January 31, 2011

Indian Railways and Southern Railway win Savio Cup 6

In an exciting finale to eight days of mesmerising basketball at the Don Bosco–Matunga in Mumbai, Southern Railway (Women) and Indian Railways (Men) pulled off impressive victories to hoist the sixth edition of the United Phosphorous Limited (UPL) All India Savio Cup on Sunday, January 30th. Southern Railway relied on the talents of legendary Geethu Anna Jose to help beat Chhattisgarh in the Women’s final, 76-66. In the Men’s game, National Champions Indian Railways rallied behind an explosive game by Vishesh Bhriguvanshi as they pulled an improbable 91-79 upset over the strong American side, Shooting For Success (SFS).

For his consistent dominance throughout the competition, Bhriguvanshi was named player of the tournament. Anju Lakra, the Chhattisgarh captain, took the honour in the Women’s division.

In a tournament that has been gathering momentum and fan-following over the past few years, the Savio Cup 6 featured six Men’s teams (Indian Railways, SFS, IOB Chennai, Services, Punjab, Maharashtra) and four Women’s teams (Southern Railway, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Karnataka) who played in a league system from January 23-29th, with the final held on January 30th.

Trailing at the end of the first quarter in the Women’s final, Geethu, Anitha P., Renjini Peter, and the rest of the Southern Railway squad began to turn the game around against Chhattisgarh. Geethu led the game with 29 points while Anitha and Peter added 16 each for Railway as they won by 10 points. For Chhattisgarh, star players Pushpa M (27) and Anju Lakra (20) shined in the final.

Undefeated thus far, American side SFS were strong favourites to win the Men’s final as they faced the Indian Railways side who had won the National Championship in New Delhi a few weeks ago. Instead, Railways kept the game close in a face-paced, back-and-forth match-up. Trailing by two at the end of the third quarter, Railways played their strongest basketball behind Vishesh 33), Yadiwinder Singh (20) and Gagandeep Singh (16) to stand as 91-79 winners. Terry Fields (29) was the high man for SFS.

The winning teams in both divisions were rewarded Rs. 50,000 and the runners-up with Rs. 25,000.

A dunk competition was also held on the penultimate day of the Savio Cup, which was won by Terry Fields of SFS. Amjyot Singh (Punjab) and Anwar Ferguson (SFS) finished second and third respectively.

Final Scores

  • Women: Southern Railway 76 (Geethu Anna Jose 29, Renjini Peter 16, Anitha P. 16) bt. Chhattisgarh 66 (Pushpa M. 27, Anju Lakra 20).
  • Men: Indian Railways 91 (Vishesh Bhriguvanshi 33, Yadiwinder Singh 20, Gagandeep Singh 16) bt. Shooting For Success 79 (Terry Fields 29, David Jones 13).

    Best Players Awards

  • Women: Anju Lakra (Chhattisgarh).
  • Men: Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (Indian Railways).
  • January 30, 2011

    Indian Basketball Game Tape on YouTube

    I'm a self-confessed nerd for watching basketball. I would watch it till my eyes are sore and then watch it a little more. No other factor in life has been able to wake me up consistently on early mornings except for early morning live basketball games.

    Knowing that, imagine my joy when I discovered the DVDs of all of India's Men and Women's teams' matches at the 2010 Asian Games in China! This was the first time that India had participated in the basketball tournament of the games since 1982, back when India hosted the Games. The teams didn't really return with a record to write home about (1-5 for the Men, 0-3 for the Women), but hey - at least they were there, participating against the best in Asia, playing in the awesome basketball courts in Guangzhou at such a large stage.

    So I set off on a mission to burn and upload all of the games available on the Basketball Federation of India's (BFI) new YouTube channel. Half a dozen games are already up on this channel and I will be uploading a few more over the next few days.

    As a bonus, I also ended up spending hours and hours watching the games. I have proudly become a hermit, churning out DVD after DVD of this historical tournament for Indian basketball. Yes, the game tapes are flawed: there is no commentary, the camera usually stays in one position, and apart from a couple of games, there are no scores/timings on the side of the screen. It is almost like watching the games in person, but without any of the good experiences of watching it in person.

    Still, the games make for interesting viewing. It was fun watching the likes of Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Jagdeep Singh, Yadivinder Singh, Hareesh Koroth, and up and coming youngsters such as Dishant Shah battle out against Qatar, Chinese Taipei, Iran, Japan, Afghanistan, and Philippines. The Afghanistan game was the only one that the Men's team won, which was also a pre-qualifier to make it into the rest of the tournament. The team was led by American coach Bill Harris for this tournament. I was especially impressed by Vishesh's ever-evolving game: the young Indian captain shows a versatility between three positions and his all-round ability to score, create, rebound, and lead the team by example.

    In the Women's tapes, the likes of Geethu Anna Jose, Akanksha Singh, Anitha P., Harjeet Kaur, and Prashanti Singh show up playing against some tough Asian talent. Led in this competition by former WNBA player Tamika Raymond, the Indian dames struck unlucky with the draw, as their first two games were against Asia's finest - China and South Korea - the two teams who went on to face each other in the Final. India had a close game against Thailand but couldn't hang on in the 4th quarter against them. The Thailand game is also a great exhibition of the talents of Geethu. A legendary Center for India, Geethu's game is a feast for the eyes of any basketball lover. She is a glutton for scoring through a variety of moves in the low post, is a good rebounder of the basketball, and her most underrated skill might be her inside passing, through which she was able to make her teammates better, too.

    Once again, even though we lost a lot, and you will see more than good for India in these tapes, the attendance at the Asian Games was still a crucial step for development of basketball in India. Plus, for aspiring ball players and fans of the game in India, this is a chance to watch and learn from the best in the country in action.

    Are you excited yet? All you need is a bit of patience, maybe a set of headphones bumping your favourite music, and an average internet connection. Go and check out BFI's YouTube channel now! Over time, videos from other major basketball tournaments, if available, will be uploaded on the channel.

    By the way: a short recap of the Asian Games basketball tournament and India's performances is available here. Hosts China won gold in both the Men's and Women's divisions.

    January 29, 2011

    17 Indian referees currently hold the FIBA license

    They might not get the attention saved for the talented athletes on court or for the mastermind coaches on the sidelines, but it is no secret that good referees are the ones who truly run the show at a basketball game. The efforts of these hardworking individuals haven’t gone unnoticed, as 17 Indians currently hold FIBA’s official referee license.

    Over the past year, many of our officials have made a mark on the international stage. In July 2010, West Bengal’s experienced ref Atanu Banerjee became the first Indian to officiate the final of a World Championship Game, as he was a referee at the FIBA U17 World Championship Final in France. In November the same year, another Indian referee made the country proud. Rameshkumar Durairaju from Tamil Nadu became the first Indian referee since 1982 to officiate an Asian Games basketball final, as he was the ref at the women’s final game at the Asian Games in Guangzhou (China).

    This is the full list of Indian referees holding the FIBA license:

  • Atanu Banerjee
  • Sharad Vasant Bansode
  • Snehal Bendke
  • Peter Sonthosh Divaker
  • Rameshkumar Durairaju
  • John Anil Devanand Eluka
  • Zanim Mohamed Hashim
  • Manoj Subbayya Kotian
  • Harish Kumar
  • Shiba Maggon
  • Amarjot Singh Mavi
  • Rajnarayan Patro
  • Prakash Paquiaraj Sandou
  • Somasundaramoorthy Shanmugasundaram
  • Gens Varghese Vadayattu
  • Rajan Vellingirinathan
  • Ceciline Michael Vino

    For aspiring FIBA refs, the Sri Lankan Basketball Federation is organising the FIBA Asia Referee Clinic from February 11-14th, 2011, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The clinic will be conducted by Lubomir Kotleba, the FIBA Sports Director. A part of this programme will consist of a clinic for new FIBA referee candidates. You can find more information about the clinic here.

