October 29, 2013

This season's forecast: An NBA doubleheader every day for fans in India!

There was once a time in the dark ages of communications, before mobile phones and before the internet blew up, that the only way for an Indian fan to follow NBA basketball was to watch the twice-a-week live games on TV. These games were early in the morning, and just couldn't come often enough for us. We planned our lives around these two games and were always desperate to watch more.

Things improved over the next decade, and the web opened a plethora of possibilities for the international NBA fanatic. TV broadcast deals with Ten Sports and Sony PIX, and then eventually, exclusively with Sony SIX, ensure that during the regular season, there would be around five live games for fans every week. We were spoiled, for we could potentially be watching a live NBA game nearly every day during the season. Now, instead of planning our week around those semi-weekly games, we would adjust our entire schedules to fit in Na daily dose of NBA action in the morning, somewhere between brushing our teeth and breakfast.

But from this year onwards, prepare to be overdosed.

NBA's multiyear deal with Sony SIX in India has been expanded. Starting this season, NBA's India broadcast partner Sony SIX have announced that they will be showing a record number of live games in India. SIX will televise up to 14 live NBA games every week during the 2013-14 regular season. They will launch a 'NBA Mornings at SIX' programme which will show back-to-back live games in India every single day!!! The season will tip-off on October 30, with the NBA Champion Miami Heat playing the Chicago Bulls at 5:30 AM IST, followed by the Los Angeles Clippers playing the Los Angeles Lakers at 8:00 AM IST. A day later, the much-hyped season opener for Vivek Ranadive's Kings will be shown live (to a large viewing party in Mumbai) against the Nuggets.

Yes. An NBA Double-Header. Every day. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!!!!

A total of 1,230 NBA games are played in a regular season. This year, you could catch nearly one-fourth of those games live on your TV sets in India, without needing to drift to the League Pass option - although I would still recommend it for the truest of you fans out there. Fans in India will have access to over 300 live regular season games, as well as NBA All-Star, Playoffs, and NBA Finals. Sony SIX will promote the daily six hour programming block across its network of channels and media platforms. A new basketball lifestyle program showcasing the sport off the court and featuring localized Indian content will also be launched and will air weekly in primetime.

"Sport is flourishing around the world with basketball leading the way due to its broad appeal and accessibility to viewers everywhere," said Prasana Krishnan, Business Head, Sony SIX. "This enhanced offering will give the fans a chance to watch their favorite team and stars consistently throughout the season. We are confident that our approach will open up an enormous opportunity in the ‘Breakfast’ time space for capturing viewership."

The best part of all this? Now, fans don't have to be force-fed only the mass popular/successful teams like the Heat, Lakers, Spurs, or Bulls. Take a look at the NBA's TV Schedule in India and you'll notice that only within the first week, fans will get a chance to watch a dozen different teams in action. This means that Indian fans will have a variety of teams and players to choose from on a regular basis instead of harping on same old LeBron-Kobe debates. It also means that fans of the less-popular teams like Bucks, Bobcats, Suns, or Magic will have many more opportunities to watch your favourite squad lose. And with ample number of Kings' games on schedule, it will be the right foundation to fulfill the vision of Sacramento's owners to see the Kings become India's "home team".

"Our partnership with Sony SIX has been vital to the growth of basketball in India, and this new, expanded programming will increase fan access to NBA basketball on multiple platforms," said Yannick Colaco, Managing Director - India, NBA. "Thanks to the support of Sony SIX, each season we are seeing interest in our game grow, allowing more opportunities to engage our fans whether through media, events, or grassroots programs."

According to Sony SIX, new apps, games and contests will also help reach fans via digital and social media throughout the upcoming season. The NBA Slam Dunk app on Facebook, which will launch within the first month of the season, will ask fans weekly questions and award points for correct answers, with the top point winner each month receiving NBA merchandise. The winner of the Most Valuable Fan, a trivia contest that will run across TV, digital, and social media, will be awarded a trip to the 2014 NBA All-Star and will be featured on a new basketball lifestyle show on Sony SIX.

Those dark-ages of 90s and early 2000s seem almost prehistoric now. For Indian fans, the NBA is now available live daily - twice! It's available on your fingertips and it's available in its full mass instead of just a tiny fraction. It's here to take over your life and make sure breakfast-time is never the same again. It's here to turn a whole generation of Indians into early risers to watch the live action. And it's going to recruit more NBA fans of the game in India than ever before.

October 27, 2013

BFI IMG-Reliance School Basketball League to be held in 8 cities this season!

In 2010 the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and IMG-Reliance - who signed a sponsorship deal with the federation - launched the School Basketball League in a few Indian cities, to bring organized basketball tournaments to some of the country's top school-level talents. Now, three years later, the league returns with it's largest iteration yet. Starting this month, the 2013-14 BFI IMG-Reliance School Basketball League will return with it's biggest iteration ever, going to a record eight Indian cities between October and December, 2013.

The 2013-14 edition of the BFI-IMG Reliance School League will include 2 new cities – Indore and Hyderabad – from last year’s returning 6 cities. The eight host cities are: New Delhi, Mumbai, Indore, Ludhiana, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bangalore, and Chennai. The school winners from all the states will participate in the National Champions Cup to be held in April/May, 2014 in New Delhi.

The leagues will comprise of 20 teams per city (10 boys & 10 girls). A total of 1,920 kids and 160 teams will be participating across the country. Each team will play a total of 8 games over a period of 2 months and a total of 640 games will be played during the group stage, which will be followed with a knockout tournament to crown a City Champion. Games will be held at rotating locations in different schools & colleges to provide any institution the opportunity to host the league.

One of the main goals of the School League is to start the first pan-India League, as opposed to the current system of competition - tournaments. In a league, there is an emphasis on continuous and regular participation, resulting in practices focused on building individual and team skills. The length and space between games allows coaches and players to look back on the game, identify weaknesses and focus on making adjustments on the next game, building smarter and more skilled basketball players and coaches.

As part of the 2013-14 School League, BFI and IMG Reliance have put aside money for each participating School for minor refurbishments of their home courts. These refurbishments include new nets, rims, paintings, basketballs, etc. With the help of the State Basketball Association, BFI and IMG Reliance hopes this initiative will give more incentives to schools in India to invest in basketball.

While announcing the new season of the leagues, Roopam Sharma, the CEO of the BFI said, “The Basketball Federation of India partnership with IMG-Reliance is working towards improving Basketball from the grass root level in the country. I would like to thank the participating State Basketball Associations for their effort and co-operation in hosting the 2013-14 BFI IMG-Reliance School league which will showcase competitive games by young talented players. The School League will provide a medium for the players to compete regularly and an incentive for them to develop their game.”

