April 22, 2017

The thrill of the chase – Following basketball in India

This article was first published in my blog for The Times of India on April 12, 2017. Click here for the original piece.

The opposition has possession of the ball and they’re dribbling down the court. You are on defence. Strict man-to-man, which means that you shouldn’t lose your cover under any circumstance. Your guy is playing off-the-ball. Follow him as he runs from baseline to baseline. Fight through the screens they set for him stick by his side. Keep your eye between him and the basket you are deputised to protect. Block the passing lanes.

Your man is a dangerous offensive talent. Lose him and you have lost the possession. You will sweat and you will lose your breath. You will bump and fall and struggle to keep pace. You will suffer – and you will have a little fun.

True Indian basketball fans are like that hassled defender, who suffer and chase and almost-impossible target, settling for unexpected rewards in small victories. Unlike the IPL in Cricket, the ISL in Football, the Hockey India league, or even the Pro Kabaddi League, there is still no singular answer for where to catch the best of Indian basketball: instead fans must follow an annual wild goose chase from month to month in hopes of finding the best competitions and following in the footsteps of their role models.

I have been covering Indian basketball for nearly eight years, and the two most common questions I have been asked in this period have been a) There’s such a thing as basketball in India? and b) Where do we follow it? The answers are a) yes, of course, and b) it’s complicated.

Without a year-long, full-sized professional league and little mainstream coverage of our national teams, most of the Indian basketball community exists online, whispering and conspiring in silent ascension on Facebook to what has now become, according to the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), the fastest-growing sport in the country.

That growth, however, is not uniform. I don’t need to worry about the tangled knots of electricity wires outside my house as long as I get electricity. But in Indian basketball, the power is in following those wires itself. There go the Senior Nationals, flashing past with the best from all four corners of the country. Whoosh past the UBA League, featuring a mixture of Indian and international basketball stars. Lean far east for the rising national league in Mizoram to see the marriage between grassroots and worldwide hoops.

Take the example of Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, one of the most talented players in the country and a recent representative for India’s national men’s team as they were nominated for Times of India’s Sports Awards team of the year. For Bhriguvanshi, life is spent on the road: in September, he led India to a historically-successful performance at the FIBA Asia Challenge in Iran. In October, he was in an ONGC jersey playing at the FIBA Asia Champions Cup in China. In December, he carried India to a best-ever third-place finish at Hong Kong’s Super Kung Sheung Cup. In January, he helped Uttarakhand win the Senior Nationals gold in Puducherry. In February and March, he played his first season at the UBA Basketball League for the Bengaluru Beast in Chennai and Goa. Back with ONGC, he helped them win a fifth-consecutive gold medal at the Federation Cup as MVP in Coimbatore. Next, he is heading to Mizoram for a short ‘Super League’. Later in the summer, he will join India’s national camp – most-likely at NIS Patiala – for the FIBA Asia Cup in August in Lebanon. And so on and so forth.

Staying on Bhriguvanshi’s toes will be an impossible task even for the most astute fans, especially with limited national broadcast opportunities for basketball in India. The top domestic events in India, like the Senior Nationals or the Federation Cup, are shown sporadically on DD Sports, with programming saved only for the final stages of the tournament (if at all). The arrival of the UBA League in 2015 has been a boon of sorts, providing a few months of daily basketball action live on Ten Sports. India’s international performances – much improved over the past few years – are rarely ever shown on domestic television. The plight is even worse for women’s basketball, who don’t even have the equivalent of the UBA League to broadcast their exploits.

Until Indian basketball finds a more consistent competition and broadcasting opportunities, fans are more likely to flock to the NBA, the best basketball league in the world out of North America. Most Indian fans recognise Stephen Curry and LeBron James over Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Amjyot Singh. Their game is too fleeting to follow, so fans understandably take the easier – and more spectacular – international option.

Fortunately, some positive change is on the way. Later this year, India will be hosting two major FIBA Asia tournaments – for Senior Women and Youth (U16) Women – in Bengaluru and Hyderabad respectively. Both these events will give fans a chance to see India’s top players of the present and the future, and follow the best basketball players in the continent.

In the road ahead, fans will also be hoping for the BFI to launch its own professional Indian league where games can be held around the country longer through the calendar year, providing more opportunities for the players to play and for the fans to watch them. India has serious basketball culture in various pockets, from Ludhiana to Kochi and Varanasi to Mumbai. Hopefully, the league will make the chase for elite Indian hoops action a breath easier.

Your opponent has the ball. Don’t be distracted by his eyes or expressions – he could look one away and pass another. Watch the ball, watch his feet. Block a clear view of the shot. Be ready for everything.

You are defending a mysterious and unpredictable opponent. Basketball in India doesn’t yet have a streamlined pro league (like the IPL) or international exposure (like Team India’s other national sides). Keep your guard up; for now, half the fun is in the thrill of the chase!

April 19, 2017

The unlikeliest duo - Aamir Khan and Stephon Marbury - promoted their movies in China together

I lived in Beijing for three years and, in my time, played a lot of pick-up basketball with the locals. There was a clear language gap with the guys I played with, since they spoke limited English (and no Hindi) and my Mandarin was almost nonexistent. In the universal language of basketball, however, we managed. I will never forget the one time when I was taking part in a 3x3 game, and a Chinese teammate discovered, in his broken English, that I am from India.

"India?" he asked. "Okay, so you be Raju. I will be Rancho, and he," he pointed at our third teammate, "is Farhan."

I was confused. "What do you mean?"

"You know, like the 3 Idiots! You are from India, right?"

I laughed out loud - his first reference to India was 3 Idiots, Aamir Khan's iconic film about the struggles of college life in India (and a perfect 3x3 basketball team team). I discovered that the film had been a cult-favourite in China, too.

Well, here's an even stranger story. Earlier this week, Aamir Khan was back in China to promote his new movie, and this time, his paths crossed with one of the most iconic basketball players of our generation: Stephon Marbury.

Aamir Khan is an Indian cinema legend, who has acted, directed, or produced some of the most memorable and successful Indian films, including several of my personal favourites. Stephon Marbury is a star American basketball player, whose career made him an icon in the NBA and a celebrity in China. The point guard is one of my favourite All Time players - his Knicks' jersey is the first I ever owned!

A few days ago, this unlikely duo shared the stage to meet with distributors for their respective sports films, and in the process, completely blow my mind.

Khan was in China this week to promote his film Dangal, which he produced and played a starring role in, based on the true story of the Phogat family's success in Indian wrestling. Dangal was released in India in December. Marbury, meanwhile, starred as himself in a Chinese biographical basketball documentary about his own life, My Other Home. It was the distributors of both these sports films that brought Khan and Marbury together in Beijing to promote their respective releases in China.

