August 4, 2014

India in Group A with China, Qatar, & Malaysia at 23rd FIBA Asia U18 Championship

The luck of the draw has placed India's Junior Men's Basketball team in Group A alongside holders China, hosts Qatar, and Malaysia in the Preliminary Round of the 23rd FIBA Asia U18 Championship, set to be held in Doha (Qatar) from August 19-28. The tournament will feature 15 total teams divided into four groups and will primarily be held at the Al-Gharafa Stadium in Doha.

India are the only representatives from South Asia at the tournament, and qualified after defeating neighbours Bangladesh and Sri Lanka at the South Asian qualifiers on home soil in Bengaluru last month.

A few days ago, India finalized the 12-member roster for this tournament, after Senior Head Coach Scott Flemming made some changes to the team that showed unexpected hiccups in the qualifier against Sri Lanka. But two of India's top junior players - Mahipal Singh and Gurvinder Singh Gill - figure to continue as the talisman to carry India's hopes forward at the tournament in Qatar.

While Qatar was chosen as the host for this championship months ago, the Qatar Basketball Federation (QBF) pulled out as hosts some days ago, leaving FIBA briefly in the hunt for a new location and possibly postpone the dates of the tournament. But a few days later, without further explanation, the QBF changed their minds and opted in again, with the tournament and the dates getting back to their earlier scheduled programme.

Here is the complete Preliminary Round draw for the 23rd FIBA Asia U18 Championship:
  • Group A: China, India, Malaysia, Qatar.
  • Group B: Korea, Philippines, Jordan.
  • Group C: Iran, Kazakhstan, Bahrain, Kuwait.
  • Group D: Japan, Chinese Taipei, Iraq, Hong Kong.
Three teams from each group will qualify for the Second Round of the tournament, where they will also carry forward their points from the preliminary round. All teams from Group B qualify; the 16th qualifying team in the tournament - Lebanon - have pulled out from participation.

Here is India's Preliminary Round Schedule All timings IST:
  • Aug 19, 2014 - 7:30 PM - India vs. Qatar
  • Aug 20, 2014 - 1:30 PM - Malaysia vs. India.
  • Aug 21, 2014 - 1:30 PM - China vs. India.
Photo courtesy: Ekalavyas
The previous edition of this tournament was held two years ago in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, where China won a thrilling finale by two points against Korea after overcoming a large deficit. China have won this trophy a record 10 times already and will count themselves among the favourites again. The top teams in all of the other groups - Korea, Iran, and Japan - will all have their eyes on the prize as well.

India finished 10th in Mongolia after qualifying from the preliminary group stage but being eliminated in the second round. The previous tournament will be remembered for several impressive breakout performances by India's Palpreet Singh Brar, who is now a member of the senior team.

China will of course be India's toughest early challenge. But head coach Jora Singh will be hoping that perhaps the under-18s can take inspiration from India's Senior Men's team, who performed a wonder at Wuhan a few weeks ago at the 5th FIBA Asia Cup, defeating China for the first time in their international basketball history, and did so on their home court. Even if India are unable to pull off another memorable upset, they have a legitimate chance of finishing at second place in this group. Neither Malaysia or Qatar - India's other two preliminary round opponents - qualified for championship in 2012, and India could have a slight edge over both teams at the tournament in a couple of weeks. Their opening game is against the hosts Qatar, and India will have to defeat not just the players on court but also overcome the home support.

12 teams will be divided into two groups of six in the second round, and if India can qualify for this group, they will play three more games within their new group. The top four teams from each second round group will then qualify for the Quarter-Final and into the knockout stage of the tournament.

Since 1972, India have only managed one top eight finish in the U18 FIBA ABC, 10 years ago when they finished seventh on their home floor in Bengaluru. A top two finish in the preliminary round group this time around could give India a good start for a potential Quarter-Final visit. India have a real chance at improving on their 10th place standing two years ago. The Senior team has already displayed that Indian basketball is on a rise and will continue to play confidently against all comers; now, it is the Juniors' turn to shine and to show that the future can be even brighter than the present.

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