October 26, 2013

Indian Women hope to take next step at 25th FIBA Asia Championship for Women in Bangkok

Francisco Garcia, the Spaniard who was appointed Head Coach of India's Women's basketball squad in July, will now face the biggest challenge of his young tenure as he leads the team to Bangkok, Thailand for the 25th FIBA Asia Championship for Women. The tournament will tip off on October 27th, 2013 and is slated to be held until November 3rd.

India will start this year in the tournament's 'Level I', which means that they will play only the best teams in the tournament in the Preliminary Round and can theoretically qualify for the knockout stages. Level I will feature champions from the previous tournament in 2011 (and 11x winners) China, 2011 silver-medalists Korea, Japan, Chinese Taipei, and Kazakhstan, all posing a challenge to the Indian side.

India's roster includes superstar center Geethu Anna Jose, who will be playing in her fifth FIBA Asia Championship. Jose has always been amongst the leading scorers and rebounders in Asia, and was the third-leading scorer in 2011. She is joined by her Southern Railway experienced teammate Anitha Pauldurai. The remainder of the squad is an exciting mix of experienced talents and fresh blood to amp up the team's energy. Jeena PS, the talented young Keralite, is one of those young talents who can be a big star for the future and will be looking to make her presence felt. Former captain Prashanti Singh will be making a comeback into the team after missing out due to fitness issues last year. Prashanti's sister Akanksha suffered an injury during the team's practice games in Dongguan (China) and has been replaced by Rajapriyadarshini Rajaganapathi.

India's Senior Women's Squad for 25th FIBA Asia Championship
  • S. Kokila
  • Anitha Paul Durai
  • Raspreet Sidhu
  • Sharanjeet Kaur
  • Jeena PS
  • Shireen Limaye
  • Stephy Nixon
  • Smruthi Radhakrishnan
  • Manisha Dange
  • Geethu Anna Jose
  • Prashanti Singh
  • Rajapriyadarshini Rajaganapathi
  • Head Coach: Francisco Garcia
  • Coach: Abdul Hameed Khan
  • Manager: Jayavanti Shyam
To prepare for the tournament, the team headed to Dongguan, China, from October 15-25 for practice/preparation games at the NBA/CBA Basketball School there.

Participating Teams
  • Level 1: China, Chinese Taipei, India, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea.
  • Level 2: Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Uzbekistan.
India's Preliminary Round schedule: (All times IST)
  • October 27 - 2:30 PM - Chinese Taipei vs. India
  • October 28 - 12:30 PM - India vs. Korea
  • October 29 - 12:30 PM - China vs. India
  • October 30 - 2:30 PM - Japan vs. India
  • October 31 - 12:30 PM - India vs. Kazakhstan
Two years ago, India lost all five of their preliminary round games, but were able to defeat Malaysia in a close encounter for the Level I playoff game to finish sixth and remain in Level I.

India will once again face a mighty struggle breaking into the top four of teams that dominate Asian Women's hoops: China, Korea, Japan, and Chinese Taipei. Their best chance of getting a Preliminary Round win is against Kazakhstan, who are currently listed below them in the FIBA Rankings. If India can somehow win one more game and finish in the top four, they will have the chance to qualify for the knockout stage. If they finish 5th or 6th in the group, they will play in playoff games against the 1st or 2nd seeded teams in Level II to determine if they can remain in Level I for the next edition of the championship (in 2015).

In an interview with me earlier in the year, Garcia spoke about his preference for transition offense and playing tough defense on the other end of the floor. The star of the team - and the one the entire offense will revolve around - will still be Jose, who, at 28, still has several years left in her prime. Hopefully she has adapted to his offensive schemes and the players around her are ready to support her play. Jose herself mentioned to FIBA earlier this month that she was optimistic about this year's squads, since there are many other bigs in India to take some of the pressure off of her in the post.

Five months ago, a squad of Jose, Anitha, Manisha Dange, and Pratima Singh led India to the gold medal in the inagural 3x3 FIBA Asia Championship. It was the continuation of recent success for India at 3x3 championships, after they won the 3x3 gold at the Asian Beach Games in China last year. Now, they hope to carry that form into the full-format of the game. In 15 appearances, India has never finished better than 6th in the FIBA Asia Championship. Garcia and his team will be looking to change history and finally take a step up in the competition over the next week.

October 25, 2013

Sacramento Kings become the first NBA team to launch a Hindi website

क्या बात है!

The Sacramento Kings - recently bought by Indian-born software mogul Vivek Ranadive - have become the very first NBA team to launch a website for the team in Hindi, in an effort to connect closer with fans in India.

The site - Kings.com/Hindi - went live recently as the next step in an ongoing process by Ranadive to bring the team closer to 'home'. At this point, most of the content on this site are introductory articles about various Kings players and a look-ahead at their first matchu-ups of the season. In addition, the website has highlighted the recent visit by the Sacramento Kings cheerleading team to India for the NBA Jam.

"A key facet of our ownership group's vision is for the Kings to become India's home team," said Kings President Chris Granger. "Between our dance team performing in India this summer, a live telecast on Sony Six for our home opener, and the launch of the website, we are committed to reaching out to India, and all of Asia, in a comprehensive way. This is just the beginning."

NBA teams having multilingual websites is of course no new thing. The Warriors and the Heat have websites in Chinese already, while the Heat also have a Spanish language site. But the Kings have become the first to break the language barrier for the Indian audience that is more comfortable reading in the Devanagari script.

Many Indians with access to technology and the internet are of course comfortable with reading, writing, and conversing in basic English (thanks a lot, colonization), but Hindi content will definitely open up the access to many more. Internet access is slowly beginning to reach all strata of Indian society, and many more major websites around the world will start to produce Hindi content for their new viewers. The NBA - and particularly the Kings - are just ahead of the curve with this one.

That said, a lot of the Hindi content of the website simply reads as Google Translated and unedited versions of the English writing. And as we all know, translating every single word and phrase can sound a bit weird: 'shuddh' (शुद्ध) Hindi has many words that even the best speakers struggle with a little, and many Hindi speakers/readers just use English words for several words/phrases anyways.

Here are some examples: On the site, "Go Kings!" is translated as "चलो, किंग्स!" "A closer look" reads as "समीप से देखना". "Position Analysis" is "स्थिति विश्लेषण". The Small Forward/SF position reads "एसएफ".

(At least the "Kings" aren't translated as "राजाs").

