May 31, 2011

NBA announces digital partnership with Times Group

In a move that the Financial Times called a 'slam dunk' for basketball in India, the NBA took another major step in making sure that it increases its visibility in India, and ultimately, promote the game here, by announcing a 'digital partnership' with Times Internet Limited (TIL), a subsidiary of the Times Group that brings you The Times of India. This move comes just in time for the 2011 NBA Finals, as the Dallas Mavericks get ready to face the Miami Heat.

This partnership will ensure that the NBA will now have a dedicated section on the Times of India website:

The NBA becomes the second sports league after the Indian Premier League (IPL) to partner with the Times Group in India, highlighting the growing popularity of basketball and the NBA in India.

The new dedicated NBA section on the Times of India website will reach more than 12 million users per month. The NBA section will provide fans with comprehensive daily updates on the latest NBA news and scores, and will feature original columns from Times Group journalists. Daily video highlights, photo galleries and articles from NBA analysts will be offered, as well as in-depth features on the league and its players. Furthermore, journalists from the Times Group will travel to the 2011 NBA Finals to provide on-site and behind-the-scenes coverage for fans in India.

“We are proud to be associated with one of the most recognized sporting leagues in the World,” said Rishi Khiani, CEO, Times Internet Limited.” The NBA is the premier men's professional basketball league in North America. With the growing popularity of basketball globally, and more recently in India, we plan to leverage our audience to help popularize the sport further and drive newer audiences to the game.”

“The Times Group has unrivaled reach in India and they are an ideal partner to help showcase our game and engage more NBA fans throughout the country,” said Heidi Ueberroth, President, NBA International. “We are in the midst of one of our most exciting playoffs in recent memory and the innovative, in-depth sports coverage provided by the Times Group allows us to bring fans in India closer to the game.”

I check out the NBA section of the TOI website and it looks pretty good: Nothing too fancy, just simple, clear information, especially targeted towards the new, growing fanbase of the league in India. It has several news articles and features of current events - i.e., the Finals - sourced from, and it also features generic information such as profiles of other NBA teams, and some facts about the history of the NBA, such as previous champions and a list of the NBA's greatest players, with credentials and all!

(I'm kinda offended that my personal all-time favourite player Gary Payton isn't on it. Come on Times of India, show The Glove some love).

Good move by the NBA though - it will help promote the league to a bigger, more mainstream audience.

May 30, 2011

IMG Basketball’s Bobby Sharma: “The future of Indian basketball is very, very bright"

Bobby Sharma is Senior Vice President, Global Business Development, Basketball, for IMG, the global sports and media company. IMG, in their partnership with Reliance, have come together to work with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to oversee the growth of basketball in India. Sharma who is in India to oversee the growth of IMG’s basketball business visited the 28th Youth National Basketball Championship for Boys & Girls in Nagpur (Maharashtra) this past week to watch some of the best U-16 players from around the country take part in this competitive tournament.

The brand new Indoor Stadium at Mankapur, in Nagpur, was almost as much of a showcase as the talent on the floor. The stadium was inauguarated on the opening day of the Youth Nationals by Maharashtra’s Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan on Thursday. I got a chance to speak to Sharma, who was welcomed at the tournament and introduced to some of the participating players on Saturday, about the emerging basketball talent and infrastructure in India.

Hoopistani. What are your thoughts on the new stadium and facilities and the host city of the Youth Nationals, Nagpur?

Sharma: “As the geographic epicenter of the country, Nagpur makes a perfect host for events such as the 28th BFI Under-16 Youth National Championships. I think that this Indoor Stadium of the Divisional Sports Complex is absolutely beautiful. Thanks to the great efforts of the government officials and Harish Sharma of the Basketball Federation of India, this arena is a showcase venue, not only for Nagpur, but all of India.”

Q. What impression have the Youth players left on you after watching them play? Have you noticed any standout players or teams at this competition?

Sharma: “The impression I get is that the future of Indian basketball is very, very bright. I was just remarking to one of the coaches yesterday how impressed I was with the level of the talent and athleticism on display, for both boys and girls, from all over India. But the thing that struck me the most was how much fun everyone was having, how much joy so many have for the game – and that isn't limited to the kids. It's so great to see basketball in its most pure and organic form, played, coached, officiated, organized, and watched out of love.”

