School, St. Michael’s School.

    July 21, 2011

    Kerala Basketball: Southern Supremacy

    Two months ago, India’s most talented and most recognisable basketball player, Geethu Anna Jose, conquered new ground: Jose became the first Indian to be invited for trials with the WNBA. After trying out with three teams, Jose came back with no signed contract but with a story to tell and an example to be followed. On the way, the Kottayam-born superstar also continued to cement her name as the brightest basketball product out of the Southern Indian state of Kerala.

    Fortunately for Keralites, the young faces of female basketball from the state are proving that the future of basketball in the state will continue to shine brightly as the present does.

    Last week, the Kerala Junior (U18) Girls’ basketball team went undefeated through the Junior National Basketball Championship in Delhi to win the gold medal. This achievement had come less than two months after the Kerala Youth (U16) Girls’ side clinched gold at the Youth National Basketball Championship in Nagpur. It was Déjà vu in both these competitions, because the Youth and Junior champions a year ago were also Kerala Girls.

    “Basketball is very well-organised in Kerala,” said Jose Philip, the coach of 2011 Junior Nationals winning side, “A great job is done in honing the young crop of players. There are dozens of basketball tournaments at school level and more held annually around the state. Young players have improved a lot because of these competitions and they bring that experience to the national championships.”

    “Additionally,” says Philip, “The players are very sincere and they want to improve. The association in Kerala is supportive and they encourage us a lot.”

    Philip is one of the many coaches of the Kerala State Sports Council (KSSC) who have been working hard to improve their own craft and thus improve the talent level and competitiveness of the players in the system. A month ago, NBA-India’s Troy Justice held a very successful camp for the coaches in Thiruvanathpuram, bringing together 40 coaches from all over the state. “The coaches were very engaged and had a strong desire to learn the technical aspects of the game,” said Justice.

    But no matter how dedicated the federation, sports council, or the coaches are about the game, it is the performance of the players on the court that ultimately effects any squad’s success. Luckily, the new crop of Keralite stars are determined to follow on Geethu Anna Jose’s footsteps and make the state proud like she did.

    Off the court, they look as gentle as they are menacing on it. The Kerala’s Girls’ side, sporting identical long ponytails and thin, athletic frames, may look like a welcoming and friendly bunch pre-game, but once the action starts, the ponytails run back and forth as a singular unified force, attacking and defending to produce well-coordinated dominance.

    Perhaps the most talented amongst the youngsters is 17-year-old Jeena PS. Hailing from Padinjarathara, in the Wayanad District of Kerala, the five-foot-ten inch post player has been the chief force behind Kerala’s recent success in the Youth and the Junior level. Jeena was part of the side that won both the Youth and the Junior championships last year, and was the best players at this year’s Junior Nationals as Kerala won the tournament again. She is one of the best Junior rebounders in India, and holds her own when playing with the Seniors, too.

    In the Junior Nationals, Jeena scored a high of 40 points in the first game against Punjab. She had 33 points and 29 rebounds in an emotional, overtime Semi-Final win against Chhattisgarh, and notched 17 points and 17 rebounds in the Final win against Tamil Nadu. Over the course of the tournament, she averaged 24.3 points per game.

    “Basketball in Kerala works because there are many institutes out there to look after us, provide good practices, and we have good coaches,” Jeena says, “Our current Junior team has had success based on this great coaching – we have good rebounders, we play past, and we always start from defense first.”

    Jeena was also chosen amongst the 30 probables for the Indian Senior Camp under experienced former US-college coach Pete Gaudet. Gaudet is known for his expertise at developing post players, and Jeena came back with her skills even more carefully honed after the short crash-course with the new coach. Even though she wasn’t chosen for the final cut of the Indian squad, she got to spend some time with the post player on whom Gaudet’s team is likely to build around: Kerala’s own Geetha Anna Jose.

    “She is my role model,” Jeena says of Jose, “And I really want to learn to play like here. She helped the young players a lot in the Senior Camp.”

    Jose is a former student of the Mount Carmel School in Kottayam – the city and Jose’s former institution has produced yet another young superstar who is taking Kerala basketball by storm. Poojamol KS, though only 15, is another exciting young face of Kerala hoops. Pooja is a versatile, do-it-all player, as capable of running the break on offense as she is of grabbing crucial offensive rebounds in the post. She was the best player in the Nagpur Youth Nationals, topping her performance with 40 points and 13 rebounds in the final. As a younger member in the Junior squad, she was still good enough to play a starring role in the team’s starting five.

    Poojamol also showed a great all-round display in the Junior Nationals, as she scored, ran the offense, rebounded, and defended with equal ease. It was her clutch put-back lay-up in the semi-final against Chhattisgarh that tied the game and saw Kerala survive in overtime to head to the tournament’s final.

    Besides these two, Kerala’s Junior side boasts of several other extraordinary young talents, such as Premi P Lal, captain Surya PR, and Anjana PG who helped this deeply talented team keep its edge. Coach Philip showed pride in the players, and was confident that the team were always the strongest threat to win the Juniors. “We have many great strengths,” Philip said, “Our team is full of quick sharp-shooters, and play who defend and rebound very well. They are sincere and dedicated.”

    But the real skill in champion teams isn’t to win a championship, but to keep winning, to keep playing at an elite level, year after year, as Kerala hopes to do. “Our players stay motivated to keep winning,” Philip adds, “And they realise that with success in these tournaments they will be given cash rewards, scholarships, and a chance to secure a government job.”

    With the right guidance, motivation, and output, it seems that Kerala has put together a blueprint for success and for producing elite female basketball stars. The young girls have a perfect role model in Geethu Anna Jose, and one day, there will be many more young Geethus following on her footsteps.

    July 18, 2011

    India Women’s Squad for 2011 William Jones Basketball Tournament in Chinese Taipei

    The roster of 12 women who will represent India at The 33rd William Jones International Basketball Tournament, which will be held in Chinese Taipei, has been released by Women’s coach Pete Gaudet and the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). The Women’s tournament, in which India is participating, will be held at the Taipei Gymnasium from July 31 – August 4.

    Gaudet, who has been in training with the women’s probables at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi for the past month will get a chance to see his team play their first competitive games under him at this international competition.

    Indian team for William Jones Basketball Tournament

  • Prashanti Singh
  • Geethu Anna Jose
  • P. Anitha
  • Akanksha Singh
  • Raspreet Sidhu
  • M. Pushpa
  • Shireen Limaye
  • S. Kokila
  • Harjeet Kaur
  • Bharti Netam
  • Smruthi RK
  • Kruthika Lakshman

    Head Coach: Pete Gaudet

    Sonika Ohlyan and Asha Hegde have been selected as stand-by.

    The William Jones Cup is an international basketball tournament held annually in Taipei, Taiwan. It was named after Renato William Jones, a basketball promoter and one of the founders of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA).

    India will play in the round-robin tournament with the four other women’s teams who have confirmed participation in this year’s tournament: Japan, China, Korea, and Taiwan World University Games (WUG) team.