Marbury reserved some heavy praise for Khan on two posts on his Instagram page:

Chilling with #bollywood LEGEND #aamirkhan As we tease the movie screen distributors with his movie and my movie. Never in my life would I have thought up until now my path would lead towards acting and being paired with a living legend in another profession. I'm deeply humbled and completely thankful for all that God has done for my family and I in this life. #starburymovement #starbury #LoveisLove

BBALL by me and Wrestling by #aamirkhan #bollywood Legend Two sport movies coming soon. The anticipation is getting closer #myotherhome

Khan, whose films have broken box office records around the world, is also the most popular Bollywood star in China due to movies like 3 Idiots, Dhoom 3, and PK. To promote Dangal he attended events in three major Chinese cities: Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu.

Marbury, of course, is no stranger to transnational popularity. He was once considered the biggest basketball star out of New York, became an iconic NBA player for the Timberwolves, Nets, Suns, Knicks, and Celtics, before contentiously ending his NBA career. Marbury has since played in China for Shanxi, Foshan, and eventually, in Beijing, where he found career nirvana: he won three CBA titles with the Beijing Ducks, saw a statue of himself erected outside the MasterCard Center in Beijing, has stamps bearing his image in China, has starred in a musical play about himself, and been awarded a Chinese green card. His film My Other Home will be about his basketball journey in the US and China.

A few years ago, I interviewed Marbury in depth while in Beijing about finding home in China for SLAM Magazine.

Now, thanks to the magic of cinema, Bollywood and Basketball have again crossed paths in a surprising way. I'm wishing the best to both these legends in their ventures ahead. Now that Marbury has gotten some acting experience, perhaps Khan can find a place to cast him in his next blockbuster. Considering that they have the pulse of the audience in two of the world's most populous countries, I'm expecting this fictional future Star/Khan venture to break every record conceivable.

April 16, 2017

Four Indian basketball superstars invited to Australian NBL Draft Combine in Melbourne

Four of India's top basketball players from the national Men's team - Amjyot Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amritpal Singh, and Yadwinder Singh - aim to make history this week. All four stars will be heading be heading to Melbourne to take part in Australia's National Basketball League's (NBL) Draft Combine on April 17-18. This is the first time that Indian players have been invited to participate in this event. If they can prove their mettle, one (or all!) of the four players will aim to become the first Indians to play in the NBL, one of the top basketball leagues in the world outside of the USA, in the 2017-18 season.

The Draft Combine will be taking place at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre. According to a press release from Ekalavyas Media, a total of 80 players are expected to participate in the combine. These will include returning US college players, South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) players, Australian state league players, and members of Australia’s national U18 and U20’s teams. It is an opportunity for coaches and scouts of different NBL teams to gauge the talent at hand and sign the players they believe could help their team.

As standard practice, players participating in the NBL Draft Combine must pay an entry fee of AUD $250. However, this fee has been waived off for all the invited Indian players. The waiver of fees for the Indian contingent by the NBL is just another sign that the NBL has serious intentions to enter the Indian market: Last year, the NBL signed a historic deal with VEQTA to stream NBL games live in India.

NBL teams are usually allowed only three spots for foreign players, but under the new rules, players belonging to the countries of the FIBA Asia zone will be given an additional separate spot. This could really encourage one of the NBL's eight teams to sign Amjyot, Bhriguvanshi, Amritpal, or Yadwinder's to that additional 'Asian' player spot for the upcoming season.

Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh are no stranger to foreign league attention. Both Punjabi big men have played professionally in Japan's BJ Summer League and their Development League, winning the Japanese D-League title as teammates in the latter for the Tokyo Excellence. Last year, Amjyot and Amritpal also declared for the NBA's D-League draft but were not picked. Bhriguvanshi is one of India's most experienced and talented players and is recognised as one of the best shooting guards in Asia. Yadwinder has been a veteran presence for the Indian national team for nearly a decade and has been part of India's recent successful campaigns - led by the 'Big Three' of Amjyot, Amritpal, and Bhriguvanshi - at the FIBA Asia Challenge and other international competitions.

No Indian national has yet played in the NBL. Arjuna Award winner and perhaps India's greatest-ever women's basketball player Geethu Anna Jose played professionally in Australia WNBL and the BIG V Division almost a decade ago. India's first NBA draft pick Satnam Singh plays for the NBA D-League squad Texas Legends. Another Indian, Palpreet Singh, was drafted into the NBA D-League by the Long Island Nets last year but didn't make their roster.

The NBL, founded in 1979, consists of seven Australian and one New Zealand team. It is considered generally as one of the most-competitive basketball leagues in the world outside of the NBA. The most recent season of the league concluded in March with the Perth Wildcats beating the Illawara Hawks for the championship. The next season will begin in October.

The Indian players’ participation in the NBL Draft Combine was made possible by Pursuit India and its Australian partner Danny Kordahi. Pursuit, which had previously worked with Kordahi and arranged the visit of Australian coach Damian Cotter to the national men’s camp, has been working behind-the-scenes for months to identify suitable playing opportunities across the globe.

"It’s the biggest platform our players have had so far to showcase their talent," said Vishnu Ravi Shankar, head of Pursuit India. "The NBL is a highly competitive international league and it’s a fantastic opportunity for our top Indian players to gauge their skill levels. Whatever the outcome, they will benefit a great deal from the experience itself."

It's no secret that Amjyot, Amritpal, and Bhriguvanshi are three of the best players in Asia in their respective positions. Yadwinder is a fantastic role player and an experienced presence for India The only reason that none of them have found more pro league options abroad have been the import player limits on each country. Since most countries only allow two or three foreign players per team, the teams usually swing for the fences and spend big money on talented North American players who can guarantee them immediate success. But with the new tweak in the rules at the NBL, hopefully the four Indian stars get a chance to shine and showcase their talents in this competitive environment. Their experience will be beneficial to their own improvement and hopefully extend the glow among the improving talent pool of basketball in India.

I'm now blogging for The Times of India Sports, too

My first job out of college was with The Times of India's Varanasi edition, where, without any previous academic experience in the subject, I learned the tenants of small-town journalism on the field. There were only four of us writers in the city and we got just about a couple of pages of work every day. I had to cover almost all corners and catch almost every beat. It was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. I still remember the thrill of seeing my name in print, domestically and nationally, playing a very, very small role in the nation's most-read English newspaper.

Almost a decade later, the journey took a bunch of tangents, and has now come full circle.

With their intentions to provide more mainstream media attention to alternative (non-cricket) sports in India, The Times of India Sports has given me a platform - named, aptly, 'Hoopistani' - to blog about Indian basketball. It will be another chance to follow my work for updates and opinions on the sport.

My first post was published earlier this week, where I wrote about the elusive thrill of the chase of following Indian basketball as a fan.

Thanks for following!

April 14, 2017

Most Valuables

Harden? Westbrook? Kawhi? Who deserves to win the impossibly-close MVP race this season?

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas.com on April 4, 2017. Read the original feature here.

The first definition of ‘value’ on my Dictionary app tells me that the word means ‘relative worth, merit, or importance’. Notice ‘relative’ as the operative word: there is no singular answer to “What, or Who, is Valuable?” For me, an afternoon chomping down on a dozen mutton fried momos is probably of higher value than it’s to you. It’s all relative.

