Even in our brightest dreams, we wouldn't have believed it, but India's performances at the 3x3 Asian Basketball Championship have truly earned them the respect and fear of the opponents. And on Friday, the performances earned them some medals. The first ever FIBA Asia 3x3 U18 Basketball Championship for Boys and Girls concluded in Bangkok (Thailand) on May 24th with both the boys' and girls' teams from India making the tournament's final. Both teams lost - as Philippines Boys and Chinese Taipei Girls won gold - but a double silver for India has left fans hopeful of a bright future ahead.
The achievement comes less than 10 days after India's Senior Women's team won the FIBA Asia 3x3 gold medal at Doha (Qatar). The performances of the under-18 squads may be equally encouraging, because unlike the senior competition, this tournament featured regular Asian powerhouses like China and Japan.
In the Girls' competition, India were undefeated until they were finally stopped in their tracks by Chinese Taipei, who won 21-13 in the Final. The Boys' final was a heart-stopping see-saw battle where India struck close before a few mental lapses at the very end saw Philippines emerge as 21-19 winners.
India's Girls were led by Poonam Chaturvedi, the 6-foot-7 giant 18 year old who truly seems to be catching up with her potential. Chaturvedi was by far the tallest girl in the tournament and dominated till the very end. Ishwari Pingle, Sharanjeet Kaur, and Vyshali Kemkar were also in the squad coached by Chattisgarh's Rajesh Patel. India's Girls went undefeated in the groups stage, defeating Qatar (21-4), Thailand 1 (20-15), and Lebanon (22-8). They made easy work of Indonesia (21-8) in the Quarter-Final and defeated hosts Thailand in a close Semi-Final (20-18) before qualifying for the final game. Chinese Taipei beat China 16-13 in the other Girls' semi-final.
The Boys' team had a core of young but experienced players Loveneet Singh, Narendar, Syed Anam Ali, and Gurvinder Singh Gill. The Boys lost their first group game in a 21-8 blowout to China, but they bounced back to win the next two versus Thailand 1 (18-14) and a dominant decimation of Maldives (21-1). They were paired against Lebanon in the Quarter-Final, but won their matchup with relative ease (21-7), and then proceeded to defeat higher-ranked Syria 13-11 in a defensive Semi-Final upset. In the second semi-final, Philippines defeated China 22-18.
The bronze medal games were won by China in both divisions, as they defeated Thailand and Syria in the girls' and boys' divisions respectively.
Gold: Chinese Taipei
Fantastic news for India: It's rare to see the end of a FIBA Asia Championship and find India - in both divisions - playing in the Finals! The full version 5x5 FIBA Asia Championships are later this year too: it'll be crazy to dream that they can repeat their 3x3 performances, but at least India can enter the competition fearlessly and with much more confidence than ever before.