January 3, 2014

Year in Hoops: The Best of Indian Basketball in 2013

Happy New Year to all Hoopistanis, to all fans of Indian Basketball around the country and around the world. 2014 is here, and there's been more developments concerning the game in India than ever before. But before we look forward, let's let a look back at the year that was.

Here are the top stories from Indian hoops over the past year, 12 months that spawned unprecedented success - especially for Indian Women - at the Asian level, and also brought the NBA closer to India than ever before (word to Ranadive and Bosh!).

- The year started in Indian Basketball as it usually does, with the crowning of India's Senior National champions at the biggest domestic tournament of the year. In early January, Uttarakhand (Men) and Indian Railways (Women) dominated the National Championship in Ludhiana to grab the crowns.

- ONGC - whose star players comprise most of Uttarakhand's National Championship team - continued their form by winning the 4th JCI All India Basketball Tournament in Athirampuzha of Kottayam district, Kerala on January 13th. Central Railway defeated South Western Railway to win the Women's title.

- There was even more ONGC. Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and co won the 27th Federation Cup All India National Basketball Championship for Men & Women in Bangalore in the first week of February. Tamil Nadu's Women - led by Southern Railways' Anitha Paul Durai - captured the Women's title.

- In mid-Feb, NBA India announced that they would be hiring Yannick Colaco - formerly CEO of Nimbus Sport - as their Managing Director.

- In March, Chandigarh hosted an All India Basketball Championship - for Clubs - for the first time, which was won by IOB (Chennai).

- Meanwhile, something special was happening at New Mexico State. Indian-origin Canadian Basketball giant Sim Bhullar started to make waves in his first season in college, leading the Aggies to the NCAA Division 1 tournament, winning WAC championship, MVP award, and starting some real buzz around his potential. Bhullar took the first big step into becoming the first Indian-heritage player to have a chance at the NBA.

- The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) launched India's first-ever 3x3 National Championship in New Delhi in early April.

- India's premier invitational basketball competition - Mumbai's Ramu Memorial tournament - was decided in mid-April with wins to some of the usual suspects - ONGC for Men and Southern Railway for Women.

- In April, the NBA's outgoing commissioner - the legendary David Stern - made his first ever trip to India. Stern visited Mumbai, interacted with Indian players and media, and took part in charity events. He also predicted that an Indian could play in the NBA within five years!

- 25 boys' and 24 girls' teams took part in the 30th Youth (U16) National Championship for Boys and Girls in the first week of May in Kolkata. Delhi (Boys) and Kerala (Girls) were crowned champions.

- India made some incredible progress in a different, yet parallel form of the game. At the first ever FIBA Asia 3x3 Basketball Championship, it was India's Women's team - led by Geethu Anna Jose - who defeated more favoured opponents to take home the gold medal. The tournament was held in Qatar (Doha). India's Men also participated in the tournament, but were ousted in the Quarter-Finals. Jose was named the tournament's 'Best Player!'

- A week later, the FIBA Asia 3x3 attention moved to the under-18 division. Once again, India excelled. Both of India's Boys' and Girls' teams played at a high level at the tournament in Bangkok (Thailand), and both went home with silver medals.

- Back across the pond, an unlikely development brought a pleasant surprise, bringing Sacramento and Mumbai closer together. Mumbai-born software entrepreneur Vivek Ranadive became the first Indian-origin majority-owner of an NBA team. Ranadive bought the Kings and helped to keep them in the city of Sacramento. With his purchase, Ranadive has since pushed more and more Indian influence in the NBA franchise than ever before.

- Under new Head Coach Scott Flemming, India started off as favourites to win the South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) Zone Qualifiers in New Delhi in early June. But the team didn't take their favourites tag for granted, and went on to get comfortable wins over Nepal and Afghanistan to win both their games and qualify for the FIBA Asia Championship for Men in the Philippines.

- Around the same week, the BFI formally announced that India's Senior Women's team had appointed a new head Coach - the Spaniard Francisco Garcia. Garcia came with over 20 years of coaching experience in Spain, Denmark, and Finland, and his first job would be to help the squad in the upcoming Women's FIBA Asia championships.

- In July, India's U16 Boys' won the SABA Qualifiers in Dhaka to qualify for the 3rd FIBA Asia U16 Championship.