There are a lot of individual awards given by the NBA every year, but the one that truly matters is the MVP. The Most Valuable Player. Basketball is a team sport and, rightfully so, the most-celebrated achievement every season is the NBA Championship. Nevertheless, the MVP award is a celebration of the individual who truly stamped his greatness on to the season, and did it better than his competition. Relative to the rest of the great players, he was the greatest.

I’ve long been intrigued, concerned, amused, and even sometimes angered by the definitions of MVP. The intrigue is added by the fact that each one of us can have our own definitions. My plate of momos might be your masala-dosa. They can all be right answers depending on the angle we choose to define them. Is the most valuable player the one with the best statistics? Is he the best player on the best team? Is he the player who best defined the narrative of how the season unfolded? Is he, as per the ‘eye-test’, simply the most-talented player, no matter what his team or individual numbers might say?

Here is my definition: the ‘Most Valuable Player’ is the one player whose absence would make the biggest difference in the final standings of the league. This player isn’t just the best stats guy or the best player in the best team: he is a combination of all factors that affects both his team and the rest of the league more than any other player.

In recent years, at the end of the regular season, the hazy race has usually become clearer and the favourite for the award stood out over his worthy challengers. In 2012 and 2013, the Miami Heat finished back-to-back in top two of their conference and had the game’s best talent LeBron James getting the best stats, leading to consecutive MVP awards. In 2014, MVP Kevin Durant led the league in scoring while carrying the Oklahoma City Thunder to second place in the Western Conference while his superstar teammate was injured. In 2015, Stephen Curry edged out James Harden to win MVP as the best player in the best team (67 wins!). In 2016, Curry doubled down, leading the league in scoring and in all the advanced metrics to make the Warriors the best team again, breaking the All Time wins record (73), and becoming the game’s only-ever unanimous MVP. There was no argument in Curry’s case: from every definition of ‘value’, he was the most valuable.

12 months later, things couldn’t be more different. With only a few weeks left before the end of the regular season, we are amidst an MVP race for the ages, forcing us to employ all of our relative intelligence, reasoning, definitions, and experience. A number of truly-deserving candidates stand out, and a win for any singular one will automatically signal a major snub for the losers. Let’s take a closer look, in last-name alphabetic order, at the top contenders.

James Harden

The case for: The Rockets lost Dwight Howard and restructured their squad with Harden as the point guard and shooters to complement his style. The result has been an epic success: after finishing at the 8th seed last year, Houston has improved to third this season with a .689 winning record. Harden has been magnificent, leading the league in assists and scoring the second-most points per game in the NBA to make the Rockets the league’s highest-scoring team. Harden has had 20 triple-doubles this season and numerous 50-point games. Unlike the teams with a better record than them, Houston are the only one being carried by a single elite player.

The case against: We have to nit-pick to find weaknesses in Harden’s MVP candidacy. Such as the fact that he is in ‘only’ the third-best team this season, and that, despite his own gaudy averages, Russell Westbrook is putting up even better individual stats (more on that later). And of course, there’s the defence; as great as Harden has been offensively, he’s a sieve on the defensive end and the Rockets as a whole are a below-average defensive team.

LeBron James

The case for: LeBron fans, after his superhuman performance over the unanimous MVP in last year’s Finals, can only point to what they believe to be the given truth: ignore the distractions and crown the most-talented player as the most-valuable one. This season, James has evolved his game to become an even more-rounded player, averaging a career-high 8.8 assists to go with 8.4 rebounds and 26 points. Despite their recent dip, the Cavaliers are still one of the best teams in their conference; they are terrible when he is off the court.

The case against: This is not a legacy award, it’s an award for a player’s performances in this season, and LeBron’s “potential” to be better than his competitors shouldn’t count unless he is “actually” better. And as good as he has been, he has simply not matched the statistical output of some of the other contenders. His team has underachieved (“only” 0.644, despite being stacked with the talent they have) and he has missed six games so far. Head to head, he has been outplayed by many of the contenders listed below.

Kawhi Leonard

The case for: Just a couple of games behind Golden State Warriors for the league’s best record, the Spurs are a true title contender, and Kawhi Leonard has been chiefly responsible for their success. Leonard is his team’s best offensive player and one of the top 10 scorers in the league. He also happens to be the best perimeter defender in the NBA. There is no better two-way player in the world. Leonard’s MVP campaign rests on being the best player in almost the best team.

The case against: He is almost there, but not quiet. His team is second-best, his statistics are good, but in comparison to others in this list, not great. And he relies on the NBA’s most-efficient system to blossom. The Spurs might not have been a great team without Leonard, but they would still be pretty damn good.

Russell Westbrook

The case for: This dude is averaging a friggin triple-double while simultaneously leading the league in scoring!!! Westbrook could be the first since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double all season and beat Robertson’s single season record (he’s already on 40). No single player carries a heavier burden on his shoulders every night. His efforts have carried a Durant-less Thunder to an impressive playoff spot, battling for fifth or sixth in the West.

The case against: At the current rate, the Thunder are heading for a sixth-place finish in the West with about 48 wins. This is simply not good enough: my belief is that the MVP of every season needs to come from a true title contender, and Westbrook has been a great player in an average team. His maximalist style of play and high usage rate has made the Thunder a one-man team to a fault.

The verdict

This is an impossible race and can’t be truly determined until the very last day of the season. All of the contenders have played at an unimaginably high level, and the shortlist didn’t even mention players like Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and John Wall, all of whom have turned heads with their stellar play.

My answer might change day to day, or even hour to hour, but on this moment in time, I sniff gingerly towards James Harden. Ask me if I’ve changed my mind tomorrow.

Hoopdarshan Episode 45: Super Playoff Preview with Ball Don't Stop's Ekam Nagra

After a season of individual historics, we are finally on the cusp of the playoffs. To preview the post-season, Hoopdarshan's hosts Kaushik Lakhsman and Karan Madhok bring on board Ekam Nagra, the CEO and Founder of popular international media outlet 'Ball Don't Stop'. Nagra speaks to us about the most-intriguing storylines ahead, the impossible MVP race, and being awestruck with Allen Iverson.

Ball Don't Stop is one of the fastest-growing basketball media outlets in the world. They cover NBA, High School, Pro AM basketball, and have a performance training branch too. They have over 300,000 fans worldwide. Nagra is from Vancouver Canada, where he organised the 'Battle at the Border' basketball event in Vancouver featuring Jamal Crawford and India's own Satnam Singh.

Hoopdarshan is the truest voice of Indian basketball, and since we're such hopeless fans of the game, it will become the voice of everything basketball related we love, from the NBA to international hoops, too. On every episode of Hoopdarshan, we will be inviting a special guest to interview or chat to about a variety of topics. With expert insight from some of the brightest and most-involved people in the world of Indian basketball, we hope to bring this conversation to a many more interested fans, players, and followers of the game.

Make sure to follow Hoopdarshan on Soundcloud or search for 'Hoopdarshan' on the iTunes Store! Auto-sync Hoopdarshan to your preferred podcast app NOW!