Ranadive became the first Indian-origin majority owner of an NBA team during the summer when he purchased the Kings and helped them remain in Sacramento. Since then, he has taken various steps to reach out to his homeland. He spoke about bringing the Kings to India for an exhibition game next year. The Kings' first game of this upcoming season (versus the Nuggets) is also going to be telecast live in India in what Ranadive hopes can become "the biggest opening night in the history of the NBA." Sacramento Bee writer Ryan Lillis also revealed that a cricket field was going to be set up next to the Kings' Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento for opening night, as a nod to Indians in the area. Before joining the Kings' ownership, Ranadive was a minority owner with the Warriors, where he organized "Bollywood Night" for three consecutive seasons.

The Kings' efforts will definitely arouse some interest and curiousity in the short term, especially amongst fans in India who are still novices to the NBA. I say that because most hardcore fans of the game in the country already have their favourite teams and players, and if you found me one Kings fan in a group of a 100 I would call you a liar. A Hindi website isn't going to turn a Lakers, Heat, Celtics, Bulls, Thunder, or Spurs fan to suddenly gain respect for Greivis Vasquez's court-vision or Marcus Thornton's range.

But like many other NBA situations, one man can change it all. Kevin Durant created fans for Oklahoma City, Kobe Bryant has people caring for the Lakers, and LeBron took a whole bandwagon from Cleveland to Miami. The man responsible for long-standing fame and interest in the Sacramento राजाs will be none other than DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins is a lot of things - good and bad - and will infuriate fans just as much as excites them. But he does have the raw potential in turning into one of the best big men in the league, and if he is ever able to take that step, he will make the Kings exciting enough to devote a Bollywood love song to.

Until then, new Kings fans in India will have to settle for game recaps of losses every night. Now available in Hindi. Go राजाs!

October 24, 2013

2013-14 SLAM China NBA Preview

This article was first published in the 117th edition (2013 - No. 20) of SLAM China magazine. Here is the original English version of the story.

Following up from the 10 things that we're most looking forward to for the 2013-14 NBA Season, here are quickfire previews for each team at the start of the new season!

Eastern Conference

1. Miami Heat: The champions only got stronger with the addition of Greg Oden. Wade is healthy, Bosh is motivated, and LeBron is the league’s best player. Heat are favourites for a three-peat.

2. Chicago Bulls: Thibodeau’s squad is always excellent in the regular season. Former MVP Derrick Rose’s return will lift Chicago back amongst the league’s elite.

3. Brooklyn Nets: The Nets already had the talent; now they have the swagger. Expect Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and company to go deep in the playoffs in the East.

4. Indiana Pacers: Indy were one win from the NBA Finals last season. The improving talents of Paul George and Roy Hibbert, plus the return of Danny Granger is going to make them a team to fear in the East again.

5. New York Knicks: The Knicks won’t match last year’s regular season success in the improved East. But having one of the league’s premier talents – Carmelo Anthony – always makes them a playoff threat.

6. Atlanta Hawks: Partnering Al Horford with Paul Millsap gives Atlanta a formidable frontline. But they will remain in NBA purgatory, making the playoffs but not getting past the First Round.

7. Detroit Pistons: Between Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Chauncey Billups, and assistant coach Rasheed Wallace, expect things to get fun in Detroit again. A playoff spot is a possibility.

8. Washington Wizards: John Wall’s return last season ignited a great run for the Wizards. Expect that positive momentum to continue and perhaps see Washington grab a low playoff seed in the East.

9. Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving is blossoming into a superstar, and Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao, and Andrew Bynum could get Cleveland some more wins. But a playoff spot seems unlikely.

10. Toronto Raptors: The pairing of Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan will help the Raptors improve, but still be outside the playoff picture. Lithuanian youngster Jonas Valanciunas may take a big step forward.

11. Milwaukee Bucks: A step backwards for Milwaukee in the offseason. OJ Mayo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Larry Sanders are good, but not good enough.

12. Boston Celtics: The Big Three are gone, Doc Rivers is in LA, and Rajon Rondo is hurt. The Celtics will lose a lot, although the evolution of a returning Rondo with Avery Bradley and Jeff Green will be fun to watch.

13. Charlotte Bobcats: Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist make for an interesting core in Charlotte. They won’t be great, but at least they’ve taken baby steps to improvement.

14. Orlando Magic: Talented rookie Victor Oladipo adds some intrigue in a team that is otherwise going to be amongst the NBA’s worst.

15. Philadelphia 76ers: You aren’t winning much when you’re best players are Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner.

Western Conference

1. Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook’s return can help ignite OKC back to the top of the Conference and perhaps, back to the NBA Finals. Kevin Durant will be an MVP candidate again. The improvement of Serge Ibaka will be this team’s x-factor.

2. San Antonio Spurs: As long as Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan are around, the Spurs will be championship threats. Tony Parker will be a top five player, and Kawhi Leonard will improve dramatically. The Spurs will be amongst the West’s best again.

3. Los Angeles Clippers: Doc Rivers brings championship urgency to the new kings of LA. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and a deep roster can combine to lead the Clippers to their best season ever.

4. Houston Rockets: James Harden and Dwight Howard will be a successful pairing. The Rockets have all the elements for a top four finish in the Western Conference.

5. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry is a superstar now. And he’s surrounded by near-star level pieces like David Lee, Andre Iguodala, and Andrew Bogut, along with youngsters Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. This team will be fun and can match last season’s Second Round success.

6. Memphis Grizzlies: Losing Coach Hollins will come back to haunt the Grizzlies. Still, their defence-first philosophy – led by Marc Gasol – will make them a playoff threat.

7. Denver Nuggets: Nuggets lost Andre Iguodala and fired coach George Karl. They won’t match last year’s highs, but Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, and co are good enough for the playoffs again.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves: With Kevin Love healthy, Ricky Rubio on the ascent, Nikola Pekovic resigned, and Kevin Martin added to the mix, the Timberwolves could finally make their long-awaited return to the playoffs. If health permits.

9. Los Angeles Lakers: Dwight gone, Kobe hurt, and Nash and Gasol aging. Tough times ahead for the Lakers. They might not have enough to qualify for the post-season in the talented West.

10. Portland Trailblazers: The West is too good for Portland, who are stacked – Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum – but not stacked enough.

11. Dallas Mavericks: Dirk’s got too much pride to back down, but even the aging German’s efforts – along with Monta Ellis – won’t be enough to carry this fading team to the playoffs.

12. New Orleans Pelicans: New name, logo, uniforms, and a backcourt boosted by Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. Anthony Davis will take a major step forward too. But this team is still at least a year away from striking real fear in their opponents.

13. Sacramento Kings: New ownership has brought optimism to Sac-Town (or Shaq-Town), but this team goes as far as DeMarcus Cousins takes them. And he won’t take them too far.

14. Utah Jazz: This team won’t win too many games. But at least their young big duo of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter will provide some entertaining viewing.

