April 30, 2014

Damien Wilkins to join Crossover Basketball Academy's programme in India this July

Nine-year NBA veteran Damien Wilkins will be coming to India in July to be a part of this season's 'Hoops Creating Hope' programme by the Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy. Crossver will hold the 2014 edition of their programme in Chennai from July 7-18 this year and Wilkins will be a part of their faculty.

Wilkins played the majority of his NBA career in the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder, before playing short stints with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, and the Philadelphia 76ers. He last played professional basketball briefly in China with the Beijing Ducks last year. Wilkins has NBA career averages of 6.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 19.3 minutes per game, and enjoyed his best season in 2007-08 with the Sonics averaging a career high 9.2 ppg.

"It is a pleasure to travel to India this year to collaborate with Crossover; I am excited, and looking forward to having a positive impact!” said Wilkins. “Basketball has always been an important part of my life, it is the vehicle I used to get my education and more importantly promote the importance of academics."

Crossover's Hoops Creating Hope is a two-week programme for students in Chennai create and develop the link between leadership, character, teamwork, and communication with academic success and future goals using basketball as the medium for education and change. This year, Crossover will host a Sport in Education Conference on July 12 at The American International School in Chennai. Thought leaders, student voices, coaches, and educators from the US and India will discuss the positive role sport can play in a students overall education.

Wilkins will join a faculty that includes Crossover founder Shaun Jayachandran, WSN247 co-founder Carie Small, Phillips Academy cluster dean Raj Mundra, Harvard University basketball junior Jonah Travis, and Emory women’s basketball players Lauren Ball and freshman Maggie Brown. Additionally, Varun Ram - the Indian-origin player for the University of Maryland - has also confirmed his attendance. And Indian actress/model/basketball enthusiast mentioned that she'll visit the programme as well.

Wilkins comes from a family of great basketball heritage. He is the son of 13-year NBA veteran Gerald Wilkins and nephew of Basketball Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins (who came to India for the NBA's Basketball Without Borders programme in 2008).

April 29, 2014

BFI-IMG Reliance School/College League National Finals to tip off in New Delhi

For the past four to five months, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) alongside their sponsors IMG-Reliance have organized inner-city school and college basketball leagues for both male and female teams in record eight cities around India: New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Indore, Ludhiana, Chennai, and Kolkata. Now, with all the various leagues concluded, comes the final step.

The men/women winners from each city in both school/college leagues have descended into New Delhi for the first-ever BFI-IMG Reliance School/College League National Finals. A total of 32 teams will be competing for Men's National College Champion, Women's National College Champion, Men's National School Champion, and Women's National School Champion. The tournament is being held at the Thyagaraj Stadium in the city from April 30 - May 4.

"This tournament will provide new and promising talents from the grassroots level, which will develop and promote the sport, which is the endeavour of the BFI IMG-Reliance collaboration," said Roopam Sharma, the CEO of the BFI, "Competition at this stage will give much-needed boost to budding players who can catch the eye of the selectors and can use this as a platform to make their mark at the national level for their respective states."

Winners of each category will receive Rs. 1 lakh while the second and third placed teams will take home Rs. 75,000 and Rs. 50,000 each.

Sharma announced that next year, the school and college tournament hopes to expand to 24 Indian cities. Additionally, she added, a professional basketball league, in line with the IPL or football's ISL, will also be unveiled in India next year.

April 28, 2014

India's National Basketball Teams practice in Greater Noida: Catching up with Coaches & Players

Since April 15, India's Senior Men's Basketball team probables have been at training camp at the Jaypee Greens Integrated Sports Center in Greater Noida with Head Coach Scott Flemming. A week later - on April 22 - the women's senior team joined in too, led by Head Coach Francisco Garcia. This was the first time that India's national squads were using this facility. But these camps aren't just to give our players and our coaches a cushy spot to shoot hoops; there is serious business in progress here, the business to prepare the national squads for a busy calender of basketball ahead.

I got a chance to visit the national camp earlier today, speak to both the foreign Head Coaches, interact with some of India's top national team players, and also witness some of the training sessions.


On this day, the Men's squad practiced first. Unlike the Women's side - whose next assured major tournament won't be until the Asian Games in September - the Men have several more urgent matters on their schedule. In a few weeks, they will be heading to Kathmandu (Nepal) to take part in the South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) Basketball Championship, where they will face other South Asian squads such as Nepal, Bangladesh, or Bhutan. Afghanistan, who have pumped their national team with Afghan-Americans, are usually India's closest challenger in these tournaments, but Coach Scott Flemming wasn't sure if they would be participating this year. Victory in the SABA Championship (which is almost assured) will help India qualify for the Asia Cup, set to be held in Wuhan (China) in Mid-July. Sometime in August, the national team might head to Dubai for a top level Asian invitational basketball tournament. And finally in September, they will shift their attention to the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon (South Korea).

Very early in our conversation, Flemming makes sure to mention that, above all the cultural and professional differences that an American faces when working in India, his salvation is found easily on the court. "I love my players and my coaches here," he says, "And I have always loved practice." He has been in India a year and a half now since his appointment, prior to which he was an assistant coach of the NBDL side Texas Legends.

The last time Flemming worked with the national team was when he guided India to a memorable gold medal win at the Lusofonia Games in Goa in January. Flemming recalled the victory fondly, saying that he was amazed to see over 4,000 fans in the stadium in final against Angola chanting 'In-dia!" "In-dia!'. "It was like an NBA home court advantage," Flemming said, "For our players, it was great to have that support at home that basketball doesn't usually get."

The Lusofonia Games triumph also showcased India's improving confidence against top sides, and their ability to finish off close games. Flemming told me that the team had learnt a lot from the tragic, close losses to Bahrain and Japan last August at the FIBA Asia Championship and were able to withstand the pressure against their challengers in the Lusofonia Games.

"The team has definitely improved on the defensive end," said Flemming, "We are continuing to spend a lot of time practicing team defense and transition defense in particular. Our goal is to get back quickly on fast-breaks and not allow any layups. Some players were only used to playing zone, which is important, but it's important to teach man-to-man principals, too."

"Another thing that we've been working on are proper offensive systems and sets. I want to give my players freedom from time to time on offense, but it has to be within the structure."

Flemming also added that a lot of the current camp's focus is on individual player development to help the veterans of the Indian squad keep improving. He is also looking to continue bringing a younger crop of players to give them exposure - currently he said that there were "four of five" first-timers with the senior team in the national camp.