    July 31
    16:00 Taiwan WUG-India
    18:00 Opening ceremony
    18:30 China-Japan

    Aug. 1
    17:00 Korea-Taiwan WUG
    19:00 India-China

    Aug. 2
    17:00 Taiwan WUG-Japan
    19:00 Korea-India

    Aug. 3
    17:00 Japan-Korea
    19:00 China-Taiwan WUG

    Aug. 4
    17:00 India-Japan
    19:00 Korea-China
    21:00 Closing ceremony
  • July 16, 2011

    India is going to the FIBA Asia Championship - Natt's team takes shape

    We must start, as Kenny Natt would probably prefer it, with the defense.

    As you may have already heard, the Indian Senior Men's Basketball team had a better than great week at the office, er, court. India hosted four other SAARC teams (Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan) and competed in the Middle Asia Zone Qualifiers for the 26th FIBA Asia Basketball Championship. The Qualifiers were held at the Thyagraj Stadium in New Delhi from July 13-15th; the FIBA ABC will be held in Wuhan (China) from September 15-25.

    Yes, India were supposed to have an easy time against the SAARC rivals, but this easy? Former NBA Head Coach Kenny Natt, who was hired less than two months ago, saw the Young Cagers play in their first competitive international action under him, and the results were glorious. India won the qualifiers and booked their ticket for China, beating Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and then Sri Lanka again in the Final.

    But back to the aforementioned defense. In those three games, India played its most inspired and organised defensive basketball I had ever seen. In the three games, India's hapless opponents made 37 field goals and committed 65 turnovers. India were ruthless, and they were ruthless from the beginning till the end. The turnovers led to quick offense and fast-break points on the other end.

    These were your Final scores:

  • Pool A Game: India 99, Sri Lanka 42
  • Semi Final: India 120, Bangladesh 26
  • Final: India 89, Sri Lanka 35

    India won each game by an average margin of nearly 68 points per game, and they managed it with only three players averaging in double digits! The defense was marvelous, with India holding their opposition to just 35 points per contest.

    The next thing I must mention is balance: with the opposition giving less than an inspired challenge, Natt was able to play all of its 12 players on the roster regularly. Nobody played less than 10 minutes a game, and no one played more than 23. India played amazingly unselfish basketball, and looked like a real team. Whenever an extra pass could be made, it was. Wing players like Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Hareesh Koroth, Trideep Rai, and Prakash Mishra got a large number of open looks from the three point line because of the great passing and spacing, and the players did well to convert their open looks.

    Despite averaging over 100 points a game, India's leading scorer, Vishesh, only put up 15 a game individually. Jagdeep Singh, who was one of the most explosive players on the court, made it a point to fire up the crowd and indimidate the opponents by a wide array of dunks, and averaged 12.33 points a game.

    The only other player to crack a double digit average was a surprise package - 20-year-old big man Amrit Pal Singh has really come into his own under Natt. Amrit Pal was amazingly efficient, playing just 12 minutes a game but averaging 13.33 ppg to become India's second highest scorer. His presence in the post will a boon for the Indian team in the future, and his combination of size, strength, and speed, will send shivers down opponents' backs if he continues to improve the way he has.

    I was also impressed by India's backcourt bench players, Koroth and Mishra, both of whom played the most amount of minutes in the qualifiers. They were both very influential in both creating the offense for others and of course, scoring themselves.

    Natt's squad had great balance to it in terms of youth and experience. Two players thought to have been left behind by Indian Basketball's youth wave - Sambhaji Kadam and Riyazuddin - made great comebacks to the national side. Kadam was India's starting point guard, led the team in assists, and had a Jason Kidd-esque veteran role as the team's mature leader. Riyaz came off the bench to give valuable minutes as a glue-guy.

    And then there's the youth: Punjab's young, big men Amjyot Singh (19) and Satnam Singh Bhamara (15) took important strides as their made their India debut. Both youngsters showed nervousness at times but also showed flashes of their incredible potential.

    Oh, yes, you read that last paragraph right. Satnam Singh Bhamara, 15. That same 15-year-old, seven-foot-one, son of a Punjabi farmer, who is currently at a basketball scholarship at the IMG Academy in Florida (USA), and in his holidays, made a debut with the Indian national team and led them in rebounds (yes, he did). Bhamara is still nervous, still makes silly mistakes, still has slow reactions. But hell, he's FIFTEEN. Bhamara has a long way to go, but this tournament was a crucial first step in his development as a star for India.

    Natt, a former NBA coach, had little knowledge or experience with Asian competition, but he did a great job in keeping India disciplined, no matter how ridiculously lopsided the advantage seemed.

    So that was India - mostly good news and positivity. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for our opposition. And that is what concerns me, and that is what clearly concerned Natt, who will of course be playing against much upgraded competition in Wuhan. India has been grouped alongside Lebanon, Korea, and Malaysia. There will be no more 94 point wins and Natt will have little room to experiment with the bench. The FIBA Asia Championships will be a different animal, of course, and against certain competition, India may well be at the receiving end of the kind of punishment they have handed the SAARC competition.

    "We're still a young group of guys, and we will still be getting better as a defensive team after each game," Natt told reporters after his first game as coach, "I'm really looking down the road, looking to get better defensively for the future."

    And just as it had begun, we must also end with the defense. India will rarely get easier challenges than they did this week, but to toughen up against the big boys, it will be defense that will dictate the team's future.
  • July 12, 2011

    Junior Nationals: Tamil Nadu boys beat MP to become Junior Champions; Kerala girls win gold again

    In front of Delhi’s large hoop-loving audience that collected together to watch India’s best under-18-year-old basketball players at the Thyagraj Stadium on Tuesday, the eight-day long 62nd Junior National Basketball Championship for Boys & Girls came to an enthralling end as Tamil Nadu boys and Kerala girls clinched the gold medals.

    For Kerala, this win stretched their dominance over the younger-level basketball in India: Kerala have now won the last two Junior Championships as well as the last two Youth Championships. For Tamil Nadu, who ended up as runners-up to Punjab in the tournament last year, the gold medal in Delhi on Tuesday was a fitting way to bury the demons of last year’s final loss.

    In the boys Final, Tamil Nadu faced another team who matched them in high-flying athleticism – Madhya Pradesh. TN still took the early initiative, starting the game hot and taking a 13-point lead at the end of the first quarter. TN seemed to be on cruise control for most of the game, and before the start of the final quarter, were still leading by 11, 55-44. But it was here that MP put up one last inspired run and chased TN, making it a 4-point game with just seven minutes to go.

    But TN regained their composure, made all the clinical plays in the final stretch of the game, and survived to be crowned champions, 77-64. It was TN’s unselfish ball-movement that saw them hoist the winner’s trophy this year. The final belonged to TN’s Sivabalan S, who was able to forget about the disappointment of 2010 to score 34 points and 11 points. Arvind A hadded 18 points for TN. For MP, it was a disappointing finish to a great tournament – their high-scoring dup of Amit Kanarjee and Siddharth Chouhan played well in a losing effort in the final, scoring 21 and 17 points respectively.

    In the earlier Final, Kerala continued their dominance over girls’ basketball in the country by rolling to a comfortable victory over Tamil Nadu. Just two months ago, Poojamol KS scored 40 points in the Final of the Youth Championships in Nagpur to help seal the title for her side. On Tuesday, she again started the game with the fire to give her team the win. After a close first quarter, Kerala began to dominate the second period, turning on their defense, and on the other end, scoring at regular intervals, to secure a massive 18-point lead at the end of the first half.