15. Phoenix Suns: Perhaps Eric Bledsoe and Alex Len can provide occasional highlights from Phoenix. There won’t be much else to watch in this rebuilding squad.

October 23, 2013

Season’s Greetings: 10 Things we’re Most Looking Forward to for the 2013-14 NBA Season

This article was first published in the 117th edition (2013 - No. 20) of SLAM China magazine. Here is the original English version of the story.

For those of us who live in more extreme conditions, the signs of winter are often depressing and ominous. The shorter days, the longer nights, the freezing cold weather, and the end of cheery outdoor activities. But don’t fear, because even a frozen brick of ice can be chipped down to something beautiful. And the most beautiful thing about the arrival of the winter is that is synchronizes with the arrival of the NBA season.

The summer’s been too long, and the heart-stopping memories of the playoffs, of Ray Allen hitting a three to tie Game 6 of the Finals, and of LeBron James hoisting two trophies – again – were starting to fade away. It’s time now to make new memories, to celebrate new heroes, and to follow new storylines. And here are 10 of the most intriguing storylines to keep us on our toes as we greet the NBA back to warm up the cold weather:

1. Opening Night Drama

We’ll be hooked from the very first minute. On opening night, the NBA will kick off the 2013-14 season with a bang. Two-time reigning champions Miami Heat will receive their championship rings on October 29th, and minutes later, will tip off their quest for a three-peat against their rivals, the Chicago Bulls. While LeBron, Wade, Bosh and co look to keep their momentum going, the Bulls will be on a mission as well. The team that halted Miami’s 27-game winning streak and played them in the playoffs will return better and stronger this season. And to top it all off, former MVP Derrick Rose will be back in action in his first meaningful game in over a year against the team that he hopes to topple. And if all the drama isn’t enough, later on the same night, the Battle of Los Angeles will continue with the Clippers and Lakers tipping off their seasons against each other.

2. Returning to dominate again?

There seemed to be a hex on many of the league’s best players over the past years, as several superstars were sidelined to long term injuries. Opening night will give us a chance to see one of them – Derrick Rose – back in action. But as the season progresses, we will have a close eye on so many more returning players, and hoping that they are back to their best – or better. Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, Danny Granger, Andrew Bynum, and Anderson Varejao will all be attempting a comeback. And let’s not forget Greg Oden, the 2007 number 1 pick, who after several years of basketball exile tries to make a historic comeback and regain his spot in the league after signing with the Miami Heat.

3. Back to their old stomping grounds

Mark a few dates on your NBA calendar: On February 19, 2014, Dwight Howard and his new Rockets will return to play against in Los Angeles against the Lakers for the first time since Howard’s ill-fated past season and unceremonious departure to Houston. There is sure to be some bad blood in the characters involved on both sides, and the Staples Center crowd will surely let their feelings be heard to their former Center. A happier return might be of on January 26th, when the Brooklyn Nets head to Boston to play the Celtics, and Celtic legends Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett come back to their stomping grounds again. Before their trade to Brooklyn, the two were the centerpiece of Boston’s days of glory. The return could be particularly emotional for Pierce, who spent all 15 years of his career until this summer as a Celtic.

4. Finals rematch!

It will be hard to argue against the idea that the 2013 Finals – where the Heat and the Spurs battled through seven unforgettable games – may have been one of the best in the NBA’s recent history. Although Miami eventually won, both teams ended the series with a lot of mutual respect – and a lot of bad blood. They will continue battling each other in the coming regular season, with a matchup in Miami on January 26 and in San Antonio on March 6.

5. Gangs of New York

The Nets completed their first season in Brooklyn last year, but despite fielding a decent squad, they didn’t have the edge to outshine the elder representatives of New York City, the Knicks. With the additions of Pierce, Garnett, Kirilenko, Terry, and former Knicks guard Jason Kidd as their Head Coach this summer, the Nets are all set to challenge their city rivals again. Both New York teams are looking strong enough to keep things exciting in the Eastern Conference and there has been enough back-talk leading up between the likes of Paul Pierce, Raymond Felton, Jason Terry, and JR Smith in both camps to bring some heat into this new city rivalry.

6. Battle for Last Place / Riggin' for Wiggins

While most of the top quality action will be played amongst the NBA elites, don’t lose sight for the ‘battle’ to last place. With Canadian phenom Andrew Wiggins on the horizon as the sure-shot Number 1 pick of the 2014 Draft, a number of struggling NBA franchises are going to be keeping their eyes on their draft lottery chances. There are going to be a lot of contenders amongst the league’s worst teams, including the Philadelphia 76ers, the Phoenix Suns, the Boston Celtics, the Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz, and more. The ‘lucky losers’ will be ‘rewarded’ with a chance to draft not just Wiggins, but a further exciting crop of youngsters poised to join the league in next year’s draft.

7. Breakout Stars

Last year, Paul George, Stephen Curry, James, Harden, and Kyrie Irving were amongst the players who took the next step to elevate their game and become bonafide stars in the league. Who will be following in their heels this season? It’s always exciting to find a new crop of youngsters that graduate from ‘good’ to ‘great’. This year, our eyes will be on the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Ricky Rubio, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker, and Eric Bledsoe to make that jump.

8. Old Faces in New Places

It’s always fun and interesting to see how an established name can settle into a new team after being traded or signing over the offseason. The biggest names donning new jerseys this season will be Dwight Howard (Rockets), Josh Smith (Pistons), Andre Iguodala (Warriors), Jrue Holiday (Pelicans), and Kevin Garnett (Nets), Al Jefferson (Bobcats), Monta Ellis (Mavericks), OJ Mayo (Bucks), Tyreke Evans (Pelicans), Paul Pierce (Nets), Andrew Bynum (Cavaliers), Metta World Peace (Knicks), Paul Millsap (Hawks), Luis Scola (Pacers), Kevin Martin (Timberwolves), and Brandon Jennings (Pistons). Who’s going to make the biggest impact?

9. Fresh Blood in the Playoffs

Maybe it’s some of the new faces that propel them, maybe it’s a good health and good fortune, or maybe it’s just improved play and maturity from their established stars, but every season, a new young team or two breaks out to become a playoff threat. We’re excited to see the next fresh-faced squad to return to the playoffs. In the East, our prediction is that it could be the recently reloaded Detroit Pistons, with Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings joining Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe to ignite some fire in his young squad. Out West, if health permits, the Love and Rubio led Minnesota Timberwolves could have the ability to turn some heads and strike fear into the traditional superpowers.