Flemming noted that players like Amjyot Singh, Amrit Pal Singh, and Joginder Singh had all made major improvements to their game since his arrival, while veterans such as Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Yadwinder Singh have continued to be match-winners and an important part of the squad. When asked about 7-foot teenage phenom Satnam Singh Bhamara who is currently playing at the IMG Acadmey in Florida, Flemming made it clear that the team couldn't count on his return for this summer's events. "He has had several injuries and is now recovering," said Flemming, "It is probably better for him to focus on his conditioning over in Florida for now."

But Flemming believes that, while India can continue making baby steps in improvement at the Asian level in the next few years, a major ruling will always hold them back from take a giant leap forward. That ruling is of the naturalization of foreign players. Most Asian teams have at least one player - usually their best player - who has little to no connection to that country at all. FIBA allows every team to have only one naturalized foreign player on their roster, a rule that is stretched and abused liberally by most squads. India, however, doesn't allow naturalization: to become an Indian citizen (and thus be a naturalized player for India), one has to surrender their foreign passport, unlike other countries. India doesn't allow dual citizenship. It is this dilemma that has kept a number of talented Non-Resident Indian (NRI) talents who have played a high-level of basketball in North America or elsewhere from committing to the Indian national team.

"We play under different rules to most other countries," Flemming said, "I know of 12-14 NRIs, like Inderbir Gill or Varun Ram, who have expressed their desire or passion to play for India, but it is tough to expect them to denounce their foreign passports. Almost every other Asian country however has at least one foreigner. Really, all I wish for is a level-playing field. Either no team should be allowed to have naturalized players, or at some point in the future, we are allowed to at least feature a few players of Indian-origin in the Indian roster. For us to make a big jump forward, this has to be a part of it."


I also briefly spoke to Bhriguvanshi, Yadwinder, Amjyot, Amrit Pal, Joginder, and Pratham Singh, all of whom were in praise of the coach and were eager to embody the philosophy of team first. "We are all starters," Yadwinder said, "Ask any of the players in the camp and they are all good enough to start for India."

Among themselves, the players noted that Amjyot had probably improved the most, while Joginder had also become a key cog in the squad.

"Previously, there was a lot more individual play in the team," said Amjyot, "I think the team is very unselfish now."


India's Women's side has a little longer to go, a little more time to prepare, and a little more uncertainty while they wait for the next international challenge. Their big tournament is the Asian Games in Korea in September, but before that, Coach Francisco Garcia's side will have a camp at Greater Noida until May 17th, two more camps, and hopefully an exposure trip of friendly games before the tournament in September.

The Spaniard Garcia, a veteran of 20 years of coaching experience in Spain, Denmark, and Finland, was appointed India's Women's Head Coach about 10 months ago. Since then, he helped lead India to a best-ever fifth-place finish at the FIBA Asia Championship, which included a memorable overtime victory over Kazakhstan. Garcia hopes to continue the momentum looking ahead.

"The biggest challenge is to hold on to the fifth place," says Garcia, "It will not be easy because other teams like Kazakhstan or Malaysia are right on our toes. Unfortunately, the top four of Women's basketball in Asia - China, Japan, Chinese Taipei, and Korea - is quite set. I think we need a proper professional league in India so that our girls can get the exposure and talent to play at the high level if we are to challenge any of those teams."

Currently, several of the more recognizable faces of the Indian women's squad, such as Geethu Anna Jose, Anitha Paul Durai, Prashanti Singh, Akanksha Singh, Raspreet Sidhu, Poojamol KS, Jeena PS, and more hadn't arrived at the camp yet for various reasons. Garcia confirmed that all of them - with the exception of Anitha who will not be playing this year due to personal reasons - will be coming into camp over the next few weeks. A total of 17 girls are expected.

For now, Garcia says he's excited to continue working with the younger players to get them ready to become the next big things. "You see these girls, who are not the usual stars for India, and even they have improved their skills so much," he proudly adds.

Like Flemming's Men's squad, Garcia is also focusing on improvement at two levels for the women: defense, and more organized offense.

One of the other challenges that Garcia's team will face ahead is moving on forward as the skills and fitness of Geethu Anna Jose - the greatest player of this generation in India - start to fade. For a decade (or more), Jose had dominated Indian basketball, been a force at the Asian level too, played professionally in Australia and Thailand, and even earned trials with three WNBA teams. Jose was not at her best for India at the recent FIBA Asia Championship, but was still a force in the post at crucial moments and played a part in India's fifth-place finish. But overall, for the first time in the 'Jose era', the team didn't need her to put up monster numbers in each game, and instead, the offense was more divided than it has ever been in recent years.

"A good team has to have balance on both the inside and outside," Garcia says, "Geethu wasn't in the best shape at the championship but she still helped us a lot. After she leaves the team, we'll have a major gap in the middle and will need to find another player who can dominate the paint. But in other areas, I think that the team has enough talent."


After practice, both teams headed out for their afternoon break, and both would return for more in the evening. It's a grueling schedule to get the best of all the players involved in the national system and to make sure that both teams maintain or improve their current standings at the international level.

April 26, 2014

Sim Bhullar declares! Will he become the first Indian-origin player in the NBA?

One step closer, y'all!

Yes, the rumours which have been flying around for the past 10 days are now true and confirmed. According to New Mexico State, 7-foot-5 sophomore Sim Bhullar, born in Canada to parents from India, has officially declared for the 2014 NBA draft, foregoing his two remaining years of college eligibility. If he is drafted by an NBA team on June 26, 2014, Bhullar could become the first player of Indian-origin in history to have a place on an NBA roster.

Sim Bhullar is a big young man; this news is bigger.

You probably already know Bhullar's story by now: The 21-year-old giant was born in Toronto to parents who had immigrated from Amritsar, India. Sim and his younger brother Tanveer (also a giant) grew up and didn't stop growing. They made a name for themselves at the Kiski School in Pennsylvania, at the Huntington Prep School in West Virginia, and one by one, both joined New Mexico State to play for the Aggies in NCAA Division 1. Sim was named the 2013 and 2014 Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Tournament MVP and led the league in blocks (3.37 per game) and shooting percentage (64.8). Last year, he had a major breakout, capturing the imaginations of fans domestic and across the oceans. He helped the Aggies reach the NCAA tournament both years and finished this season with averages of 10.2 points and 7.2 rebounds. His team had a 50-21 record over the past two years for a 70.4 winning percentage.

"I have always dreamed of playing professional basketball and I have decided to officially pursue this by entering my name into the NBA Draft," said Bhullar. "I want to thank my family, friends, coaches, and teammates for all their support during this decision making process. Most importantly I want to thank all the Aggie fans who have followed and cheered us on. The support and love I received here has made my time in Las Cruces an amazing college experience. Aggie Up."

