January 6, 2011

2010: The year in Indian Basketball

A decade or two from now, when looking back at the success of basketball in India, 2010 will stand as the marquee year that changed almost everything. In a single, busy year, basketball took the biggest strides in India, and has provided optimism for the future of the game here.

The BFI-IMG-Reliance marriage

The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) had quite a busy year, highlighted by the giant sponsorship deal it signed with the joint venture of IMG-Reliance. IMG Worldwide is a US-based sports marketing company, and the Reliance Group is India’s largest private sector enterprise. The 30-year agreement will see IMG-Reliance assisting the BFI on financial, promotional, and technical aspects. As part of the agreement, the BFI has granted IMG Reliance commercial rights relating to basketball in India, including sponsorship, advertising, broadcasting, merchandising, film, video and data, intellectual property, franchising and new league rights.

There have already been major results to this milestone agreement in its first year. IMG Academies (Bradenton, Florida, USA), the world’s best multi-sport training center, offered a scholarship to eight budding young Indian basketball players under the age of 14 (four boys and four girls) to attend their academy as student athletes and be trained by some of the best coaches and trainers in the world.

In addition, BFI and IMG-Reliance also launched first ever inner-city school basketball leagues in New Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai, encouraging participation and competition amongst school kids in the game of basketball. The leagues are soon set to expand to the college level as well.

IMG-Reliance had a hand in sponsoring the BFI’s marquee events of the year, the National Championships. Whether it was the Sub-Junior in Kangra, Junior in Vashi, or Senior level in New Delhi, the highest standard of competition was conducted at the championships in 2010.

As the year ended, BFI announced that a bonus payment will be handed to 65 players, seven coaches, and 10 members of support staff as an honorarium for their hard work for basketball in India. The honorarium will continue as an added monthly payment to players who are placed in the top three categories of basketball level in the country.

Finally, IMG-Reliance also left the BFI and all fans of the game in India with great optimism for the future. BFI and IMGR are now working on launching a professional basketball league in the country over the next few years, which, when launched, would bring basketball into mainstream consciousness in India, and also help make India’s basketball players, coaches, trainers, managers, scouts, and others into professionals connected and paid by the league.

Milestones at the Asian Games, and new American coaches

For the first time in 28 years, back since the games in 1982 which were hosted by India, the Indian National Basketball teams qualified for the Asian Games basketball tournament, held in Guangzhou (China), in November 2010.

The Men’s team also created history by winning their first ever basketball tie at the Asian Games, defeating Afghanistan in their pre-qualifier.

Another major step for the teams was that, for the first time, both the Men’s and Women’s teams were coached by experienced American coaches. Bill Harris and Tamika Raymond worked with the Men’s and Women’s teams respectively, bringing revolutionary new ideas and tactics to India’s best players. Harris and Raymond coached the teams for a few months and led them to the Asian Games.

The NBA partners with BFI, continues promoting basketball in India

The National Basketball Association (NBA), the world’s most powerful basketball league, continued to strengthen in ties with the BFI to help promote the game in India.

The NBA launched a unique inner-city recreational league for youngsters and seniors in their partnership with Mahindra Group, the Mahindra NBA Challenge. With assistance from the BFI, the league was launched in Mumbai, Bangalore, and Ludhiana in its first season, and by the end of the year, in Delhi and Mumbai again in the second season. Chennai is set to be added to the list in 2011.

The NBA also brought two marquee all-star basketball players Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to India during the NBA off-season in August 2010. The players helped to spread the message of basketball in the country, including working with the Indian National Teams and with Indian school kids.

The NBA also launched an NBA-India website targeted to fans in India, as well as signed a revolutionary new basketball television deals at the start of 2010-11 season in India.

Individual Successes

India’s most popular basketball player today, Chennai legend Geethu Anna Jose, continued to carve her legacy with another season playing abroad in Australia.

Indian youngster Satnam Singh Bhamara, a seven foot, 15-year-old, who was chosen as part of the scholarship by the IMG-Academy, has made a name for himself already due to his immense potential. BFI’s Secretary-General Harish Sharma has recognised Satnam as potentially becoming the first Indian player to make a huge mark internationally, just like Yao Ming did for China.

Success for the whistle-blowers

Indian referees made a significant name for themselves worldwide in 2010. In July, 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, 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).

India at the Youth Olympic Games

A contingent of four players and one coach from India were part of the first major tournament debut of FIBA 33 at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Singapore in August-September. FIBA 33 is an official version of the half-court, three-on-three format of basketball.

Indian coaches receive training at George Mason University

American basketball coaches JD Walsh, Craig Esherick, and Bob Baker invited 12 Indian coaches and management specialists to the George Mason University (GMU) for intense coaching training courses for ten days in July. The coaches went through on and off court training that included discussions of coaching philosophy, nutrition, strategy as well as marketing and organization.

The action-packed year came to an end with the National Championships in New Delhi, which were won again by the Men’s and Women’s teams from Indian Railways early in 2011. Punjab Boys and Kerala Girls lifted the Junior Nationals in Vashi in October, Rajasthan Boys and Chhattisgarh Girls hoisted the Sub-Junior Championship in Kangra back in September, and Punjab Boys and Kerala Girls won the Youth Nationals in Tiruchirappalli in June.

With a chapter on this successful year closed, it is now time to look forward and continue the growth of basketball in 2011.

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