May 24, 2017

India win 5th consecutive SABA Championship in Maldives; qualify for 2017 FIBA Asia Cup

We came. We saw. We conquered. And we qualified.

Photo credit:  Basketball Federation of India
With four resounding victories in four games, India's Senior Men's national basketball team won their fifth consecutive title at the South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) Basketball Championship, held in Male, Maldives, from May 19-23. The victory qualified India for the real test ahead: the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup - the biggest basketball competition in Asia - in August.

Led by head coach Sappaniambalam Baskar, captained by Akilan Pari, and under the leadership of star players Amritpal Singh and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, India sent a squad with a strong mix of youth and experience to Maldives last week. The big stars, as they have done so often in recent years, delivered for the team in comfortable wins over neighbouring South Asian nations.

India's campaign began in style against the hosts Maldives, rushing off to a 22-3 lead in the first quarter and keeping their foot on the accelerator throughout the game to double their opponents' score in the 84-42 win. Amritpal Singh, India's starting center and one of the best big men in Asia, posted a game high 25 points to go with 8 rebounds.

Photo credit:  Basketball Federation of India
Amritpal was on fire in Game 2 a couple of days later against arguably the second-strongest team in South Asia, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka gave India their closest competition in the tournament, but a double digit halftime lead ensured that India were still in complete command of things. Amritpal had 28 points and 16 rebounds while star guard Vishesh Bhriguvanshi added 26 with 10 assists to beat the Lankans 88-61. Thammitage Perera had 18 in a losing effort for the Sri Lanka.

India's most impressive win was a day later against Bangladesh, who were defeated by a resounding 71 points. India was incredible from the start, starting with a 36-9 advantage in the first quarter and never looking back. Amritpal once again led all scorers with 22 to help India win 142-71, doubling their opponents' scoreline once again. The duo of Kumar Biswas Mithun (25) and Khan Md. Shamsuzzaman (22) put up a valiant fight for Bangladesh in the loss.

There were no let-ups in India's final contest against Nepal on the last day of the tournament on Tuesday. Unlike the previous three games, India relied more on their backcourt this time around, and were led by Bhriguvanshi (22) and Anil Kumar BK (16). India held a 45-12 halftime lead and cruised their way to a 90-44 victory.

Photo credit:  Basketball Federation of India
The victory gave India a perfect 4-0 record in the round-robin tournament and top spot in the SABA zone once again. For his dominant performances, Amritpal Singh was named MVP of the championship.

India now have about two and a half months to prepare for the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup, set to be held in Lebanon from August 8-20. The team will be hoping that a few more big names, like Amjyot Singh, Palpreet Singh, and Satnam Singh can be in the mix and perhaps give us our deepest roster ever.

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