This piece was first published in my column for The Times of India Sports on January 30, 2018. Click here to read the original piece.
Despite its large population, India is still a relative minnow in international basketball, a nation where one of the world’s most popular sports is only an afterthought. While the sport has developed considerably over the past decade, India is still looking for a spark to ignite the next generation.
No, there’s no Indian ‘Yao’ in the horizon, yet; but we feature our own set of star players who have been grinding away over the past few years and found success on the domestic and international stage. This year, for the first time, the Times of India Sports Awards (TOISA) 2018 will feature an award for India’s best basketball player. Here are the five nominees, and each of their years in review.
Amritpal Singh: 2017 was certainly a banner year for Punjab’s Amritpal Singh (26), headlined by the news that he became the first-ever Indian to play for Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL). After impressing in workouts, training camps, and the pre-season tour, Amritpal was signed by the Sydney Kings and has since played a consistent backup role in the NBL. For the national team, where he is the starting center for India, Amritpal played in many major tournaments including the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, the FIBA Asia Cup, and the South Asian Basketball Championship. In the latter, he captained India to a victory and was the tournament’s MVP. Amritpal was also best player of the Uttarakhand and ONGC’s squads that won gold medals in the two biggest domestic basketball meets in 2017: The Senior Nationals and the Federation Cup.
Amjyot Singh: Like his fellow front-court mate Amritpal, Amjyot Singh (26) of Chandigarh broke barriers and made history for Indian basketball. Amjyot’s crowning achievement was to become the second Indian (after Satnam Singh) to make it to the NBA’s G-League with the Oklahoma City Blue in late October. The sharp-shooting 6-foot-8 forward has seen his role grow with the Blue over the past few months and has taken a step closer to the NBA than any Indian citizen before him. Back home, Amjyot continued to be a lynchpin for India’s national team. He was India’s captain at the FIBA Asia Cup, and finished the tournament leading the team in points (13.0) and assists (4.3). He was also India’s top player at other international trips to the William Jones Cup and the BRICS Games.
Anitha Paul Durai: 2017 marked the beginning of Paul Durai’s (32) “second innings” with Indian basketball. The veteran forward from Chennai returned to the national team after a maternity leave and enjoyed a stellar comeback. She was the captain of the national team and leading scorer (16.4 ppg) when India won Division B of the FIBA Asia Cup for Women held in Bengaluru. When India’s U16 squad stepped out to participate in the Youth version of the same Women’s Cup in Bengaluru later in the year, Paul Durai got her first chance to serve as the team’s assistant coach. Like the seniors, the U16 team won Division B and promotion into Division A.
Jeena Scaria: Scaria (24) took centre-stage for her home state when she led Kerala to their first Senior Nationals gold medal in over thirty years. She was one of India’s top players in the squad that won Division B at the FIBA Asia Women’s Cup in Bengaluru in July. She was also part of India’s 3x3 team which made it to the semi-final of the FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup in Mongolia in late October.
Vishesh Bhriguvanshi: Bhriguvanshi (26), India’s best backcourt player and a former national captain, had a topsy-turvy year, but still managed enough to make it to the list of nominees. He became the first Indian to ink a training deal with an Australian NBL team: the Adelaide 36ers. In his first appearance at the UBA Basketball League, Bhriguvanshi was named the league’s Indian MVP, averaging around 28 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds per game, and led the Bengaluru Beast to their first UBA Finals. He helped India win gold at the South Asian Basketball Championship in Maldives and also played in the BRICS Games and the FIBA Asia Cup. An injury in the former, however, side-lined the star guard, and India suffered in international matches without him.
One of these players will go home with the honour of being TOISA 2018’s best basketball player. You can make your own voice heard and vote for the TOISA Sports Awards here.