While the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) attempts to juggle controversies and power struggles threatening to tear apart the nation's governing and controlling body of basketball from within, budgeting issues and internal changes of philosophy have struck another blow to the game: two foreign coaches - Women's National Team Head Coach Francisco Garcia and Strength and Conditioning Coach Tommy Heffelfinger - did not receive extensions to their contracts with the BFI and will end their tenure with India Basketball by the end of May.
The decisions to not extend the contracts of Garcia and Heffelfinger were taken by the contingent of the BFI currently being led by Poonam Mahajan and Roopam Sharma. The federation is currently facing a fracture in its top structure: two opposing executive committees have chosen two different presidents/secretaries from two different meetings to form the leadership group. Sources inside the BFI have said that the Mahajan/Sharma contingent made the decision to discontinue the coaches' contracts because they are short on money (since the bank accounts are controlled by the competing Govindraj team) and felt uncomfortable about disagreements that the staff members had with the leadership and direction of the Mahajan/Sharma team.
best-ever fifth-place at the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship and helping a younger side to a bronze medal at the 2014 Lusofonia Games. Later in 2014, Garcia also coached the team to a 6th place finish at the Asian Games in Incheon. He has been active in taking his knowledge to the grassroots level, coaching players and other coaches at various events around the country over the last few years.
"The best thing was that we created a system of play," Garcia told me as he looked back to his achievements with Team India over the past two years, "When I first came here, the players were used to another kind of system. Now, players understand the game lot better. To reach that point is the best achievement for a coach. As a team obviously to win our first-ever game in FIBA ABC's Pool A and finishing 5th (best in Indian basketball history), ranking India 5th in Asia (best in history) have been huge. We got bronze medal at Lusofonia games with an under-22 team and we competed very well at Asían Games without three key players from the ABC."
Garcia added that his best memory in India, no doubt, was working with the players. "They were always open to new things and always tried their best, even in the bad days," he said.
As usual, there is a good chance that the Women's team will not receive the international exposure and experience needed to prepare for this tournament. "Main thing lacking is the competition of the players throughout the year," Garcia said, "There is no professional league and little international exposure."
"Additionally, our players have to strengthen their inside game to show up to the next level."
Seeing another change at the top ultimately hurts the national team players the most, who have lacked continuity in leadership. Ever since the IMG Reliance deal with the BFI, the National Women's team has had three different foreign coaches in less than five years: Tamika Raymond, Pete Gaudet, and Francisco Garcia. With Garcia's contract expiring, will there be a fourth one in stow soon? Garcia's two years have brought some improvements in the team's performances, but more importantly, created a structure that was pointing towards steady improvement for the future, too. With a change in coaching, there will be a change in system, and thus, another hiccup in the development of basketball.
Strength and Conditioning Coach Tommy Heffelfinger, who arrived from the USA to build Indian basketball's S&C programme last year, had a two year contract with an option at the end of his first year. The BFI was to conduct a formal review of his work and determine if they would like to keep him for second year. The BFI claim they did the formal review, but an inside source told me that nobody from their leadership (CEO or Deputy CEO) spoke to Heffelfinger for three months prior to his termination or answered any emails he sent for same time. His first year ends 31 May, 2015.
Heffelfinger has shown commitment to making Indian basketball players stronger, fitter, and better versed in the appropriate diet and training regimes required for excelling in international basketball. Strength and conditioning has long been a problem for India compared to top Asian teams. Getting rid of Heffelfinger will further set India back in this regard.
India's Men's team Head Coach Scott Flemming - who joined me a few weeks ago for a conversation on the inaugural episode of the Hoopdarshan podcast - is continuing with his position for the foreseeable future.