Hoopdarshan can be found on...

April 7, 2017

NBA launches its first Basketball School - in Mumbai

When I was young, the NBA was what we did when we were trying to avoid school. Getting late for class because of the live early morning NBA games. Reading SLAM Magazine instead of English Literature. Hoisting up jumpers on the court late into the night instead of catching up on homework or sleep.

Ah, how things have changed. Now, for a select fortunate few, the NBA could be school itself.

The NBA announced on Friday the launch of the NBA Basketball School, a network of tuition-based basketball development programmes around the world open to international male and female players ages 6-18. For Indian basketball fans, the news is especially closer to home: the first of these groundbreaking schools was launched by the NBA in Mumbai on Friday.

According to NBA India, the NBA Basketball School in Mumbai was launched as part of a multiyear agreement announced with India On Track (IOT), one of India’s leading sports management, marketing and development companies. Additional NBA Basketball Schools will be launched in India and around the world in the coming months. The school will be located at the Jamnabai Narsee School in Vile Parle West.

Registration to attend the NBA Basketball School in Mumbai is now open at indiaontrack.nba.com.

"Our goal is to inspire more young male and female players to learn the game under the guidance of established coaches with proven training techniques,” said NBA Vice President, International Basketball Operations & Head of Elite Basketball, Brooks Meek. "The NBA Basketball School builds an additional track between the Jr. NBA and NBA Academies with the goal of increasing the pool of players who have the talent to attend our academies around the world."

The Jr. NBA, the league’s global youth basketball participation program for boys and girls, will help identify young players who have the talent to attend NBA Basketball Schools. From there, the top players at each NBA Basketball School will have the opportunity to be selected to attend NBA Academies, the league’s network of elite basketball training centers around the world to develop top international male and female prospects. The NBA's first Academy in India was announced in the Delhi-NCR region recently.

Each NBA Basketball School will feature year-long, tuition-based programs open to international male and female players ages 6-18. The NBA Basketball School curriculum covers on-court training, strength and conditioning, and basketball education for young players ages 6-18 and will be implemented by local coaches working directly with the NBA’s International Basketball Operations staff around the world.

"There has never been a more exciting time for the growth of basketball in India," said NBA India Managing Director Yannick Colaco. "Between NBA Academy India welcoming 24 elite prospects and the launch of NBA Basketball Schools with our partner India On Track, we are investing more than ever in identifying and training India’s aspiring young players."

"We are now at the cusp of a new phase in India’s sporting journey, and to ensure its continued growth we need to lay down strong foundations for basketball," said IOT Founder and CEO Vivek Sethia. "This initiative jointly executed by the NBA and India On Track will help to create a platform to identify and engage the untapped basketball potential in India thereby creating a larger talent pool for academies to choose from."

According to their programme overview, the NBA Basketball School will take input from NBA coaches, former NBA players, and player development experts to develop a comprehensive basketball curriculum approved by the National Basketball Coaches Association that will be introduced in partnership with school coaches. The program will be led by teams of foreign and local coaches with NBA regional heads overseeing all training operations. In-depth information about their basketball curriculum is provided on the NBA Basketball School's official website.

Australian Ryan Burns, an experienced international basketball coach, will be the school's technical director.

This is a great opportunity for young players in the city. Hopefully more NBA schools pop up in other cities to tap into India's wealth of potential basketball talent around the country.

March 29, 2017

Hoopdarshan Episode 44: Eban Hyams on UBA Pro League and Australian Basketball

Eban Hyams is a truly global citizen, raised in India and Australia, and with professional basketball experience around the world. Most recently, Hyams has been a part of the UBA Basketball League in India. In Episode 44, he joins Hoopdarshan to talk to hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok about his experience leading the Haryana Gold, the Australian basketball scene, and his favourite emojis.

Hyams, a point-guard, has been in the UBA from its inception. Born in Pune to Jewish-Indian parents, he has played college basketball in the USA and professional basketball in Australia, Singapore, Philippines, and Belgium. He has trained with India's national basketball team under Coach Kenny Natt and worked with NBA India around the country holding basketball training sessions. In addition to the interview with Hyams, Kaushik and Karan also discuss the end of the Federation Cup and the upcoming NBA Playoffs.

Hoopdarshan is the truest voice of Indian basketball, and since we're such hopeless fans of the game, it will become the voice of everything basketball related we love, from the NBA to international hoops, too. On every episode of Hoopdarshan, we will be inviting a special guest to interview or chat to about a variety of topics. With expert insight from some of the brightest and most-involved people in the world of Indian basketball, we hope to bring this conversation to a many more interested fans, players, and followers of the game.

Make sure to follow Hoopdarshan on Soundcloud or search for 'Hoopdarshan' on the iTunes Store! Auto-sync Hoopdarshan to your preferred podcast app NOW!

Hoopdarshan can be found on...

March 27, 2017

2017 Federation Cup: ONGC Men secure 5th consecutive title; Chhattisgarh Women win gold

There are many different types of celebrations, and at the finals of the 31st Federation Cup National Basketball Tournament in Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu) on Sunday, the winners felt various degrees of joy. In the men's final, Dehradun's ONGC won their fifth-consecutive title, securing their legacy as one of the greatest units in Indian Basketball history. In the women's game, Chhattisgarh buried two years of disappointments by winning in the final stage and bagging the gold medal.

The Federation Cup - organized by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and the Tamil Nadu Basketball Association (TNBA) - was held from March 22-26 this year at the PSG Indoor Sports Complex courts in Coimbatore. The tournament is a sort of elite club of Indian basketball, featuring only the best eight each of men and women teams from the previous year's Senior National in competition.

ONGC were tested to the brink by their closest competitors in the country, IOB (Chennai) in the men's final, and it took a measured response by two of India's top international players - Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Amritpal Singh (17 points each) - to help the Dehradun side slip by to a 55-52 win.

Several of India's most important players came head to head in the women's final between Chhattisgarh and Indian Railways. Chhattisgarh had lost at the final stage at the Federation Cup the past two years and trailed 44-42 at halftime on Sunday. But a strong second half surge and impressive performances by their centerpiece Poonam Chaturvedi (28) and forward Sharanjeet Kaur (27) helped Chhattisgarh finally win the gold, 77-67. India's experienced international player Anitha Paul Durai (23) and Neena (17) had strong performances for Railways in the loss.

The third-place games were also settled on Sunday. West Bengal women were led by Madhu Kumari (22) and Libina MJ (16) in a statement big win over Tamil Nadu, 81-52. Indian Air Force (Services) finished third in the men's division with a 85-79 win over Karnataka's Army Service Corps and Centre.

Final Scores:
  • Men: ONGC (Amritpal Singh 17, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi 17) bt. IOB (Prasanna Venkatesh 14, Pratham Singh 13) 55-52.
  • Women: Chhattisgarh (Poonam Chaturvedi 28, Sharanjeet Kaur 27) bt. Southern Railways (Anitha Paul Durai 23, S. Neena 17) 77-67.

