December 31, 2018

2018: The Year in Indian Basketball

India is complicated: that is not breaking news. There are goods and there are bads, there are opportunities and risks, there is optimism in the horizon and pessimism that lurks in the dark corners.

And basketball in India, of course, is a microcosm of the country itself: complicated, topsy-turvy, and often undefinable. Indian basketball in 2018 positive results, negative news, losses (lots of losses), and big wins that signalled bleak hope from the future from alternative sources. Here's a look back at the year's biggest highlights:

- University of Calicut completed an incredible three-peat at India's most prestigious national women's collegiate title - the 2018 All India Inter University Women's Basketball Championship for Women - in Chennai in the beginning of the year.

- A couple of rivalries - some old, some new - were reignited at the biggest stage in domestic Indian basketball during the finals of the 2018 Senior National Basketball Championship for Men and Women at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai. The tournament, featuring the finest teams and players in the country, came to a conclusion with big victories for Indian Railways (Women) and hosts Tamil Nadu (Men), both of whom lifted championship trophies with victories over Chhattisgarh and Services respectively.

- The basketball tournament at the first-ever Khelo India School Games (KISG) in February was won by Kerala (Girls) and Punjab (Boys) at the KD Jadhav Indoor Hall at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi.

- Three Indian players - Sejin Mathew, Princepal Singh, and Pushpa Senthil Kumar - were among 43 prospects, ranging in age from 16-18, from 36 countries around the world for the Basketball Without Borders camp at the 2018 NBA All Star Weekend in Los Angeles, USA in mid February.

- And at the 18th Asian Games Invitational Tournament 5x5 Basketball Test Event in Jakarta in mid February, India's Senior Men's team lost in the gold medal game to hosts Indonesia.

- Indian basketball descended into turmoil in late February when an alleged "clerical error" by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) disqualified two of India's top players - Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh - from taking part in FIBA World Cup Qualifiers in Bengaluru, despite both players having returned to India from their pro leagues in the NBA G-League and NBL Australia respectively. Without those two and the injured guard Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, India lost both games to Jordan and Lebanon at home and fell to 0-4 in the qualifiers.

- Indian basketball stars Amjyot Singh and Jeena Scaria were honoured at the Times of India Sports Awards 2018.

- First-timers in the Asian circuit, Australia, routed hosts China in the final to win gold at the delayed FIBA U16 Asian Championship in Foshan in early April. India finished last among the 13 participating teams.

- Over the weekend on April 14-15, Australia's Women and Men both won their respective finals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games Basketball tournament in impressive fashion at home. India returned from Australia losing all their games in both Men and Women's divisions.

- In early May, former Lakers center (now with the Bucks) Brook Lopez visited India to promote youth basketball development initiatives for the NBA.

- With Lopez in attendance, the youth teams from Bengaluru and Delhi won the girls and boys (respective) Jr. NBA National Finals in Greater Noida to qualify for the Jr. NBA World Championship later in the year.

- In a battle of 3x3 basketball rights, the Basketball Federation of India announced a controversial ban of 3x3 players hoping to participate in national 5x5 basketball events, and vice versa. This was done primarily to thwart the growing clout of the FIBA-approved 3BL basketball league announced earlier in the year.

- Out of a tryout of 50, eight players were chosen to join the existing contingent of the NBA India Academy in Greater Noida

- In the final of the 32nd Federation Cup National Basketball Tournament in Chittoor in early May, IOB (Chennai) exorcised years of demons against the dominant ONGC squad to win a memorable title, ending ONGC's five-year run at the top. In the women's final, Kerala's young squad added another feather to their cap, defeating neighbours Tamil Nadu in the final.

- Rajesh Patel, the most-decorated coach in Indian basketball, passed away in early May. I wrote an obituary on The Times of India Sports.

- In mid May, at the 69th Junior National Basketball Championship for Men and Women in Ludhiana, Punjab, Tamil Nadu (Women) and Kerala (Men) celebrated with the title, after impressive victories in their respective finales.

- NBA Academy India held a first-ever Women's camp in Greater Noida from May 27-29. Sanjana Ramesh of Bengaluru and Vaishnavi Yadav from Allahabad were named the camp's Co-MVPs.

- The 2018 Basketball Without Borders Asia Camp was held in India for just the second time from May 29-June 1. The fourth and final day of BWB Asia 2018 concluded in thrilling fashion as the 66 campers from 16 countries and territories in Asia-Pacific competed in championship games and a pair of All-Star games. India's Sanjana Ramesh shone among the continent's best and was named women's MVP.

- The BFI made controversy again by banning two of India's star players - Amjyot Singh and Palpreet Singh - from Indian basketball for a year citing "indisciplinary activities".

- Two more games. Two more losses. India's ill-fated road to the 2019 Basketball World Cup ended with road losses to Syria and Jordan. They finished 0-6 in the First Round.

- Khelo India announced in July that 40 young basketball players had been selected for talent development scholarship.

- New Zealand won 2018 William Jones Cup for Women in Chinese Taipei (July 25-29); India (0-5) finished last.

- The inaugural Jr. NBA World Championship was held in Florida, USA, from August 7-12. US Central won both boys and girls divisions. India's junior teams also took part.

- The most talented and dominant team of India's inaugural 3x3BL - Delhi Hoopers - took home the crown after six rounds of the league's first season, displaying their command over opponents and showcasing the exciting rise of 3x3 basketball in the country.

- The first Indian player to ever be drafted into the NBA, Satnam Singh made another first, joining the St. John's Edge of Canada's NBL this season.

- China swept across all categories of basketball at the 2018 Asian Games, winning gold in the Men's, Women's, 3x3 Men's, and 3x3 Women's events in Jakarta. India's women took part and returned winless.

- At the 35th Youth National Basketball Championship for Boys and Girls, held in Udaipur, Rajasthan in the first week of October, Rajasthan (Boys) and Punjab (Girls) emerged as champions.

- Also in October, seven-time NBA champ Robert Horry made his second trip to India to celebrate start of new NBA season.

- India hosted the 2018 FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Women in Bengaluru from October 28 - November 3. 16 of the top teams in the Asia and Oceania took part, divided into higher (Division A) and lower (Division B) sections. China's U18 team raced to grab the the gold medals. And for the third time in various women's FIBA Asia events, India - starting in Division B - played a perfect tournament to win promotion to Division A.

- Uttar Pradesh (Boys) and Maharashtra (Girls) win 2018 Sub Junior Nationals in Kangra (Himachal Pradesh) in mid November.

- Undisturbed by the drama back home, Indian star Amjyot Singh returned to OKC Blue of the NBA G-League for second season.

- Mr. UTEP 2-Step Tim Hardaway visited India to promote the growth of basketball and NBA India's recently announced McDonald’s NBA-themed promotion.

- Sanjana Ramesh (17), already enjoying a stellar year, made history by becoming only the second Indian to receive scholarship from NCAA Division 1 programme - Northern Arizona - which she will join in fall 2019.

- Zarkawt BCA won season 5 of Mizoram Super League in Aizawl, making it their second win in two editions of the tournament in the same year. Once again, Mizo basketball legend Lalrina Renthlei was named MVP.

- The year ended on a high: the NBA officially announced that India will host their first-ever preseason games, in Mumbai, in October 2019. The games will feature the Indiana Pacers and the Sacramento Kings and are bound to become a flagship moment in the history of basketball/NBA in the country.

The NBA India Games will surely be the most anticipated event for the game in 2019, but there will be FIBA Asia events and more individual achievements for India to look forward to. Hopefully, there is less drama and more focus on the growth of the game to meet India's potential!

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