    Tamil Nadu could never recover from this second-quarter debacle: the match was an interesting battle between two talented bigs on each side: Rajapriya Darshini for TN and Jeena PS for Kerala. While Darshini more than held her own (19 points, 9 rebounds), Jeena put up a strong performance too, with 17 points and 17 rebounds, continuing to stake her claim as the best rebounder in the Nationals.

    TN failed to make up the deficit in the second half, as Kerala’s Surya PR continued her consistent play all championship to put up 28 points. Poojamol ended with a dominant 25 points to go with 15 rebounds. When the final buzzer sounded, Kerala celebrated, having cruised to a 83-67 victory.

    Earlier in the day, Punjab Boys beat Chhattisgarh 78-62 to win the third-place playoff, behind Loveneet Singh (23) and Baljeet Singh (16). For Chhattisgarh, B. Dinesh scored 26 points. In the girls’ third-place playoff, Chhattigarh beat Karnataka to claim the bronze medal in a close game, winning by 78-76. Anjana Ekka (24), A. Kavita (17), and Sagarika (16) were the leading scorers for Chhattisgarh. For Karnataka, Navaneetha scored 27 and Simonelle added 20.

    RS Gill, the president of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), Harish Sharma, the CEO of the BFI, Ajay Sud, the BFI’s Secretary General, and Bobby Sharma, the Senior Vice President, Global Business Development, Basketball for IMG Worldwide, were amongst the various dignitaries present at the Finals.

    The winning teams in both the boys’ and girls’ divisions were rewarded with a cash prize of Rs. 1,00,000. The runners-up were handed Rs. 50,000, and third-place received Rs. 25,000.

    Final Scores

    Girls: Kerala (Surya PR 28, Poojamol KS 26, Jeena PS 17, PG Anjana 10) bt. Tamil Nadu (Rajapriya Dharshini 19, Suganya L 11, Ramya R 10) 83-67 (22-20, 27-11, 24-19, 10-17).

    Boys: Tamil Nadu (Sivabalan S 34, Arvind A. 18, Kasi Ranjan M. 14) bt. Madhya Pradesh (Amit Kanarjee 21, Siddharth Chouhan 17) 77-64 (24-11, 20-22, 11-11, 22-20).

    3rd/4th Place Playoff

    Girls: Chhattisgarh (Anjana Ekka 24, A. Kavita 17, Sagarika 16) bt. Karnataka (Navaneetha 27, Simonelle 20, Sagarika 13) 78-76 (20-19, 14-16, 34-19, 10-22).

    Boys: Punjab (Loveneet Singh 23, Baljeet Singh 16, Manpreet Singh 12, Gauravdeep Singh 10) bt. Chhattisgarh (B. Dinesh 26, Ajay Pratap Singh 15) 78-62 (20-12, 15-12, 26-16, 17-22).

    India Men’s Squad for Middle Asia Zone Qualifying Round in New Delhi

    The 12-man roster for the Indian Senior Men’s squad that will take part in the Middle Asia Zone Qualifying Round matches against SAARC teams in New Delhi from July 13-15th has been released by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and India coach Kenny Natt. India will play their first competitive international game under Natt against Sri Lanka on Wednesday evening at Delhi’s Thyagraj Stadium.

    Indian Team for Middle Asia Zone Qualifying Round

  • Sambhaji Kadam
  • Amjyot Singh
  • Hareesh Koroth
  • Prakash Mishra
  • Satnam Singh Bhamara
  • Vishesh Bhriguvanshi
  • Amrit Pal Singh
  • Eudrick Pereira
  • Trideep Rai
  • Riyazuddin
  • Yadwinder Singh
  • Jagdeep Singh Bains

  • Head Coach: Kenny Natt
  • Assistant Coach: Rajendar Singh
  • Assistant Coach: Pawan Kumar
  • Trainer: Zak Penwell

    India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Nepal will be competing in these qualifiers to determine which team qualifies for one spot at the 26th FIBA Asia Championship for Men, which will be held in Wuhan (China) from September 15-25.

    See the schedule of the qualifying matches here.

    The team above has taken shape more or less like I had expected it to. We seem to have a good balance of experienced leaders, players in their prime, and fresh youngsters who will be getting their first chance to represent India at the international stage. No captain has been announced yet.

    I'm going to guess that Natt's starting lineup will include Sambhaji as the point guard, Vishesh as shooting guard, sharp-shooting Trideep Rai as the small forward, and the Punjabi big men duo of Yadwinder and Jagdeep as our post players. The pleasant surprise at the National camp for the past month has been the resurgence and maturity of Sambhaji: India had been facing a mini-point guard crisis, since Arjun Singh has been nursing an injury and TJ Sahi had to leave camp duo to personal reasons. Sambhaji, one of the country's best ball-handlers and passers, has regained his form and will add veteran leadership to the starting five. Hareesh Koroth will be backing him up off the bench.

    Of course, it's great to see the 15-year-old 7-footer Satnam Singh in this list as he gets ready to make his debut for India. Behind the two starting big men and Amrit Pal Singh, Satnam and Amjyot Singh will be the pups of the big men group: but both the two Punjabis are massive players with massive potential. They may not get to play too much, but watch out for them when they do step out on court.

    We'll find out tomorrow what starting five and tactics that Natt unleashes against Sri Lanka.
  • July 11, 2011

    Lithuania win gold at 2011 FIBA Men’s U19 World Championship

    Lithuanian superstar and captain Jonas Valanciunas continued his dominant streak into the Final of the 2011 FIBA Men’s U19 World Championship to help his side secure the gold medal on Sunday night after defeating Serbia 85-67 at Riga, Latvia. This was Lithuania’s first gold medal at the event.

    Lithuania went on an 18-3 run to end the third quarter which killed off the game. Valanciunas, who had been dominant throughout the tournament, finished with 36 points and 8 rebounds. The young star, who was the named the fifth pick at this year’s NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors, was named MVP of the tournament after leading all players in points (23.0), rebounds (13.9), and blocks (3.2).

    Earlier in the day, Russia beat Argentina 77-72 to win the bronze medal.

    All Tournament Team:

  • Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania)
  • Aleksander Cvetkovic (Serbia)
  • Dmitry Kulagin (Russia)
  • Hugh Greenwood (Australia)
  • Jeremy Lamb (USA)
  • India to take part in Middle Asia Zone Qualifying Round against SAARC teams in Delhi

    The Indian Senior Men’s Basketball team has been pooled with Sri Lanka as they prepare to take part in the Middle Asia Zone Qualifying Round against SAARC teams at the Thyagraj Stadium in New Delhi, from July 13-15. The winner of this five-team qualifier event will qualify for the 26th FIBA Asia Basketball Championship which will be held in Wuhan (China) between Asia’s 16 best basketball teams from September 15-25.

    Pool A: India, Sri Lanka
    Pool B: Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan

    India will play a maximum of three games in this round – these qualifiers will also be the first chance for India’s new American basketball coach, Kenny Natt, to see his team perform in competitive matches against international opposition. Natt, a former NBA coach, has been holding camp with the Senior Probables team for about a month at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi.

