January 1, 2018

2017: The Year in Indian Basketball


In Indian basketball, 2017 was a year of oscillating waves: encouraging highlights followed by major disappointments, leading to more highs and more lows. Indian basketball players like Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh, Kavita Akula, and others took major strides in testing international waters, while we hosted a number of major international tournaments on home soil. The national teams had a mixed year, however: the men’s squad struggling in international matches, while the women played level in Asia’s lower division. On the NBA development front, a number of new projects were launched to propel Indian hoops forward, culminating with a memorable trip by Kevin Durant.

Here’s a look back at the year’s biggest highlights.

The basketball calendar began, as it usually does, with the Senior National Championship. Held in Puducherry from January 7-14, this year’s edition marked two stories of redemption, as 2016 runners-up Uttarakhand (Men) and Kerala (Women) won gold. Over 50 combined men and women’s teams from across India took part in the tournament.

The final stage of India’s largest collegiate-level basketball tournament—the UBAU All India Inter-Zonal University Basketball Championship for Men—was won by Patiala’s Punjab University in Chandigarh in late February.

The most-hyped and stacked fourth season of UBA Basketball League came to a conclusion with the Finals in Goa in mid-March. The Mumbai Challengers, a team stacked with stars like Alex Scales, Jagdeep Singh Bains, Prasanna Venkatesh, Inderbir Gill, Jimmy Scroggins, and more, completed a 2-0 sweep of the Bengaluru Beast to win their first title. Indian basketball star of the Beast Vishesh Bhriguvanshi was named season 4 MVP.

The Federation Cup, a tournament featuring the top men’s clubs and women’s state teams in India, was held in Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu) from March 22-26. Dehradun’s ONGC won their fifth-consecutive title while Chhattisgarh bounced back after finals losses the last two years to bag the women’s championship.

In Mumbai, the NBA launched its first-ever Basketball School for India in early April. These schools have a network of tuition-based basketball development programmes. The second one was launched in Delhi later in the year.

Four of India's top basketball players from the national Men's team—Amjyot Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amritpal Singh, and Yadwinder Singh—headed to Melbourne to take part in Australia's National Basketball League's (NBL) Draft Combine on April 17-18.

The NBA opened the NBA India Academy, an elite basketball training centre, at Jaypee Greens Integrated Sports Complex in Greater Noida (UP) for the top male and female prospects from throughout India in early May. Twenty-one elite male prospects, who were selected following a three-month, nationwide basketball talent search, received scholarships and training at the Academy.

Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried visited India in mid-May to cover the playoffs for the NBA and visit the Taj Mahal.

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 team had a strong mix of youth and experience, led by head coach Sappaniambalam Baskar, captained by Akilan Pari, and under the leadership of star players Amritpal Singh and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi.

Indonesia’s women and China’s men struck gold in the third edition of the FIBA 3x3 U18 Asia Cup, held in the Gem-In Shopping Mall in Cyberjaya, Malaysia from May 26-28, 2017. Both of India's teams lost on the first day of the tournament in the qualifying round. 

Talented guard Kavita Akula (21)—from Bhilai, Chhattisgarh—made history by becoming the first Indian-born basketball player to receive full scholarship from a Division 1 college in the United States, the Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona.

The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) officially announced the appointment of seasoned Serbian Coach Zoran Visic as the new Head Coach of the Indian women's national team from June 1. Visic (61) has been the head coach of Yugoslavia's Women's national team, Serbian junior national team, and has coached professionally in Serbia, Russia, and most-recently, in Romania, over the past 22 years

From June 4-11 in Greater Noida, the finest U-18 teams in the nation took part in the 68th Junior National Basketball Championship. Tamil Nadu (Girls) and Punjab (Boys) rose above the rest and claimed gold at the tournament.  

Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, one of the most experienced and talented players produced by Indian basketball, made history in early July by becoming the first player to be signed by Australia's National Basketball League (NBL). He was offered a one-year training contract by the Adelaide 36ers for their forthcoming season. This contract meant that Bhriguvanshi will be a part of the team as a reserve to train with the club, but will only get to play if he replaces an injured player. Bhriguvanshi injured himself at the BRICS Games and wasn’t available for Adelaide.

The BRICS Games were held in Guangzhou, China, in mid-June, and the basketball tournament at the Games was won by Russia. The Indian team got some good exposure and international practice but finished bottom (fourth) after losing all three of their games.

Two of India's most-famed factories of young basketball talent - Tamil Nadu and Punjab - continued to stamp their authority at the game's youth level when both emerged as victors at the 34th Youth (U16) National Basketball Championship for Men and Women in Hyderabad in early July.

India’s Women’s squad got their first international outing under Visic in mid-July at the 39th William Jones Cup in Chinese Taipei. Japan won the round-robin tournament while India finished with a 0-5 record at last place (sixth).

Experienced NBA coach Phil Weber was hired to be the coach of India’s Senior Men’s basketball team for the FIBA Asia Cup. Weber came to India after spending several decades as an assistant coach for the New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns, and New Orleans Pelicans in the NBA. He returned to the US at the start of the NBA season to get a front office role with the Pelicans.

Weber had no time to get acquainted with the new squad; a depleted team headed to Chinese Taipei for the men’s edition of the William Jones Cup from July 15-23. 3D Canada won the tournament while India—captained by Rikin Pethani—lost all nine of their games and finished at last place.

