January 2, 2011

Basketball comes of age in Bihar

It started off as a routine flip through the list of teams at the National Basketball Championships. Looking for the oldest and youngest players out of the 50 teams (27 Men and 23 Women) playing in this competition, I came across a curious detail on the Bihar Women’s team page.

Name: Chandi. Date of Birth: 15-05-1999.

15 May 1999. In a championship of the country’s toughest and best senior players, there was an 11 year old in the midst.

This couldn’t be right, I thought. Sure, some teams like to bring in youngsters with their squad for experience, but 11 years old? Chandi seemed to be still three years away from sub-junior status.

I moved back and took another look at the Bihar page. An incredible six players in the team were listed at 18 years or younger. Five of them were under 15. Priyanka Kumar (18), Mandi (14), Anushka Raj (13), Jagrity Suman (13), Kritika Ranjan (12), and Chandi (11) make up half the squad of a team that had so far had a 1-2 record in the championship, which included a victory of Jammu and Kashmir and a close loss to an experienced Haryana side.

Bihar is one of the youngest basketball federations in India, and after ten years in hoops wilderness, it has made a much-welcomed return to national basketball with affiliation to the BFI approved in 2010. I dug a little deeper to find Debashish Banerjee, the coach of the Bihar Women’s squad. A former player and experienced coach, Banerjee used to represent Bihar more than a decade ago when the state was last active in national basketball events. In November, 2000, Bihar lost a major chunk of its land and its people to the new state of Jharkhand, and ever since, also lost its basketball participation.

“Basketball is still very young in Bihar,” says Banerjee, “Most of the youngsters in this team only began playing the game seriously less than two years ago. There has been great enthusiasm in the game ever since: there are 300-350 girls that play basketball in Patna alone and a thousand more across the state.”

The current Bihar team comprises of a starting five of more experienced Bihari players that had spent the previous few years perfecting their art around the country, for teams like Eastern Railways and others. The rest, as Banerjee said, are novices, although their age and inexperience hasn’t caused a stutter for them on court.

Starting afresh for Bihar has helped level the playing field. Even with a growing talent pool , the team managers and coaches have chosen a number of pre-teens to line up his squad. “It is not about their age,” Banerjee says, “They were the best players available for the team, and so we brought them.”

The Bihar Men’s team is a young squad too, going through some of the same growing pains, and have so far lost all three of their games at the National Championship.

But the future for this state that is now attempting to make a comeback in basketball is bright. Banerjee is sure that the future will see an improvement in facilities and coaching personnel for the Bihari players. These are the first National Championships for many of the youngsters in Bihar, but by the time they grow into their potential, they would have had many years of top-level basketball experience under their belt.

They might be young, but they’re certainly here to stay: welcome back to basketball, Bihar!

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