Final Standings

  • 1. ONGC
  • 2. IOB
  • 3. Indian Air Force

  • 1. Chhattisgarh
  • 2. Indian Railways
  • 3. West Bengal

March 22, 2017

Indian basketball's finest head to Coimbatore for the 2017 Federation Cup

If the Senior Nationals are the largest showcase of talent in Indian basketball, then the Federation Cup is the exclusive inner-club, a competition among only the best of the best. Based on the success at the previous nationals, only the top eight men's and women's teams from the country are invited to this national tournament, setting up a tantalizing tournament of the finest cagers in the country.

This year, the 31st Federation Cup All India Basketball Tournament for Men and Women - organized by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and the Tamil Nadu Basketball Association (TNBA) - tipped off on Wednesday March 22nd at the PSG Indoor Sports Complex courts in Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu). The 16 combined men and women's teams will play until the Finals on March 26th.

Participating Teams

  • Group A: Indian Air Force (Services), Ludhiana Basketball Academy (Punjab), Army Service Corps and Centre (Karnataka), Customs and Central Excise Kochi (Kerala).
  • Group B: ONGC Dehradun (Uttarakhand), Indian Overseason Bank (Tamil Nadu), Central Railway (Indian Railways), Income Tax (Gujarat).

  • Group A: Southern Railway (Indian Railways), Telengana, Chhattisgarh, Punjab.
  • Group B: Kerala, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal.

Reigning champions of the Senior Nationals and last year's Federation Cup Kerala Women will be hoping to continue their golden streak and win back to back titles. The Men's field has been dominated by ONGC (Dehradun) for the past four years, and they will be looking for an amazing fifth consecutive trophy in Coimbatore this year.

March 20, 2017

Hoopdarshan Episode 43: Jeena Scaria becomes a young leader for India's Women's National Team

Kerala's Jeena Scaria has quickly become India's finest women's basketball player, a young leader for the Women's national squad, the team's "chechi" (elder sister). In episode 43 of Hoopdarshan, Jeena joins hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok to talk about her expectations for India at the upcoming FIBA Asia Cup on home soil, her leadership in helping Kerala win the Senior Nationals after a three-decade wait, and the scarce opportunities for women in Indian basketball.

In the new episode, Kaushik and Karan also discuss Kevin Durant's planned trip to India, the superstar players in the UBA Basketball League, and why home food will help India's performances at the Women's FIBA ABC.

Hoopdarshan is the truest voice of Indian basketball, and since we're such hopeless fans of the game, it will become the voice of everything basketball related we love, from the NBA to international hoops, too. On every episode of Hoopdarshan, we will be inviting a special guest to interview or chat to about a variety of topics. With expert insight from some of the brightest and most-involved people in the world of Indian basketball, we hope to bring this conversation to a many more interested fans, players, and followers of the game.

Make sure to follow Hoopdarshan on Soundcloud or search for 'Hoopdarshan' on the iTunes Store! Auto-sync Hoopdarshan to your preferred podcast app NOW!

Hoopdarshan can be found on...

March 16, 2017

Mumbai Challengers win UBA Basketball League Season 4 championship in Goa

A month ago, before the start of the most-hyped and stacked fourth season of the UBA Basketball League, the Mumbai Challengers looked like the squad with the greatest embarrassment of riches. The team, coached by former India international coach Jora Singh, featured a dangerous balance of both Indian and international stars. Players with international experience like Jagdeep Singh Bains and Prasanna Venkatesh shared the court with American stars Inderbir Singh Gill, Jimmy Scroggins, and the brief-NBA veteran, Alex Scales. With these many weapons, the result was either going to be spectacular success or a disappointing implosion.

A month later, Jora Singh's squad put to rest any doubts over chemistry issues around this great collection of talent. Mumbai completed their 2-0 sweep over the Bengaluru Beast in the Best-of-Three finals series in Goa on Wednesday, March 15, to be crowned UBA Basketball League champions for the first time. The season's championship series (knockout stages) were held at the Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Stadium in Goa from March 10. The Finals were a continuation of a month-long period of success for Mumbai, who had finished with a league-best record of 5-1 during the regular season in Chennai and swept last year's silver medalists Punjab Steelers in the semi-finals 2-0.

At one point or another, all of Mumbai's big names stepped up in sealing the deal for the challengers. Scales and Scroggins contributed 34 and 32 points respectively in Game 1 to down Bengaluru 110-95. Scales doubled-up with 34 again in Game 2, Inderbir added 33, and Scroggins 21 to win the high-octane Game 2 118-105. Bains and Nikhil also made valuable contributions for the champions. On the losing side, the combination of Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Chris Solomon, Pratham Singh, and Palpreet Singh Brar played well enough to get to this stage but ultimately couldn't handle Mumbai's firepower in the Finals.

Bhriguvanshi was named the tournament's Indian MVP last week, while the foreign MVP award went to Punjab's Dermaine Crockell.

The UBA announced that they will be holding their first-ever All Star game between the best players of the North and South Division in Goa on Thursday, March 16. On the day of the Finals, they also held their first-ever Slam Dunk and Three-Point Contests.

March 10, 2017

UBA names Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (Bengaluru) and Dermaine Crockell (Punjab) Season 4 MVPs

The first stage of UBA Basketball League's fourth season, held in Chennai, is over. Now the top four teams - Mumbai Challengers, Punjab Steelers, Pune Peshwas, and Bengaluru Beast - have taken their talents to West Beach, I mean, to Goa, to play in the tournament's Semi-Final and Final stage.

But before the final week, the UBA celebrated the best performing individuals from the regular season. Usually, the UBA has given one Most Valuable Player (MVP) award every season. But this time around, with the addition of a dozen foreign players boosting up the talent level around the league, they have handed out two MVP awards, one each the the tournament's best foreign and Indian player. Not surprisingly, both awards went to new additions to the league, which has been boosted by the arrival of both foreign players and international-level Indian players this season.

UBA's Indian MVP award went to India's superstar swingman from Varanasi and the Bengaluru Beast, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi. One of the most successful and popular players in Indian basketball, Bhriguvanshi led Bengaluru to a 3-3 record in the regular season, averaging 28.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 10 assists (tied for 2nd). During the course of the season, he recorded UBA's first-ever triple double with a 29 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists performance in a win over Pune. Another highlight of his season was the 57 point, 11 assist game against Hyderabad. Bhriguvanshi was awarded Bajaj Pulsar RS 200 with his MVP trophy.

The foreign MVP award went to the 6'2" American guard Dermaine Crockell, formerly of the Minnesota State University and now playing with the Punjab Steelers in the UBA. Crockell had two 50-point outings during the course of the season. He averaged 41.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists and led Punjab to a 2-4 record before winning the subsequent play-in game for the semis. He was awarded $2500 for this MVP achievement.

Both these players are still in the tournament with their teams in the semi-finals in Goa. Winning MVP is just the first step of the process: will one of them be able to cap off this individual achievement with team success and bring home the Season 4 title?