Q. What should be the next step in improving youth and grass roots level basketball in India?

Sharma: “That is an important question, as improving youth and grassroots basketball is one of the highest priorities of the great partnership forged between IMG Reliance and the BFI. I think we have recently taken a giant leap forward with the hiring of three incredible coaches from the highest levels of basketball for the senior teams - Kenny Natt from the NBA, and Pete Gaudet and Zak Penwell from the most elite Division I American colleges. Importing their knowledge and passion for the game into the existing structures of the BFI, stretching throughout the entire country, will yield immediate and long-lasting returns all the way to the youngest and newest players and coaches.”

“I am incredibly honored to be here, and so thankful for all the warmth and kindness I have received from the Indian basketball community. I already feel I am part of the BFI family.”

May 29, 2011

Poonam Chaturvedi: The next next big thing

Off the court, she quietly tries to hide behind her teammates. But while silence may deny us from hearing her, she can’t stay visibly hidden for too long. A month shy of her 16th birthday, Poonam Chaturvedi is already 6 foot 6 inches tall, at least half a foot bigger than any of the other girls in her Chhattisgarh Youth team. Any attempt to hide is futile.

Poonam Chaturvedi grew so tall, so quickly, that she has already forgotten tall she exactly was just three years ago.

“A grew a lot when I was 13,” she says.

“How much did you grow?” I ask, trying to get her to be a bit more specific.

“A lot.”

It isn’t easy for a 6 foot 6 inch human being to hide, but everything from Poonam’s own shy demeanour to the years she played ball silently away from the public eye indicate that somehow, this giant teenager remained a secret. Women’s basketball in India is mostly a small girl’s game, and so anyone with the perfect advantage of height and skills literally rises head and shoulders above all to dominate. See the case of Geethu Anna Jose, India’s best known basketball player, who at 6 foot 2 has been the best player in the Women’s game for half a decade and became the first Indian to be invited for a WNBA trial.

Still at the U16 level, Poonam has already become the tallest female basketball player in India. The height came by nature, but it is the work she is putting into her game now that will help her grow into the best basketball player that she can be.

Born and bred in Kanpur (UP), Poonam now finds herself as the centerpiece of the U-16 girls side representing the Chhattisgarh state at the Youth National Basketball Championship in Nagpur. After a false start to her basketball career at the hostel in Agra, she was spotted at the National Women’s Games in Chhattisgarh by Chhattisgarh Basketball Association’s secretary Rajesh Patel. A man with a shrewd eye for scouting and grooming successful women’s basketball players, Patel, who is also the coach of Chhattisgarh’s women teams, realised that the young giant Poonam would have to become his next project.

“We saw her playing for UP at the Women’s Games and we wanted to speak to her,” Patel says, “Over the next four months, I must have called her father 30 to 40 times to try and convince him to send her to join our basketball camp in Billai (Chhattisgarh).”

Patel’s camp and hostel in Billai has gained the reputation of becoming Indian Basketball’s talent factory – it took until the end of April before Poonam finally joined the other talented young girls at the hostel, and the opportunity couldn’t have come a moment too soon.

“Back in Agra, her game wasn’t developing at all,” said Patel, “There were only six or seven girls in the hostel there, so the only practice they got was shoot-around, there were never enough to play a full five-on-five game. When we recruited her to Chhattisgarh, we barely had a month to make sure she fit in with the system. She had to be ready to play for our U16 team at the Youth Nationals.”

Her big unveiling, and her first competitive game for Chhattisgarh, was against Uttarakhand on the first day of the Youth Nationals. Still showing a lack of coordination in fitting in with the run-n-gun Chhattisgarh side, Poonam nevertheless managed to score 14 points in a dominating blowout win for her side.

“We’ve had to practice extra to fit her in,” Patel says, “For the last month, the girls would be up at 4 in the morning to practice extra drills and extra plays that involve Poonam.”

