The team is set. The players are ready, practiced, and confident. And the coach has given them all his preperatory wisdom over the last few months as possible. For India's National Basketball Team, the 'Road to Manila' for the 2013 FIBA Asia Basketball Championship in the Philippines has concluded. And now, the continent's most prestigious basketball challenge awaits them ahead.
Instead, the Wuhan 2011 campaign was an unfortunate failure. India returned from the tournament without a single win on the court, and earned a ‘victory’ only in the record books after Qatar was forced to forfeit their classification round game. India’s 1-4 record landed them at 14th place (out of 16 in Asia), and the Natt experiment saw their standing fall below even their previous finishes.
The rise of Indian Basketball took an abrupt pause soon after. The federation's head honcho Harish Sharma tragically passed away in early 2012 and Kenny Natt's sojourn with India ended earlier than expected, fizzling out a period of great promise and potential.
Formerly a head coach with NBDL side Texas Legends, Scott Flemming was appointment the Head Coaching position with India's Senior Men's squad late last year and has brought back some cautious optimism with a remodeled and younger Indian team. Flemming, who has promised to focus on bringing consistency and continuity to Indian Basketball, will face his biggest challenge starting on August 1, in India's first game against Bahrain. And expect the challenges to keep getting bigger from there on forth.
This will be India's 22nd appearance in the FIBA ABC, but their finest days - two fourth-place finishes back in the mid-60s and mid 70s - are decades behind them. India qualified for the tournament this year easily by winning the SABA (South Asian Basketball Association) Zone Qualifiers in New Delhi in early June against Afghanistan and Nepal. India's preperation for the FIBA ABC also took them to Turkey for the past 10 days, where they played against four clubs from the nearby region and won each game by impressive blowouts. Owing to the weak stature of their opponents so far, the team has looked dominant and been undefeated in the Flemming era.
India have been drawn in the relatively easy Group D at Manila 2013, against Bahrain, Thailand, and Kazakhstan. Going strictly by the FIBA rankings, the only team 'better' than India in the group are Kazakhstan, by just one spot. If focused, India should not have any trouble against Bahrain and Thailand, and if truly ambitious, can dream of defeating the athletic Kazakhs, too.
The top three teams from the Group will move on to the Second Round Group F, where they will join the top three teams from the powerhouse Group C, which are most likely to be China, Korea, and Iran (Group C has Malaysia, too). If India make it to Group F, they will play their next three games against these three teams, and their accumulated points from the previous two rounds (or six games) will determine their standings for the Quarter-Finals of the event.
India hasn't made it to the top eight of the FIBA ABC since 2003, and have finished 12th, 15th, 13th, and 14th in subsequent years since in the biennial competition. If they can finish amongst top four of the six teams in Group F - a tough task since it will be near impossible to upstage powerhouses like China, Korea, and Iran - they will get entry into the top eight and the quarter-finals. From then on forth, the knockout round will begin on August 9th. If India is knocked out earlier, they will play in classification round games to determine their final spot.
Flemming has made several changes to the squad that was representing India in Wuhan, leaving out big name players like TJ Sahi, Trideep Rai, Jagdeep Singh Bains, and Prakash Mishra and encouraged a generation of younger players to merge into the senior squad. Representing India will be their excellent captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, talented youthful big men Amrit Pal Singh and Amjyot Singh, energy-boost Yadwinder Singh, experienced point guard Sambhaji Kadam, and a supporting cast that includes Joginder Singh, Narender Kumar Grewal, Vinay Kaushik, Arjun Singh, Pratham Singh and Rikin Pethani. The man in the middle - or should we say the boy in the middle - will be India's 17-year-old, 7-foot-2 phenom who will garner the most attention and interest at the tournament, Satnam Singh Bhamara. By now, Satnam's story of rapid improvement at the IMG Academy in Florida are well know. The youngster, who played a bit role in Wuhan two years ago, will be hoping to breakout against Asia's best over the next two crucial weeks. Long-plagued for not having the size to compete against stronger frontlines in the past, the likes of Satnam, Amjyot, Amrit Pal, and Pethani will now make India one of the tallest sides in the competitions.
If I had to guess, India's starting lineup would be with Joginder at the point, Vishesh and Narender on the wings, and Yadwinder and Satnam in the post. Kadam will provide maturity on the point off the bench and Amjyot and Amrit Pal will come boost the front line whenever required. Coach Flemming seems to be flexible with his tactics and will probably adjust according to the competition.
Our eyes though will be firmly on Team India and their hopes of a respectable finish at the tournament. Check out India's full schedule and roster here to be prepared for the road ahead. And follow the rebooted squad as they hope to bury the ghosts of Wuhan and turn some heads over in Manila.