10. MVP Battle

From the looks of it, for as long as he is healthy and running at full speed, four-time MVP LeBron James is destined to be a constant contender for the award of the league’s best regular season player. But improving performances by a few other challengers could make it for an interesting MVP race. Kevin Durant has repeatedly said that he is ‘tired of being second’ place, and has the talent to topple King James at the top. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, or a returning Derrick Rose may be primed for the best performances of their careers. Or maybe it’s an outsider – a young star like Paul George – who could rise above and surprise us all?

October 20, 2013

SportsKeeda 2014 NBA Top 20: # 2 – Kevin Durant

Expect Kevin Durant to keep scratching the surface of history, to break shooting records, to once again challenge for the scoring title, the MVP title, and once again be an All Star and an All NBA calibre star. He’ll be more mature than ever mentally and a step better than he was last year physically. He’ll play the best basketball that he has ever played. No basketball player in the entire world will be better than him - except one.

But LeBron’s lead at the head of the pack is far from secured: one missed step, or a half a second of hesitation, and a younger and hungrier Durant will race ahead in an instant.

Click here to read full article.

October 18, 2013

SportsKeeda 2014 NBA Top 20: # 4 – Carmelo Anthony

As he enters the last year of his contract, looking forward to free agency for the first time in his career, Carmelo Anthony is primed to follow the best season of his career with an even better one. The Eastern Conference has gotten much tougher, sure, and it is unlikely that he will carry the Knicks to the second-spot again. But individually, he’ll continue to be one of the most important players in the league, and will once again be the only reason that New York will even have an outside shot at any post-season success.

Click here to read full article!

October 16, 2013

“When the season comes, I’ll be ready.” Derrick Rose returns to continue his legacy

This article was first published as the cover story in the 116th edition (2013 - No. 19) of SLAM China Magazine. Here is my original English version of the story.

“Are you still hurt?” “Is there still any pain in your knee?” “How was the rehab?” “How did it feel?”

“Are you a 100 percent now?”

Two years ago, Derrick Rose was amongst the best players in the NBA, enjoying his status as the league’s youngest-ever MVP at 22 and carrying the defense-first Bulls to the best record in the NBA. He had a turbo jet in his game, zooming past defenders to dominate any contest and zooming up the NBA charts as he gained the respect of his competitors, popularity from across the world, and accolades in his trophy cabinet.

And then, quicker than the breakneck speed of his rise to NBA dominance, his promising career seemed to be shot down. An injury in the first playoff game from last summer revealed a torn ACL in Rose’s left knee. The injury forced him to miss the rest of the 2012 playoffs, and then the rehab of his surgery over the following offseason kept him out of action through the course of the 2012-13 NBA season.

During a spring of intrigue where everyone from the media to fans to coaches and rappers pondered if Rose would suit up for Chicago’s playoff run, the man himself stayed silently glued to the bench, choosing instead to prolong his return and keep anxious fans – as well as skeptical critics – waiting for his comeback.

Spring turned to summer and summer gave way to the fall, and lo and behold, the new NBA season has suddenly inched so much closer towards us. And the start of the new season will bring back a welcome sight to eyes of Bulls fans around the world: Derrick Rose will finally suit up. He is scheduled to play in the pre-season and, if all goes well, will be in the lineup when the Bulls tip off their season in Miami against the reigning champions, who will be receiving their championship rings.

In this journey, from a heart- breaking injury to a career-suspending rehab, and months of criticism for his decisions, Rose may have suffered through a lot over the past one and a half years. But now, on the verge of his return, the only thing that he had to suffer through was addressing the same questions from the curious Beijing media.

“Can you play?” “Will you change your approach to your game?” “Will you be as good as you used to be again?”

“Are you back?”

Rose was in China at the tail-end of his Asia promotional tour, and he calmly answered each query about his health, his future, and his rehab process.

“Rehab was pretty difficult,” Rose said, “The hardest thing was getting over the mental part, the part of wanting to play and not being able to, of not having the patience to sit out. But my son helped me through everything right now. When I’m having tough days being around him helps me get through those days. Just being around him brightens my day. Just knowing that he’ll be one of those people who’ll always be by my side.”

For Rose, rehabbing his knee also meant knowing the right time to feel physically and mentally ready to take the court again. During the Bulls’ playoff run last season, reports emerged that Rose had been cleared to play, was dominating in practices, but didn’t feel ‘mentally’ ready to take his chances in a high-stakes NBA contest yet.

“I knew I had to take my time,” Rose told SLAM, “I knew it was going to be a long process. I wasn’t going to force it. I look at the past players who forced coming back too soon and had the pressure to come back too soon – I learnt from their mistakes. I’m 24 and I know I have a long career ahead. I’m not done with what I wanna do in the NBA. I didn’t want to rush anything. I knew that, no matter what, my teammates and my coaches were there supporting me.”

And while he waited and rested on the sidelines, Rose turned the curse of the injury and the rehab into a gift for the future. “Having this injury, I look at it as a blessing,” he said, “I watched the game, became a better leader with my teammates, became more vocal. I think it will be better for us as a whole team. Rehab made me a smarter player. Being in the sidelines last season, it was the most I’ve ever actually watched basketball in my life! When I’m playing, I don’t watch the game off the court at all. But when I was recovering from the injury, I had time to watch and learn how the game is played: watch the coaches, the plays, and the systems around the league.”

Rose will get a chance to finally showcase his new-found approach in a few months. And he feels upbeat about his chances. “The knee’s feeling good,” he said, “I think I’m a 100 percent. I’ve been a 100 percent for a long time. I want to stay on script with my training and I know that the day is coming when I have to step back on the court and have people judge my game from all across the world. I have to be ready and be prepared; I’ve been preparing myself for this since the day after my surgery.”

The league has changed a lot in the past 17 months, since Rose was last seen on a basketball court. LeBron James and the Heat have won two championships. New contenders have risen in the Eastern Conference, including the Pacers, the Nets, and the Knicks. And although the Bulls have remained steady with their core, a few young faces have emerged in Tom Thibodeau’s squad.

Rose believes that Chicago’s consistency and continuity will help give them the advantage in the year ahead. “I think that we could be at real contender for the title,” he said, “We have a core group that’s been together for three-four together. I think that’s more than any other starters in other teams in the NBA. We’ll have great team chemistry that can be a huge advantage for us.”

Rose will be back as the centerpiece of that team, and will once again be asked to be Thibodeau’s extension as the leading point guard on the floor. But fans will wonder if the player – once known to one of the league’s quickest and athletic talents – will return to his explosive style of play after the injury again.

“I won’t change the way that I attack,” he clarified, “That’s my whole game – me being aggressive, that’s just the way that I play. I just want to be more efficient and have more control over the whole game. I’ll just be playing the same way but with a lot more confidence. When I get out there, you’ll be able to tell that I’m way more aggressive and efficient with my game.”

