This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas.com on January 5, 2017. Click here to read the original feature. The internal links on this repost have been subsequently altered.
If life was a basketball game, it wouldn’t be a coast-to-coast fast-break towards the basket or a 360-degree dunk in every possession. It would be hesitant, back-and-forth, a battle against progress where there would be several lead changes and as many easy baskets as turnovers.
2016 for Indian Basketball was definitely one such year. For every open basket, there was an air-ball. For every flawless defensive possession, there was a flagrant foul. And yet, despite the missteps, basketball in India continues to crawl ahead towards progress, slowly increasing its lead despite a poor field-goal percentage.
Here is a roundup of the top moments of 2016 in Indian Basketball.
- As usual, the Basketball Federation of India’s (BFI) calendar year began with a splash, with India’s biggest domestic tournament – the Senior Nationals – held in Mysuru (Karnataka). Over 53 combined teams in the Men and Women divisions participated, and after two high-flying finals on January 16, Indian Railways (Women) and Services (Men) emerged as national champions.
- Ranbir Chopra, an Indian basketball legend and the captain of independent India's first national team at the First Asian Games in 1951, passed away in his home-town of Kapurthala on January 25th.
- The 42nd edition of the Sub-Junior U14 nationals, India’s youngest national tournament, concluded with two closely-contested finals on February 8th in Puducherry, won by Madhya Pradesh's boys and Chhattisgarh’s girls.
- In the continuing spat between the BFI and the Indian Olympics Association (IOA), the international basketball federation – FIBA – cancelled basketball at the South Asian Games in Guwahati, sending selected players, coaches, and fans into distress.
- In mid-February, Indian basketball legends of the Indian Basketball Players Association (IBPA) teamed up to launch the ‘Save Our Game’ campaign in New Delhi.
- Former NBA champion Brian Shaw came to India near the end of February and helped choose Punjab’s youngster Palpreet Singh Brar as the winner of the first-ever ACG-NBA Jump programme at the national finals in Delhi-NCR. Palpreet was chosen to be prepared for the NBA D-League draft later in the year.
- The Federation Cup – a top national tournament for state and club teams – was held in Goa. Kerala Women rose to the top, while ONGC Men made it a three-peat in mid-March.
- Season 2 of the UBA Basketball League concluded in Hyderabad in early April with Delhi Capitals winning the Finals series 2-1 over Chennai Slam. Delhi’s Vinay Kaushik was named season MVP.
- The IBPA brought to attention Government of India’s de-recognition of the BFI among the National Sports Federations of 2016, adding further instability to the federation’s new committee, run by K. Govindraj.
- NBA players Robin Lopez and Seth Curry travelled to Noida and Mumbai from April 28 - May 1 to support the continued growth of basketball by conducting youth clinics and interacting with local fans. They engaged with players at Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Elite National Camp and took part in Sony SIX's show "Around the Hoop."
- Tamil Nadu Boys and Karnataka Girls won the 2016 Junior (U18) National championship in Puducherry.
- 6-foot-7 Prince Pal Singh (15), the son of an electrician from Gurdaspur (Punjab), was chosen for a three-year scholarship worth $75,000 (Rs. 50 lakh) to train and go to school at the Spire Institute in Geneva, Ohio, USA. He was picked by FIBA agent Dermot Russell at open trials conducted at the Delhi Public School in Rajnandgaon (Chattisgarh).
- At the 2016 South Asian (SABA) U18 Basketball Championship for Men in Dhaka (Bangladesh) on June 1-2, India's junior team defeated South Asian opponents Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, won the SABA U18 Basketball title once again, and qualified for the FIBA Asia U18 Championship.
- Three promising Indian players - Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi, Aashay Verma, and Sahil - were chosen for the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Asia 2016 Camp in Australia.
- Indian official Naresh Aneja was appointed in July to be one of eight jury members representing FIBA at the Rio Olympics 2016 in Brazil.
- India hosted South Asia Qualifiers for 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge in Bengaluru from July 6-8, looking to defend their title against Nepal, Bangladesh, and Maldives. Captained by big man Amrit Pal Singh, India’s Men’s team won all their games convincingly and qualified for the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge.
- At the 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Men in Tehran, the home team Iran emerged as champions. Team India, meanwhile, made the Quarter-Final stage of the tournament for the first time in twelve years and finished at 8th place.
- India’s Senior Men’s team, meanwhile, returned to the William Jones Cup in Taiwan, where they finished 1-7 but managed to impress with significantly improved performances. Philippines’ club Mighty Sports won the invitational tournament.
- Just months after the second season, the UBA launched Season 3 of their basketball league, which concluded in late July with a second title for Season 1 champions Chennai Slam. Chennai defeated Punjab Steelers 2-1 in the Finals’ series. Narender Grewal of the Pune Peshwas, the highest-scoring player in the tournament, was named MVP for Season 3.