March 8, 2017

NBA plans to woo larger Indian audiences with Hindi commentary soon

With broadcasts over the decades on ESPN/Star, Ten Networks, and most-recently, Sony SIX, NBA fans in India have become relatively familiar with the voices behind the NBA. The English commentary featuring the voices of Marv Albert and Jeff Van Gundy, Mike Breen and Kevin Harlan, Doris Burke and Mark Jackson, and a personal favourite - Walt Frazier - have become as legendary as the biggest moments in the game itself. The commentary has played along as the NBA's perfect soundtrack, providing fans in India (and around the world) the perfect language of basketball expression.

Very soon, it seems that India's other official language - Hindi - is set to enjoy its own moment of verbal basketball gymnastics.

At a conference in Mumbai organised by Asian-pacific digital broadcasting association CASBAA, NBA India's Managing Director Yannick Colaco mentioned that the NBA was very close to featuring Hindi commentary during Sony SIX broadcasts of live games in India.

Via IndianTelevision.com

Speaking at the CASBAA OTT summit in Mumbai, NBA India executive Yannick Colaco said that, since audio was very important for sports content, they were actively looking at going regional. "We are already having the audio for 600 games in Chinese," he stressed, adding that, in three months, NBA planned to have its games commentary in Hindi as well.

The NBA's decision follows a familiar blueprint pursued by the English Premier League (EPL) for football, which was a promising thought but was received to mixed reviews. The NBA was reportedly watched by over 140 million viewers in India over the course of last season.

Hindi is the second-most spoken language in the world (after Mandarin), with nearly 500 million speakers combined who speak it as a native or a second-language. With this move, the NBA could reach out to millions of viewers in India who are much more comfortable with Hindi than English as the language of broadcast, potentially expanding their fan-base further. It will take away from some of the perceived "elitism" of the game - of basketball as a foreign sport just for comfortable English speakers - and bring it down to the grassroots.

But on the other hand, I can also expect some backlash. Just like the reaction to EPL in Hindi, many habitual viewers will not be comfortable with the change in language and terminology from something that they have become accustomed to. Furthermore, there are millions of basketball fans in India who don't speak Hindi. Hindi and English are the most spoken languages in the country, but a large percentage of the population speaks various regional languages like Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Kannada, etc.

Of course, hardcore Indian basketball fans already have some experience of Hindi commentary and broadcast, and we can thank DD Sports for that. For decades, India's national championships have been broadcast both in English and Hindi (and often, in other languages too). They haven't always been very good.

Abroad, the most famous example of a crossover of American sports and Indian language has been the success of Hockey Night Punjabi, the Canada-based broadcast of the Ice Hockey league NHL. The Sacramento Kings have been ahead of the "India outreach curve" in the NBA thanks to their Mumbai-born owner Vivek Ranadive. At recent "Bollywood Nights" in Sacramento, they have made pre-game P.A. announcements in Hindi and had players wearing warm-up jerseys in the devanagari script.

Ultimately, the success of NBA in Hindi will depend not on the language but on the quality of commentators. The NBA will have a tough job at finding those rare individuals who are both articulate in Hindi and also experts in the NBA and basketball. Hindi speakers who cannot tell their Wilson Chandler from Chandler Parsons will not do. NBA experts without expertise in smart and coherent Hindi will be a let down: even many of us First-Language Hindi speakers would falter at instinctively remembering our paryayvachis and viloms. I also hope that the NBA looks at current and former Indian basketball players who have a natural understanding and experience of the game.

The NBA is ultimately a North American league and will always be first identified by its English commentators. But I hope that the move to switch to Hindi can be done the right away so we can have Hindi's own response to Marv Albert's "Yes!" and Walt Frazier's most popular "Clydeisms".

February 28, 2017

The Biggest Season Yet

India's top international basketball superstars join UBA Basketball Season 4 rosters

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas on February 18, 2017.

The most important basketball decision in India this season didn’t take place on the court. It wasn’t a coaching decision, a new defensive scheme, a right pass, or a clutch three-point shot. That decision, instead, was taken in some far less dramatic settings: in sterile meeting rooms, ears plugged into cold mobile-phone screens, pens scribbling signatures over warm sheets of printed paper.

That decision was taken between the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), the governing body of basketball in India, and UBA India, the international company who have launched three seasons of short professional league basketball in the country. That decision could usher in a brand-new direction for Indian basketball.

The folks over at UBA India expanded and experimented in almost every possible direction to bring greater visibility and legitimacy to their league. They held three quick seasons of high-quality basketball in the space of one year in India. They showcased their league live on cable TV (Ten Sports) and produced high-level off-court material. They featured an experienced and highly-professional broadcast team. They found the help of Indian celebrities to celebrate and promote their product, expanded to a handful of cities in India, employed several high-calibre players and coaches, and took their top stars to the US for special pro training camps. In the announcement of Season 4 of the UBA Basketball League - set to tip off in Chennai on Thursday - they even brought ten international professional players to spike up the talent pool of the competition.

And yet, the league missed the most important of factors: the presence of India's best basketball players. A rift between BFI and UBA India had kept the best players in the national/international fray away from UBA participation. The secondary players in the UBA League were of course stars in their own right, but the names mentioned in absence were more notable than those who were marked 'present'.

That is, until now. On the eve of Season 4, the UBA Basketball League announced the rosters of all eight teams, where the biggest news here is that, in addition to the returning UBA stars of the past and the first-time international players from the pro camp in the USA, this season of UBA will feature India's top international basketball superstars. Some of India's best current players, including Amjyot Singh, Amrit Pal Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Palpreet Singh Brar, Yadwinder Singh, Prasanna Venkatesh, Rikin Pethani, and more have joined UBA rosters.

“The UBA has always been about raising the game of basketball in India,” said Paul Crane, the VP of broadcasting for the UBA Basketball League, “Not just from providing more opportunities to compete, but to teach more fundamentals, training and conditioning.”

“Having more of the top players from India joining new international players from the United States and others countries such as Australia, the level of play and competition continues to rise,” Crane added. “One of the many ‘big picture’ hopes and dreams of the UBA is to one day see Indian basketball be more competitive on the world stage.”

The new names will bolster the already-stacked UBA rosters and help make this into the most exciting professional competition Indian basketball has yet witnessed. The league stage of Season 4 will be held in Chennai's Satyabhama University from February 16 to March 1, before moving to Goa for the championship round (semi-finals and finals) from March 10-16.

Here is a more detailed breakdown of all the eight UBA teams.

Bengaluru Beast: Bengaluru have instantly become one of the must-watch teams for the league this season. Their roster includes Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, India's most talented guard and one of the best shooting guards in Asia, and Palpreet Singh Brar, the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA D-League last year. Current and former India internationals of various age levels Pratham Singh, Kaif Zia, Loveneet Singh, and Khushmeet Singh are also in this team. Indian-American player Chris Solomon, who played college ball in Florida at Northwood University, will be the foreign import for Bengaluru.