“As a leader, I have to be more vocal with the team next season, make sure guys practice hard every day, stay focused, and remind them why we’re there. The goal is to win a championship.”

Rose projects two different, conflicting energies at the same moment. On the face he seems calm and collected, moving gracefully with no hint of discomfort from the injury that robbed him of a season two years ago. But from the inside, he speaks with a fiery determination that seems ready to take on the league’s finest again and rise to the top.

“When the season comes, I’ll be ready. Next season, my personal statistics could be whatever. Four points per game, anything… I just want to win. I have only one goal for next season, and that is to win a championship. As for my legacy, the only thing that I’m missing is the trophy. I know that I’m one of the hardest working – if not the hardest working – players in the NBA. That’s why I will be very confident returning back on court after the rehab.”

The career seemed to be perfectly scripted. After phenomenal success in high school and college, local boy gets drafted number one by his hometown favourite team. He is rookie of the year by his first season, an All Star by the second, and an MVP by the third. And as he grows into a more complete player, he completes that legacy by bringing a championship back to his hometown team.

And if all goes well, the injury and the rehab that kept Derrick Rose miserably out of action for over a season will seem more than a minor blimp than a career-ender in the long run. For Rose, the future is bright, and he can dream ahead of continuing the perfect script ahead.

“I want to win a lot of championships. But it will take a lot of time, a lot of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. Those things aren’t just handed out, you have to earn them.”

October 13, 2013

Where European & Chinese hoops clash: Real Madrid beat Beijing Ducks in Beijing

It was a clash of two very different philosophies of basketball, and yet, once the referee sent the ball in the air for the tip off, the flow of the game itself took over to dominate all other cultural and philosophical differences. On Friday, October 11th, one of the Chinese Basketball Association's (CBA) most-popular franchises - the Beijing Ducks - hosted one of the most historically successful European basketball team's - Spain's Real Madrid - in a pre-season exhibition that turned out to be far more intriguing than anyone imagined. After a topsy-turvy encounter, Madrid used a timely fourth quarter run to speed past Beijing to a 92-86 victory.

The Euroleague's CEO Jordi Bertomeu was in attendance too, to overlook the game's proceedings.

The Ducks, who won the CBA title in 2012 and were in last year's semi-finals, hosted the game in Beijing's MasterCard Center. This game was the first time that Real Madrid - who were runner-up in the Euroleague last season - faced against a Chinese opponent in their long history. It was the last game of the pre-season for Real Madrid, who were coming off the Endesa Super Cup title against Barcelona.

A little over a month ago, the Chief Business Development Officer of the Euroleague Roser Queralto announced the game in Beijing with the proclamation that Chinese and European teams play quite a similar game, and an on-court interaction could strengthen the relations of both the leagues. While the playing styles rooting from Spanish and the Chinese tactics weren't exactly the same, the final result was an evenly-matched contest.

The Beijing Ducks of course feature former NBA All Star Stephon Marbury, who had been their hero and leader en route to their maiden CBA title in 2012. Marbury proved to be unstoppable for the Madrid defense, and slashed and shot his way to 25 points. The chief benefactor of Marbury's kick and drives or rebounding off his missed opportunities was his American teammate Randolph Morris, who kept the Ducks close with a game-high 28 point performance.

It was a back-and-forth contest throughout, and while Beijing mostly relied on their two American imports for offense, Madrid spread the ball around to keep their top contributors Jaycee Carroll, Sergio Rodriguez, and Tremmel Darden involved. The Ducks made a surprising third-quarter run to lead 63-57 before the final period began. The game continued to be close in the fourth quarter, and the score was tied 77 all with just five minutes left on the clock. Madrid finally broke out to a 13-3 run to put the game past Beijing, and settled on a 92-86 win.

Madrid will now begin their regular season back in Spain against Valladolid, while Beijing have to wait till the end of November for the start of the CBA season.

October 12, 2013

NBA & Reliance team up to bring a massive basketball programme to Indian schools

The rhetoric has been thrown around for a long time. India, with it's large population, has long had the potential for being a major basketball market. People have said that it's an easy and accessible game that all Indians can love. People have hoped that it can become the second-most popular sport in the country. But someone needed to turn the talk into action, and turn hopes into results.

Well, now it's time to get really, really amped: with one swift move, the NBA and Reliance have made an effort that could change basketball for Indian youth forever.

The Reliance Foundation and NBA on Friday announced a multiyear partnership to launch a comprehensive school-based youth basketball strategy for India: the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme, aims to teach basketball to more than 100,000 youth and train 300 coaches and physical education instructors to implement a turnkey NBA curriculum in India. Over the course of the long-term partnership, the goal is to reach one million youth and train 2,000 coaches and physical education instructors across the country!

The first year of the programme will operate in more than 150 schools across Mumbai and Kochi from October 14, 2013 to February 8, 2014. The programmes main goals are to promote health, fitness and an active lifestyle through basketball, and teach the values of the game such as teamwork, sacrifice, discipline, dedication and sportsmanship. It will feature a combination of in-school and after-school activities along with basketball competitions.

Reliance Foundation and the NBA will bring international coaches to India for three months in each city to lead three-day ‘Train the Trainer’ seminars that will teach the curriculum to local coaches and physical education teachers. The international coaches will also support programme implementation at each school where, ultimately, the local coaches and physical education instructors will conduct weekly basketball-led physical education classes for grades 4-10 in their schools.

In addition to the in-school portion, select schools will make their courts available four days per week for after-school basketball programmes comprised of more advanced training and individual skills and team-based competitions. These will include 3x3 and 5x5 competitions, and the top players and teams from each school will be selected to compete in a citywide competition.

A Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Hot Shot Competition will identify the best shooters in each school to compete in a citywide championship at the end of the program. An NBA or WNBA legend will travel to each city at the end of the program to work with players and coaches.

“We are excited to partner with NBA, the world’s premier basketball league, in transforming India’s basketball landscape. India has a rich reservoir of sporting talents and schools are the fountainhead where those talents can be identified and nurtured,” said Reliance Foundation Chairperson Nita M. Ambani. “Through this historic association, Reliance Foundation looks forward to bringing the NBA’s world-class expertise and curriculum and taking Indian basketball to greater standards of excellence.”

“This is an important step in our commitment to grow basketball at the grassroots level and encourage a healthy and active lifestyle in India,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern. “Reliance Foundation is recognized for its tireless efforts to give back to communities, and we could not ask for a better partner to work with us to positively impact the lives of Indian youth.”

All local coaches to take part in the train the trainer programme will receive a ‘Jr. NBA Basketball in a Bag,’ which will contain resources for them to grow the game in their communities. The bag includes an India-specific coaching guide with curriculum for in-school and after-school programs, nets, whistles, cones, air pumps and a Jr. NBA poster.