    The final 12-man roster for India that will take part in this competition will be released tomorrow.

    The qualifiers will be held in a league-cum-knockout basis. Two teams from each pool will qualify for the Semi-Finals. Here is the schedule of the games:

  • Match 1 - July 13 - 9:00 AM - Nepal vs. Bhutan
  • Match 2 - July 13 - 5:00 PM - India vs. Sri Lanka
  • Match 3 - July 13 - 7:00 PM - Bhutan vs. Bangladesh
  • Match 4 - July 14 - 9:00 AM - Bangladesh vs. Nepal
  • Semi-Final - Match 5 - July 14 - 5:00 PM - Pool A Winner vs. Pool B Runner-Up
  • Semi-Final - Match 6 - July 14 - 7:00 PM - Pool B Winner vs. Pool A Runner-Up
  • Hard Line - Match 7 - July 15 - 3:00 PM - L/O Match 5 vs. L/O Match 6
  • Final - Match 8 - July 15 - 5:00 PM - W/O Match 5 vs. W/O Match 6

    The winner from these qualifiers will be slotted in ‘Group A’ of the 26th FIBA Asia Championship, along with Lebanon, Malaysia, and Korea.
  • July 10, 2011

    Yao Ming lifted basketball in China, gave hope to the game in India

    There is a major reason that we have hope in the rise of basketball in India today. A reason why we feel that, one day, the game can grow in India, one day we can produce our own NBA superstar, and one day, we can challenge the world's best hoop-playing nations at the biggest stage.

    And that reason is China.

    Of course, we have our own way of doing things, our own history in the game, and our own legends of the game, but it has been China's sudden rise that has allowed Indian basketball to hope that one day we can too turn our basketball potential into actuality. Over the past 12-13 years, basketball has seen a meteoric rise in our northern, (sometimes unfriendly) neighbours. It has risen above all to become one of the most popular sports in the country, along with football and table-tennis. In a little over a decade, the Chinese basketball team has gone from strong performances in Asian championships to making a mark amongst the world's best country's, including the US, Spain, Argentina, Serbia, etc. In that same time span, the Chinese Basketball League (CBA) has become a lucrative venture, even attracting former NBA stars Bonzi Wells, Stephon Marbury, and Steve Francis to star in the league. From the grassroots development of the game to the popular fan-frenzy for the Kobe Bryants and the Allen Iversons... China has gone from becoming a sleeping giant in the game to the NBA's largest market outside the US.

    And there is a major reason why basketball is so popular in China today. A reason why Stephon Marbury played in the CBA. A reason why China ranks 10th in the FIBA rankings. Why more and more Chinese youngsters want to grow up and become basketball stars. Why Iverson jerseys flew off the shelves across the country over the past decade.

    And that reason is Yao Ming.

    Two days ago, news leaked that Yao Ming had told the Houston Rockets, the only team for whom he had ever donned an NBA jersey, that he was planning to retire. The announcement brought a sudden, depressing, yet not wholly unexpected end to a short, brilliant, and much-maligned career. China's biggest sporting icon, the man who had opened more possibilities than ever for basketball in the world's most populous country, and thus given hope for a future in basketball for us in India, the second-most populous country, was calling it a day.

    By most standards, Yao Ming did not have a super-spectacular career on the court, yet as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! NBA argues, it is his global impact on the game of basketball that should be enough to make him a Basketball Hall of Famer. The 7-foot-6 giant was the first pick of the NBA draft in 2002 by the Houston Rockets, a choice that immediately brought the NBA to China and had more Chinese fans wearing Steve Francis Rockets jerseys than American ones. That was bound to happen, right - Yao was the icon, but it was his teammate Francis whose game and size fans could relate to more. After Francis left Houston, it was Tracy McGrady. And all this because of Yao.

    From 2002-2011 Yao spent just nine seasons in the NBA, averaging 19 points and 9.2 rebounds per game over his career. After a quiet first season, he soon became a force to be reckoned with. He arrived into the NBA just as Shaquille O'Neal sipped on the champagne of his third straight NBA championship with the Lakers. I still remember how Yao was supposed to be the guy to one day match Shaq. The behemoth clash never really lived up to its fullest potential. By the time Yao got into his prime (2006), Shaq was already done with his. The best thing that ever happened of the Shaq-Yao media-hyped-rivalry was a mixtape rap song released by Shaq called 'How to Rob the NBA League', where O'Neal hilariously bragged: "I got three rings, fool; Yao Ming, who?"

    Yao didn't have the rings, but he did have a popularity to match Shaq. With or without injury, Yao was voted eight times as an NBA All Star, mostly thanks to his devoted fan-following in China. It is bitter irony then that, within one month, NBA fans have had to bid farewell to both these memorable giants.

    Yao never played a full NBA season after his second one. His injury troubles began in 2005-06. From 2005-2008 three seasons, Yao only managed to average 53 games during the regular season. This injury-riddled time also coincided with his peak, as he averaged 22.4 ppg and 10.1 rpg during this time. This fact makes the Yao tragedy perhaps even more tragic - it was in his worst years where he was at his best.

    Yao recovered valiantly to play 77 games in 2008-09, but then sat out all of the 2009-10 season, and only managed to notch five games in his attempted comeback in 2010-11. Through this time, his most gifted teammate, Tracy McGrady, also suffered from various ailments, and the talented duo could never have the success together that they deserved to enjoy.,

    His injury list during this period has been long and horrifying, from developing osteomyelitis in the big toe on his left foot, breaking his right knee, getting a stress fracture in his left foot, and a broken bone in his left foot. It was the stress fracture on his left ankle that was finally aggravated again last season and took him out of the game for good.

    Even Yao Ming's giant legs weren't strong enough to carry the weight burdened on to him. The weight of expectation from all of China, the expectation of carrying both the Rockets and the Chinese National team, and carrying them as often as he could. His knees had been overworked, his feet had run up-and-down the court way too many times. Big men are notoriously infamous for having career-riddling injuries - Yao was amongst the biggest of them all, and even though injuries shortened his career, he was still able to make the most of his time on the court.

    New Delhi, India, thousands of miles away from Yao's hometown of Shanghai, and thousands more from Yao's adopted hometown of Houston. I'm watching the teenager supposed to shoulder India's basketball aspirations, the 15-year-old, seven-foot-one gentle giant, Satnam Singh Bhamara, who has already drawn unfair comparisons to Yao Ming solely due to the similarity in the country's from which they both hail, the potential of where India stands now in world basketball as compared to where China stood 15 or so years ago, and of course, their size. Bhamara is playing for Junior Nationals Championships for Punjab, dominating the competition with a sleek combination of size, strength, speed, and dexterity. His potential, like Yao's potential, is scary good.

    Yao's story, for the sake of Satnam and others, should be a lesson learnt, a parable for how to be responsible superstar carrying the homes of ones countrymen, and how to be careful as a big man and make sure to elongate a potentially great career the way Yao unfortunately couldn't. Satnam may just be the first, but from henceforth, every talented seven-footer from India will be compared to Yao, until the first one makes the breakthrough into global basketball for India the way Yao did for his country. For this, he will never ever be forgotten.