Now that he has declared, Bhullar has a real chance of becoming the first to cross a threshold never crossed yet in the world's greatest basketball league. Indians (or South Asians in general) - despite our massive diaspora across the planet - haven't exactly turned the basketball world on fire. Despite the big numbers, Indians are generally underrepresented at the highest levels of the game (here is a short short-list of every Indian-origin player to ever play NCAA D1 basketball) and back home in India, we are still some steps away from having that one international game-changing talent. Bhullar may not be Indian by nationality, but he is Indian by ethnicity; his progress has been followed by the diaspora closely for several years, and a lot of brown-skinned people - from various corners of the world - will be pumping their fists or doing some bhangra if Bhullar's name is called on draft night.

There are some who have questioned Bhullar's declaration, and the reasons for the criticism are understandable. Despite his awesome size, talent, and potential, Bhullar is still an unfinished product. He has barely been in game shape for the NCAA in the last two years, and at this point, he is nowhere close to being in shape to handle the speed of the NBA. Additionally, by declaring now, he will lose the opportunity to play for New Mexico State with younger brother Tanveer. Tanveer was a redshirt freshman last season and thus never suited up for an official game in Aggies colours next to his brother. The combo of 7-5 Sim and 7-3 Tanveer, two big bad Indians dominating everything in sight, would've been pretty awesome.

Additionally, another year in college would've improved Sim's game and raised his profile among NBA scouts a little more. Currently, DraftExpress ranks him 96 among prospects, although his declaration may raise his standing significantly. Bhullar and his camp must obviously believe that he can impress NBA scouts at and teams at pre-draft camps enough between now and the end of June to be drafted. Some might say that this decision was made too soon, but if Bhullar believes it's the right time (with his market value on the rise) let's just wait and see if it is.

If I had to predict, I'll probably say that the best-case scenario for Bhullar is that he gets picked late in the second round of the draft, somewhere between 45-60. Every NBA team could use a 7-5 behemoth off the bench to be a monster on the defensive end who creates matchup problems on offense in limited minutes. Additionally, NBA teams could also see the 'Indian' marketing angle, and the potential of reaching out to a whole new set of people never before represented in the league.

You know what would be cool? If somehow, the Kings - the first/only NBA team owned by an Indian (Vivek Ranadive) - somehow get their hands on Bhullar. Ranadive has already been pitching hard for Kings to be 'India's team' and has taken various steps to reach out to the Indian audience. The Kings even featured a shooting shirt with their team name in Hindi for 'Bollywood Night' a few weeks ago. Having an Indian wear a shirt with किंग्स in the front makes perfect sense. Also, can you imagine Bhullar coming off the bench for DeMarcus Cousins? I'm already taking credit '#BoogieBhangra' which is going to break Twitter in a few months.

Anyways, we are obviously hoping that Bhullar not only gets drafted but also enjoys a decent NBA career. Any success for him will influence millions of other Indians playing basketball all around the world, without a role model from their own community at the highest level to look up to. Sim Bhullar could be that role model, and his presence among the world's best basketball players in the NBA will not only break a major barrier but also help encourages those million others to continue believing in their basketball dreams.

April 24, 2014

Welcome to the Jungle

The playoffs aren’t a stroll in the park. There are dangerous animals, unexpected changes of terrain, the possibility of getting lost in the gloom and the darkness, and a lot of annoying little insects (or the media) out there in the wild. In the playoffs, you either hunt or get hunted. Become the predator or the prey. Win four times in a series and survive, or lose and get left behind.

As we approach the end of the first week of the NBA postseason, we have seen four young perimeter players be let loose in the jungle for the first time. How are they handling it? And how many will have a chance to survive and keep venturing ahead?

Click here to read my full feature.

April 21, 2014

Indian Tamasha League: The ISL lays down structure for future Indian Basketball League

By and large, sports around the world center around the individual stars playing and dominating at the highest level, instead of the teams they represent or the intricacies of the sport itself. Sure, the serious fraternity behind any sport and serious fans of any club/country will look beyond the individual faces at the top, but mainstream attention comes most from the big names. Virat. Ronaldo. LeBron. Mayweather. Bolt. Tiger. Federer. Manning. Jeter. These are the names that draw the big crowds, the names that sell merchandise, and the names that can create or combust the popularity of their sport.

But a curious thing happened in India last week at the sale of the eight franchises which are set to become the backbone of the Indian Super League (ISL), the highest-profile attempt yet to launch a professional football league in the country. Few people were talking about the names of the stars that would actually play for these teams or the coaches that are confirmed participation. Past foreign footballing superstars like Dwight Yorke, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pirès, Louis Saha, and Hernán Crespo are all set to be 'auctioned' off to the various franchises, not to mention India's top football stars who will be entering their names into the fray, too. Peter Schmeichel, Marcel Desailly and Kenny Dalglish are rumoured to participate as the coaches masterminding some of the teams. But across the mainstream media reports of the ISL, these names were rarely mentioned.

Instead, just like everything else in India, the big newsmakers came from familiar grounds: Bollywood and Cricket. Even as the country reached closer to the launch of a potentially game-changing football league, the ironic thing was that rarely anyone was actually talking about football or footballers. Instead, the names behind the league - the owners who brought shares of the teams - stole the show. Sachin Tendulkar, Salman Khan, Sourav Ganguly, Ranbir Kapoor, and John Abraham were among the celebrities who brought stakes in some of the ISL franchises, while big business magnates in India including the Sun Group, Den Network, Videocon, and more provided the big financial backing. The closest the ISL got to a footballing relation was the involvement of Spanish Primera Liga side Atletico Madrid with the Kolkata franchise. About $200 million has been spent on the bidding of the eight teams.

The ISL is being launched by IMG Worldwide and Reliance - who together as IMG-Reliance have sponsorship stakes in several sports in India, including basketball - the All India Football Federation (AIFF), and Star India TV Network. The league is set to kick off in September this year and run for two months. The eight franchises are from Bengaluru, Delhi, Goa, Guwahati, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Pune. It's format has already closely mirrored the successful T20 Cricket league IPL, and will continue to do so in the future.

Football leagues have been in India for a long time, and so why is this one special? A National Football League started in 1997, but that folded up in 2007 and it gave way to I-League. which is running (not as successfully as expected) today.

So far, the ISL has been, for the lack of a better word in my opinion, a dumbed-down version of the sport from the point of view of football purists, like the IPL has been for true aficionados of cricket. Team owners will be more popular then most players and there will be a lot of annoying tamasha on the side (ever tried listening to IPL 'experts'? Yeesh!).

But here's the truth: in the long run, even the purists will be glad when they see that the money going into the league (and thus, into the sport in general) because of hype or celebrities. Like it or not, in India, you need hype to sell anything, and established themes like Cricket and/or Bollywood can be used to bring attention to non-so-established things (which include every other sport apart from Cricket).