In addition to working with schools, Reliance Foundation and the NBA will partner with community organizations in each city who are already conducting youth basketball programs. These organizations will also make their courts available for Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA after-school programs for youth from local communities. The Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program will supplement youth basketball initiatives at these organizations by providing curriculum, equipment and invitations to send teams and players to citywide Jr. NBA competitions.

By aiming at schools in India and bringing high-level basketball coaching to the youth, this programme could make basketball an even bigger part of the physical education curriculum for young Indians. And the more basketball they play and learn at a young age, the more chances we have of spreading the love and talent for the game into the next generation. By going out at the grassroots level, this Reliance and NBA programme can finally be the big push needed in bringing basketball more to the mainstream Indian masses and a bigger part of the sporting culture in India.

This if of course not the first time that Reliance Industries have taken a dip into Indian Basketball. Reliance are also in partnership with IMG Worldwide to tie up with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) in supporting the Federation as they look to develop basketball in the country, which includes the launch of India's first ever professional basketball league over the next year.

October 11, 2013

Minnesota Lynx win 2013 WNBA Championship with a sweep over Atlanta

After a season that featured a lot of fresh faces and changes around the league, the Finals of the WNBA came down to a rematch from two years ago – between the Minnesota Lynx and the Atlanta Dream – but the result was very much the same: a 3-0 sweep for the Lynx, who captured their second WNBA Championship in three years after a third consecutive Finals appearance.

Two years ago, the star act of the show was Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus; this time around, Augustus took a backseat to 2011 Rookie of the Year and one of the most dangerous women in basketball – Maya Moore – who led Minnesota to victory with a Finals MVP performance. Minnesota had finished with the best record during the regular season for the third consecutive year – ever since Moore joined the league – and became just the second team in WNBA’s 17-year history to go undefeated in the playoffs (after the 2010 Seattle Storm).

Minnesota closed out the final game of the season by winning game three of the Finals against Atlanta 86-77 on October 10th, led by 23 points by Moore. The victory was sweet redemption after the Lynx had lost in last year’s Finals to the Indian Fever.

The 2013 WNBA season began in late May with optimism of the arrival of Brittney Griner, who was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury and touted as a game-changer for Womens’ basketball. Although she had a decent season, Griner struggled with injuries a little. The Mercury were good enough to get the third spot in the West behind the talents of Diana Taurasi and Griner. They were defeated by the Lynx in the Western Conference semi-finals.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Dream defeated last year’s champions Indiana Fever 2-0.

Los Angeles Sparks’ Candace Parker was named regular season MVP while Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky won the rookie of the year award.

At the end of the year though, the story was all about Moore and the Lynx, who extended their dominance at the top of the WNBA and stamped their stake as the best women’s club team of this era.

October 10, 2013

The Andrew Wiggins Tankfest

Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins in on track to go first in the 2014 NBA Draft and arrive in the league as the most-hyped prospect since LeBron James. Players like him don’t show up in the draft every year, so when they do, anyone and everyone who is within shouting distance of the Wiggins’ sweepstakes will fight it out to win the rights to draft his talents. Here are the teams in contention to 'fight' for the NBA's bottom place and the number one pick.

Click here to read full feature.

October 9, 2013

Naturalization in Basketball: Is India getting left behind?

Indian basketball is on a steady rise. The national team scored a tiny improvement - from 14th to 11th at the recent FIBA Asia Championship and there is cautious optimism about the young crop of talents that could help raise the level of the game in the future.

But there seems to be one major issue troubling Team India: all players in the Indian national team are Indians.

Don't be confounded. India is amongst the very small handful of regulars competing for Asia's most prestigious basketball trophy that doesn't have a single foreign naturalized player on their roster. At the FIBA Asia Championship in Manila, Philippines in August, Indian defense stumbled against names like Jerry Johnson of Kazakhstan, Gregory Stevenson (aka Moon Tae-Young) of Korea, JR Henderson (aka JR Sakuragi) of Japan, and CJ Giles of Bahrain.

FIBA rules allow every team to have only one naturalized foreign player on their roster, if the player had been naturalized after the age of 16. Once a player plays for a country in an official FIBA competition after the age of 18, he or she cannot play for anyone else.

This ruling has given the opportunity to several talented, mostly American players, who struggle to find roster slots in the NBA (much less have a shot at USA's stacked national team) to make their senior international debuts with foreign squads. From research done by HoopsHype, when all Men's FIBA competitions in advance of next year's World Cup come to an end in September, 66 players born in the United States could have potentially represented 37 different countries.

In the past, the USA have also boasted of several high-profile cases of naturalized foreign players that boosted their national team. Legends like Patrick Ewing (Jamaica), Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria), and Tim Duncan (US Virgin Islands) all naturalized to play for America. Young All Star Kyrie Irving has dual citizenship of Australia and USA, and has already made it clear that when his number is called, he will be playing for the latter.

There are several high-profile cases of naturalized players in Europe, too. One of the most famous is American turned Russian JR Holden. Holden may have never played in the NBA, but the 37-year old enjoyed a legendary career in the European leagues. He was awarded Russian citizenship by Vladimir Putin in 2003, led Russia to the gold medal at the 2007 EuroBasket, and was part of Russia's 2008 Olympic squad, too.

Congo's Serge Ibaka was granted Spanish citizenship in 2011 after living in Spain for a few years, and is now part of their stacked frontcourt. American Chris Kaman acquired German citizenship in 2008, since his great-grandparents were German, and has represented the German national team since the 2008 Olympics.

Closer to home in Asia, the plethora of naturalized stars playing for the various national teams became a key factor in the FIBA Asia meet. Most teams have one, and it's always an interesting story. Former UCLA forward JR Henderson played professionally in Japan since 2001 and applied for Japanese citizenship in 2007. To comply with Japanese naturalization requirements, Sakuragi taught himself to read, speak and write Japanese at a "rudimentary level". He chose the name 'Sakuragi' which translates to 'cherry blossom tree', but is also the name of a character on the popular Japanese manga series Slam Dunk.

At the FIBA Championship, the Philippines featured big man Marcus Douthit, Jordan had Jimmy Baxter, Chinese Taipei fielded Quincy Davis, Lebanon featured Loren Woods, Kazakhstan had Jerry Johnson, and Korea gave the slot to Korean-American Gregory Stevenson, who became Moon Tae-Young. CJ Giles played professionally in the Philippines, Lebanon, and Iraq, before finally settling in with Bahrain and joining their national squad. Former NBA journeyman Jarvis Hayes finds himself a citizen of Qatar, and has become one of the stars of their national team. Qatar have faced controversies in naturalization before: At the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, they were disqualified from the tournament when five of their players were found ineligible without proper citizenship documentation.