    I'm going to finish with this: My most vivid memory of Yao Ming took place off the court. It was the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The opening ceremony of sport's grandest stage was the grandest opening ceremony of them all, marking China's "coming out party" economically and culturally into the West and the rest of the world. It was an occasion where China got to showcase the best it had to offer in its history, its tradition, it's economy, and ultimately its sport.

    And there was a man carrying Chinese flag on this opening ceremony, the man who led the Chinese contingent, who was chosen ahead of all the others, towering over, giving the athletes and the rest of his countrymen the confidence and the belief that they could stand tall with the rest of the superpowers in the world.

    That man was Yao Ming.

    July 9, 2011

    Kenny Natt, Pete Gaudet, & Zak Penwell hold clinic for coaches at Junior Nationals

    When the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) brought world-class American coaches Kenny Natt, Pete Gaudet, and Zak Penwell to work with the Indian National teams, they also brought coaches who weren’t going to be satisfied by working with India’s national team stars: to truly help the growth of basketball in India and develop the game at the grassroots level, the American coaches took part in a special clinic held at the Thyagraj Stadium in New Delhi during the Junior National Basketball Championship on Saturday where they shared their knowledge with hundreds of gathered domestic coaches, team managers, technical officials, and the players. Clinics like these can help spread the expert basketball knowledge amongst more coaches and players in the country.

    Kenny Natt, who has had nearly two decades of experience as a coach in the NBA, and is now the head coach of the Indian Sr. Men’s team, showcased several drills for the interested coaches from all over India. Natt has been an assistant coach in great teams featuring the likes of Karl Malone, John Stockton, and LeBron James – the drills that he demonstrated on Saturday are amongst the many that he has been using with players on the Indian National squad, and Natt added that these were the same drills being used by the best players in the world in the NBA.

    Natt taught the coaches the ‘Star’ Lay-up and Jump-shot drill, in which the players had to run and touch different points around the court in a star-shape as they also attempted to hit lay-ups or jump-shots in between. For big men, he showed the Tap Drill and the Wrap Drill, useful in helping big men tap-in offensive boards instead of bringing them down. He also showed some defensive drills, such as the V-drill, which helps in zigzag running for 1-on-1 defense.

    Pete Gaudet, who is the head coach of the Indian Sr. Women’s team, wanted to focus his session on ways to motivate young basketball players to work harder. “I know that these players will improve even after the 10 minutes of the practice drill, and I know that because I know basketball players,” Gaudet said. He is right indeed: Gaudet has been involved deeply in basketball for over 40 years, spending the majority of this time with some of the finest college basketball teams in the USA, including Duke, Vanderbilt, and Ohio State University.

    With the help of Indian National players Kokila, Akanksha Singh, and Raspreet Sidhu, and with volunteers, Gaudet demonstrated drills primary for guards, and designed to help the players gauge their own skill-level. Gaudet held a drill called ‘Makes in a Minute’, where he challenged the players to take and make as many 15-foot jump-shots as possible under one minute. By setting a standard for running and working to improve their shots taken and accuracy of each shot, he was able to motivate the players to get better each time they did this drill. The second drill he worked on was a two-dribble lay-up drill, challenging the volunteers to take off from as far as they possibly could from the basket, take two dribbles and make a lay-up. As the player’s moved further from their starting point, Gaudet was able to show the importance of helping them gain a measuring stick and look to improve on it.

    Zak Penwell, who is Indian basketball’s first ever Strength & Conditioning Coach, spent time speaking on the importance of making basketball players agile, run faster, and be able to quickly change direction as they play. For this, Penwell focused on the ‘Squad Exercise’, which he calls the ‘king’ of the exercises. To increase strength, help athletes increase their jumpability, speed, and to help reduce injuries, Penwell demonstrated some exercise techniques using squats to the coaches.

    At the end of each session, the American coaches opened up the floor for a Q&A from the several interested Indian basketball guides.

    While it’s true that the talented and experience American coaches can’t reach every single basketball player in India, but through a good feeder system, their teachings can spread: the Indian coaches will be hoping to impart the drills, techniques, and motivational tactics learnt here to more coaches and more players across the country, and ultimately work in breeding better basketball players in India.

    July 8, 2011

    Capital Gains: A short story of Basketball in Delhi

    “Delhi is the center – it features everyone from all over the country, people from near and far who make this city their home.”

    Chander Mohan, an executive member of the Delhi Basketball Association (DBA) and the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) paused as he said this, and then added, “This means that basketball in Delhi is a focal point of all these different people from different places too: players who come here to study, to work, and become part of the city’s basketball culture. This is the capital, and the central station for basketball in India.”

    The story of basketball in Delhi is a long and not-always-successful one: it may be the central station for the game in India – after all, the head office of the BFI lies in India’s capital city – but for most of its nearly 60 year history, basketball in Delhi rarely produced the kind of talent, results, and fan frenzy that has been present in a few other parts of India.

    Luckily for all those connected with the game in the city, things are changing rapidly for the better.

    The 62nd Junior National Basketball Championship is being held at the Thyagraj Stadium in New Delhi from July 5th-12th: a sprawling stadium with one of the best indoor multi-sport facilities available in India, Thyagraj is playing host to 26 boys’ and 25 girls’ teams for this under-18 championship.

    The Thyagraj Stadium is just one of many new stadia built to support the growth of sports in New Delhi, the root of which of course goes back to the 2010 CommonWealth Games in the city. Much-maligned by dubious scam-claims and corruption accusations, the 2010 CWG at least provided one sure-fire, long-term benefit to the city: the construction of world-class sporting infrastructure. Basketball wasn’t even included in the CWG sporting line-up, but with the stadia free, the BFI came calling to ensure it would make full use of the facilities.

    The most-recent Senior Nationals, which concluded in the first week of January, were held at the glossy Talkatora Indoor Stadium. At this time, another sprawling facility, the Indira Gandhi Stadium, is being occupied by Indian Senior and Youth male and female basketball players, who are taking part in National camps at the KD Jadhav Indoor Hall in preparation for FIBA Asia events later in the year. With the Thyagraj Stadium offering three indoor, fully air-conditioned, and wooden basketball courts for the Junior Nationals, the current championships have made history by providing indoor facility for every single game played at the nationals.

    Delhi has always had good infrastructure, but it has never been this good. It has always had basketball, too: Delhi’s hoops history traces back almost as far as the history of the BFI – with DBA was formed in the early 50s with the mission of creating a basketball culture, holding championships, and ultimately, promoting the game in the city. “The DBA is one of the oldest basketball associations in India,” said Ashok Rangeen, the treasurer of the DBA and joint-secretary of the BFI, “It has been regularly conducting coaching camps and championships in the city for players of all levels – U14, U16, U18 and Senior – and of both genders.”

    Despite this history, Delhi used to lag behind when it came to producing National-level talent from the city, as compared to other states in India. But over the past decade, even this equation has flipped. “Delhi has done well in helping to mould players to become stars for India,” said Mohan, “These days, the Indian National team, especially the woman’s one, is full of Delhi-based players.”