    There are a total of 287 FIBA referees in Asia. China leads the way with 28.

  • January 28, 2011

    Now, you can vote for All Star Skills Challenge participants

    All Star voting is popular. Like it or hate it, it is one of the NBA's major trump cards when it comes to fan involvements, and damn, they do it well.

    On the day that the All Star Starters were revealed, it was announced that, for the first time the NBA is allowing fans to choose players who will participate in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, too. The competition, which tests the skills of the best ball-handlers in the league through tests dribbling, passing, and shooting exercises has been a staple at the All Star Weekend for a few years now. Steve Nash won it in 2010. This year, the NBA has chosen Chris Paul before-hand as the man handing out the challenge this year. Eight other participants have been put on the ballot, out of which, fans can vote in four players to take part.

    Now this is more like it! My favourite basketball position has always been Point Guard, and unlike the Slam Dunk competition which has only featured one legit superstar (Dwight Howard) in the last several years, the Skills Challenge regularly churns out the participation of some of the game's best.

    So who are in competition? No Steve Nash this time around. Aside from Chris Paul, the other four can be voted for amongst the likes of Baron Davis, Tyreke Evans, Derek Fisher, Tony Parker, Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook.

    Excited yet? You can cast your vote over at NBA.com/ChooseYourSquad. I've already voted for my top 4:

    - Derrick Rose: My NBA man crush of the season, one of the league's faster players, MVP candidate, and all around dopeness.
    - Baron Davis: Will always have a soft spot for B-Diddy.
    - Tyreke Evans: Last season's Rookie of the Year may have fallen off a bit this year, but he still is an exciting youngster.
    - John Wall: The fastest player in the league, and one of the most exciting players to watch out for in the future.

    So go ahead and cast your vote!

    January 27, 2011

    Adopted from India, blind teenager plays basketball for American High School Team

    I can't describe the different ways in which this story awed me today. Cruising around the internet for any and everything india basketball related like I usually do, I came across this touching story on BillingsGazette.com by Chelsea Krotzer:

    Seri Brammer is a 15-year-old girl, studying at the Huntley Project High School in Worden, Montana (USA). When she was 3 and a half years old, Seri was adopted from an orphanage in India (I couldn't find out where in India).

    Seri was born with albinism, a birth disorder that is characterised by the lack of skin pigmentation. Her disorder has also caused Seri to be legally blind. She was also incredibly small at birth, but began to grow in size as she grew older, and at 15, stands at 4 feet, 11 inches.

    Now, here is the incredible twist in her story: A lover of organised team sports, and especially basketball, Seri worked hard until she became a member of her High School's C-Squad Basketball Team. As the article goes on to describe, despite her lack of sight, she has been able to hold her own on the court.

    Here is an excerpt from this excellent piece by Krotzer:

    Her parents, Jesse and Susie Brammer, adopted Seri from an orphanage in India when she was 3-1/2 years old. Her biological parents kept her for six months before giving her up.

    "There is a stigma that the family is being punished for something that happened with the family," Susie Brammer said. "But they must have cared enough to have kept her for six months."

    Brammer now stands a proud 4 feet, 11 inches. As one of the shortest members of the Huntley Project C-Squad basketball team, she holds her own with her free throws and three-point shots.
    On occasion, Coach Ron Reed lets Seri play during the closing minutes of the game.
    "As of right now, we put her in the last part of the game so she can get a couple of reps in," Reed said. "She stays at one end. It's kind of hard for her to get on both ends of the court."
    Her teammates are sure to get her the ball when they can.
    "The girls are really cool with her," Reed said. "They will tell her where to go and will take the ball to her so she can make a shot.
    "She loves it."
    Seri didn't get any actual playing time during the team's latest game against Big Timber on Tuesday, but wouldn't trade even sitting on the bench for anything.

    The coach and her parents agree that Seri shouldn't get too much game time all at once — they don't want her to get hurt. Her mom is most concerned about her getting hit in the head.
    "I'm used to that," Seri said, smiling.
    As a precaution Seri wears a helmet while playing games.

    Please check out the rest of Krotzer's article for more information.

    Photo taken from BillingsGazette.com

    January 26, 2011

    Indian Women's Basketball: Dream Team

    So it's Republic Day over in India, and as we celebrate our constitution, we must also note another important crucial topic - the improving status of the Indian Women's Basketball team. Yes, the Indian Eves have had trouble recently in major international competitions such as the 2010 Asian Games or the 2009 FIBA Asia Championships, they are still a steadily rising force, with confidence and popularity at an all time high.

    Just like I did with the Indian Men's team last week, I've decided to come up with a 'Dream Team' of my favourite Indian Women's players. I've based this on the performances of the squad over the past year and of the best players in some major tournaments such as the Senior Nationals.

    Indian eves struggle with one major hurdle - the lack of height. Legendary player Geethu Anna Jose is the only one in my squad over 6 feet, and making it a lineup where even the 'big' players are around the 5'8" range. But hey, we have to work with what we have, right? I've tried to provide as much balance in terms of size and experience/youth as possible. And please, don't even start with any regionalism North/South bullshit: this is the INDIA team as I see it, period.

    So, once again, if I was coach of the Indian Women's Sr. National Team, this would be my squad:

    My Indian Women's Dream Team

    Starting Five
    PG: Akanksha Singh
    SG: Anitha Pau Durai
    SF: Prashanti Singh
    PF: Sneha Rajguru
    C: Geethu Anna Jose (Captain)
    Harjeet Kaur
    Raspreet Sidhu
    Bharti Netam
    Pratima Singh
    Jeena PS
    Raj Priyadarshini

    Also would like to give Honorable Mention to stars such as Pushpa M, Smruthi Radhakrishnan, Kavitha, Sangeeta Kaur, and L. Suganya.

    Over to you: if you were Indian Women's Coach, what would be your 12-man squad?

    January 25, 2011

    Are the Hornets for real?

    Go ahead and take a guess: which is the NBA's best defensive team? Is it the Boston Celtics, forever famed for shutting down the best of the best with their lockdown D? Is it the Miami Heat, known for swarming the perimeter with their talented defenders and throttling the oppositions offense? How about the Spurs, who have the league's best record and have been known for their defensive superiority over the past decade?

    No, the answer is none of the above - and neither is it any of the other great defensive sides like the Magic, Bulls, Hawks, or Thunder. The best defensive team in the NBA so far this season have been the New Orleans Hornets, who have been holding opponents to a measly 91 points per game this season. With the Mavericks reeling recently, the Hornets have played some inspired basketball in 2011 and currently stand in the third playoff position in the Western Conference.

    The Hornets are currently on a nine-game winning streak, which has included wins over the Magic, Hawks, and a statement win against lead leading Spurs. Then last night, they went ahead and defeated the Thunder on a clutch game-winner by David West. The Hornets had started the season hot, winning their first 8 games, and going 11-1 up to November 21. They followed this start by dipping in form a little bit, before their recent 9-game streak. Hornets now stand at 30-16, surprising many pre-season predictions.

    How did they get here? Ya, sure, in Chris Paul, the Hornets have the league's best point guard, but statistically at least, ever since his return from injury this season, he has been having a below-average season. I admit, 16.4 ppg and 9.6 assists a game are nothing to be scoffed at, but CP3 has a reputation for even greater things.

