Last summer, the Universal Basketball Alliance of India (UBA India) introduced a unique new competition to the annual Indian basketball calendar. For two weeks in July, UBA brought together eight different teams representing major Indian cities to Hyderabad for a short-term basketball league. Although the first-of-its-kind experiment didn't attract India's cream of the crop basketball talent, it provided a strong alternative for hoop hopefuls looking for a payday in a country that still doesn't have a full-size national professional basketball league.
UBA held selection tryouts at the Jain International Residential School in Bengaluru earlier this week with 195 young players from all over India to form new squads before the league tips off.
Foreign trainers from the US, along with highly respected senior Indian coaches, evaluated the players on a number of parameters by putting them through a series of gruelling sessions. After selection trials in Bengaluru, this year's UBA Basketball League will be divided into two phases of games, in Pune and Hyderabad. The newly formed squads will travel to Pune for the first phase of the Pro League, to be held at the Chhattrapati Shivaji sports complex in Balewadi from February 18-28. The second & final phase will be held at the Gachibowli Stadium in Hyderabad between March 21 - April 3. UBA Season 2 will be telecast live on Ten Sports, another first in the history of Indian basketball.
Having the league in two phases allows more fans to witness the star players in action, and also gives teams time to prepare and strategise for the second phase. The eight teams from last year— Pune Peshwas, Hyderabad Sky, Chennai Slam (the reigning champions from the 2015 season) Punjab Steelers, Bengaluru Beast, Delhi Capitals, Haryana Gold and Mumbai Challengers— are back again this time around. The teams will be divided into North and South divisions, and each team will play four games: three against their division opponents and one cross-division match.
"We are happy to see that kids are finally dreaming of being pros and having their own Indian basketball heroes to look up to. Instead of following Lebron they will now start idolising Jagdeep Singh Bains."
Bains, a former India star and mentor to Satnam Singh, was among the nine Indian players last year taken to Phoenix, Arizona in the USA by UBA India for a special basketball and fitness training programme.
The coaches of last year’s finalist teams, Pune Peshwas and Chennai Slam, have been retained, and six new coaches for the remaining franchises will be hired. Prasanna Jayasankar, Shiba Maggon, Anthony PC, CV Sunny and Sunny Thomas are few of the respected Indian coaches roped in as part of the long term player development programmes, to ensure players are in top shape from one season to next.
"In my experience of over 30 years in basketball, this is the first time open tryouts have been held," said Jayasankar, a former Indian women’s team captain and longstanding coach, "All the boys are getting good opportunity. Anybody can come and give their best. From Indian players, to school kids, all are participating."
With the league now spreading to two cities and held over a total course of three weeks, UBA India has taken small but positive steps forward to expand their presence in Indian basketball. While Bains seems to be the marquee name in the league this time around, there is still a chance that bigger Indian stars will sign up to test their talent as the league gains traction and grows bigger. A few current and former Indian national players like Ajay Pratap Singh have already signed on for Season 2, and many more names could be revealed soon. A couple of Indian-origin players from abroad have also seen this as a boon to return to their ancestral homeland and participate in the growth of basketball here.
Let's be real, Indian kids are never going to idolise Jagdeep Singh Bains instead of LeBron James as Solanki suggested, but now, especially if the league receives good media and Ten Sports broadcast coverage, there is a chance that both of them can be idolised together!