- Just weeks after winning his second consecutive NBA Championship, Miami Heat's Chris Bosh visited Mumbai in perhaps the most-hyped visit by an NBA player to India ever. The #NamasteBosh campaign captured the attention of NBA fans all over the country. Bosh did some sightseeing in Mumbai and Agra, announced the new season of NBA Jam, held camps for young players, took part in charity events, and hung out with fringe Bollywood-types.

- In July, it was also announced that India's Snehal Bendke would become one of two first women referees to officiate at the Men's FIBA Asia Championship.

- The 1st-ever Midhun Markose All India Basketball Tournament was held in Thiruvanathapuram from August 4-9, and was won by IOB (Men) and Western Railway (Women).

- Asia's biggest basketball event - the FIBA Asia Championship - was held in Manila (Philippines) in mid-August. Hamed Haddadi led Iran to a dominant victory. India - who had finished 14th at the tournament two years ago - made some important steps to improvement by ending the championship with a 2-6 record at 11th place (out of 16). The Indian players returned encouraged after their performances, because even in their losses they displayed considerable improvement and posed a bigger challenge to their Asian opponents than expected.

- On August 22, ONGC & Southern Railway won the Golden Eagle Blue Star All India Tournament in Chennai.

- Chhattisgarh cemented their domination of Indian hoops at the Junior levels - specially amongst the under-14s - when both their boys' and girls' squads won the 40th National Championship for Sub-Junior Boys and Girls in Patna near the end of August.

- Chhattisgarh weren't done yet. Their Junior (U18) Girls team emerged as victors at the 64th Junior Nationals in Cuttack (Odisha) just a few weeks later. This time, the Boys' title went to the improving team from Delhi.

- India's largest ever 3x3 basketball tournament - the NBA Jam - came to a conclusion in Mumbai on September 29 after traversing through several cities in India. Former NBA players Horace Grant, Ron Harper, and Peja Stojacovic were present as special guests.

- China won their 3rd consecutive gold at the U16 FIBA Asia Championship for Men. Despite some encouraging performances, India couldn't improve on their standings and finished at 11th place again. They ended the tournament with a 2-5 record.

- In October, a game-changing announcement hit Indian hoops. The Reliance Foundation and NBA announced a multiyear partnership to launch a comprehensive school-based youth basketball strategy for India: the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme, whiche aimed 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 has been stated to reach one million youth and train 2,000 coaches and physical education instructors across the country!

- Before the start of the new NBA season, Vivek Ranadive's Sacramento Kings became the first NBA team to launch a website in Hindi to reach out to more Indian fans!

- By the end of October, The BFI and IMG Reliance brought back the School Basketball League around India, but expanded it to the largest-ever iteration to include eight cities: New Delhi, Mumbai, Ludhiana, Indore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bangalore, and Chennai.

- Indian NBA fans were surprised with some great news as the new NBA season began: sports channel Sony SIX announced that they would be showing an NBA doubleheader EVERY SINGLE DAY live during the course of the season in India, with up to 14 games a week. Never has there been more basketball on Indian TV!

- India's Women's team continued to take strides forward. Taking part in the FIBA Asia Women's Championship from October 27 - November 3 in Bangkok (Thailand), India finished at a best-ever 5th place, and also defeated Kazakhstan to score their first-ever victory in Level 1 in their 43-year history at the tournament. Francisco Garcia's debut as coach was a resounding success. India also defeated Malaysia to remain in Level 1. Japan won gold at the tournament.

- By the end of November, India's Women were in FIBA Asia action again. This time it was the U16 team, which finished 5th for the second consecutive time at the U16 FIBA Asia Championship (with a 2-4 record) in Colombo (Sri Lanka). China won their second gold at the championship.

- WNBA superstar Swin Cash visited India in Mid-December for a few days to support the growth of the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Programme.

- Three pillars of basketball - the BFI, the NBA, and FIBA, joined hands in December to bring expert training to India's most influential basketball coaches. It was announced that 120 Indian coaches from four zones around the country will receive the FIBA Level 1 Coaching Certification as well as BFI Certification. The camps started to be headed by FIBA's coaching instructor Nelson Isley, NBA India's Troy Justice and India's national team coaches Scott Flemming and Francisco Garcia.

- The year ended with the launch of the BFI-IMG Reliance College League, set to the same format as the School League and in the same eight cities: New Delhi, Mumbai, Ludhiana, Indore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bangalore, and Chennai.

Overall, it's been a busy, and mostly successful year. With every year, the calender of events and India's achievements gets busier. So we hope that in 2014, basketball in India gets bigger than ever before.

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