    Those 'greater things' have been happening at the defensive end though. Paul leads the league with 2.7 steals a game, and behind him, the rest of the Hornets squad have rallied to become a force, especially at home, where they are now 19-5. Emeka Okafor has been a strong presence in the post, and the likes of Trevor Ariza and Marcus Thornton have provided good support to Paul at the perimeter.

    Of course, one can't discount the efforts of power forward David West, now playing in his contract year, who has been averaging 19 points and 7.3 rebounds a game. Those might not look like awe-inspiring stats, but just like Paul, this is proof that the Hornets are playing at a slower, more defensive pace, which is helping them win more games.

    A lot of credit for this surprise resurgence should definitely go to Hornets' rookie coach Monty Williams, who is working wonders with this underdog side in just his first year as an NBA head coach.

    What is perhaps most admirable that the Hornets are performing this well in a year of external instability for the franchise. Before the season even started, their best player, Paul, was rumoured to have voiced a trade demand - a demand that mysteriously disappeared soon after it appeared. A more threatening situation struck when the ownership team of the Hornets couldn't afford to keep the team anymore. The NBA had to butt in and complete a buy-out of the Hornets in December. Now, the team faces uncertainty, as there have been talks of possibly relocating the Hornets out of New Orleans and into a different city in the future.

    On the court though, the team has played inspired basketball, ensuring that the New Orleans fans keep attending their games in throngs and keep fighting to keep this franchise in its home.

    And back on-court: is this team for real? What we have to now wait and look for is a) how long this improved play can last and b) will the Hornets (and their rookie coach) be exposed in the playoffs, when experience plays a defining role? Their defense and pace is something that they have going for them, since playoff basketball is usually slower and more defensive, making each possession count infinitely more.

    And then, for each important possession, there are few other people that anyone would have bringing the basketball up the court than Chris Paul, is there?

    January 23, 2011

    Pro League Basketball Academy (PLBA) in Chennai

    Since it's been more than three weeks into 2011, I don't think that calling it a 'new year' is justifiable anymore. Regardless, the new year did begin with an interesting new basketball development down in Chennai, a hotbed of Indian basketball activity and home to some of the country's biggest superstars. On January 2, the Pro League Basketball Academy (PLBA) was launched in Chennai - The PLBA is an initiative to promote and develop basketball both at the grassroots and professional level.

    You can check out more information about PLBA on their official website.

    Here's more from last week's news report on APN-News.com:

    The main reason behind the launch of the initiative is to tap the talent and groom and develop them into better players. To accomplish these objectives, the academy will be organizing several events such as talent hunts, inter-school and inter-college basketball tournaments to pick the right talent. The selected talent will be groomed and trained by the academy, and also will be provided opportunities to play for club teams in the tournaments. Some of the major areas of focus of the academy are grassroots development, women players development, rural basketball development.

    The PLBA also features a special programme for the development of Women's basketball. The PLBA will be coaching and managing a women's basketball team called PLBA Stars.


    The aim of the team is to give tournament exposure to developing players. The main idea behind this initiative is to provide the women basketball players, an exposure to the professional tournament [and] to promote basketball among women, to increase participation of women players, and to provide platform for the budding women players to perform in tournaments. The team players will be selected through a series of events, tournaments and camps to be organized by PLBA and will be trained for playing in the tournaments.

    The PLBA Stars team is looking for sponsors to facilitate development and help player growth.

    January 22, 2011

    Giant Expectations: Satnam Singh Bhamara

    It almost seems like Satnam Singh Bhamara is asking to be doubted.

    When you’re a teenager from India, 15 years and one month old, already grown to the size of a 7-1 monster, the first reaction is wonder and awe, the second is doubt. People wonder what could go wrong; they wonder what the catch is. When you’re blessed with a unique inside-outside skill set, nimble feet, soft hands and a developing shooting touch, people instead wonder what your weaknesses are. When you begin training at the IMG Basketball academy, which has featured the likes of Kobe, Vince Carter, Chauncey Billups, Joakim Noah and Kevin Martin, the doubters say that it sounds too good to be true.

    When you’re the son of a poor farmer in India, a boy from a village separated a long dirt road away from the rest of civilization, who picked up his first basketball less than five years ago, you’re asking for the questionable looks. When you’re the biggest basketball hope (literally and figuratively) for India — a country desperate to make a mark in the basketball world — you’re likely to receive a cynical shrug of the shoulders. “India isn’t there yet,” they say. “The kid isn’t there.”

    Not yet. But he might be. If you haven’t yet heard about him, it’s time to converge your respective focuses (or foci) on Satnam Singh Bhamara, the 15-year-old, 7-1 Indian giant, currently on a scholarship at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL and attending the Pendleton High School. He is currently in the first year of a potentially four-year scholarship until he graduates from high school.

    India has been slowly growing as a basketball market, and Bhamara’s potential might be a zenith of a variety of different efforts taking place to grow the game back home.

    Rewind to a year ago: The 14-year-old Bhamara was already a formidable 6-11. Back then, during India’s National Basketball Championship, a yearly tournament pitting the best state teams of India against each other, Bhamara was a wide-eyed spectator, too young to participate, watching as a man-child in a man’s world.

    A year later, I meet him at the same championship in New Delhi. This time, he’s back as a famous young man in the country’s basketball circles, garnering attention from other players, media and fans. He’s a spectator again, but only because he has a limited time back in India before he flies back to school in the States. A prominent Indian referee sees him and remembers: “Satnam used to help us set up the scorers’ tables last year. We had nicknamed him Chhotu (Little One). Look at him now!”

    “You can still call me Chhotu!” Bhamara jokingly interjects.

    But there is nothing ‘little’ about Bhamara, not in height, nor in hype. The first time I met him was back in July 2010, when Bhamara was among 50 other under-14s who were chosen by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to appear for IMG scholarship tryouts. IMG, a US-based international sports and media management company, have been investing heavily into sports in India. A year ago, they formed an alliance with Reliance Industries, India’s largest and richest private sector company, and the powerhouse duo of IMG-Reliance signed various sponsorship deals with Indian sports federation. Most notably, IMG-Reliance signed a 30-year agreement with the BFI to assist, finance and promote the growth of basketball in India.

    One of their first steps was to choose eight Indian youngsters among the 50 best for scholarship at the IMG Academy. From the moment he walked into the tryouts in New Delhi, Bhamara was a shoo-in.

    His fascinating story begins in a little village in India’s north-western state of Punjab: Ballo Ke Village, District Barnala, population 463. The son of a 7-foot farmer, Bhamara spent his early childhood helping out his father on the farm and growing up to 5-9 when he was just 10 years old. It was then that one of his father’s friends recommended that he take the tall youngster to Ludhiana, a nearby town and a major basketball hub of the country. Somewhere lost in translation, Bhamara thought that he was going to play volleyball. He didn’t know a thing about the game when he first stepped on court.

    Four years and nearly 15 inches later, he had grown into one of the finest young players in the country. After blazing his way through the Punjab inter-school and junior leagues, Bhamara began to collect his international credentials. He represented India in the FIBA Asia U16 Championships at Malaysia in November 2009. Back home, he took Punjab to the gold medal of the National Youth Championships at Trichy (Tamil Nadu, in South India) in June. He was recommended by the BFI to be part of a three-player contingent of Indian youngsters sent to Singapore for NBA’s Basketball Without Borders (Asia) camp.