    And this is certainly true: even the current Indian Senior Woman’s squad, formed by new Woman’s coach Pete Gaudet, features five players currently based from Delhi – Prashanti Singh (the most recent Indian captain), Akanksha Singh, Raspreet Sidhu, Harjeet Kaur, and Asha Hedge. Rangeen added: “The number of star players from Delhi has multiplied – it reflects on the success of the game here.”

    What is more inspiring, perhaps, is that fans in the city are becoming more aware of the game – from casual games pick-up games at Siri Fort to competitive matches at Vasant Kunj there is a definite increase in the numbers of basketball players as well as basketball fans in the city, the proof of the latter which is evident by the increased attendance during the Nationals and other basketball-related events.

    “There are over 20 school, college, and open basketball tournaments or leagues that are held regularly in New Delhi,” said Rangeen, “These have really help in popularising the game here.”

    Both Mohan and Rangeen spoke about DBA’s scheme to ‘Catch them young’ – promoting the game amongst younger players to make them hoop-aficionados at an earlier stage. The first School Basketball League was held amongst 10 boys’ and 10 girls’ schools in Delhi last year, and became the most popular of such events. Sponsored by IMG-Reliance, who have been supporting the BFI for over a year now, the school league saw the emergence of some great young talent from the city. Several of the successful players from this league are now featuring in Delhi’s Youth and Junior teams. The School League is also just the first step – sometime this year, expect to see an IMG-Reliance backed College League in the city too, played in a similar, popular home-and-away league-cum-knockout system.

    This effort to ‘Catch them young’ wasn’t born overnight, though: the DBA has been improving its efforts to raise the standards of the younger players in the city for the past 10 years. “We have improved a lot at the Junior, Youth, and Sub-Junior level over the last decade,” said Rangeen, “Over the last year, our Sub-Junior boys squad showed a good performance at the Kangra Nationals, and our Youth Boys won the recently completed Youth Nationals at Nagpur.”

    On the Senior level, it is the Delhi woman, powered by the National-level players mentioned above, who have been dominating the game over the last decade. Delhi have found themselves in the Finals of nearly every Senior National Championship in recent years, only to lose out to their biggest foes – Indian Railways – at most occasions.

    Outside of the official events, there is a lot more basketball to be found in the city. The second season of the NBA’s Mahindra Challenge, an inner-city recreational basketball league, brought the game to Delhi with Junior and Senior competitions in late 2010/2011. This league saw frenzied participation from several schools and amateur clubs in and around Delhi.

    No mention of ‘Delhi’ and ‘club league’ can be completed without mentioning the Prithvi Nath Club (PNC): For years, the PNC was host to Delhi’s only All-India club basketball championship – the Master Prithvi Nath Memorial Basketball Tournament – before construction-work halted the annual tournament three years ago. This year, there was a quick, smaller replacement, as the Reebok IGMA Basketball Association (RIBA) League helped in bringing back all-India club basketball to the city.

    With the youth in the city all set to become the future faces of the game, and the present seniors doing a good job at representing the city, there is no doubt that the capital will continue to become a major force for basketball events and attraction in the future.

    As for now, we come back to the Thyagraj Stadium, India’s best Junior players are enjoying basketball facilities and infrastructure of the highest quality. In less than a week’s time, the Stadium will host a different kind of basketball talent: the Indian Sr. Men’s team, in practice at the IG Stadium currently with Coach Kenny Natt, will take part in a SAARC countries qualifying tournament at the Thyagraj Stadium for a spot in the 26th FIBA Asia Basketball Championship that will be held in Wuhan (China) later in this year. From July 13-15th, India’s finest players will be in Delhi, along with players from Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

    The capital has already brought together talent from all over the country – with its recent steps forward to become a home for hoops, it could be bringing more and more talent from the world to its shores.

    July 7, 2011

    Draw completed for Preliminary Round of 26th FIBA Asia Championship

    FIBA Asia Press Release, Wuhan (China): Twice defending champions Iran will match wits with GCC champions Qatar, East Asia’s Chinese Taipei and the qualifier from the “Stan” division of Middle Asia in Group B in the Preliminary Round of the 26th FIBA Asia Championship.

    The draw for the 26th FIBA Asia Championship was completed at the host city Wuhan amidst a sparkling ceremony on the Yangzte River on Wednesday.

    The 26th FIBA Asia Championship, also the qualifying event for the 2012 London Olympics, will be held from Sept 15-25.

    The champion team from Wuhan will directly qualify for the most significant sporting event at the British capital, while the No 2 and No 3 teams will qualify for the FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament.

    Hosts China as per the procedure of the draw opted to play in Group D after SEABA champions Philippines along with GCC duo UAE and Bahrain were drawn.

    Lebanon, who qualified for the 26th FIBA Asia Championship directly by virtue of winning the title in the 3rd FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup last year were drawn in Group A along with the qualifier from the SAARC division of Middle Asia, SEABA’s Malaysia and recently crowned East Asian champions Korea.

    Japan, who lost to Lebanon in the 3rd FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup, were drawn into Group C along with SEABA runners-up Indonesia, 2009 FIBA Asia Championship bronze medalists Jordan and another WABA team Syria.

    The 26th FIBA Asia Championship is the fifth occasion when China will host this prestigious event – 1989 Beijing, 2001 Shanghai, 2003 Harbin and 2009 Tianjin are the earlier occasions.

    Note: India will host the SAARC teams – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal – at the Thyagraj Stadium in New Delhi from July 13-15th to decide which team qualifies for the Middle Asia 1 spot.

    The Draw process

    The four semifinalists of the 3rd FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup – Lebanon, Japan, Qatar and Philippines – were seeded into four different groups, and the draw decided which group each of them will figure.

    The two Middle Asian representatives along with Indonesia and UAE were drawn next. It was the turn of Malaysia, Taipei, Syria and Bahrain to follow suit.

    At this stage, China exercised their right – as hosts – of choice in the groupings after which Iran, Jordan and Korea were drawn into their respective groups.

    Groupings for Preliminary Round

    Group A: Lebanon, Middle Asia 1, Malaysia, Korea
    Group B: Qatar, Middle Asia 2, Chinese Taipei, Iran
    Group C: Japan, Indonesia, Syria, Jordan
    Group D: Philippines, UAE, Bahrain, China

    Middle Asia 1: New Delhi hosts the SAARC teams from July 13-15 to identify this qualifier.
    Middle Asia 2: Navoi (UBZ) will host Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan as the four teams attempt to win this qualifying berth.

    The top three teams from each group will advance to the Second Round in the following manner.

    Second Round Groupings

    Group E: A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, B3
    Group F: C1, C2, C3, D1, D2, D3

    Each team will play the three (3) new teams in its own group (the final scores of all games played in the Preliminary Round are valid for this round). The top four from each group in the Second Round will advance to the knockout quarterfinal stage.

    July 6, 2011

    Barkha Sonkar: No Fear

    At first glance, Barkha Sonkar is the exact opposite of what you would expect a dominating basketball player to look like. She’s short (only five feet three inches), she’s quiet, and she’s permanently laced with a non-threatening smile that strikes no form of trepidation whatsoever in her opponents.

    That is, until, she steps out on the court.