Chennai Slam: For the first three seasons, Chennai have been the model of excellence in the UBA. They have reached all three UBA Finals and won the title two times, including the most recent championship in July last year. Former Indian player Prasanna Jayasankar coaches this team, who’s strength is in their depth. Nigerian star Agu Chukwunanu (who scored a UBA record 50 points on opening night) will lead a squad of UBA veterans including Cammy Carmel, Jairam Jat, and Gopal Ram. This year, they will be boosted with the presence of national team big man Rikin Pethani and former University of Minnesota Duluth player Brendon Pineda from the USA. Home court advantage in the group stage and a winning habit makes Chennai one of the top threats once again.

Delhi Capitals: Delhi know how to win, too: they are Season 2 champions and feature former MVP Vinay Kaushik. Now, they have added the player who is perhaps the country’s most electric talent, Amjyot Singh. Amjyot has played professionally in Japan’s Development League, taken part in the NBA D-League draft, has been India’s top player in several big international wins, and is one of the top ranked 3x3 basketball players in the world. Delhi have surrounded these two stars with Ajay Pratap Singh, Sunil Rathee, and the American Ronald March.

Haryana Gold: Haryana’s big addition is Indian basketball’s seasoned Punjabi veteran Yadwinder Singh, who will join a squad consisting of explosive Indo-Australian guard Eban Hyams, Akashdeep Hazra, Prakash Mishra, and American player De’Sean Mattox.

Hyderabad Sky: The Sky have an interesting mixture of new and old, and foreign and domestic on their roster. Watch out for former India international point guard Joginder Singh, Indo-Australian swingman Mahesh Padmanabhan, Tamil Nadu’s veteran Gnanasekaran Sivabalan, and American additions Mak Boskailo and Tevin Kelly.

Mumbai Challengers: Mumbai have the potential to be one of the few teams with an embarrassment of riches at the league. Led by Jora Singh Gulia – who has coached India’s national squad in the past – this team will feature the up-and-coming talent Prudhvi Reddy from Hyderabad, veteran former international Jagdeep Singh Bains, Gagandeep Singh, and current international Prasanna Venkatesh. In addition, they also feature three high-calibre foreign players in Alex Scales (who has played in 11 countries internationally, including one game for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs in 2005), Inderbir Gill (Indo-American former Canada NCAA Player of the Year) and Jimmy Scroggins (USA).

Pune Peshwas: Silver-medallists in Season 1 of the league, it’s going to be hard to deny Pune this season. Their head coach is India’s legendary basketball star and coach Ram Kumar, and he will marshal a team that features the league’s most recent MVP Narender Grewal and superstar new addition and captain of India’s senior men’s team Amrit Pal Singh. Filling the gap between this irresistible post-and-perimeter combination will be talented players like Siddhant Shinde, Ajinkya Mehta, Gaurav Ohlan, Arshpreet Bhullar, and the American addition Pierre Newton from the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Punjab Steelers: Punjab will definitely be feeling the push of positive momentum after they surprised better-favoured teams to reach the Season 3 Finals last season and pushed Chennai to the brink. Their roster features Season 1 MVP Ravi Bhardwaj, popular rising young star Gurvinder Singh ‘Gary’ Gill, international point guard Akilan Pari, and American Dermaine Crockrell, a product of Bemidji State.

There seems to be a fairly even distribution of talent this season, which will make it all the more difficult to predict which four teams will qualify for the championship round in Goa, and which one will eventually be the last squad standing with the Season 4 championship trophy. In particular, I expect Chennai, Delhi, and Pune to be among the top contenders for the title. But the favourites just might be Bengaluru, who have the right explosive mix of experience and youth and could separate themselves from the pack for the Finals in mid-March.

All games are televised live on Ten Networks from February 16 to March 16 in Chennai and Goa from 4:30 PM to 7:00 PM each gameday.

February 26, 2017

Orlando Magic celebrate India Day 2017 with Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty

The most important thing for the home fans at the Amway Center on Saturday night was that they got the win. The Orlando Magic, the second-worst team in the Eastern Conference, played one of their best games of the season, running past the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks to a 105-86 victory. New addition Terrance Ross from Toronto led his squad with 24. High-flying dunker Aaron Gordon added 18. Point guard Elfrid Payton even nearly had a triple-double. On-court, it was as good a night that the suffering Magic fanbase could've hoped for.

The bonus on this Saturday night was how the Magic scored an off-court victory - desi-style.

The Indian-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) continued their annual tradition in Orlando by hosting one more edition of 'India Day' at the Amway Center on Saturday, February 25. This was their fifth consecutive celebration of Indian heritage and culture with the local basketball team and after their win over the Celtics last year, the desi blessings helped the Magic pull off some jadoo on the court this year, too.

The big highlight at India Day this year was the special guest, the Indian film actress, producer, and former model Shilpa Shetty. Shetty was introduced to the fans at the game and also presented with a custom Orlando Magic jersey.

The night featured an 'India Day' fan-fest in Downtown Orlando and entertainment by Bollywood Dance Mania and even the Orlando Magic Dancers performed a routine in traditional Bollywood style. Fans were also able to take part in fun events such as cultural dancing, saree draping, yoga and Indian cuisine tasting. (So basically, all the usual desi cultural stereotypes that we're supposedly proud of).

Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins said, "India Day is just one way for the Magic to show to show its appreciation to this segment of our fan base for their support and dedication."

Great job for Orlando and the IACC for continuing with this tradition: it's about time more franchises around the league recognise the growing clout (and basketball fandom) of the Indian diaspora.

February 25, 2017

Diary allegedly belonging to BFI president K Govindraj details payoffs of hundreds of crores

As we have learnt over and over again, there is no escaping the weight of politics in Indian sports. Occasionally, basketball has found some infamy in the Indian political conversation, too.

Earlier this week, several media houses reported news of the so-called "Donation Gate", a controversy that was spurred up from a secret diary allegedly found at the residence of Karnataka's Legislative Council MLC of the Congress Party, K. Govindraj. Govindraj's diary was seized during an Income Tax raid of several politicians a few months ago. It was only recently, however, that news leaked that this diary contained suspicious entries detailing payoffs of money passing hands in payoffs of hundreds of crores.

Govindraj is known as an important legislator in the state and a major fundraiser for Congress.

Why is this news important on a basketball blog? Well, because this is the same Govindraj who happens to the president of ruling executive committee of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), running much of its operations from Bengaluru. He is also the president of Karnataka Olympic Association.

Here are more details of this case, including the diary entries and Govindraj's response, as written by Navika Kumar on The Times of India:

The secret diary No. AKG03 speaks of a staggering Rs 600 crore routed to mysterious names like AICC, AP, M Vora, SG office, RG office and DGS. The diary also has an entry under steel bridge from where Rs 65 crore was marked as received. There is one entry which shows Rs 7 crore being paid to media for the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike elections. The income tax department had called in Govindraj for questioning about the entries on February 11, 2017.
Govindraj claimed the handwriting isn't his and the signatures were forged. The Congress, too, has claimed the diary is fake and an attempt to malign them, while the BJP has called for a detailed investigation into it.

Govindraj disowned the diary almost a year ago, reports The Hindu.

