To those who have been closely following national-level basketball news in India, you would have known about the expanded Indian School Basketball League (ISBL) and the Indian College Basketball League (ICBL) launched by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and IMG-Reliance this year. The two leagues have expanded to 22 and 21 Indian cities respectively this year, with the new seasons of the leagues beginning around the end of September. Perhaps the most encouraging fact about the expansion was that the well-organized events were now set to be held not just in India's bigger cities but also in the Tier 2 or Tier 3 markets. The potential of basketball fever spreading through to the nation's grassroots through these leagues is immense.
One of these smaller markets is Varanasi, the tiny but culturally/politically important little city in Eastern Uttar Pradesh which has given rise of some of the best Indian players in recent years, including Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Trideep Rai, Divya Singh, Prashanti Singh, Akanksha Singh, and many more. The city also happens to be my hometown, and thus, obviously holds a extra-biased place in my heart. Varanasi was one of the cities chosen by the ISBL and the ICBL in their expansion this season; in both the leagues, Varanasi was placed in the 'Challenger League', the lower division where the best teams can have a chance to be promoted to the 'Premier League' depending on their performances.
Last night - November 11th - I happened to witness the ISBL Varanasi city finals, held at Sunbeam School-Bhagwanpur. Earlier in the day, Sunbeam School-Varuna (Girls) and Sant Atulanand (Boys) had already clinched the bronze medal at the city championship.
It was awesome to see next generation of potential basketball stars out of a city that has already produced so many great international talents for India recently. Hopefully, one of the young players from last night will also get a chance to breakthrough at the big stage in the coming years. Varanasi may be known for the ghats, the Ganga, it's temples, and its saris, but it's now time to add the city's hoops pedigree to the list, too.