    On Tuesday, the first day of the Junior National Basketball Championship at the Thyagraj Stadium in New Delhi, I watched Barkha play for the first time in over a year. That is because the 15-year-old has spent the last year as one of the eight Indian hoopsters chosen for a scholarship at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida (USA), where she is being coached to reach her incredible potential as a young basketball star. Back in India for the Summer, Barkha has spent the last few weeks at camp with the Indian Youth team at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in Delhi. When the Junior championships tipped off, she was invited by the coach of her home state – Uttar Pradesh – to represent them in the U18 tournament.

    With no practice or preparation with her squad, Barkha, the youngest one in the UP U18 Girls’ side, took the helm as the team’s point guard, emotional leader, primary scorer, shot-creator, defensive-hustler, and the motor that controlled the team's offense. She finished with 24 points in a 56-48 win against Orissa.

    So what keeps this motor running? Why was this unassuming little girl from Varanasi, the daughter of a humble car mechanic, chosen into an exclusive group of youngsters by the IMG Academy coaches for the scholarship? How has she become the point guard for IMG’s competitive Youth team? How did she dominate various Youth-level tournaments in America, and how does she manage to dominate a game as by far the youngest one on court back at the Junior Nationals in India?

    I guess the most important question here is: At 15, and with all the odds stacked against her, how does Barkha Sonkar handle the pressure?

    Barkha answers by recalling her early days as a quiet, young Indian girl, whose world was completely shaken and stirred when she was relocated from a small basti in Varanasi to the world’s finest multi-sport academy in Florida, where she had to improve her English, get good grades in school, find her way around away from home in a completely different and sometimes daunting new culture, and still fulfill her primary objective for being there: improve on the basketball court. It was a challenge at first, she said, and the confident girl who first left India a year ago came across a nervy few roadblocks in her early days at IMG.

    “I used to make a lot of mistakes initially,” said Barkha, “The other Indian girls in the group (Saumya Babbar of Delhi, Kavita Akula and Pooja Ambistha of Chhattisgarh) and I were very scared.”

    A sponge for constructive criticism, Barkha quickly gained confidence and began to mend her mental roadblocks. “The coaches there helped me improve my confidence,” she said, “And the Senior girls also told me to not be afraid and play my natural game. I stopped being afraid. I let the mistakes happen, and with time, the mistakes went away.”

    She has improved her game dramatically in several different facets. She’s a better long-range shooter now, a more efficient passer of the ball, and a more vocal leader on the court. Add all that to her breathtakingly fast pace and ability to attack the basket, and it’s no surprise anymore that this short point guard can become a devastating weapon for any team. But it is her fearlessness that has given her the edge over so many others of her age group (and older), from inter-school tournaments in America to inter-state championships in India.

    It’s a good sign of ‘handling pressure’ when someone answers that their toughest moment was also their finest: for Barkha, this moment came earlier this year with the IMG Academy Team during an U16 tournament featuring teams from several schools and other academies at New York. Barkha put up a gritty performance in this highly-competitive tournament that earned her the ‘best player’ status, even though IMG lost in the Final.

    Having competed in this and in several other high-pressure situations in the US, Barkha admits that she has discovered how to play with a cool head even in the toughest of games. And with a confident, carefree, and dominant first performance at the National Championships in Delhi, Barkha showed that her young age and small size wasn’t going to stop her from leaving an indelible mark in the competition.

    “Barkha is an outstanding part of this team,” said the Uttar Pradesh coach, Askan Rai, “She is a great ball-handler and leads our team. She has improved our play from all angles and raised the confidence of everyone in our team.”

    It will be Barkha’s performance in the next few games where she will truly be tested. Uttar Pradesh are a relatively weaker side overall, placed in Level II in these championships. For lower-ranked sides, they have to beat more, tougher opponents to move on to the knockout phase. Orissa was an easier challenge, but UP are now set to hosts Delhi and the talented Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu sides in their next few games.

    “We have a good team,” Barkha says, “It will be tough but I think we can do well. We can hope to reach at least as far as the Semi-Final stage of this championship – from there onwards, we shall see how it goes.”

    After the Junior Nationals are over, Barkha will return to practice under Coach Shiba Maggon, who has been working with the Indian National Youth Probables, which will determine the team that will represent India at the 2nd FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Girls in Urumqui (China) from October 5-12, 2011. Unsurprisingly, the determined young Barkha is more than ready for an opportunity to represent India at this tournament.

    From basketball tournaments in Florida and New York, and championships around India, and then competition with the best of her level in Asia, Barkha continues to boast the same confidence to help her succeed at each level. Don’t be fooled by the unassuming first impression: that same small, friendly face will one day be the future of the point guard position for India.

    July 5, 2011

    Junior Nationals mark another leap for Basketball in India

    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.



  • Chattisgarh (Sameer Kumar Rai 18, Bobby Singh 16) bt. Andhra Pradesh 77-24 (30-8, 14-8, 22-4, 11-4)
  • Karnataka (Karan Joshua 21, Hrishi Keshu .B. Naidu 15, Yashas. R 10) bt. Rajasthan (Manish Singh 22, Sharad Dadhich 17, M.P.Singh 13) 72-71 (23-24, 13-15, 11-11, 25-21)


  • Karnataka (S. D'Souza 17, Navaneetha P.U 14, S. Goutham 12, Madhuvri. K 12) bt. Chhattisgarh (A.Kavita 18, S.Mandal 14), 67-54 (12-16, 9-16, 18-15, 15-20)
  • Madhya Pradesh (Deepika David 16, Jhilik Roy 12) bt. Chandigarh 64-17 (12-5, 22-2, 9-8, 21-2)
  • Andhra Pradesh (Shaheen Rebello 11) bt. Goa (P. Yamun 20, F. Jyothi 12) 59-23 (16-4, 20-3, 11-8, 12-8)
  • Kerala (Jeena P.S 40, Anjana P.G 27, Surya P.R 13) bt. Punjab (Nagma Mirza 16) 86-34 (22-5, 11-16, 32-5, 21-8)
  • Uttar Pradesh (Barkha Sonkar 24, Ohriti Aroda 10) bt. Orrisa (Sitamani Tudu 23, Minarshi 15) 56-48 (17-8, 20-16, 12-8, 7-16)
    Tamil Nadu (Kiruthika.V 15, Raja Priya 14, Ramaya. R 12) bt. Delhi 74-35 (27-04, 14-05, 16-07, 17-17)
  • July 4, 2011

    Russia win EuroBasket Women 2011

    Russian Women defeated Turkey in the Final of the European Women's Basketball Championship - or EuroBasket Women - to win the tournament's 2011 edition, which was held in Poland from June 18 - July 3, 2011.

    In the Final, Russia were led by a 18 points and 12 rebounds by Maria Stepanova, as they eased passed Turkey, 59-42, to capture their third EuroBasket Women's title. Russia's Elena Danilochkina was named the MVP of the tournament.

    Russia won the tournament's gold medal, Turkey was given the silver, and France defeated the Czech Republic to secure bronze.

    The 'All Tournament' team was: Maria Stepanova (Russia), Elena Danilochkina (Russia), Nevriye Yilmaz (Turkey), Eva Viteckova (Czech Republic), and Sandra Mandir (Croatia).