Patel’s Chhattisgarh sides have always suffered from height, but never have they let that come between them and success. In producing one of the most-triumphant programmes ever in several different age levels over the last decade, Patel has preached a style of ball-hawking defense and quick fast-break baskets to make sure that his teams almost always win.

Now, both Patel and his latest recruit are in new territory: the coach because he has to change his offensive and defensive schemes around a taller but slower player, and Poonam because she was playing with a quick team which already carried with it a winning culture. It was no surprise then that she was a step too slow in her early competitions with Chhattisgarh, but both player and coach realise that there is a long road to improvement.

“My game has improved a lot since I came to Chhattisgarh,” she says, “But I want to keep playing harder and keep improving. This is a good defensive team and I realise that my defense will need work to fit in: I still need to learn how to always stay in front of the player I’m guarding.”

Patel is even more critical of his young and potential-ridden player. “We have changed our defensive patterns for her, and she will have to fit in. But there are a lot more areas where we have been working hard on, giving her hours of extra, individual training: her jumping/athletic ability, her back to the basket game, free throws, showing, dribbling, and of course, we want her to gain more weight and bring a lot more power to her game.”

Yet, regardless of the holes in Poonam’s game, it isn’t difficult to see why this 6 foot 6 teenager is garnering all the hype at the competition. She already has a naturally good shooting stroke, a good offensive post game, and in just her first month of proper basketball training, she has become good enough to be a real threat for opponents at the Youth Nationals.

“She makes our team a lot better too,” Patel adds, “We now feel a psychological edge of having the tallest player whenever we go against any opponent. With her on this side, I know this team can qualify for the final.

But both Poonam and Patel are looking way beyond the Youth Nationals: Patel’s next aim is to make sure that Poonam is chosen for Indian National U16 Select Camp after this tournament. He is also hopeful that, with the arrival of a world class strength trainer Zak Penwell, Poonam will have just the kind of guidance she needs to bulk up into perfect shape.

“Her future is very bright,” says Patel, “She’s still young, and is already the tallest player in India: she can go a long way.”

And while her coach gives the outspoken support, and while the comparisons of ‘next Geethu’ pour in, Poonam remains confident in her own quiet and calm way. “I want to play for India,” she says.

No matter how hard she tries, a big girl with potentially bigger talent like Poonam can’t remain hidden behind anyone. Kanpur and Agra saw her grow, Chhattisgarh helped her develop, and Nagpur will see the early fruits of the combination of skill and size. And it won’t be long before all of India Basketball knows about the next next big thing.

May 28, 2011

2011 NBA Finals Prediction: Heat vs Mavs, the Sequel

Before we talk about the present, it's important that we talk about the past.

Five years ago - May/June 2006 - and the last two remaining teams in the NBA were the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks. The Heat, with their young superstar Dwyane Wade (who was just finishing his third year in the league) and with still not-washed-up Shaquille O'Neal, played some inspired basketball to get to the Finals, but once there, they were against the NBA's deepest and most talented squad in the Mavericks.

It was the first time in the history of either franchise to make the NBA Finals. And it would be a first ring for either of these two teams. Led by Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks were odds-on favourites: they had broken a vicious cycle out West - Since the Jazz did it in 1998, no other team except for the Spurs or the Lakers had won the Western Conference - and even before the 2011 Finals were set up, the Mavericks were the only other team in the West since 98 to win the conference.

What happened next? As expected, a deeply talented Mavs squad won the first two games easily, taking a 2-0 lead over the series as it shifted to Miami. Game 3 looked like it was going to be more of the same: but Dwyane Wade went into superhero mode, scoring 42 points to erase a 13-point 4th quarter lead and help Miami secure a win. Credit Gary Payton for hitting the game-winner, and the series changed.

And from then onwards, it was the Wade show - Wade scored 36, 43, and 36 points in the next three games, putting up the most impressive individual performance I have ever seen over an NBA finals series, and helped Miami win in six games, 4-2, clinching their first NBA title. Unfortunately, the story of the series weren't Wade's heroics - it was the many, many, (many, many, many) arguable calls made by the referees that went Miami's and Wade's way.