In certain pockets in India (Bengal, the North-East, Kerala, Goa) Football is huge and can easily rival Cricket's popularity. But it is still relatively a poor sport unknown to the mainstream audience. The unconvincing performances of India's national teams is a major reason for this. Perhaps, playing in a big-money league among established foreign coaches and stars and the chance to finally be celebrated for their talents will give a ray of hope to Indian footballers and encourage more to take up the sport. If the popularity spills beyond ISL, football could finally begin to live up to its potential in India, and eventually, India's national team performances could see a major boost.

There are critics of the ISL, of course. The CEO of Churchill Brothers (Federation Cup winners) Valanka Alemao has said that, "This league will harm Indian football. There cannot be two leagues in the country which is struggling to qualify for the World Cup... We should have been talking about building a team rather than having such a league. India should have a 10-year vision to qualify for the World Cup."

Although he makes valid points, I don't fully agree with Alemao's opinion. If a sport is struggling in India, more money and interest poured into it can never be a bad thing. Yes, the AIFF needs to have a 10-year national vision, but that vision can be eased with the performances of Indian players at the ISL. There are also scheduling conflicts to solve, as the ISL currently clashes with FIFA dates and the I-League.

But count me among the camp of those excited for the ISL. I'm a football fan who unfortunately knows much more about players from Real Madrid and Liverpool than I know about players from clubs in my own country. Hundreds of thousands of football fans in India feel exactly the same way. A well-produced league that brings the game closer to mainstream India is sure to pay huge dividends.

On the day that the eight franchises and their owners were announced, Mike Dolan, the chairman of IMG, threw a curve-ball that sparked the interest of us over here at the 'India Basketball' camp. Dolan said that while the ISL has plans to grow aggressively and add 12 new franchises in the coming years, he also said that the model would be used to launch India's first professional basketball league next year. Remember, IMG-Reliance also hold marketing rights to basketball in India because of their partnership with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). They have been in delayed talks to launch the pro league in India for several years now, but Dolan's public announcement with a set date (2015) right after the ISL's first season seems to be the surest sign yet that the basketball league which all hoop fans in the country have dreamed about for years could finally be here.

The benefits of finally having a professional basketball league in India are many. In an earlier column that I wrote for Ekalavyas, I noted that such a league would change everything for the sport in the country. India's best players would finally have an assured, steady contract from the sport that they excel in, and many more will be encouraged to start taking basketball seriously. The league would eventually generated jobs for several others connected to the game, including coaches, referees, scouts, trainers, broadcast personnel, and more. And it might help in accelerating the rise of new, better basketball infrastructure around the country. Eventually, the rise in interest, talent, and financial support could lead to better results for India's national basketball teams at the Asian or global stage.

Of course, Basketball is far less popular in India than Cricket or Football right now, but the same model as the IPL and ISL - at a smaller financial scale - could be successful here for the proposed Indian Basketball League.

And so what if it takes a little bit of tamasha, hype, or celebrity culture? So what if cricketers, Bollywood stars, or big name billionaires are needed to get it off the ground? The NBA in India has already understood that the majority of casual fans only show interest when there is a celebrity or too involved, and recent NBA-India events (like the NBA Jam) always ensure to have glamour and lifestyle infused with basketball.

Here is a possible list of things to expect in the Indian basketball league outside of basketball: corny cheerleaders, T-shirt throws, cameras zooming into the fringe Bollywood types (whattup Dino Morea!) on the sidelines, and too much attention on fashion or what they call 'glamour'. All of this already happens in the NBA anyways, but at least the high quality of basketball makes it all tolerable. This won't necessarily be the case in India. But if that is what takes to sell basketball to mainstream Indians, then so be it.

Purists can call all of this a 'dumbing down' of the sport, but in the long run, it might end up being the smartest thing that the organizers could have possibly done.

Perhaps, just like the ISL, on the day that the basketball league franchises are launched, the celebrity names might garner more neattention than the basketball players themselves. But, hopefully in the future, the real stars of the sport on the court will begin to speak and shine for themselves.

April 20, 2014

Ahmed Hafiz of Maldives appointed as president of South Asian Basketball Association (SABA)

At its recent congress in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) elected Ahmed Hafiz as their new president. Hafiz is the president of the Maldives Basketball Association.

The SABA subzone of FIBA Asia consists of eight South Asian countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The SABA congress was held during the 1st ever SABA 3x3 basketball championship in Dhaka (where India did not participate).

India's Ajay Sud - the Secretary General of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) - was elected as SABA vice president.

The congress was attended by SABA's outgoing president Ajith Kuruppu (Sri Lanka), FIBA Asia president Sheikh Saud bin Ali Al Thani and FIBA Asia Secretary General Hagop Khajirian, among others.

"This region is one of the most populuous regions and therefore provides us the opportunity to increase the support base for basketball. We all have to put our strength together and work in that direction," Sheikh Saud said.

So what does Hafiz's appointment mean for SABA? Nothing, really. In Asian basketball - particularly in South Asian basketball - the names at the top rotate among themselves while progress at the ground level is made at a snail's pace. South Asia is one of the worst basketball zones in the world, with only two of its eight countries (India and Sri Lanka) currently standing in FIBA's top
100 rankings for Men
. Plus, it looks like their official website hasn't been updated in two years. Rampant corruption (I shouldn't say rampant to be honest, because there isn't enough money in the sport in the region yet) and a lack of interest is keeping the region in the backwaters of basketball. India is generally the only SABA country that qualifies for FIBA Asia events, and despite dominating their SABA competitors, India almost always get their butts kicked against East Asian or Middle Eastern teams.

This year is big for SABA: after the 3x3 championship (which was won by hosts Bangladesh), the next major event will be the 3rd South Asian Basketball Championship, scheduled to be held in Kathmandu (Nepal). It should be a chance to see the best basketball talent of the region compete against each other and an opportunity for the new leadership of SABA to truly assist growth and promotion of the game.

April 19, 2014

Bold Playoff Predictions: 14 foolproof guarantees for the NBA post-season

This feature was first published in the 127th edition (2014 - No. 6) of SLAM China magazine. Here is original English version of the story.

Predicting the future can be a tricky business, but the hazy smog that separates reality from a close approximation of reality hasn’t stopped the tricky business of prediction to develop into the profitable business of forecasting. Cultures and beliefs around the world use varied zodiac methods to paint vague portraits of the future. If it’s not the Year of the Horse, then it’s the sign of the Aries. It is isn’t palm reader then its mystic octopuses or parrots making their guesses.

But all in all, no one really knows anything.