Then there are some high-profile cases from the weirder side of things. Word is that Knicks F/C Amar'e Stoudemire, who has Hebrew roots from the mother's side of his family, is applying for Israeli citizenship and has been invited to play for their national team by President Simone Peres. Stoudemire is currently a part-owner of Israeli pro club Hapoel Jerusalem. Meanwhile, basketball's greatest underdog-turned-star, Jeremy Lin, sparked interest by both Chinese Taipei (where his parents are from) and China (where his grandparents are from). He was offered Taiwanese citizenship to play for the national squad. But if he does so, unlike the other countries mentioned above, he would have to first renounce his current, American citizenship, and then re-apply for it again. For now, the 25-year-old seems to have not given up on the American dream.

There are some significant exceptions to the trend. Two of the best teams in Asia: Iran (the winners of the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship) and China haven't needed naturalized talents to dominate basketball in the continent. China have a long history of basketball fanaticism and are always able to find decent talents amongst their 1.4 billion population. Iran have won the FIBA ABC three out of the last four times, and are riding high in the era of dominating big man Hamed Hadaddi. Without naturalization, both these countries have shown ways of remaining relevant and successful in Asian hoops.

Which brings us back around to good ol' Hindustan, the other naysayer refusing to take advantage of FIBA's naturalization rule. Like Taiwan, to become an Indian citizen, one has to surrender their foreign passport, but unlike Taiwan, one cannot apply for it again. India doesn't allow dual-citizenship. The rules for becoming an Indian citizen state that the foreigner must either have Indian descent, or if they don't, marry an Indian, and/or reside in India for about a dozen years. For those that don't wish to give up their foreign passports, the best that they can hope for is to become an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI), but it means that they cannot vote, run for office, and will not receive an Indian Passport. And - and here is the part that concerns us - they can't represent Indian national teams in any sports.

Over the years, a number of extremely talented Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) have expressed an interest and desire to return to India and get a shot at the national team. These include former Canadian College player of the year Inderbir Gill, former Houston-Baptist player Timir Patel, and Australian-Israeli-Indian player (and former NBA India employee) Eban Hyams.

There are a whole host of Indian-origin players - past and present - who have played NCAA Division 1 basketball. If they weren't asked to surrender their US or Canadian passports, there would be no doubt that a handful of them would love to continue their basketball journey in India and help the national team against Asia's finest.

Scott Flemming, the American Head Coach of India's national Men's squad who had the front row seat as India played against other Asians (and naturalized Asians) at the FIBA Championship, seems to think so too. In a recent interview, he is quoted to have said, "On the international level, if the Indian government would loosen the rules allowing top players of Indian descent that do not have a passport to participate in our national teams, we could be much more competitive. I witnessed the majority of the other countries allowing such players to participate on their teams at the Asia Basketball Championship. In addition to that, most of them had “naturalized” players who were primarily from the United States. Right now, this causes a significant disadvantage."

So is India clearly getting left behind, or is there a long-term advantage in importing foreigners into the Indian roster?

If there is one major drawback to the naturalization trend, it is that in many cases, the talented foreign (mostly American) players become more than the system itself. They are expected to produce big numbers and dominate on both ends of the floor. Their presence might win, say, two more games at a FIBA Asia tournament, but in the process, they can hinder the development of the domestic talent. It is a delicate balance in finding an NRI - or other - to play for India; he may help the progress of the team, but in the process, he may hurt the progress of his teammates. Having a professional-quality player can bring positive energy into practice and help raise the training and preparation of Indian teams to international standards, but isn't that what a foreign coach is already there for?

The slow progress of basketball in India is definitely a concern. Fans have waited long enough for local talent to develop (without outside boosts), and yet, that talent continues to produce similar results in international tournaments. Without that outside boost, we may never see a stark improvement. Or maybe the answer lies in finally launching a domestic basketball league that will help young Indians see a clear future in basketball, bring more professionalism in the sport, and help Indian scouts find and train players and take advantage of the billion-plus population the same way that China has.

For now, the debate rages on. This is a government matter, beyond just the world of sport, and it seems unlikely anytime soon that India will allow dual-citizenship the same way that other nations do. Until that day, we have to wait for home-grown talent to keep progressing, and maybe in the process, we will finally find a diamond or two in the massive Indian haystack.

October 8, 2013

BFI announces India's Women's Basketball Squad for 2013 FIBA Asia Championship

The most talented women in Indian basketball have been brought together for a chance to improve the country's standings as they prepare for the upcoming 25th FIBA Asia Championship for Women, set to be held in Bangkok, Thailand, from October 27 - November 3. India, who finished sixth in the previous edition of the championship two years ago, will enter this year in the tournament's higher 'Level 1'. This tournament will also be the biggest challenge thus far of India's newly-appointed senior women's head coach, the Spaniard Francisco Garcia.

India Women's Coach Francisco Garcia.
Photo via: BFI
Team India probables had been in training camp over the past few months at the SAI Center in Gandhinagar in Gujarat. Now, with only a few weeks left to go for the 2013 Women's FIBA ABC, the team will follow the tradition of other recent Indian national squads and head to Dongguan, China, from October 15-25 for practice/preparation games at the NBA/CBA Basketball School there.

India's roster for the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship
  • S. Kokila (Indian Railways)
  • Anitha Paul Durai (Indian Railways)
  • Raspreet Sidhu (Delhi)
  • Sharanjeet Kaur (Chhattisgarh)
  • Jeena PS (Kerala)
  • Shireen Limaye (Maharashtra)
  • Stephy Nixon (Kerala)
  • Smruthi Radhakrishnan (Indian Railways/Maharashtra)
  • Manisha Dange (Indian Railways/Maharashtra)
  • Geethu Anna Jose (Indian Railways)
  • Prashanti Singh (Delhi)
  • Akanksha Singh (Delhi)
  • Head Coach: Francisco Garcia
  • Coach: Abdul Hameed Khan
  • Manager: Jayavanti Shyam

The roster is an exciting mix of experienced talents and fresh blood to amp up the team's energy. Jeena PS, the talented young Keralite, is one of those young talents who can be a big star for the future and will be looking to make her presence felt. Former captain Prashanti Singh will be making a comeback into the team after missing out due to fitness issues last year. And of course, the centerpiece of Indian Women - as it has been for the past decade - is once again the uber-talented Geethu Anna Jose, who will once again be expected to challenge the best players in Asia.

India are in Level 1 of the championship, where they will play against the top tier talent in the Preliminary Round, including China (the holding champions), Chinese Taipei, Japan, Korea, and Kazakhstan. Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Uzbekistan are in Level II.