    July 2, 2011

    The Big Time - Apply for the basketball reality show

    Here's an amazing opportunity for aspiring basketball players with top-level ability, but who were unable to pursue their hoop dreams. Radical Media, a TV production company in Los Angeles and Budweiser are teaming up with award-winning producer Evan Weinstein (“The Amazing Race”) to create an exciting new reality show offering some lucky basketball players the chance to take the court to play alongside legends of the game.

    Called 'The Big Time', the producers of the show are looking for players who have the ability to compete at the highest level but who, for one reason or another, were never able to pursue their dreams of a professional career. They will be choosing a handful of players, provide them with pro coaching and mentorship, and film them as they test their skills in a series of exciting challenges.

    One lucky winner will get to experience the thrill of playing with some of the
    sport’s most well-known players and, perhaps, receiving a contract.

    All qualified applicants must be over the age of 21 as of June 30, 2011. Applicants should submit a photo, brief bio and a phone number where you can be reached to radicalbasketballshow@gmail.com. Our casting staff will contact them for further information. Radical Basketball are accepting applications from both men and women.

    The good news for some of you guys is that the one of the show's producers informed me that they will be looking out for adding players from India to this competition. The deadline for the applications is Friday, July 8, 2011 - so apply soon!

    July 1, 2011

    Locked Out

    A year ago today was one of my most optimistic days as an NBA fan. July 1, 2010, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer, and a whole host of others became free agents. My favourite team, the New York Knicks, had the money to afford two of these guys, and although we were able to snag 'only' Amar'e to New York in the end, there was that exciting potential of this many talented guys shuffling things around a little.

    That summer, which I previewed in my article on July 1, 2010: the 'Summer of 2010', turned out to be more explosive than expected, and taking the cue from July, every month of the NBA Calender there onwards, July 2010 - June 2011, became more and more exciting. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade teamed up to make the most hyped/hated/talked-about 'SuperTeam' in Miami. The Knicks got Amar'e, and in a mid-season trade, got Carmelo Anthony, instantly bringing back excitement to New York. Boozer joined the Bulls, and became an important piece in their significant improvement last season to end up with the best regular season record in the NBA.

    From then onwards, it was as if the NBA's wildest marketing fantasies came true, one after the other. All of the league's biggest markets - Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago, and Boston became relevant. The NBA featured the perfect mix of old school stars (Garnett, Ray Allen, Kobe, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash), in-their-prime stars carrying the hype of the league (LeBron, Wade, Nowitzki, Kobe, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard), and great young stars looking primed to make sure that the NBA remains in good hands in the future (Durant, Rose, Griffin). Yes, I know I put Kobe in two lists up there, simply because he's old school and still a marquee name.

    You know what else went right? Pretty much everything short of a dream Lakers-Heat Final. The All Star Game got great ratings, a home-team superstar performance by Kobe Bryant, and a grand show by Blake Griffin which included an over-the-car dunk. The playoffs were one of the most exciting ever, getting the fans to believe that the NBA is not as predictable as cynics say it is. And the Mavs winning out in the end was a karmic finish (for those who like things coming full circle and all that) for Nowitzki, a feel good win for team-oriented, "nice guy" play against the three-headed Rakshas over at Miami. Teamplay beat individual brilliance, and it seemed nearly the entire world (except for Heat fans) were happy about this.

    Oh, and did I mention that the Finals ratings were amongst the highest in the decade? Did I mention that, despite a poor draft class, this year's draft got the highest TV rating ever? Despite a bad economy in the US, crowds still rushed to watch the NBA games.

    I can keep going on: internationally, the league kept the fans on its toes and connected better than ever before. The NBA became the biggest sports league since the English Premier League. The NBA marketed itself brilliantly worldwide, and got all the positive responses.

    Simply put: until yesterday, the league was officially in one of the best positions it has ever been, primed to have another legendary, hugely anticipated season.

    That is just one way to look at it.

    Because the undercurrents to this all was a serious, rising threat of an NBA lockout. No matter how much hype you saw around you, there was always a sobering article somewhere, reminding us that the CBA negotiations were not going well, that the two sides were far apart, that a lockout was near inevitable. I didn't believe it of course - I'm a damned optimist, and when I read anything that depresses me even a little bit, I can't pay attention to it. The words skim over my head and I quickly distract myself with something else.

    Unfortunately, I can't distract myself any longer, nor can I ignore this reality. July 1, 2011, exactly a year after that summer of optimism, begins the summer of depression. The NBA announced that it will commence a lockout of its players, effective at 12:01 AM ET on July 1, 2011 until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA).

    What does this mean for us?

    It means, possibly, maybe, no Summer League in July. Possibly No Pre-Season in October. Possibly no NBA Regular Season in November. And if things look really bad (they do), then say goodbye to any basketball until later next year.


    The word 'Lockout' brings out 2 memories to my mind. The first is from my favourite basketball related movie of all time, Space Jam, where the NBA had to lock-out the 1995 season because the aliens from Moron Mountain stole the talents of Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues and Shawn Bradley to beat Michael Jordan and the Loony Toons, aka the 'Toon Squad'.

    The second memory is slightly more real, when the NBA locked-out FOR REAL after Michael Jordan retired (if you didn't know, MJ runs everything basketball. Now you know) in 1998. The 1998-99 season started a little late, and only two-thirds of the regular season was played. The playoffs included a dream run by the Knicks to become the first eighth-seeded team to make the Finals, which were eventually won by the Duncan/Robinson Spurs, and sparked the beginning of one of the most consistent teams in NBA basketball.

    That 1998-99 season was the first real season that I closely followed NBA basketball. That was the season where I could call myself a real fan, not just a casual over-hearer of news. And of course, because of the Knicks' amazing run that year, that the the season that made me a fan of NYK.

    For Knicks fans like me, it's been downhill ever since, all until, ironically, today, when the Knicks are relevant again, and we face yet another lockout. CRAP.

    So as a fan, NBA basketball has come full circle, starting with the last lockout and peaking with this one, before it all comes crumbling down again. I blame everyone involved. I blame David Stern (NBA Commissioner) for not softening his approach to the players. I blame Billy Hunter (NBPA Executive Director) for not softening his approach to the owners. I blame the players for not accepting lesser money. I blame the owners (who say that 22 out of 30 NBA teams are losing money) for being greedy.

    The reality is of course several times more complicated than my super-simplified version in the paragraph above. I actually feel that I'm disrespecting the complexity of the negotiations by that simplified above paragraph. But no matter how deep you go into the issues, it all comes back to the basic, painful truth: there might not be any NBA games in the recent future. Not David Stern, or Billy Hunter, or the Lakers' Derek Fisher (President, NBPA), or the owners, all the other millionaire men in shiny black suits, or and millionaire athletes in fresh NBA jerseys... The lockout will hurt someone else much, much more.

    The fans.

    For the fans, the formula is simple. You can't see your favourite teams and your favourite players perform at the highest level. Until things get figured out, there will be no more excitement of trades this offseason, no one checking to see if rookies are developing, no teams getting upgraded, no faces of NBA players on any NBA websites (this one hit me HARD - check out NBA.com).

    And worst of all, there will be no NBA basketball.