India hosted a major international FIBA tournament for the first time since 2009. It was the FIBA Asia Women’s Championship in Bengaluru’s Sri Kantaveera Stadium from July 23-29. Japan won a three-peat of titles in this tournament with a nail-biting final win over Australia. India were in the lower Division B and enjoyed a successful campaign, winning all five of their games—including a spectacular final over Kazakhstan—in front of home fans to secure entry to Division A for the next iteration of the tournament. Anitha Paul Durai, who returned to captain the team after maternity leave, was one of India’s brightest sparks, and was assisted by strong performances by Grime Merlin Varghese, Raspreet Sidhu, Kavita Akula, Jeena Scaria, Rajapriyadarshani Rajaganapathi, and the hero of the final, Shireen Limaye.

Basketball Hall of Famer and Chinese Basketball superstar Yao Ming visited India for the FIBA Asia Women’s Cup in Bengaluru.

After an ugly spat between competing committees of the Basketball Federation of India led to the de-recognition of the federation last year, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports finally granted recognition to the “new” BFI in July.

2017 NBA Champion, Finals MVP, and super-duper star Kevin Durant became the greatest basketball player to touch down on Indian soil near the end of July. Durant donated courts in New Delhi, set a Guinness World Record with a massive training session at the NBA India Academy in Greater Noida, and visited the Taj Mahal during his trip.

Australia won the FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon at the high-level tournament, which lasted from August 8-20. Meanwhile Team India, despite sending a full-strength team on paper, suffered from injuries and lack of full preparation, and returned from Lebanon winless and ousted at the preliminary group stage 0-3. Amjyot Singh was one of India’s few bright sparks at the tournament as the team’s leading scorer. Amritpal Singh, Arvind Annadurai, and Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi showed flashes of good play in some of the games.

Prashanti Singh, the 33-year-old shooting guard born in Varanasi, was conferred the prestigious Arjuna Award by the President of India Ram Nath Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on National Sports Day, August 29. Singh was among a list of 17 Indian athletes to receive the Arjuna Award on Tuesday, from sports including Cricket, Hockey, Paralympics, Golf, and more. She became the 20th Indian basketball player to receive the Arjuna Award and just the third woman on the list.

After impressing the team in draft workouts, training camps, and a pre-season tour, Indian basketball star Amritpal Singh was signed by the NBL’s Sydney Kings in Australia, and became the first Indian to be named to an NBL roster. Singh has been a backup player for the Kings through the first few months of the season.

With clinical brilliance, India's under-16 men's squad made no mistake as they blew past their opponents to win the 2nd South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) Championship in Kathmandu, Nepal, held from September 5-9. The triumph helped India showcase several of the country's exciting new basketball talents and secured the team's qualification for the larger challenge ahead: The FIBA Asia U16 Championship. 

Lebanon’s Al Riyadi won the 2017 FIBA Asia Champions Cup in Chenzhou, China. I ndia's representative at the FIBA Asia CC was once again Dehradun's squad ONGC - champions of the Federation Cup. But missing a couple of their key players to injury or other professional duties, ONGC lost all of their preliminary round games to return winless from Chenzhou - just like last year. 

At the NBA G-League draft on October 21, Indian basketball star Amjyot Singh was drafted by the Oklahoma City Blue with the 103rd pick of the day. Amjyot performed well in training and was named to the team’s roster for the start of the season in early November. He became the second Indian to play in the G-League after Satnam Singh, and has been playing bit minutes for the Blue ever since.

Former NBA point guard Andre Miller visited India in the end of October, visiting Delhi’s NBA Basketball School, the NBA India Academy, and the ‘Around the Hoop’ show in Mumbai.

For the second time this year, India played host to one of FIBA Asia's marquee basketball events in the region, with the top youth women from over a dozen Asian nations descending into Bengaluru's Sri Kantaveera Stadium for the 2017 FIBA U16 Asia Championship for Women. As the week-long tournament concluded on Saturday, October 28th, newcomers Australia - playing under the Asian banner for the first time - took the gold medal with a thrilling win over Japan in the final. India, meanwhile, began the tournament in the lower Division B. With many encouraging performances, India dominated the second-tier of the competition, winning all of their games in comfortable fashion and securing a qualification to Division A in front of their home fans. The biggest star to emerge for India from this championship was Uttar Pradesh girl Vaishnavi Yadav. The team’s captain Pushpa Senthil Kumar and guard Neha Karwa also played well.

In Mongolia, the top 3x3 basketball teams from Asia and Oceania took part in the 2nd FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup in Ulaanbaatar from October 27-29. A total of 27 men and women's teams participated in this quickfire tournament, including teams from India. By the end of Sunday, hosts Mongolia took home the Men's gold in front of their home fans, while Australian women finished atop their division. India’s Women were ousted in the semi-final stage and Men failed to make it out of the group stage.

The first-ever window of FIBA's new World Cup qualifying process began around the world this week. These qualifiers were an incredible opportunity to widen the road to the 2019 Basketball World Cup and allow each team in the preliminary stage to play in home-and-away games in the lead-up to the main event for the next few years. India, who were placed in Group C of the First Round of Asian Qualifiers, began their long journey to the World Cup in opening clashes against Lebanon and Syria in the last week of November. Coached by Zoran Visic, the team was unfortunately short-handed and failed to deliver, playing uninspiring basketball to lose both their qualifying games. They already have a gruelling path ahead of them with four more group stage games left over the next eight months. 

2018 is here, and there is bound to be a lot more developments across the Indian “hoopsphere” over the next twelve months. Hopefully, this year is more consistently successful than the last and produced many more shining stars.  
  

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