On the other end - it was a bitter pill to swallow for Nowitzki, who was so close to etching his name into the Finals' greats, but wasn't good enough in clutch situations to match Wade.

History lesson done, perspective acquired; it's now 2011.

2011: And the two best playoffs teams in the NBA find themselves deservingly facing off in the Finals in a repeat of '06. Some of the names are the same, and some are new, adding a lot more complexities to this already exciting match-up. Seeing how both these teams changed the level of their play between the regular season and the playoffs, I'm not even going to bother looking back at their season match-ups. All you need to know is that Miami hold home-court advantage, and Miami haven't lost at home in the playoffs. The Mavs have only lost once.

The Conference Finals were surprisingly one-sided. I was wrong in predicting a Bulls win after Game 1, because Chicago went on to lose the next four, and their biggest problems were exposed - lack of depth beyond Rose, and their youth/inexperience. Meanwhile, Dallas took care of business versus another very young Thunder team, and most impressively, making two massive comebacks to show heart and hunger that they have never shown before.

And I know LeBron had an incredible series, but I have to give the player of the Conference Finals award to Dirk Nowitzki, who was deadly efficient, especially in that first game where he had 48 points of just 15 shots.

Phew... So we're in the Finals now... And here's what these Finals would mean from the point of view of all the crucial parties involved, in last-name alphabetical order:

Chris Bosh: The man who has suffered innumerable jokes (it's not the big three, it's two and a half men) found his aggression when needed and stepped up to help Miami beat Chicago, completely dominating his opposite number, Carlos Boozer. This could really mean redemption for Bosh, and even though he isn't of the Wade-James-Nowitzki class, he's still an all star (with feelings). Bosh will also have the toughest time in this series as he attempts to defend the league's most unstoppable force right now in Dirk Nowitzki.

Rick Carlisle: It's about time that Carlisle, one of the most efficient coaches of the last decade, is finally getting his shot at the big deal. He has had some up and down years as a coach, but has never wavered his discipline - the work he has done with this Mavs squad, especially in the playoffs, is tremendous: both in the tactical viewpoint as well as inspiring them to stay hungry and make the big comebacks.

Mark Cuban: The owner of the Mavs and a billionaire on the side, there was no man more outspoken about Miami's "unjust" 2006 win than Cuban. A great recent article by Yahoo Sports writer Adrian Wojnarowski's talks about how Cuban never gave Miami the respect for winning that title, and criticised them on their rebuilding plan. Well, here we are now - and for his own team's championship, Cuban has to go through his Miami nightmare once more.

LeBron James: Ah.. LeBron James. It's hard to read the word NBA these days without seeing his name nearby. Talent-wise, he deserves to be one of the league's best-known player, but without a championship, talent is nothing but potential wasted. This is James' second trip to the Finals - the first one was a forgettable affair when his over-achieving Cavs got swept by the Spurs in 2007. So what does he do after going nowhere with Cleveland? He makes a Decision and comes to Miami, teaming up with Dwyane Wade to make the most deadly duo since Nagraj and Super Commando Dhruv started to fight crime together.
(FYI: LeBron is Nagraj, Wade is Dhruv).
Anyways - it was a major decision, and it was going to have major repercussions - anything less than a championship was to be an under-achievement for Miami. And as the regular season went, with teething troubles in alpha-dog status, Wade and LeBron suffered those troubles. But the playoffs have been a whole different animal: as the two of them have perfected the art of surviving and thriving together. Meanwhile, LeBron, especially after his performance in the Bulls' series, has been the best player in the Playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
But nothing in the past matters - The Decision was made to win a championship - and so far, the plan seems to be on track for the currently ringless 'King'.

Jason Kidd: Those who know me personally know that I have never been a fan, but even I can't deny what Kidd brings to the table. The last of the remaining 'true' point guards before the era is fully handed over the Rose's, Westbrook's, and Wall's of the world (I know CP3 and Deron Williams will have something to say about that), Kidd's game will never be appreciated by someone who just looks at box scores and recaps. He uses his brain more than his 38-year-old body, and after two unsuccessful runs in the finals nearly a decade ago, this veteran has one final shot. This time, he has a squad better than anything he has ever worked with before. Kidd was brought into Dallas almost three years ago to bring a mature presence to the frequently not-so-responsible Dirk, and he did just that. Will this future hall-of-famer finally get his ring?