And when it comes to the NBA playoffs, even prophets like Nostradamus or Hong Xiuquan couldn’t exactly predict the winners from the losers and the team that would be lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy in mid-June.

The NBA has long had its famous prophecies, too. After winning the 1987 title, Pat Riley guaranteed a repeat at the Lakers’ championship parade. A year later, his guarantee was fulfilled with the NBA’s first successful title defense in 18 seasons. In 2005, Detroit Piston Rasheed Wallace successfully guaranteed (or ‘guaransheed’) that his team would win Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals after falling behind to the Heat. Everyone from Dikembe Mutombo in 2001 to Kobe Bryant last year have used guarantees as part of successful motivational tactics.

And then there are the stinkers, the wild guarantees that have gone way off to the embarrassment or ridicule of the forecasters. After LeBron James left Cleveland for Miami in 2010, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert famously posted that his team would win a title before LeBron and the Heat. Four years since then, the Heat have won two titles and the Cavaliers have yet to make the playoffs. JR Smith guaranteed a championship for the Knicks in September, but the squad looked like a shell of itself all season. Going back to the two-time champs Heat and LeBron James: if their 2010 boasts are to be believed, Miami fans should be expecting, “Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven,” titles in the Big Three era.

It’s time for us fans to rebel against tall words of such false prophets. Which is why I’m bringing you 14 fool-proof, undeniable guarantees for the 2014 playoffs. In what is priming to be another year of unpredictable action in the post-season, here are the predictions that you can be sure to bet on.

1. Marco Belinelli will become famous

If there is any model of consistency in the league, it’s those Spurs. Every year, just when everyone assumes that San Antonio are going to be done and dusted, they rise and surprise and make us all into believers again. While big names like Dwight Howard, Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala, or Josh Smith made high-profile changes of scenery over the past year, the most-underrated pick-up might have been made by the Spurs when they signed Italian Marco Belinelli from the Bulls at the beginning of the season. Even though he’s “only” pouring in 11.6 points per game, Belinelli has been a perfect fit for his new team, stretching the floor with his hot three-point shooting (39.8 percent) and giving more space and opportunities for traditional big names in San Antonio like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, or Kawhi Leonard to dominate more efficiently. Last year, Danny Green broke all kinds of three-point records in the NBA Finals and briefly became a household name; as the Spurs go deeper into the playoffs again, expect the same from Belinelli this year.

2. Derek Fisher will hit one or more clutch shots

At 39, we know that he’s one of the oldest players in the league, a slow-footed, defensively-minus point guard who is already third in the pecking order at his position in his own team behind Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. We know that he’s only like to play between 15-20 minutes a game for OKC in the playoffs as they aspire to ride behind Kevin Durant’s brilliance to an NBA title. But make no mistake: this old horse still has the experience and timing to hit the biggest shot at the game’s biggest moments. Already through the course of this season, Fisher has time and again stepped up for the Thunder in crunch-time minutes in their most crucial games. With five titles on his resume, Fisher has no fear of the big moment, and rivals are still shook from the famous 0.4 second shot he hit over the Spurs 10 years ago. Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Lamb and co will clearly have a bigger impact in the Thunder’s progress in the playoffs, but Fisher is guaranteed to have his number called for a big shot (or two) over the next two months.

3. The internet will run wild with Big Baby Davis jokes

Glen “Big Baby” Davis is not a thin human being. As a matter of fact, it still surprises many that, despite his tremendous girth he is still able to become an effective rotation player in the league. Davis’ departure from the Magic to the Clippers puts him further in the eyes of the mainstream media, and now, playing for one of the contenders in the West, there will be a lot more Big Baby sightings in the playoffs. Which also means that the ruthless (and hilarious) internet is going to run wild.

4. If Clippers play the Rockets, we will witness a Dwight vs. DeAndre Free Throw contest every fourth quarter

Dwight Howard of the Rockets and DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers are both tremendously athletic Centers, and both particularly talented on the defensive end of the floor. Howard has been one of the elite big men in the league for several years and Jordan has made a quantum leap this season under Doc Rivers. The trouble is: neither one is particularly gifted from the free throw line. Howard has shot an (improved) 54.8 percent from the line this season while Jordan is in an uglier territory of 44.9 percent. If the Clippers and the Rockets are to face each other in the playoffs, fans would get a chance to witness two fast rising teams in the West with outside shots at a title run. Unfortunately, both teams also possess weaknesses at the free throw line which are fully exploited by opponents. The “Hack-A-Shaq” strategy has been passed on to his generation where defenders are happy to hack Howard or Jordan and let them try and win the game from the charity stripe. It will be an exciting series, with some of the best talents in the league like Chris Paul, James Harden, Howard, and Blake Griffin going off against each other. But be warned, because fourth quarters are going to turn into a slugfest that will eventually be decided by ugly free throw contests by the two regularly-hacked Centers.

5. We will criticize Russell Westbrook for shooting too much

This has become an annual NBA tradition, magnified in the playoffs because of the importance of every game and every possession. Kevin Durant is perhaps the NBA’s most gifted, efficient, and effortless scorer, capable of leading the league in scoring (32.2 points per game) while not even taking more than 20 shots a game. While this season has forced KD to take more of the offensive load due to Russell Westbrook’s injury, the last full playoffs that the two played together (2012) saw Westbrook jack up more shots than even his prodigiously talented teammate. A whole world of NBA fans and media-persons exist and thrive in loud support of the Anti-Westbrook campaign, criticizing the talented point guard for his supposedly selfish game and for not giving the ball up to Durant more often. If the Thunder make a deep run again, expect those voices to get even louder.

6. Despite his over-shooting, we will be amazed at how unstoppable Russell Westbrook is

Despite all the criticisms, the hate, and the doubt, Mr Westbrook will once again remind us that he adds much more to his team than he subtracts. One of the most aggressive, passionate, and athletic guards in the league, Westbrook is the one who truly takes the Thunder from being a good team to a great one. If Durant is the head of the Thunder, Westbrook is the heart. It is his passion and fearlessness that will make every other team doubly afraid of facing OKC this postseason. Last year, Westbrook’s injury added too much extra pressure on KD; pressure which ultimately caused a surprise 4-0 sweep in the Second Round at the hands of the Grizzlies. This year, if Westbrook stays healthy, we will be reminded of why despite his faults he is ultimately one of the most unstoppable players in the NBA. He will attack, he will inspire, and yes, he will make life easy for Mr Durant.

