Let's call 2016 the year of redemption in Indian Basketball, when the past greats returned to the top of the mountain and rejoiced in glory once again. For the past eight days, Mysuru (Karnataka) became the heartbeat of hoops in India, hosting the country's largest and most-prestigious basketball event, the 66th Senior National Basketball Championship for Men and Women. Over 53 combined teams in the Men and Women divisions participated, and after two high-flying finals on Saturday, January 16th, Indian Railways (Women) and Services (Men) emerged as national champions.
The first final on Saturday was the women’s game between Kerala and Indian Railways. Both teams entered the final with a perfect 6-0 record and were facing each other for the first time in the tournament. Kerala began the game well and ended the first period with a 3-point lead in the game. Railways made a crucial change in their defensive strategy to begin the second quarter to make a comeback. Veteran Railways point guard Anitha Paul-Durai connected on three 3-pointers on her way to 16 points. Railways blew the game wide open in the second half to cruise to a 72-55 victory, clinching the gold medal after a gap of two years. Stephy Nixon was the leading scorer for Kerala with 17 in a losing cause.
The men’s final between Services and Uttarakhand was expected to be a hard-fought battle for first place. Both teams came into the final on a 5-1 record, after knocking out the more favoured Punjab and Tamil Nadu teams in the semifinals. The defending champions started off well, with their star player and India captain Vishesh Bhrighuvanshi (20 points) leading the charge. Down by 2 points at the end of the first quarter, Services cranked up the heat with their point guard Joginder Singh shooting lights out from long distance. Joginder (26 points) nailed 6 threes in the game to give Services a double-digit lead over Uttarakhand. The backcourt due of Joginder and Narender Grewal (20 points) ensured that Services maintained a 10-plus point lead through the third quarter. But entering the fourth, Uttarakhand made a push for a comeback behind center Murali Krishna (24 points) to cut down the Services lead down the stretch. Services maintained their composure down the stretch to stave off the Uttarakhand comeback attempt. They held on to a 6-point lead to end the game with a 73-67 victory and capture the gold medal after a gap of 9 years.
Navaneetha PU of the Indian Railways was awarded the Most Valuable Player in the women’s section, while Services' and India's international starting point guard Joginder Singh was awarded the men’s Most Valuable Player. Each MVP was given a cash prize of Rs. 10,000.
Dr. HC Mahadevappa, Minister for Karnataka's Public Works Department, Mahadeva Prasad, Karnataka's Minister of Co-operation, Dr HM Ambarish, Karnataka's Minister of Housing and Abhay Chandra, Karnataka's Minister for Fisheries & Sports were the chief guests during the final.
The gold medal winning teams were awarded a cash prize of Rs. 1 lakh each. Runners up were awarded Rs. 50,000 each and the third placed teams were awarded Rs. 25,000 each.
On Friday, the tournament's semi-finals were capped by a memorable comeback by Uttarakhand Men, who bounced back from 20 points down to defeat Tamil Nadu and book their spot in the Finals. India internationals Bhriguvanshi (21) and Yadwinder Singh (21) played a big part in Uttarakhand's comeback bid, as the Dehradun-based unit outscored TN 24-12 in the final quarter to win 71-69. In the second Men's semi-final, Services ended Punjab's roaring charge in style, doing most of their damage in the opening and final quarters. The trio of Jairam Jat (20), Ashutosh Rai (18), and Joginder Singh (16) proved to be too much for Punjab too handle. Services won 83-66. Punjab were led by young star Gurvinder Singh Gill (16).
The women's semi-finals on Friday turned out to be relatively one-sided affairs. Indian Railways used their experience and guile to make short work of the surprise team of the tournament - Telangana - for a 78-50 win. Experienced India star Anitha Paul Durai led Railways with 20, while Divya P. had 21 for Telangana in the loss. Kerala relied on some heroic performances by their star players to turn a potentially tricky game against Delhi into an easy win. India's rising star Jeena PS had 30 points and 10 rebounds while Stephy Nixon pitched in with 19 points and 19 rebounds to help Kerala win 82-41. Pratima Singh scored 21 for Delhi's Women.
- Men: Services (Joginder Singh 26, Narender Grewal 20) bt Uttarakhand (Murali Krishna 24, Vishesh Bhrighuvanshi 20) 73-67 (15-17, 25-14, 16-15, 17-21).
- Women: Indian Railways (Anitha Paul-Durai 16, Navaneeta 14) bt Kerala (Stephy Nixon 17, Jeena PS 14, Anjana PG 14) 72-55 (12-15, 26-13, 19-13, 15-14).
- Men: Tamil Nadu (Aravind Annadurai 33, Rikin Pethani 18, Prasanna Venkatesh 13) bt Punjab (Gagandeep Singh 18, TJ Sahi 17, Rajveer Singh 13) 82-68 (17-17, 15-20, 30-19, 20-12).
- Women: Delhi (Raspreet Sidhu 21, Pratima Singh 19, Prashanti Singh 16) bt Telangana (Anusha Anto 24, Jincy Joseph 17) 71-66 (21-21, 12-20, 15-11, 23-14).
- 1. Services
- 2. Uttarakhand
- 3. Tamil Nadu
- 4. Punjab
- 5. Karnataka
- 1. Indian Railways
- 2. Kerala
- 3. Delhi
- 4. Telangana
- 5. Chhattisgarh