Dirk Nowitzki: The nightmares of 2006 must be crashing back in front of Dirk now, and if there's ever been a man on a redemption mission, it's him. Nowitzki has been the best player in this year's playoffs, and is playing at a higher level than I've ever seen him play before. It is fitting then, that, his second chance at the ring once again goes through Miami and through Dwyane Wade. He seems to have left behind the jitters that labelled him a 'soft' player or a 'choker' - but it is this final stand that could make or break his legend, that could decide whether he was one of the greatest or just a damn good player.

Pat Riley: One of the greatest coaches ever, and my personal favourite, and the man who led Miami to that 2006 victory: but this time, Riley is looking for a different kind of win. Now as Heat's team president Riley pulled off a miracle by getting LeBron and Bosh to join the side, and had faith in his young coach Spoelstra to oversee this team make its way to the Finals. Now, he's four wins away from adding to his illustrious trophy collection, and once again, it is the Mavs that stand in his way.

Erik Spoelstra: The man who shouldered all the blame for Heat's early struggles is still here, still standing, and now, in the Finals. The Heat coach always had the support of Riley and always preached defense first. Couple his defensive philosophy and hand him two of the league's best players, and its easy to see why this team is successful - it is just hard to believe that they are successful so soon! While fans were calling for his head early in the season, this post-season performance has turned everything around and made sure that he remains a coaching mainstay for years to come.

Jason Terry: The other star from the 2006 losing Mavs team, Terry has been in the Mavs for a long time, battling alone with Dirk and looking for that championship. It will be a great reward for the fruits of his patience and labour on the bench all these years. Plus, he had a Larry O'Brien trophy tattooed on his arm before the season even began. He better win to justify something like that.

Dwyane Wade: The man who was the undisputed legend five years ago is now being looked at as the third-best player in 2011. Funny how things change - because Wade's game hasn't gotten much worse. His explosive 2006 performance saw him average 33 ppg and 7.8 rpg through the series, and those numbers don't take into account how well he performed in clutch time situations. LeBron came to Miami to play with D-Wade and go to the Finals, and here they are now. Wade had a bad series against the Bulls, but he came up big when most required, scoring 10 points and making massive plays in that incredible 4th quarter rally that saw Miami defeat Chicago in Game 5 to close the series. If there was any time for Dwyane Wade to rediscover himself, it was right before a finals rematch with the Mavericks. And here they are now...

And my Prediction: These two teams are way to close to call, because both have shown grit and heart to win. Mavericks have a deeper squad, but the Heat are more top heavy. In a situation like this, I go to my thumb rule, which is: 'If the difference between 2 teams is too close to call, always go with the better defensive side.'
It's the playoffs, and I'm going to call Defense - which is Miami. Dirk will have a big series, and so will LeBron and Wade, but it will be the Heat's defensive intensity that will end up limiting Nowitzki, and on the other end, their superstars will take care of business, especially during the clutch periods. Plus, having home-court advantage will help Miami, too.

So my Finals Prediction is Miami Heat win 4-2.

And as for Finals MVP? Well it's the question that has been in my mind ever since the season started. Between LeBron and Wade, who will be better when it mattered most? Well, that question could be answered very soon: LeBron has been a better all-round player, but Wade has a reputation of being the best when the chips are down. And in this series, I say that the Mavs will suffer a Dwyane Wade nightmare again. Also, I have a Wade bias. And it's my blog - Dwyane Wade wins Finals MVP

So what are your predictions? Who will be the champion? How many games will they play? Who will be Finals MVP? And who will be the X-Factor?

May 27, 2011

From player to coach, Manisha Dange looks to complete the hoops cycle

Could an early bloomer also be a late bloomer? How many stars dominate at a young age, and as they grow older, find the inspiration to bloom again, into a different kind of star? From a star young player, to an inspirational veteran, and now planting the seeds of a potential coaching career, Maharashtra’s Manisha Dange hopes to do it all.