7. One (or more) Chicago players will get hurt – and it won’t stop them

I’m depressed as I write this, but recent history hasn’t been kind to the Bullish Bulls. It all began with the ill-fated 2012 playoffs, where Derrick Rose suffered the injury that kept him out for over a year. A year later, with Rose still missing, the Bulls suffered losses of Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, and a foot injury that slowed down Joakim Noah, and yet they still kept battling on. Coach Tom Thibodeau has two strong coaching traits: a) to overplay his top rotation players fearlessly despite any risk of injury and b) to never let his players give up, no matter the circumstance. This year, Noah will be the heart and soul of a team that will battle every night, and the likes of Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Hinrich, DJ Augustin, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Tony Snell, and more will inspire fans every night. And even when one or more them suffers an injury, they will march on instilling fear in opponents with the same unchanging tenacity.

8. At least one time in the playoffs, Stephen Curry will have 25 points in a quarter

The playoffs are better with Stephen Curry than without him. A season ago, the NBA’s most explosive three-point shooter was still coming into his own on the international stage. A 50-point outburst against the Knicks and a couple of internet-stopping shooting spurts in the playoffs changed all that, as Curry quickly became one of the most exciting young stars in the league. Don’t expect that to change: whether or not the Warriors are able to make a real playoff run, Curry will remind the world that he belongs on the pedestal with the game’s greatest players. There are few moments more electrifying than a Curry hot streak. Twice in last year’s playoffs, Curry had 22 points in the third quarter. He’s going to do it again. I predict that, at least one time in this postseason, Curry will explode for 25 or more points in a single quarter. And yes, we can also note that his backcourt mate and ‘Splash Brother’ Klay Thompson will have some hot shooting nights, too.

9. The biggest X-Factors of the playoffs will be Dwyane Wade and Serge Ibaka

Ever since the Big Three was formed in Miami, Dwyane Wade has evolved from being the number one superstar to the league’s ultimate X-Factor. The Heat and their opponents know what to expect from LeBron James, who is the model of NBA consistency, and puts up impressive numbers even on his ‘off’ nights. Chris Bosh fits in the system too, and although he rarely dominates anymore, he consistently plugs in the holes needed in every game. Wade, suffering from various ailments and injuries, is the team’s Mr Unpredictable. On certain nights, he disappears, or worse, doesn’t even play to rest an ailment. On other nights, he outperforms every other player on court, including LeBron himself. For the Heat, as ever, if Wade has more good nights than bad ones, they are sure to challenge for a title again. Out West, I predict that the difference-maker will be OKC’s Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has the potential of being of the top post defenders in the conference and spread the floor the same way Bosh does on offense on his good nights, giving the Thunder their own Big Three. Unfortunately, Ibaka hasn’t been consistent with his big nights on a regular basis. The answer is simple: the Thunder will rarely lose games in which Ibaka – in addition to Durant and Westbrook – also plays like an All Star.

10. Somebody will hit Blake Griffin

Set it in stone. An opposing forward or Center (take your pick: Andrew Bogut, Jermaine O’Neal, Zach Randolph, Robin Lopez, Serge Ibaka, etc.) will get annoyed at Blake Griffin’s dominance and thunderous dunks and bring him down. Both players will get a technical and one of them will be ejected. All of this is a guarantee.

11. Paul Pierce – and not Deron Williams or Joe Johnson – will be the Nets’ best closer

Joe Johnson (32) and Deron Williams (29), both of whom are still at or near their primes, are the two highest scorers for the Nets. But when the chips are down and the team needs a hero, there will be a familiar old face closing out games for Brooklyn in the post-season. At 36, Paul Pierce is averaging career low points averages and minutes this season, but make no mistake, the limited minutes have only been a preservation tactic for the playoffs. While Williams is the team’s primary ball-handler and Johnson has a history of end-game heroics, the most effective member of the team against major rivals like the Heat or the Pacers will be ‘The Truth’, who will use his years of experience and smarts to create offense when most needed by his team.

12. We will question Erik Spoelstra’s decision-making

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Despite guiding his star-studded Heat squad to three consecutive Finals and back-to-back titles, Coach Spoelstra still hasn’t earned the unanimous respect as a tactician that he deserves. That is chiefly because many believe that Spoelstra’s success has more been a factor of the brilliant talents that he coaches, and less because of his own talents. This is a major misconception: even a ‘superteam’ needs a super-coach, or at least, a good coach. We’ve seen several examples of big-name teams underachieving because the man at the top never figured out how to use the weapons in his arsenal. Spoelstra’s a tactical mastermind, and has done a marvellous job year after year at making the team an efficient offensive and defensive threat every post-season. That will happen again; but whenever Miami do lose games against teams that they should be better than paper (which is pretty much every other team in the league), Spoelstra will be faulted more than his players. That is his curse: a win is credited to the players, but a loss is the fault of the coach.

13. The Eastern Conference playoffs will be far closer than we originally expected

A few months ago, the Eastern Conference Finals were pretty much decided, and the other six teams to qualify for the playoffs were being mocked for being nothing more than practice rounds for the two giants of the conference, the Heat and the Pacers. The top two teams have held a lead over any other contender in the conference by a wide margin, and were barely challenged by any other Eastern side until recent weeks. But slowly, things have changed, and the margin between the top two and the rest has narrowed dramatically. Both the Heat and particularly the Pacers have suffered from worrying slumps at crucial junctures of the season. Meanwhile, the Nets have been the hottest team in the conference and are suddenly looking like a major second round threat to either of the top two. The Bulls – with the brave Joakim Noah leading the way – are a team never to be underestimated with the ability and will to upset anyone in a playoff series. The Raptors are a wildcard, play good defense, and will be an irritant for the contenders. And the other challengers aren’t looking as bad as they were earlier in the season. A Pacers vs. Heat Eastern Conference Final is still the most likely outcome; just don’t expect it to be an easy journey for either of the two.

14. This year’s Finals will not be as good as last year’s Finals

Sorry to disappoint everyone, but that is just a fact. Last year, we witnessed one of the greatest NBA Finals in recent memory. Two ultra-talented teams with opposing tactics and styles turned the game of basketball into athletic chess. Each move had a counter move, and each counter move was countered again. For seven games, the Heat and the Spurs were nearly inseparable. Both squads displayed the best of individual greatness and team chemistry, and in the end, only minor mistakes like missed free throws or a botched rebound, became the difference between a champion and a loser. In addition to all this, Ray Allen hit what will be remembered as one of the most important shots in the history of the game to tie up Game 6 and save the tile for Miami. It is near-impossible to repeat that kind of drama at the game’s highest stage again. The only exceptions are if a) LeBron and Durant face each other off to have 40-point triple-doubles every night, b) Every game of the Final is decided in overtime, or c) Bugs Bunny helps Michael Jordan dunk from halfcourt line to beat the Monstars at the buzzer and stop them from enslaving the Looney Tunes.