- In July, the BFI sent out a warning message that all participants in 'unauthorised competitions' won't be allowed to take part in official national or international basketball events. After the end of UBA’s Season 3, BFI came through with their warning, banning 122 players, coaches, referees and support staff of the UBA from official India basketball competitions and sending shockwaves in the sport throughout the nation.
- India’s Senior Men, meanwhile, continued their accelerated improvement: at the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge in Tehran (Iran) in September, India had their best performance in 27 years. India defeated China, Philippines, Chinese Taipei, and Kazakhstan, made it to the tournament’s quarter-finals, and finished at 7th place with a 4-4 record. India’s “Big Three” of Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh, and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi established themselves as Asia’s elite. Hosts Iran beat Korea in the final on September 18 to win the tournament.
- Two prominent members of India’s Senior Men’s team – Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Rikin Pethani – played for team ‘T-Rex’ of the Maldives Basketball Association (MBA) from September 20 to October 3. T-Rex won the MBA title.
- It was a familiar conclusion at the end of the 43rd Sub-Junior (U14) National Basketball Championship for Boys and Girls on October 7 in Hyderabad, as the reigning champions in both the boys' and girls' divisions - Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh respectively - won their final matches to retain their trophies.
- Three Indian players – ACG-NBA Jump winner Palpreet Singh, Amjyot Singh, and Amritpal Singh – were deemed eligible for the NBA D-League draft.
- Asia's premier international club basketball tournament - the 2016 FIBA Asia Champions Cup - concluded in Chenzhou, China, on October 16 with the host country's representative China Kashgar winning the finale. India were represented at this tournament by Dehradun's ONGC, who, despite featuring some top Indian talent, were ousted from the Preliminary Round stage without a win and finished tied for 9/10th place in the ten-team fray.
- India’s superstar Amjyot Singh had himself a busy fall season, headlining Japan’s 3x3 squad ‘Team Hamamatsu’ which won itself accolades in FIBA 3x3 tournaments around the world, including the 3x3 World Tour Finals in UAE and FIBA 3x3 All Stars in Doha (Qatar).
- Palpreet Singh made history by becoming the first Indian to be drafted directly into the NBA’s D-League when he was picked 11th in the sixth round (80th overall) in the D-League draft by the Long Island Nets on October 30th. India’s other prospects – Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh – were not picked. Unfortunately, Palpreet was dropped from the Nets’ final roster a week later.
- India’s Youth (U18) Women’s team suffered a major setback at the FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Women in Bangkok (Thailand). India lost all of their Level I games and then lost the promotion/relegation game to fall into Level II for the tournament's next iteration in 2018. China won the tournament for the third consecutive time.
- On November 22, the NBA made the huge announcement to launch NBA Academy India, an elite basketball training centre for India’s top male and female prospects in the Delhi National Capital Region (NCR). The Academy, the first of its kind in the country, and the NBA’s fifth elite training centre globally, will be fully funded by the NBA. It will open in April 2017 and will provide academic education through a school partnership.
- The 2016 Youth National (U16) Championship concluded with the finals on November 26th, as Tamil Nadu (Girls) and Kerala (Boys) emerged as champions in Hassan (Karnataka).
- Former NBA champ Shawn Marion came to Mumbai and New Delhi for a five-day trip starting in the end of November, where he took part in the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme, chatted with fans live on NBA India's Facebook page, conducted a junior NBA camp at the ITL School in Delhi, and more. He made the obligatory 'Around the Hoop' TV appearance, too.
- The second season of ACG-NBA Jump talent search programme was launched in Mumbai on December 3 with Marion. The programme that commenced this year – set to be held in six cities – will go on to provide the top 24 prospects with scholarships and training at the NBA Academy India.
- The story of India’s first NBA draft pick – Satnam Singh – was filmed into the documentary ‘One in a Billion’ by director Roman Gackowski. The documentary was released on Netflix Worldwide on December 6.
- Team India ended 2016 on a positive note at Hong Kong’s invitational Super Kung Sheung Cup. India sent a star-studded Senior Men’s team to the tournament and finished at third place with the bronze medal. USA’s Southern California Fukienese Association won the gold medal on December 18.
Basketball will continue to progress in India in 2017: fans should look forward to seeing the NBA Academy unearth new talents from the country, keep up with India’s blossoming domestic scene with grassroots and national tournaments around the country, and see our national women return to action at the 2017 FIBA Asia Championship. Like always, there will be three times on the top of my annual wish-list: for India to win more international games, to see progress towards a full Indian professional basketball league, and witness an Indian citizen finally getting to play in the NBA.