Three months ago, Manisha Dange and Shireen Limaye were playing on the same court on the same squad: the former a 30-year-old legend of Maharashtra’s women’s basketball; the latter had just turned 16 and was already being touted as the next big thing in women’s basketball in India. Dange, as the team’s captain, and Limaye, as the young, do-it-all sparkplug, led an exciting Maharashtra Women’s team into the Federation Cup at Raipur.

Three months later, the faces are the same, but the roles have changed: it is the Youth (U16) National Basketball Championship in Nagpur, Maharashtra, Dange and Limaye’s home-court, and the Maharashtra team is captained by Limaye, who is the most experienced young star leading a group of girls who are relatively fresh to the big stage. But Dange is here too – staying involved with Maharashtra and her young teammate as the coach of the U16 side.

The transformation to coach for teammate has been seamless for Dange. “I’m only the team’s coach on the court,” Dange says, “Outside it, I’m more a Didi - an older sister – than a coach. The difference of age between me and Shireen or any of the other girls isn’t too much, so they are comfortable with me. I have to be strict but allow the girls to have their fun.”

“Because I’ve been a player myself I can understand the girls and know exactly how it feels to travel for a tournament, feel the pressure, and perform at this stage. During basketball games, working now as a coach, I get to see understand many of my own faults as a player and find a way not just to improve my coaching ability but also my playing ability.”

And as she continues to discover her coaching attributes and rediscover her talents as a player, Dange makes sure to indicate that she has enough gas to keep both her careers going. “I want to continue playing and coaching simultaneously,” she said, “This is just the first step: I want to keep progressing as a coach as time passes and keep playing for as long as possible, too.”

Her star player, Shireen Limaye, doesn’t believe that Dange’s shift from player to coach has been a complicated affair. “She has been and is still a very good player,” Limaye says of Dange, “Even as a team-mate, she is always a coach on court – she has always making sure to train us and give us advice, and we used to practice drills with her as team-mates that I now practice with her as coach. It is an advantage for us to have a coach who is also a good active player.”

This is Dange’s second attempt at leading Maharashtra’s U16 Girls squad at the Youth Nationals – she was also the team’s coach last year when they went for the Nationals in Trichy, Tamil Nadu. This time around, the pressure to perform as hosts and as one of the most talented young teams in the competition is squarely on Dange’s side.

“Our team has a lot of positives,” Dange said, “The biggest of them all, obviously, is Shireen. But this year, we have come prepared physically to be the best and put up a good show as the hosts. Before this tournament, the girls took part in an 18-day fitness camp in Vashi, which helped them improved their speed, agility and overall fitness.”

The current Maharashtra Girls side also has a good size advantage and will hope to exploit it against most of their other opponents.

As a player, Dange has been here and done it all before. Hailing from Thane in Mumbai, she picked up the game when she was only 12 years old, but didn’t make her first major Nationals until the youth/U16 stage, the same stage at which she has made her coaching debut nearly 15 years later. From then on, the game of basketball began opening several new avenues for her: she was picked to play for Railways at the age of 18 – a move she calls the ‘best moment of her basketball career’ – and she represented India in two crucial tournaments in 2007: the FIBA Asia Championships in South Korea and an Invitational Tournament in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.

Although she won’t be making a comeback to the Indian National team soon, she continues to be a dominating and respected figure in Maharashtra Basketball – besides, it is now the turn for her teammate/star-pupil to shine: Shireen Limaye has become the youngest player to get a call-up for the Indian Senior National Camp in New Delhi, and she will have a shot at making her own debut with India’s Senior National team at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Japan this August.

As she has experienced the past and the evolving present of basketball in India, Dange is hopeful for the future that Limaye and other young stars of the country. “The current crop of stars have a good future,” she says, “They are getting a lot of opportunities now, and will soon get a lot more exposure and returns for their hard-work in the game.”

But for now, ‘Coach’ Dange – or Manisha Didi – has only one mission in mind: helping Limaye, Shruti Menon, Ayushi Gupta, and the rest of the young squad live up to their top billing and capture the Youth Championships on home soil. “We have a good team, and because we’re playing at home, we’re the favourites. Once the crowds get bigger, there will be more pressure on the girls to perform – I have to make sure that they blank out the outside noise and just focus on their game.”