April 18, 2014

Upset Watch 2014: NBA Playoffs 1st Round Preview

Welcome to the 2014 playoffs’ edition my now trademarked, annual, ‘Upset Watch’ feature. For the first round every year, I like to present a preview in terms of percentage probabilities; as in the probability of an underdog (lower seed) to upset the favourite in every series (the higher seed). It’s an inexact science, occasionally wrong, but I promise you, thoroughly entertaining.

Here – in ascending order of least probably upset to most – is my preview of all the series in the First Round.

Click here for full feature.

April 17, 2014


Just before we move on ahead to start thinking about the playoffs and my trademarked annual ‘Upset Watch’ series for the First Round, it’s time to reflect and reward. Within the next few days, the NBA’s scribes (and for the case of All NBA Teams, the coaches) will fill in their respective ballots to reward individual greatness across the league. Here at Hoopistani, I don’t yet have a vote (working on it, though!). But nevertheless, here are my choices for players who should receive the end-of-season individual trophies (word to Drizzy).

Click here to read full feature.

April 15, 2014

South Asian 3x3 Men's Basketball Championship to tip off in Dhaka (Bangladesh) - without India

For the first time ever, the South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) will be hosting a 3x3 basketball championship under its auspices today. The two day tournament, 1st SABA 3x3 Basketball Championship for Men is set be held in Dhaka (Bangladesh) on April 15-16, 2014. Organized by the Bangladesh Basketball Federation (BBF), south Asian challengers Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Bangladesh have guaranteed participation in the championship.

But not India.

Clearly the strongest team in the region and favourites for the title had they been participating, India's participation in the tournament was uncertain till the very end, and on Tuesday, it was confirmed that they will not be going to Dhaka for the event. The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) simply reacted too slow and left the planning for the trip to Dhaka until a little too late. Administrative inefficiencies within the Federation can be blamed and the Indian team plus coaches were not able to receive a visa for Bangladesh in time.

Without India, the title can be considered to be wide open, although the hosts Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are probably the favourites at this point. The tournament will be held in a round-robin league fashion.

April 14, 2014

ONGC (Men), Southern Railway (Women) defend titles at 2014 Advani Memorial Basketball Tournament

Coming into the 17th edition of the All India Advani Memorial Basketball Tournament (AIAMBT) as holders, ONGC (Men) and Southern Railway (Women) defending their titles in style, leading their respective Finals end to end for comfortable victories. The five day tournament - which tipped off in Jaipur (Rajasthan) on April 9 - concluded with the Finals featuring some of India's top basketball players on Sunday, April 13, 2014.

Southern Railway (Women), who comprise of several players from the Indian Railways squad, got a measure of revenge against Chhattisgarh's South East Central Railway (SECR - from Bilaspur) with a comfortable 75-47 win in the Final. Last month, many of the SECR players made up the Chhattisgarh squad that shocked Indian Railways in the Final of the Indian National championship. At the AIAMBT Finals, Anitha Paul Durai was the star for Southern Railway, scoring 18 points - all from the three-point line - to lead all scorers en route Southern Railways' victory.

Photo Courtesy: Ekalavyas
The Men's game which followed was a relatively tighter affair between ONGC and Indian Air Force (IAF). IAF had no answers for the outside shooting threat of ONGC veteran Trideep Rai, who led all scorers with 27 points. Young Indian international Amrit Pal Singh added 17 for the victors, as ONGC closed out the game for a 76-61 win.

Southern Railway's Kokila Subramani (Women) and ONGC's Amrit Pal Singh (Men) were named the Most Valuable Players of the tournament.

Both winning teams were awarded Rs. 1 Lakh each while the runners-up won Rs. 50,000 in both divisions.

The AIAMBT was started in the year 1975 as a tribute to the late Principal of MNIT (formerly known as MREC) Professor RM Advani, but is only in its 17th iteration this year. This edition of the tournament featured eight Men's teams and six Women's teams representing as clubs or states. It was also noted by the recap of the tournament on Ekalavyas.com that this tournament is perhaps India’s only senior invitational basketball tournament that is completely managed by students (of MNIT).

April 11, 2014

Just go out and play: To get serious about basketball in India, we have to first get casual

This article was first published in my column on Ekalavyas on April 1, 2014. You can find the original post here.

A scene from a casual basketball game being played near the Hari Parbat or ‘Durrani’ Fort in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir. Courtesy: Shahid Bhat

Take me away from the gloss and glamour of the world’s finest arenas. From the sleek wooden floor with the fancy logos and the fiber-glass backboards with rims made out of the expensive nylon. It’s all too much for me. Take me away from referees, matching uniforms, and electronic scoreboards.

Just give me a ball, some friends, and a rim. Now we can get started.

I have a confession: despite the ‘proper’ standards of an indoor court with the right FIBA or NBA determined dimensions, painted lines, and world-class flooring, I much prefer shooting hoops outdoors. From childhood, something about the open air, the challenge of braving any weather and any court conditions (including concrete, clay, wood, grass, mud, or a broken combination of many), and the overall casual atmosphere has always evoked me more. Indoor basketball reminds of rules, regulations, technicalities, and statistics. Outdoor basketball reminds of poetry and unpredictability.

I absolutely love playing pick-up ball, whether it’s with friends or with random people I’ve met on the day. It’s the purest form of the game. Any ring elevated to a height is your basket. Any round bounceable object is your ball. Anyone you meet when you show up to this temple of hoops is your teammate or your opponent.

It doesn’t matter if you organize things perfectly. It doesn’t matter if there’s a shot-clock, or a game clock. We don’t need referees to call our fouls. We don’t coaches to make substitutions. We’ll fight and argue, high-five and fist-bump, adjust and accommodate, and for the love of the game, we’ll get through it.
I’m not merely picking on organized and serious basketball. To rise in the world rankings, India needs as much high-level training, competitions, facilities, and infrastructure that it can get.

But to get truly serious about basketball, we Indians have to first get casual about it.

Does that sound like a paradox?

Of course, it’s necessary to have organization and structure to create high-level athletes in India. But super athletes won’t change the nation’s culture towards basketball. Only changing the culture will change the culture. After all, India has won various Olympic medals in recent years in shooting, wrestling, and boxing, but apart from a dedicated few, the status of any of those sports among the common public has barely risen. As China’s model of collecting Olympic gold medals by concentrated focus on the best while sometimes neglecting grassroots development has shown, sporting excellence isn’t just determined by the few at the top but also by the many who dwell at the very bottom.

For basketball, this means that, while the authorities running the show must continue to focus on the betterment of our national teams and the top national tournaments, they must also shift their attention to the grassroots and try to popularize the sport within the common Indian kid as well. The kid who might perhaps never get to play for his district, state or his country. The kid who may not even play for his school team. But the kid who loves the game nevertheless, and wants to take part, no matter the circumstance or the stage.