    It was no surprise then that he was picked by IMG’s Basketball Director Andy Borman and coach Dan Barto for the scholarship. Bhamara was at the perfect age and with the perfect potential skill set, ready to be molded into a basketball monster. To play at the highest level, Bhamara cannot count successes in small Indian championships or Asian tournaments; he had to train with and compete against the best.

    But more than a basketball adventure for the youngster, it has been a strange change of lifestyle, too. Bhamara and the rest of the Indian youngsters made their first trip to North America, going to school in a whole new academic system, learning hoops in a way never been taught to them before, focusing more than ever on weight training and fitness, taking extra classes to learn English (seven of the eight, including Bhamara, were virtually alien to the language), getting used to live in a residential school far away from home, and getting used to not eating their Moms’ home-cooked Indian meals.

    Four months later, Bhamara makes his first visit back home — he was always built with the body shape of an ideal center, blessed with both height and muscle — but he came back looking even fitter and leaner than ever, thanks to the intense training and exercise regimen that he had gone through with his coaches at IMG. He was given a superstar’s welcome in his little village, when hundreds showed up to catch a glimpse of him coming back home.

    And then he was back at the National Championship as a minor celebrity, back at the same event he had been errand-boy a year ago.

    “I have changed and improved a lot over the past four months,” says Satnam, “but I want to improve even more. I want be an example for other Indian players so they can come forward and see what is necessary to be a complete player. They need to know the importance of building strength to help improve their game.”

    Indian athletes, particularly the basketball players, have faced one major criticism in the past: They may have the shooting and running skills, but their athletic ability and strength leaves much more to be desired. More than basketball, the coaches at IMG have focused their early interest in making sure that Bhamara gets into shape to hang with the toughest. Bhamara has followed suit, becoming a gym rat, working on everything from exercises to help improve his forward and lateral speed, jumping ability, shoulder exercises, and lifting weights to get into tougher shape.

    But his basketball training hasn’t been left behind. Bhamara notes how his current regime involves focusing on movement — a lot of movement — so that his size can be complemented with speed to make a momentum nightmare for opponents. Bhamara, who is part of IMG’s youth team, doesn’t hesitate to talk about how his improving inside game and movement has helped his team get some big results.

    “My game is basketball,” he says. “The media in America has asked me why I don’t play other games, but I’m only interested in basketball. This is the game that has given me everything I have, taken me from a village to a good education in America. I love playing this game and owe everything to it. That’s why I keep working hard to improve.”

    Satnam says that there are two players he looks ‘up’ to, even though both of them are shorter than him. One of them is Punjab State and Indian Senior team star Jagdeep Singh. The other, curiously, is Kobe Bryant.

    You can credit (or blame) the over-Lakerisation that NBA audiences in India have been subjected to in the past. Over the last decade, most games NBA games broadcasted in India have involved either the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs and whichever franchise LeBron James shares his talents with. I ask him, Why, despite the difference in size and gameplay, does he idolize the Black Mamba? He answers, “Kobe plays like he has no problems on court; he works hard, but he dominates smoothly, with ease. That is the kind of mentality I want to have.”

    And this is exactly the kind of mentality that India, and all those holding a stake for the development of basketball in India, are hoping that Bhamara develops. In an interview with an Indian newspaper a few weeks ago, Harish Sharma, the Secretary-General of the BFI, said, “He is a great prospect. I am sure he will do what Yao Ming did for China. Indian basketball will change in case one of our boys makes it to the NBA.”

    And although one talented, tall, teenager alone cannot change the basketball culture in India, the NBA will be hoping that with an idol to look up to, young Indians, just like young Chinese a decade ago, will start believing in basketball. The game is never going to challenge India’s premier game, cricket, but for basketball to score even a minor percentage of the market in a 1.2 billion population will be a heavy number.

    Troy Justice, who has been the director of basketball operations of the NBA in India, has been working with Indian talent for several years now, and has kept a keen eye on Bhamara’s ascension. “He is blessed with three things that, combined, have made him into a very special prospect globally — a young age, his height, and his skill set,” said Justice. “He has natural basketball instincts, a strong work ethic, and has become a focused student of the game. I have enjoyed working with him and look forward to seeing his growth as a person and player over the next few years.

    “I think he has tremendous potential and a bright future in basketball.”

    But Bhamara is adamant that his focus is on the present before anything else. “I’m not thinking too far ahead right now,” he says, “I’m in IMG’s youth team, so I want to play well enough to play for the juniors. After that, I will think about qualifying for the Senior team, and after that, I can think further.”

    “If I get a chance to, of course I want to play in the NBA.” Bhamara adds, “If I can make it there, I will be able to do more for other Indians dreaming of making it to the NBA. But I will have no problem if it doesn’t work out. I will come back to India to play for Punjab and contribute to the Indian national basketball system.”

    “Right now, I’m only concerned with improving my own game. After five years, we’ll see what happens. Right now, my priority is working on my strength — I know I’ll be playing tougher competition and have two or three players guarding me, and I have to get stronger to face that.”

    Bhamara is still too young, and perhaps, still too unaware, to fully understand the implications of his rise as a basketball star. Just like China, who have gone hysterical about hoops over the past decade, India will eventually become a serious basketball market. It is a question of who and when — Yao may have been the biggest star, but he wasn’t the first Chinese to make it to the League (that honor goes to Wang Zhizhi). Bhamara’s potential improvement will determine if he can even make it to that level, much less survive once he gets there.

    Right now, he’s just a 15-year-old, except that he’s blessed with a little more size, a little more talent, and a little better training support than the rest of us. He carries a load of expectations a little heavier than the rest of us, too.

    So go ahead and doubt him all you want: not good enough, too much hype, too weak, too slow, too soft, too foreign. I doubt if Satnam Singh Bhamara will hear any of it: Right now, he’s just a kid addicted to hoops. And all he wants to do is get better.

    Right now, he’s just a 15-year-old, except that he’s blessed with a little more size, a little more talent, and a little better training support than the rest of us. He carries a load of expectations a little heavier than the rest of us, too.

    So go ahead and doubt him all you want.

    This article was first published on SLAMOnline.com on January 13th, 2011.

    January 21, 2011

    6th UPL All India Savio Cup to tip off in Mumbai

    Mumbai’s basketball lovers are in for a feast of high quality basketball, as India's leading male and female hoopsters - along with a team from the United States of America 'Shooting for Success' - will be vying for top honours in the 6th Edition of the UPL All India Savio Cup-Don Bosco Basketball Tournament, held from 23rd January 2011 to 30th January 2011. The tournament will be held at Don Bosco High School (Matunga) and will be sponsored by United Phosphorous Ltd and Co-sponsored by Indian Oil Corporation Ltd.

    The tournament, which has become one of the leading basketball competitions in the country, will feature six teams in the Men’s and four teams in the Women’s divisions.

    Father Bosco D’Mello, Organizing Secretary of the tournament said, “The Savio Cup is a brilliant effort of teamwork. Diehard fans of the sport of basketball (both young and not so young) coming together to give a boost to the game of basketball, both to popularize it and take it to great heights by bringing together the best players both of Indian origin and overseas. You have got to be there to live the experience."

    Participating Teams

    Men: Services, IOB Chennai, Indian Railways, Punjab, Maharashtra, Shooting for Success (San Antonio, Texas, USA).

    Women: Southern Railway, South East Central Railway, Karnataka, Maharashtra.

    Some of the star players featuring in the tournament will include Shambaji Kadam, Dilip Kumar, Vishesh Bruguvanshi, Talwinder Singh, Mihir Pandey, Jagdeep, Yadwinder Singh, Harish, Geetu Anna Jose, Anita Pauldurai, Bharati Netam, Anju Lakra, Shirin Limaye, Sneha Rajguru, Amrita Baskute, Seema Singh, and others.