Congress leaders pointed out (quoting the statement recorded during the inquiry) that Mr. Govindaraj had told the I-T sleuths during questioning repeatedly that the diary did not belong to him. He had also filed a complaint with the Indiranagar police on March 21, 2016, suspecting that the “mysterious diary” was “planted” in his house by some unknown persons with “malicious intent”.
“Mr. Govindaraj had disowned the diary not now, but almost a year ago throughout the course of the inquiry. So the leakage by whatever source amounts to breach of trust by the Income Tax Department,” said Congress spokesperson and MLC V.S. Ugrappa.

Only future investigation will reveal the truth behind the diary and the consequences - if any - for Govindraj. As usual, the rest of us of the Indian Basketball fraternity will be hoping that the controversy doesn't spill over to mar the sport itself.

February 22, 2017

Patiala's Punjabi University crowned 2017 UBAU National University Champions in Chandigarh

India's largest collegiate level basketball tournament - the UBAU All India Inter-Zonal University Basketball Championship for Men 2017 - came to a conclusion in Chandigarh on Tuesday February 21 with Patiala's Punjabi University cruising to an easy victory in the final over Anna University (Chennai). This victory was especially significant to Punjabi University since they weren't even in the top sixteen of the inter-zonal championship last year.

This prestigious Association of Indian Universities (AIU) Championship was organised by Universal Basketball Alliance India Pvt Ltd. The top four teams from each zone - North, South, East, and West - qualify to the inter-zonal championship and are divided into four pools of four teams each. The top two teams from each pool after the league stages qualify to the knockout rounds: quarterfinals, semis, followed by the finals.

Anna had tasted defeat at the final stage of this tournament at the hands of last year's host team Mumbai University. With Punjabi University making the short distance from Patiala to Chandigarh for the tournament, Anna once again faced a team being treated as hosts in the final at the indoor stadium in Sector-42. Behind the efforts of Gurdit Singh (23) and Abhi Kumar (16), Punjabi took a comfortable 41-29 lead at halftime and turned the game into a blowout with a 23-point lead at the end of the third quarter. At the final buzzer, Punjabi University sealed the title victory with a 78-54 rout.

Earlier that evening, New Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia University were led by an explosive 47-point performance by Bhupender to defeat another Chennai team - the University of Madras - 90-62 and secure third-place at the tournament. Abhudaya scored 16 for Jamia, while Madras were led by Karthik's 18 points.

Tarlok Singh Sandhu, former Olympian and India captain, who represented India at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and 1982 Asian Games was the chief guest for the finale. Other dignitaries included Joseph Damsker, Managing Director, Merchandising – Elite Universal Sports Alliance India Pvt Ltd (EUSAI); Sunday Zeller, co-founder – Universal Basketball Alliance & Elite Sports India Inc.; Riyaz Mulla, Managing Director India operations – ESI; Dr. Raj Kumar, President – EUSAI; Dr. Gurdeep Kaur, Director of Sports – Punjabi University.

Final Four Standings
  • 1. Punjabi University
  • 2. Anna University
  • 3. Jamia Millia Islamia University
  • 4. University of Madras

The final 16 teams that participated in the UBAU All India Inter-Zonal University Basketball Championship this year were (several University sent 'A' and 'B' squads:
  • Pool A: Punjabi University (Patiala), University of Mumbai (Mumbai), University of Calcutta (Kolkata), University of Kerala (Thiruvananthapuram).
  • Pool B: Anna University (Chennai), Durg Vishvidyalya (Durg), Delhi University (New Delhi), Savitri Bai Phule University (Pune).
  • Pool C: University of Rajasthan (Jaipur), Panjab University (Chandigarh), SRM University (Chennai), University of Kerala (Thiruvananthapuram).
  • Pool D: Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith (Varanasi), University of Madras (Chennai), L.N.I.P.E (Gwalior), Jamia Millia Islamia University (New Delhi).

February 17, 2017

KD2Desi: Kevin Durant announces plans to visit India this summer

Seasons will change. Time will pass. An NBA champion will be crowned and an eager nation will open its doors to more basketball progress. And this summer, Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors will become the greatest basketball player to step foot on Indian soil.

A former MVP and one of the biggest global stars in basketball, Durant officially made the announcement on his social media accounts on Thursday night (Friday morning in India). NBA India released further details about his trip, which will centre around his plans to visit the soon-to-be-launched NBA Academy India in the Delhi-NCR region and Durant's own ambitions to see the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Durant is currently in New Orleans for the 2017 All-Star Weekend where he will make his eighth successive appearance at the 66th NBA All-Star Game on February 19.

“I will be the first NBA player going to the Academy," Durant said, "I’m super excited about it, to grow the game of basketball to a new level. I’m so excited about the grassroots programme. I’m looking forward to it. It should be a great time."

In November, the NBA announced its plans to launch the ambitious NBA Academy India to help nurture elite young basketball talents around the country. Recently, they named the prospects chosen for the first session of this Academy after a nationwide talent hunt.

Durant had encouraging words for the selected few in an interview on Firstpost: "I think it is just the fundamentals of dribbling, shooting, passing that you know and that crossovers no matter where you are as a basketball player. So when you get those fundamentals of the game right, that's where you start at."

This is Earth-shattering news right here. With respect to all the NBA legends of the past and present who have visited India (I have a running list here!) Kevin Durant is most-likely the best-ever. That list has included Hall-of-famers like Dominique Wilkins, Robert Parish, Dikembe Mutombo, and George Gervin, and more recent stars like Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Chris Bosh, Isaiah Thomas, and Shawn Marion. Only Kevin Garnett, who made a trip to India with adidas ten years ago, is of equal status to Durant right now; but I believe that Durant in 2017 is even better than KG was in 2006.

Still in his prime at 28, Durant is the NBA's 2014 MVP, a six-time All NBA Player, eight-time All Star, and four-time scoring leader. Unless you were in an isolated vipassana for the past eight months, you probably know that Durant shocked the world by leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors, forming one of the NBA's most-fearsome units alongside two-time MVP Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. The shift in scenery hardly effected Durant's game: he's averaging 25.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this season while enjoying one of the most efficient shooting seasons ever. Plus, he has a couple Olympics gold medals to his name, too. With his Warriors currently holding the best record in the NBA, he is certain to be vying for an NBA Championship this June, which would add extra masala to his India trip later in the summer.

As ESPN reported, Durant is aware of Kobe Bryant's relationship with China and his popularity among the Chinese people. Durant wants to have a similar influence over fans in India.

"I think what people really appreciated about Kobe was that he really wanted to learn about different aspects of life and how people approach different things," Durant said in interview to ESPN India. "I feel the same way. I want to feel the culture when I go to India. I want to see what it's about. I want to get to touch the people and check the pulse -- not only the game, but life in general."

Finally, he also said that he has had the Taj Mahal on his "bucket list" for a long time.

Only trust the Government-approved guides, KD. Watch out where you leave your Nikes. And most importantly, Stay hydrated. Those North Indian summers are no joke.