Last week, India's senior basketball squads continued to show overall improvement at the 2014 Lusofonia Games - held at home in Goa - where they played against other nations of the Lusophone. The competition ended with glory for India's Men, as they went undefeated through the tournament and beat Angola in the Final to secure gold. The Women's squad - represented largely by an under-21 squad - shown great valiance against more successful African teams but had to settle for bronze.
India's Senior Men - led by Head Coach Scott Flemming (formerly of the NBDL Texas Legends) - defeated Guinea Bissau and Angola in the preliminary round before getting past Cape Verde in the semi-final and beating Angola once more in the tournament's Final. It was a real achievement for India especially to defeat the much-higher ranked Angola and Mozambique. Angola are African champs, and although they sent a mostly under-23 side, India's performances were nevertheless extremely impressive.
I interviewed both Flemming and Garcia after the teams' performances in Goa, and about looking forward to India's international competitions ahead.
Hoopistani: What were your expectations going into this tournament? Do you feel that you achieved them?
Flemming: I wasn’t familiar with the Lusofonia Games until about six weeks ago. At first I did not know what to expect but as I heard more about the teams involved I knew it would be a very competitive tournament. It was difficult because we had limited preparation time. Because of the circumstances our training was restricted to short sessions during the Savio Cup where most of the players were involved practicing and playing with their club teams. Fortunately, nine of the players had been with me in training camps the previous year. Although we always play to win every game I believe our primary goal was to earn a medal coming into the tournament. By winning all of our games against some strong African teams and receiving the Gold Medal I believe we probably exceeded the expectations of most people.
Hoopistani: India doesn't have as much experience going against teams outside of Asia - how were you able to prepare them tactically for this new challenge?
Flemming: Most of these players had played in the FIBA ABCs in August. I believe we were able to use those losses and wins to better prepare for these teams. Because of previous training together we were able to mix up our defenses and that definitely helped us to be competitive. Our players also did a great job of following our game plans that we put together from scouting the teams during the tournament.
Hoopistani: India fielded a junior squad in the Women's division - which young players impressed you the most? Who has the best chance at breaking into the senior team?
Garcia: It was great to see how Poojamol KS and Priti Kumari (both 17 years old) competed face to face against older and more experienced players. Jeena PS and Shireen Limaye showed expected standards of leadership. Overall, all the girls played at a good level. If they keep working hard, some of them will have the chance for the senior team. The experience of veteran girls plus the the energy of youngsters will make a good mix.
Hoopistani: You've been getting more familiar with the Indian squad now and your star players. Who would you say were the standout performers in Goa?
Flemming: If you watch our team play it has been a pattern for different players to step up every game. Unfortunately, that can mean that we have players that need to be more consistent in their play. It also means we have many players that are capable of making a big impact on a game. Although we are still a very young team our veterans, if you can call them that, like Vishesh [Bhriguvanshi] and Yadu [Yadwinder Singh] played a big role for us. Joginder [Singh] hit some big time shots, especially the three’s at the end of the Gold Medal game. Amjyot [Singh] played a key role even with a broken nose in the last 2 games. Pratham [Singh] has become one of our most consistent players on both ends of the floor. I could go on with others. We really have to do it as a team in order to beat these kind of opponents.
Hoopistani: What was the toughest game for you?
Hoopistani: Give me one moment - on or off the court - that you will most remember from the Lusofonia Games.
Flemming: Two things come to my mind. One is the standing room only crowd in the Gold Medal game chanting 'I-N-D-I-A' at a high volume. They really were the 6th man. The second thing was the look on my player’s faces after we won the last game. That made it all worthwhile. They all thanked me after the game but it was really more about them. They have been through a lot to get to this point.
Garcia: The happiest moment for me was to see the kids in the podium getting their medals. Their faces meant everything. They really enjoy this sport. It was amazing.
Flemming: There are a few things we are learning. I believe our players are finally realizing you have to take care of the basketball and limit the turnovers to beat strong teams. This has been a weakness in the past and hopefully this will continue to be an area of improvement. The players are also buying in to the kind of defensive intensity that I am expecting. Overall we were very good defensively during the Lusofonia Games. It is still obvious that the physical strength of our players needs great improvement. At times we were pushed around easily by the big bodies of the Angola players, which resulted in a big rebounding disadvantage. We will try to continue to address all of these areas going forward.
Garcia: Now after the successes for Indian basketball at the FIBA ABC and in these games, as our Men's team won the competition, it is time to make some steps to move ahead, and the people who have the capacity to take these steps have to work on it. Improved Strength and conditioning is a must, we need professional leagues for men and women, and good facilities for practice. All these things together will help the growth of Indian basketball even more. I think we have shown a good performance lately in international competitions and players deserve clearly the best conditions that they can be given for them to keep improving.