    A highlight of this year’s tournament is the special felicitation function planned for the Administrators, Referees, Players and Journalists of yesteryear who had made significant contributions to the game of Basketball.

    The tournament's organisers are doing a vigorous job in promoting the event. Savio Cup updates can be found on its Facebook page, on Twitter, and the organisers will also be sending SMS updates to fans who wish to submit their number for information.

    The men and women will play a round robin league, with the top two teams going on to play the final. The men’s winners stand to gain Rs. 1 lakh, while the runners-up teams will take home Rs. 50,000. The women’s winners will take home Rs. 50,000 with the runner-up teams standing to gain Rs. 25,000. There will be prizes for every match as well as for individual brilliance.

    Also planned are a ‘dunking competition’ and a ‘three-point shooting competition’.

    The matches will be played on the Terra Flex surface with the use of Electronic Scoreboards and 24-second devices, in specially erected stadium to seat approx. 2000 spectators.

    Three matches are expected to be played every day and they will be officiated by International referees, from different states, including three from Maharashtra.

    January 20, 2011

    Meet Me Halfway: Mid-Season predictions

    It is now roughly halfway through the 2010-11 season, and you know what that calls for? Mid-Season predictions! Last year, cautious over all of the changes that might befall at the trade deadline, I waited till the end of Feb to make my mid-season predictions. This time around though, I'm going to take a brave plunge and do the predictions a month earlier, just to make the process fairer, math-wise.

    Last year, I'm proud to say that I was correct in several categories. Lakers won the title, Kobe was Finals MVP, LeBron was MVP, Tyreke Evans was Rookie of the Year, Scott Brooks was Coach of the Year, Aaron Brooks won the Most Improved Player award, and Jamal Crawford was the sixth man of the year. The only category where I went way wrong was with the Defensive Player of the Year, as I underestimated eventual winner Dwight Howard by handing out my honours to Gerald Wallace instead. Of course, I also predicted that the Cavs will be in the NBA Finals. Ya, that was way, way, before a certain Game 5.

    But again, I credit the late submission of my predictions for my accuracy. This year is going to be way, way tougher. LeBron's Decision and the Car-MeloDrama have raised a lot of questions about this season. Can James become MVP again, now that he shares his responsibilities with Dwyane Wade. Are Heat contenders? Are the Lakers worse. Should the Celtics never be doubted again. Why are the Spurs playing so well all of a sudden? Did anyone expect Derrick Rose and Amare Stoudemire to be THIS good? What about Magic/Mavericks/Thunder. And how will the end of the Carmelo Anthony saga (the end for this year = trade deadline) influence any predictions I make now?

    So, very gingerly, I move on to my bold predictions for the 2010-11 season...

    Most Valuable Player (MVP): Derrick Rose This year might be the most closely contested and most widely debated MVP race in my many years of NBA watching. There are at least 11 strong candidates, each of whom can put up a legitimate argument for the coveted award. And since it's such a close debate, I think they all deserve a shout-out.
    Amar'e Stoudemire: The league's second-highest scorer. And he has transformed the lowly Knicks into a solid playoff team this season.
    LeBron James: The stats leader in one of the best teams in the league. Heat have gone from being first-round fodder to potential title-challengers since his and Bosh's addition.
    Dwyane Wade: LeBron's SuperTwin. James and Wade are Batman and Batman. Wade is playing equally well as LeBron is, which is why I argued that either both could be co-MVPs, or neither of them will get it.
    Kobe Bryant: Still one of the best in the league in still one of the best teams in the league. Kobe and the Lakers have been ageless this season.
    Dwight Howard: Never to be underestimated, as the only true mega-star in a great Magic team. The league's best post defender added a potent offensive arsenal, too.
    Kevin Durant: His chances are hurt a bit, simply because of the rising play of Westbrook. But he's NBA's top scorer and Thunder are much better than last season.
    Dirk Nowitzki: The Mavs were the NBA's second best team all of this season, until he got injured and they lost six in a row. That's a good argument for a second MVP award.
    Manu Ginobili: A Spur HAS to be here. Spurs are terrific this season, currently on an NBA-best 36-6 record. Ginobili is the best player on the best team.
    Rajon Rondo: A Celtic HAS to be here too. Too many options in Boston, but Rondo is the best/most consistent of them all.
    Chris Paul: Has carried a very average Hornets team on his frail shoulders... They are still in the playoff hunt.
    As you can see... A tough, tough challenge to predict this. But my vote goes to Derrick Rose. Rose has excelled in all the categories that the above players have done well in, and then some. He is averaging 24 and 8, leading the Bulls to third place in the East, and they have shown again and again the cojones to beat the league's best. Despite other teams' ups and downs (or in the case of Celtics/Spurs, their balanced ups), Bulls, led by Rose have done well when they have been without Carlos Boozer or without Joakim Noah.
    That is why I vote Derrick Rose, 2010-11 NBA MVP.

    Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin From the toughest decision to the easiest one. Blake is not only the best rookie this year, he may be having the best rookie season for over a decade. Averaging 22.5 and 12.8, scoring regular 40 point games, posterising any and everyone that dare mess with him under the basket, and most importantly, making the Clippers (who have won 10 of 13) into a REAL threat. No debate here. John Wall and Landry Fields are having good years too, but they aren't good enough to stand in Blake's shadow.

    Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard No one candidate stands head and shoulders above anyone, so I'm going with the safe choice here. Howard is the most consistent good defender in the league, and I think he will edge out Kevin Garnett, LeBron, Wade, Andrew Bogut, Kobe, and Josh Smith for this award.

    Most Improved Player: Kevin Love Roy Hibbert of the Pacers looked like he was going to run away with this award earlier in the season, but Love has really made a case for himself halfway into the year. After averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds a game last season, he has picked his averages up to 21.5 ppg and 15.7 rpg, and he is the league's leading rebounder. Now THAT'S improvement.
    But there are a lot of legit contenders for Love for this award too: Derrick Rose, if he wasn't an MVP candidate, Michael Beasley, if he wasn't Love's LESSER teammate, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Jrue Holiday, and Wesley Matthews are all in with a shout.

    6th Man of the Year: Glen Davis That's right. Big Baby is finally going to get some respect coming his way. With Perkins out injured, KG and Shaq being missing a bunch of games, Jermaine O'Neal barely playing, it's been Davis who has had to carry the big man load often for the Celtics. And he has done if off the bench most of the time. He has nearly doubled his output this season, now averaging 12.6 ppg and 5.3 rpg.
    Tyrus Thomas, last year's winner Jamal Crawford and perennial 6th man favourite Jason Terry have done well off the bench, too.

    Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau Thibo (that's what I'm going to call him from now onwards to make life simpler for all) deserves to share the credit with Derrick Rose for Chicago's improved play. The former apprentice of Boston's Doc Rivers, Thibo has made this team into a defensive powerhouse, and has perfectly fitted in the new players that have joined the side. Erik Spoelstra (why do coaches have such hard to spell names?), Gregg Popovich, Jerry Sloan (he HAS to win one day, right? Right?) deserve to be mentioned in this race, too.

    All NBA Team

    G: Derrick Rose
    G: Dwyane Wade
    F: LeBron James
    F: Amar'e Stoudemire
    C: Dwight Howard

    This list pretty much picked itself. And damn, it's a hell of a list.

    All Rookie Team

    G: John Wall
    G: Landry Fields
    F: Ed Davis
    F: Blake Griffin
    C: DeMarcus Cousins

    I had a hard time finding a second forward for this team, Ed Davis will have to do. And I'm disappointed that Derrick Favors/Evan Turner haven't showed up yet.