And if anyone can help them deal with the pressure it’s their experienced coach – after all, she has been there, done that, and is now back to bloom again.

May 26, 2011

28th Youth Basketball Nationals tip off in Nagpur; Hosts Maharashtra start positively

Look no further if you want to spot the next basketball superstar of India: On Thursday, May 26th, the city of Nagpur in Maharashtra, popularly known as the ‘Orange City’, welcomed hundreds of under-16 boys and girls from two dozen states in India to take part in the 28th Youth National Basketball Championship for Boys & Girls, slated to take place from May 26th – June 2nd.

Maharashtra’s Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan got the games underway after inaugurating Nagpur’s brand new Indoor Stadium of the Divisional Sports Complex, but it was the hosts Maharashtra who got the hoop fans really fired-up with back to back wins for both the girls’ and the boys’ teams.

Chavan, who declared the new Indoor Stadium open on Thursday afternoon, welcomed the players and the spectators. “It feels great to be at this inauguration at the ‘second capital’ of Maharashtra, Nagpur,” Chavan said, “I’m glad to see the best young players here from all over the country of India.”

The first game following the opening was the highly touted Maharashtra Girls side, featuring superstar Shireen Limaye as captain, who is the youngest player to be called up for the Indian Senior National camp in New Delhi. Maharashtra didn’t disappoint, even though they faced a motivated Punjab squad, and raced away to a double digit lead in the first quarter. Maharashtra really perked up their defense in the second half, allowing only four points in the last 20 minutes of play, en route to a convincing 65-31 victory. Shruti Menon had a confident outing with 19 points for Maharashtra.

Maharashtra Boys started off their campaign with a tenaciously fought win over a gritty Karnataka side. Although Maharashtra led most of their way, Karnataka remained right on their tails, with big performances by Jeethender (24) and Melever (16). The second half was especially tightly contested but Maharashtra maintained their lead to notch a 63-50 win. Rohan Jagtap was the high scorer for the hosts with 17 points.

Meanwhile, Kerala Girls, the winners of last year’s tournament in Trichy, didn’t skip a beat as they started off with a dominating performance against Delhi. Kerala used hard-nosed defense and a balanced scoring threat to get an early lead over the team from the capital, and they carried their momentum throughout the game. It was an easy win for Kerala in the end, with the final score 54-13.

Important Scores


Group A: Maharashtra (Rohan Jagtap 17, Salim Malik 14) bt Karnataka (Jeethender 24, Melever 16), 63-50 (16-13,20-11,15-14,12-12).

Group C: Uttar Pradesh (Rahul Yadav 22, Ankit Malik 11, Abhishek Rai 10) bt Himachal Pradesh 77-40 (13-8, 16-10, 15-14, 33-8)


Group A: Maharashtra (Shruti Menon19, Shireen Limaye 15, Aditi Kamble 12) bt Punjab (Nirmal Kaur 13) 65-31 (22-11,18-16,16-2,9-2)

Group B: Chattisgarh (Sangeeta 21, Anjana Daisy 14, Poonam Chaturvedi 14) bt Uttarakhand, 90-19 (28-10, 28-2, 18-6, 16-1)

Group A: Kerala (Poojamal 14) bt Delhi 54-13 (21-4,6-1,15-5,12-3)

Group B: Haryana (Monika Vias 20, Bhakti Singh 15) bt Uttar Pradesh (Garima Singh 12,Shruti 16) 52-43 (11-14,8-6,16-17,17-6).

May 25, 2011

Kenny Natt to Coach Indian Basketball

India welcomes three world-class coaches for its national teams

This article was first published on on May 18th, 2011

If there’s one thing that you can say with complete surety about Indian culture is that we treat our guests with honor. As a child, when my family had visitors staying over and I refused to give up my bedroom for the guests, my mother would take me to a corner and repeat the old Indian proverb: “Mehmaan Bhagwan Saman Hai” – The Guest is like God.