As a model, the USA are the utopia of world basketball, a country which has FIBA’s number one ranked teams in the Men’s, Women’s, Boys’ and Girls’ divisions, who win the world title in nearly every competition they take part in, and who have the world’s most organized and talented professional, collegiate, and high-school leagues. But what makes American basketball even more special is that, in any urban city in the country, from coast to coast, you are likely to find public basketball courts with casual players – who have no future investment in the game – coming out to play for no other reason except that they simply like to play. In China, who are tops in Asia, the government has tried to recreate the same type of grassroots basketball opportunities for its citizens. They’ve had mixed results in different parts of the country, although the combination of grassroots encouragement, a popular professional league, and the success of Yao Ming has made the Chinese accept basketball as their favourie sport.

India can also learn from the Philippines, a nation similar to India in population density, chaotically rising economy, and bureaucratic corruption. Despite the nation’s economic disparity and the lack of any breakthrough stars on the international stage, Philippines has long been a basketball paradise, where the game is played fervently and passionately from the grassroots to the professional level, and from poor street corners to international level arenas. The success and failure of the national team (they’ve qualified for 2014 Basketball World Cup) of course matters to the fan, but doesn’t affect the average Filipino hooper’s day to day love for the game.

In India, the common complaint is that it is simply too difficult to find public-access, free-to-use basketball courts, especially outside of schools and colleges. I dream of seeing public outdoor courts built cheaply in major urban areas around Indian cities where casual players – young and old – can drop in for some pick-up hoops.

India boasts of internationally known cricket stars and have some of the world’s best facilities to develop cricketing talent. Couple that with the world’s most fervent cricket fanbase and the game’s most expensive professional league, it’s no surprise to see that the game reigns supreme in the country. But the love for cricket – despite however much the advertisers or big money IPL auctions may dilute it – goes much deeper. Cricket is found in every nook, cranny, and gullie of the country. Only a few make a career out of it, but millions dream about it. Old men listening to their transistors in barbershops, auto-wallahs with their Kohli and Dhoni stickers, those annoying kids in your neighbourhood… they don’t need the IPL to tell them to love cricket. They love it regardless. Cricket is casual, it’s easy, it’s day-to-day lifestyle, and its’ the culture. Casual interest leads to serious fans, serious fans lead to a big market, and big market leads to more money invested in the sport. That’s what eventually makes us seriously good at it.

It’s the same story with Football (Soccer) all around Europe and South America and, depending on which part of the country you’re in, Baseball and Basketball in the USA. The game and the local culture intersect naturally, making it an integral part of the daily life.

So this is my bat-signal (or hoop signal) calling all basketball lovers in the country. Find your nearest court, don’t worry about how modern or archaic it is, and don’t worry if it’s indoors, outdoors, or whether or not the measurements exactly add up. Just go out and play. Don’t play because playing basketball makes you sound cool and alternative, or ‘western’. Don’t play because your fancy shorts and your brand new sneakers match. Don’t play because you want to impress the girls (or boys) watching.

Go and play because you love how the bounce of the ball feels when it touches your palm and your fingertips. Go because you love the sound of the swish more than any other sound in the world. Go because you get an adrenaline rush being part of five individuals working as one, together in perfect symphony.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a state-level player, the hot-shot star in your school, or that one guy whose only skill is to get on other people’s nerves (we all know someone like that!). It doesn’t matter if you are embarrassed on court or if you’re the ‘embarrasser’. It doesn’t matter if you’re an older player playing with athletic youngsters or a freshie on court with wily old veterans. If you’re a girl playing against boys or a boy among girls.

This emotion, of basketball as a simple and accessible sport for all, has also been shared by Vivek Ranadive, the first Indian-born majority owner of an NBA franchise, who became the owner of the Sacramento Kings last year. Ranadive wants to popularize basketball worldwide by helping it grow in India. “[Basketball] is the kind of sport that can be played in a poor country like India,” said Ranadive, “It can be played by one person, by a few people, by boys, by girls, in villages, in cities, you don't need a lot of space for it like you do for cricket. So I fully expect it to be very very popular.”

The highest level of the game are the NBA, FIBA or Olympic basketball events. But to become a serious player, and to grow serious fan culture in the country, one must first start from the bottom. From casual games that don’t require too much preparation, expectations, facilities, or rules. Only when lakhs of citizens fall in love with the game casually will we get to see the thousands who dominate it seriously. Only when we encourage a bigger casual fanbase will it eventually translate to popular growth and future public investment.

So don’t worry about the details; when you’re out on the court and you truly love the game, just go out and play! 

April 10, 2014

All India Advani Memorial Basketball Tournament tips off in Jaipur

Many of the top Men and Women basketball playeres from across India will be in Jaipur (Rajasthan) this week for the 17th edition of the All India Advani Memorial Basketball Tournament (AIAMBT) in the city. The tournament, which is being organized at the Malaviya National Institute of Technology (MNIT), tipped off on Wednesday, April 9 and will conclude with the Finals on April 13th. This edition of the tournament will feature eight Men's teams and six Women's teams representing as clubs or states.

The participating teams are: (via Ekalavyas)


Pool A: Services Sports Control Board (SSCB), North Frontier Railways (NFR Guwahati), Punjab, Rajasthan.
Pool B: ONGC, Indian Air Force, South Central Railway (SCR - Secunderabad), Rail Coach Factory (RCF Kapurthala).


Pool A: Southern Railway (Chennai), Eastern Railway (Kolkata), Delhi
Pool B: Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), South East Central Railway (SECR Bilaspur), Rajasthan.

In the Men's section, Punjab (who were finalists at the BFI National Championship last month) and the talented ONGC side will be favourites to take home the title. The Women's fray could see a fight to the finish between the consistently successful Southern Railway side and SECR from Bilaspur, a team that is sure to feature some members of the Chhattisgarh team which upset Indian Railways in the National Championship last month.

Several top Indian stars, such as Geethu Anna Jose, Anju Lakra, Amrit Pal Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Yadwinder Singh, and more are taking part in the tournament.

The AIAMBT was started in the year 1975 as a tribute to the late Principal of MNIT (formerly known as MREC) Professor RM Advani, but is only in its 17th iteration this year. On April 9, at the tournament's opening ceremony, the event was inaugurated by Ajit Mohan Saran (IAS), Scretary Youth Affairs and Sports, Govt. of India and Ajit Kumar Singh (IAS), Principal Secretary Youth Affairs and Sports, Govt. of Rajasthan.

Check out Ekalavyas for results from the first day of games and the schedule ahead.