    Now, on to what I feel will be the Playoff Picture come May:


    1. Heat
    2. Celtics
    3. Bulls
    4. Magic
    5. Hawks
    6. Knicks
    7. Bucks
    8. 76ers

    Since I'm Nostradamus (or Hoops-a-Damus) this is what's going to happen: Heat will chop open and each the 76ers, Celtics will molest the Bucks, Bulls and Knicks will be closer than most think, but Bulls will win in seven, and Hawks will revisit their nightmare, and just like last year, have no answer for the Magic.

    In the second round, I expect Heat and Magic to play out an entertaining six or seven game series, but Heat's individual brilliance will take them past. Celtics should have little trouble beating the Bulls, despite Thibo and Doc River's similar ways, Celtics are saving themselves for this moment.

    Conference Finals: Heat vs Celtics. THIS WILL BE EPIC. If there is anyone that knows how to thwart superstars, its Boston. If there are any superstars that know how to thwart defenses, it's Wade and James. It will take seven games, but Boston Celtics will be the last one's standing from the East.


    1. Spurs
    2. Lakers
    3. Mavericks
    4. Jazz
    5. Thunder
    6. Nuggets
    7. Suns
    8. Hornets

    I see a couple of potential upsets here. If Melo stays in Denver (A HUGE IF), the Nuggets will be dangerous. But they will face a deeper Maverick squad, who should beat them in a close series. Thunder I say will upset the Jazz and move into the second round. Spurs over Hornets, Lakers over Suns, easily.

    Spurs will be given a shock by Thunder's youth, but they will use their wily old experience to get past. Lakers will finally come to their own in the Mavs series and beat them in six.

    Conference Finals: Spurs vs Lakers, just like the old times. Except now, the Spurs would've gotten worse as the playoffs progress, and Lakers, better. I expect Kobe and Los Angeles Lakers to play their best basketball of the year in this series and advance to the NBA Finals.

    NBA Finals: Celtics vs Lakers Call it an easy, cop-out choice, but hey, I say it as I foresee it! LA's fourth straight finals appearance, Celtics third in four years. A repeat of 2010 and 2008. This one will be to decide who is truly the team of this era.
    I think a lot of trends from last year's finals will repeat, but this time around, I feel the Celtics, despite their age, will come out on top. They have too much depth, toughness, defensive tenacity, and consistency to go down to LA again. I say Celtics win the NBA Finals in six games.

    And once again, it'll be done through team-work. But there has to be an MVP, and for his improved playoff performance (like last year), the Finals MVP will be Rajon Rondo.

    Let me reverse roles here and turn it over to you guys - what are your predictions for MVP, DPOY, ROY, Champions, etc this year? How much do you agree/disagree with me?

    January 19, 2011

    Arjun Singh: Point Perfect

    As a chubby young child, Arjun Singh got the nickname ‘Golu’, which literally translated, means 'Round One'. As he grew older though, he left the chubbiness and roundness behind him – but it was another round thing that caught his full attention.

    The basketball.

    From the looks of it, this new ‘Golu’ in Arjun’s life is likely to stick with him forever.

    Fulfilling his potential as an explosive youth star, Arjun Singh has become one of the most respected and feared young players in India over the last few years. Still only 20 years of age, Arjun is already becoming a key ingredient of India’s senior national team. He has starred in several national and international tournaments already, and is looking to cement his position as India’s top choice at the point guard position in the future.

    Following the footsteps of his older brother, former Indian international Amit Singh, the Varanasi-boy Arjun started playing basketball when he was just 11 years old. “My brother had a serious knee injury that ended his career early,” Arjun said, “I always liked the game and used to watch my brother playing so well and winning – I knew I had to make this game my future, too.”

    Arjun began playing the game at the UP College basketball court in Varanasi, where his ascension as a basketball star mirrored another young player that started with him – Vishesh Bhriguvanshi. Arjun and Vishesh started off playing together at the same age, making it through to the UP Sub-Jr. team together, and then moving on to the Youth, Junior, and finally the Senior level. Arjun also followed Vishesh to Indian Railways, where the duo combined to make a devastating backcourt for Railways’ two of the last three years of National Championship victories.

    Arjun’s first experience to a national side was when he was called up to play for the Junior FIBA Asian Basketball Championship (ABC) back in 2008. The youngster got his first exposure of playing internationally in Tehran. He followed this with another call-up when the team went to Kuwait for the Stancovic Cup.

    Things started to get better for the youngster: Arjun, along with Vishesh, was part of the squad that won gold for India at the 1st Beach Games in Bali (Indonesia) at the 3-on-3 championship.

    2010 was an up and down year for Golu: After playing for India in the South Asian Games in Dhaka, he went on to have his best performance to date for India as the Junior ABC in Yemen neared. A good ball-handling PG for his tall height, Arjun and the Indian Junior Team dominated opponents at the Middle Asia Zone Qualifying matches held at Bangalore. His performances gained him steady crowd support too, and when India headed to Yemen for the tournament in September, he announced his arrival at the Asian stage, finishing as India’s leading scorer in a tournament that was otherwise a disappointment for the talented young team.

    “The ABC experience was great,” Arjun says, “This was the second time in this tournament for me and many of the other players. I was able to play more confidently this time. Plus our coach was Mr. Ram Kumar, who is also my coach at Indian Railways. With him on our side, I knew that the training for this tournament was going to much better.”

    Unfortunately, Arjun faced a setback at this tournament: despite his good performances, he suffered an injury that kept him out of contention for India’s Sr. Team which went on to make the country’s first appearance in an Asian Games basketball tournament since 1982.

    Arjun watched from home as India, after winning their grudge match against Afghanistan in their first game, went on to lose their next five matches against Qatar, Chinese Taipei, Iran, Philippines, and Japan. “We lost, but India played very well,” Arjun defended his fellow players, “The team lacked experience, but still played much above their level through stretches in many of the matches.”

    Arjun’s injury kept him out of the team for the Super Kung Sheung Cup in Hong Kong too, but he chose the biggest domestic stage – the National Championship – to announce his much-awaited comeback to basketball. In his second year for Indian Railways, for whom he is the starting point guard, Arjun became a fan favourite at the tournament, wowing opponents and supporters alike with his improving abilities. Indian Railways went on to win their third straight National Championship gold, defeating their rivals, Services, in the Final, 74-62.

    Arjun was in scorching-hot form in the final, scoring a game-high 27 points. Boasting an exciting line-up of Arjun, Vishesh, Gagan Deep Singh, Prakash Mishra, Yadivinder Singh, and Kiran Pal Singh, blazed through the tournament in style.

    But there is one problem that plagues Arjun despite the domestic success: many of the successful Indian players continue to get caught up in an unhealthy cycle of winning big in domestic tournaments, and then, unprepared to handle better talent, India’s national team ends up suffering internationally. “We need more exposure against better international teams before major tournaments,” Arjun said, “The Men’s team had little exposure together between the South Asian Games in January and the Asian Games in December. We can’t improve if we just keep playing against each other at home.”

    Still, Arjun remains optimistic about improvement, both for the Indian National team as well for his own game. “It will take time, but I think we are close to figuring things out,” he says, “We need to make a habit of playing and practicing together to become a stronger side. Once we can find the perfect combination of players in the team, we should be able to improve. Of course, all of us have to remain motivated and keep training harder.”

