Asia's most prestigious basketball event - the FIBA Asia Basketball Championship - is scheduled to be held this August in the Philippines. Under new coach Scott Flemming, India's 'Young Cagers' will be anxious to improve on their most recent performance at the Championship. But before they can be chosen amongst the 16 squads to compete in Manila, they first have to defeat their South Asia neighbours in a qualifying competition back home. The South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) Zone Qualifiers for the 2013 FIBA Asia Basketball Championship for Men are set to be held at the Thyagraj Stadium in New Delhi from June 2-4.
India, who are the most dominant squad in the SABA Zone, will have to compete against Afghanistan and Nepal in the qualifiers this year.
This will be the first major international challenge for India's squad under Coach Flemming, who was named Head Coach of the Men's team in September 2012 after spending the past two years as an assistant coach with the Texas Legends of the NBDL.
Here is India's 12-man roster for the SABA Qualifiers:
Joginder Singh - PG - 5-11 (Delhi)
Sambhaji Kadam - PG - 5-10 (Pune)
Vishesh Bhriguvanshi - G - 6-2 (Uttarakhand)
Narender Kumar Grewal - SF - 6-3 (Delhi)
Vinay Kaushik - G - 6-2 (Delhi)
Basil Phillip - G - 6-1 (Kerala)
Loveneet Singh - PG - 5-11 (Ludhiana)
Ranbir Singh - G - 6-3 - (Punjab)
Yadwinder Singh - F - 6-6 (Uttarakhand)
Amjyot Singh Gill - F - 6-9 (Tamil Nadu)
Rikin Pethani - F/C - 6-9 (Tamil Nadu)
Amrit Pal Singh - C - 6-11 (Uttarakhand)
The usual big names are there with the squad. Bhriguvanshi and Yadwinder Singh, teammates in ONGC, have been one of India's biggest stars over the past few years. Amjyot Singh and Amrit Pal Singh are two rising stars, both young bigs who can be the cornerstone of India's future. Loveneet Singh is another young star coming fresh out of a silver-medal performance at the U18 FIBA Asia 3x3 Championship. Sambhaji Kadam is the team's oldest player and the veteran point guard will be the team's leader in the locker-room. India's young phenom Satnamn Singh Bhamara, the 7 footed 17-year-old Center, will skip the qualifiers because of his schedule at the IMG Academy in Florida.
Here is the schedule of games at the SABA Qualifiers.
June 2 - 4:00 PM - India vs. Nepal
June 3 - 6:00 PM - Nepal vs. Afghanistan
June 4 - 6:00 PM - Afghanistan vs. India
Coach Flemming feels cautiously optimistic about India's chances over the two games. Speaking on the team's preparations, he said, "I believe we have really improved as a team during our two training camps this year. We haven't arrived yet but our players our buying into our system. We have particularly focused on the defensive end. We have had great practices but we haven't been game tested except for a few scrimmages."
"Although we won't take anyone lightly it looks as though Afghanistan will be our biggest challenge in the SABA Qualifier. They beat our Indian team in recent years and return most of the same players. We have set some longer term goals and I am confident we will continue to improve in the days ahead."
If India win the tournament, they will win SABA's only berth in the final lineup of teams at the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, which will be held from August 1-11, 2013. India finished 14th at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan (China).