India's national men's team are earning both wins and respect on the court at the 5th FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan, China, but they are not the only representatives from the nation making the 'tiranga' proud: India have also sent two of its most experienced referees - Snehal Bendkel and Ceciline Michael Vino - to call the shots on the court from a different angle. The tournament has added yet another feather in the cap for both these exceptional officials.
Bendke, born in the city of Kohlapur in Maharashtra, is truly one of our lesser-known national treasures. She has a ever-growing list of "firsts" next to her resume: she was among the first Indian women to become a FIBA referees, she was the first Indian woman to be nominated to officiate at the Olympics games, and she was among the two first women of any nationality to officiate at a Men's FIBA Asia Championship last year. She has refereed in the Women's World Championship and in Women's FIBA Asia tournaments for all age groups: U16, U18, and Seniors. And now, she is back to impose her ruling on the Asian Men's scene as one of the referees at the Men's FIBA Asia Cup.
"The level of basketball so far at the Asia Cup has been really high," she said, "These are the top 10 teams in the tournament, and they are all playing at a high level."
After accomplishing nearly everything on a referees radar, Bendke still has a few more accomplishments to check off her list: "I want to referee in the World Championship for Men, and referee Finals for the World Championships!" she said.
The last time we checked in with Ceciline Michael Vino, he had just officiated the biggest game of his career, the Final of the Women's FIBA Asia Championship in 2011. The former All India University Championship player, bailing from Nagercoil in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu, has only added to his growing list of referring accomplishments since. In total, he has officiated at two Men's FIBA Asia tournaments and three Women's tournaments in the past.
Being a FIBA referee doesn't only involve staying sharp on court; there is immense responsibility among all FIBA officials to study FIBA's rule changes and live up to the high expectations to keep evolving as the game itself evolves. But Vino said that, with the change in rules, practice makes perfect. "We practice a lot whenever the rules change," he said, "FIBA always announce such changes six months prior, so it's very easy for us to cope with them by the time they are implemented."
"My best experiences so far have really been at the Women's ABC Finals in Tokyo, and the semi-finals of the next tournament in the same category in Bangkok last year," he added.
Indian fans will truly be hoping that their team's Cinderella run continues and they can shock the continent by reaching the Finals in Wuhan. But if they fail on any step of the way, we will be rooting for one (or both?) of our refs to represent us in the biggest game of the tournament.