    “I want to keep improving my game, too,” Arjun adds, “Right now, I’m a good passer of the ball and can be quick running the floor. But to hang with international opponents, I have a lot more work to do. I have to add more body weight to take on stronger opponents, as well as try and get faster.”

    With a sunny future in basketball ahead of him, the boy known as Golu has come a long way at a young age. For now, his focus is on the next challenge ahead of him: the upcoming Savio Cup in Mumbai, where he will once again lead Indian Railways as the team’s premier feeder. Following that will be the Federation Cup and the basketball tournament at the National Games later in February. Railways doesn’t play in the National Games, but Arjun will be there: A highly touted player, he is wanted both by Punjab (where his current job posting is) and Jharkhand (who, as hosts, can call upon any player). His decision could well bolster one lucky side at the tournament.

    Though the young star’s ambitions, clearly, lie strongly with the National side. “I want to keep representing my country,” he says, “India’s position is down right now, so I feel that it will be my responsibility in the future to help fulfill the shortcomings we face today.”

    January 17, 2011

    Indian Men's Basketball: Dream Team

    India has sent several different Men's teams to international competitions over the past year. These have included the South Asian Games at Dhaka in January, the Asian Games at Guanzhou in November, and the Super Kung Sheung Cup at Hong Kong in December. Additionally, a talented bunch of Indian youngsters represented the country at the Junior FIBA Asia Championships at Yemen in September. Of course, many fans got a chance to watch their favourite players in action for their states/clubs at the National Championship that was held at New Delhi in December/January.

    Now, with all these different squads, which have included several new omissions, players left out due to injury/behaviour reasons, or other changes, it is hard to decide what would be India's strongest Men's side.

    Fear not: what I have decided to compile here is my personal favourite pick of Indian players. If I was India's coach/selector, this is the squad of 12 I would pick to represent the country in International competitions. I have tried to pick a good blend of players with different sizes and abilities that I feel will complement each other. Also, this team should be a good blend of youth and experience - seniors to help lead the squad, players in their prime, and youngsters to provide the right kind of energy and hunger.

    My Indian Dream Team

    Starting Five
    PG: TJ Sahi
    SG: Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (Captain)
    SF: Trideep Rai
    PF: Jagdeep Singh
    C: Yadivinder Singh
    Hareesh Koroth
    Dinesh CV
    Dishant Shah
    Arjun Singh
    Amjyot Singh
    Sambaji Kadam
    Jai Ram Jat

    As you may notice, I've picked players like Sahi and Kadam, who are now in exile from the national system, but I feel who are strong enough to still make a difference at the biggest stage.

    Here are some players who I would like to give honourable mention to: S. Robinson, Kiran Pal Singh, Prakash Mishra, Eudrick Pereira, Bobby Singh, Sunil Rathee, Ajay Pratap Singh.

    Over to you now: if you could pick your Indian Men's Dream Team, what would it be?

    January 16, 2011

    Mahindra NBA Challenge continues expansion with the launch of adult league in Mumbai and Delhi

    The Mahindra NBA Challenge, the largest, multi-city, community-based basketball league in India, tipped off an adult league in Mumbai and Delhi on Saturday as the programme continues to expand in India during its second season.

    In Mumbai, 38 teams of men and women, ages 19 and over, will receive world-class basketball training in a fun environment and have the chance to compete against each other over the course of six weeks at the Indian Gymkhana and the Ghatkopar YMCA. The same programme will be held in New Delhi, where 44 teams have been registered to participate. The Delhi course will be held at the Oxford Secondary School (Vikaspuri).

    The league, conducted in partnership with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), will culminate with a weekend-long celebration of basketball from Feb. 24 to 26 that will engage the community with NBA-style entertainment, musical and dance performances and oncourt basketball contests where fans can win prizes from the NBA and Mahindra.

    The weekend will feature an All-Star Game, semi-finals and finals, along with appearances from an NBA Legend and a current WNBA player in Mumbai and Delhi who will be on hand to crown the champions on Feb. 26. The players will interact with fans and join in the weekend-long celebration.

    Season two of the programme, which is visiting a record five cities, tipped off in Nov. 2010 with youth division leagues in Mumbai and Delhi. The programme will return to Bangalore and Ludhiana and launch for the first time in Chennai later this year.

    To date, participation in Mumbai has increased by 25-percent this season as the program has expanded to four divisions, up from two in season one: sub-junior for ages 12 to 13, youth for ages 14 to16, and junior for ages 16 to 18 and adults 19 and over.

    The inaugural Mahindra NBA Challenge, held from April 2010 to September 2010, included leagues in Mumbai, Ludhiana, and Bangalore and attracted thousands of participants, including members of India’s Men’s National Basketball Team. Current and former NBA and WNBA players traveled to India to run clinics for participants of the Mahindra NBA Challenge, including NBA All-Stars Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers and Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic, as well as NBA Legend AC Green and WNBA Legend Teresa Edwards.

    January 14, 2011

    Arjuna Awardee basketball player Anil Kumar Punj passes away at 63

    Anil Kumar Punj, Arjuna Awardee, former outstanding International Basketball Player of India died on January 14, 2011 in Delhi. He was 63 years old.

    Punj had an illustrious career in the Border Security Force from 1968 to 2004 from where he retired as Commandant. He distinguished himself at the international and national level and was a member of the Indian Basketball Teams which participated in the 1970 Asian Games in Bangkok, and two Asian Basketball Championships - 1971 (Tokyo) and 1973 (Manila). Anil Kumar Punj was a highly talented, brilliant and respected player. He was famed for his sportsmanship and for always gave his best to the team.

    Over his career Punj bagged two Gold, four Silver and four Bronze Medals in National Basketball Championships and also 13 Gold Medals and 2 Silver Medals in All India Police Games. He was decorated with the Arjuna Award by the Govt. of India in 1976 and Police Medal for Meritorious Services 1992. He was also decorated with the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Award by the Punjab Govt. in 1986.

    The Punjab Basketball Association (PBA), in a special meeting presided over by Basketball Federation of India (BFI) President R.S. Gill, IPS (Retd.), condoled the sudden demise of Punj. In this hour of grief, the PBA has promised to stand the family of the deceased and offer all help wherever and whenever required.

    Harish Sharma, the Secretary-General of the BFI offered his condolences to Punj's family and friends. "This is great loss to basketball in India," said Sharma, "Anil Kumar Punj was a legendary basketball player."

    Teja Singh Dhaliwal, the Secretary-General of the PBA, said, "It is a sad moment for the basketball society. We have lost a great player and a great friend."

    January 12, 2011

    FIBA rules leaning the NBA way

    Rule changes have been abuzz for a while now for FIBA (Fédération Internationale de Basket-ball), the globe's dominating authority on all that's right and wrong in basketball. With 214 national federations as members, everyone from world champions' USA to India to the Republic of Benin follow FIBA's laws when conducting the game of basketball. Thanks a lot, Dr. James Naismith.

    But just because everyone follows FIBA doesn't mean FIBA doesn't follow someone too - the biggest basketball league in the world, the NBA, has its own set of slightly differing basketball rules. The differences may be negligible to the laymen, but to a serious basketball player or any other technical expert of the game, they're massive. FIBA's new set of rules, started officially from October 2010 but implemented to all FIBA Asia events starting Jan 1, 2011, are starting to lean more and more towards the NBA. Whether it is the extended three-point line or the 'no-charge' area, FIBA is starting to get a little more NBA-ised. And since FIBA controls basketball, basketball is going to get a little more NBA-ised. Deal with it.

    There will be several FIBA Asia championships in which India will potentially participate in this year, and thus, have to adhere to this new rules, such as the FIBA Asia Championship, the FIBA Asia U19 Championship, and the FIBA Asia U16 Championship (competitions will be held separately for Men and Women).

    In his two part article, FIBA Asia's Technical Director Col. Lee Kak Kuan lays describes these changes well for the FIBA Asia website, offering his own opinion mostly from a refereeing standout about how these changes will affect the game. Here is a quick recap of the major rule changes:

    The Restricted Area: The trapezoid that is unique to FIBA has been replaced with the Rectangular Restricted Area, similar to NBA marking. Though the shape has changed, the rules and related interpretations remain the same. The overall area has been increased and uniform to allow better maneuver of the players.

    Three-point field goal area: The 3-point semi-circle has been extended from the radius of 6.25 meters to 6.75 meters, making three-pointers ever-so-slightly more difficult. Kuan argues that extending this semi-circle will make life difficult for players in the FIBA competitions, who are mostly amateurs, unlike NBA players, who are professionals. It gives them less space to maneuver between the sidelines on the sides, and of course, makes shooting more difficult.

    Kuan says: "We failed to consider NBA is mainly played by professionals. Whereas, FIBA has to cater for the various categories of competitions including the amateurs, the junior boys and girls. It would be a handicap to Asians who are generally smaller built compare with their Western counterparts, to master the 3 pointer shots. Physical and mental strength are vital to produce the power required for consistency in distance shooting."

    Throw-in Lines

    In FIBA, when a team takes a time-out during the last two minutes of the game, the game re-starts with a throw-in from the half-line. Now, just like the NBA, the throw-in line will be a few meters inside the opponents half.

    The No-charge Area

    If points were give for charges, then the likes of Shane Battier and Glen Davis might be given a little more respect in the NBA! Also like the NBA, FIBA will now have a no-charge semi-circle under the basket - a small area where a charge will not result in an offensive foul.

    Again, this is what Kuan has to say about it: "The introduction of the no charge area is deemed to make basketball game less dramatic instead of improving it. The coach may consider that it would be a disadvantage to have the defense at this area and has to plan its strategy on defense outside the area. Also taking into consideration that more casualties would sustain on legal or illegal contacts taking place here."
    "This rule may be good for NBA which is exclusively for the Professionals. As FIBA caters for all levels of championships, it is definitely not feasible for the Junior Boys or Girls (Cadets)"


    Like the NBA, the 24-second shot-clock, like the game-clock now starts not when the ball is thrown inbounds but when a player first touches the ball. Also like the NBA, if there are less than 14 seconds left on the shot-clock when the defensive team commits a foul, then the offensive team gets 14 seconds to start with. This used to be 13 seconds before.

    A few more minor changes are mentioned in Kuan's and the FIBA articles. But the end-result is clear: FIBA is clearly influenced by the NBA, and it seems to be slowly leaning its basketball to favour the NBA's style of play. For some, this may be great news, as the NBA does indeed feature eye-catching and more dramatic basketball. Others might believe that these changes might hurt the games of Non-American players, who aren't accustomed to the new systems.

    In any case, there does exist a Bible/Qu'ran/Manusmriti for all those that subscribe to the religion of basketball. That is the booklet of FIBA's Official Basketball Rules.

    Now, it's up to you to decide whether or not FIBA/NBA should really be the word of basketball's higher power!

    January 11, 2011

    NBA Eye from an Indian Guy

    If you're an NBA fan in India, I'm excited to announce that your weekly NBA analysis on NBA-India is about to get twice as nice! Starting this week, I will be doing two weekly articles for the NBA-India website. In addition to the feature article I write towards the end of every week, I will now have a Tuesday morning column called 'NBA Eye from an Indian Guy', a recap of all the NBA games broadcasted in India over the past week.

    With the new and improved broadcasting deals for NBA in India, I have more and more reason to lose sleep, wake up at unearthly hours of the morning, and rub my eyes through live NBA action. Four, and sometimes five NBA games are now being shown in India every week, and I try to watch most of the action from most of these games. This column should give fans a chance to get a (very short) recap of the weekly matches.

    In the first installment of this series, I talk about how it isn't just Kevin Durant that's made OKC Thunder a contender, I take a look at the Bulls' statement in Boston, and yes, much more!

    Check out my entire blog archive of my NBA-India articles here.

    January 10, 2011


    About a month and a half ago, with the much-hyped Miami Heat side struggling to live up to their expectations, I posed a question for the team's top two stars on my NBA-India article: Which one of LeBron and Wade was going to bite the bullet and become the sidekick? After an 8-7 start, I felt Miami needed a clear Jordan and a clear Pippen. Bosh was always going to be the third option - it was really between Batman and Batman to figure out which one of them was going to be Robin.

    Oh, how things have changed since! Ever since a November 27th loss to the Mavericks, the Heat have gone on an incredible run, winning 21 of their last 22 games. Their only loss came, again, between this streak to the Mavericks again. Except for that one setback, the Heat have been on fire, not only winning but winning by large, double-digits margins, embarrassing opponents, becoming the greatest road-show in the league, and going as far as cornily naming themselves 'The Heatles'. Their last two wins, on the road to the Bucks and to the Blazers, showed a different side to their toughness, as Heat showed that they can hang tough in close games too, winning both the match-ups in overtime.

    So what the hell happened? They say it was a magic post-game talk that took place after that Mavericks loss in November. But on court, there was no change in the roles shared by Wade and LeBron. Aptly nicknamed 'The Super-Twins', both of them continued to play at the highest level, neither budging away from the spotlight and neither hogging it. For the first time, two players with almost identical games, both who are arguably the top two players in the league, began playing equally well at the same time.

    Simply said, there was no need for a Robin. Wade and LeBron have done the Batman and Batman act to perfection - both defending hard, both hounding the passing lanes, both creating shots for their teammates, both creating shots for themselves, both attacking the rim, both finding ways to win games for their team.

    For the first time, the NBA named co-Eastern Conference Players of the Month from the same team when The Super-Twins led Miami to a 15-1 record in December. During this period, Wade averaged 27.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 4.1 apg, and LeBron averaged 25.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 6.8 apg. Their season averages at this point are ridiculously awesome, especially considering that both these numbers are players in the same squad: LeBron getting 25.3, 7.0, 7.2, Wade getting 25.0, 6.6, 4.2.

    The arranged marriage of this awesome-twosome was always going to be scary for the rest of the league, but no one (except perhaps for Jeff Van Gundy) expected them to be this good this soon.

    Which brings me to wonder... What are the chances that, for the first time ever, the NBA will hand out a co-MVP award. In the history of the NBA, no players have ever shared the MVP award. The only time any of the awards have been shared has been the Rookie of the Year award, won both by Grant Hill and Jason Kidd in 1995 and Elton Brand and Steve Francis in 2000.

    A week ago, LeBron came out and said that sharing the spotlight in Miami will mean that neither him or Wade can win the MVP award this year, but I think that this message will only increase their chances. Other candidates like Amar'e Stoudemire, Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki, and Dwight Howard are having nice seasons, but the only reason any of them have a chance to be MVP this year is because LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach.

    Realistically, it is quite unlikely that this award is going to be split 50/50 between the two - the MVP award is voted for by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters in US and Canada, each of whom chooses their top five MVP options, and for each position, the player receives a certain amount of points. Given the complication of this process, it is improbable that two players will come out with the same score.

    But improbably isn't impossible. And if there was ever going to be a chance for two players, from the same team, to win this award, it is going to be now. I guess there is space in the same Gotham City for two Batmen. We will see the true test of their superhero abilities once the playoffs begin.