Yes, guests in India are showered with presents, treated like royalty, and are force-fed meals until their stomachs churn (we consider this a good thing). Anyone who has ever been welcomed into an Indian household knows that, when it comes to food, ‘I’m full’ means ‘I could eat two more rotis, please,’ and a firm ‘No’ means, ‘Yes, I wouldn’t mind that last piece of Butter Chicken.’ From simple households to State Diplomats, the over-welcoming philosophy of the Indian people (mostly) remains.

And this is one of the major reasons why, despite all the teething troubles that have hampered the game of basketball in the past (rampant corruption at the state level, backward infrastructure, little cohesive organization, etc.) the game continues has continued to develop at a good pace. India has welcomed the world of basketball with open arms – from IMG Worldwide to the NBA – and in return, the world of basketball has invested wisely to the growth of the game in India. The welcoming attitude has worked well in our favor, as everything from infrastructure to personnel is now showing promise of progress.

April in particular was especially big for the game in India. Geethu Anna Jose, the former captain of the Indian Women’s team, became the first Indian to get a tryout with the WNBA – she wasn’t accepted, but she left a good impression with the Chicago Sky, the L.A. Sparks, and the San Antonio Silver Stars. Meanwhile, Bucks’ point guard Brandon Jennings made a trip over to our shores, becoming the 16th NBA/WNBA player/legend to visit India over the past three years.

But the biggest piece of news was leaked out this week, as the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) announced that it hired three world-class coaches to lead the Indian Basketball Teams and further the BFI’s grassroots growth of the game in India.

Kenny Natt, who was interim head coach of the Sacramento Kings after the firing of Reggie Theus during the ‘08-09 season, has been brought on board to coach the Indian Senior National Men’s Basketball team. Natt was an assistant coach under Jerry Sloan with the Utah Jazz from 1995-2004, and was part of the team that twice reached the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998. He then became an assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2004-2007, including the season when the LeBron James-led Cavs reached the NBA Finals.

Natt’s first job will be to work with Indian Men’s team at a camp in Delhi in preparation for the FIBA Asia Basketball Championship set to be held in Wuhan (China) in September. Natt will be taking over the reins of the Men’s team after Coach Bill Harris, formerly head coach of NCAA DIII side Wheaton College, who led the Indian team to the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou (China).

The Indian Senior Women’s National team will be headed by Pete Gaudet, a famous name amongst college instructors. Gaudet has been involved with college hoops for over 40 years, coaching both men’s and women’s basketball in the process, including holding positions at West Point, Duke, Vanderbilt and Ohio State. While at Duke (as mostly an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski), Gaudet won two NCAA Championships and made seven Final Fours, coaching eight All-Americans, three national players of the year, and 12 NBA draft picks.

Like Natt, Gaudet will also be preparing the Women’s side for the FIBA Asia Basketball Championship – the Women’s edition of this competition will be held in Omaru and Nagasaki in Japan at the end of August. Before Gaudet, the Indian Women’s side was coached by WNBA player Tamika Raymond at the 2010 Asian Games.

Lastly, the BFI brought in Zak Penwell as a Strength and Conditioning coach for the national sides in India, the first time that such an appointment has been made for the national level players in the country. In the past, the Indian national teams had been thoroughly exposed by several Asian opponents who were stronger, faster and more durable – even if the skill and talent level was closed, India lagged behind when it came to their physical fitness and performed poorly.

The last bit of news has been especially encouraging for top-level Indian players like Jose, who admitted that she struggled amongst the stronger American players during her WNBA tryouts. And now, with experienced NBA and college coaches being the guiding forces behind some of India’s brightest stars, expectations are high for the country to follow in China’s footsteps and play up to its potential – more than a sixth of the world’s population is over in India, and it is about time that the country ends its historic underperformance in most other sports excluding cricket.

Meanwhile, the other pieces to complete basketball’s jigsaw puzzle are shaping up nicely: Jose may not have qualified for the WNBA, but a tryout in itself was a major step forward. Youngsters have been encouraged by her success and are now confident that they can follow her footsteps to the world’s best leagues.

The biggest contribution comes by the hand of IMG-Worldwide, who in their partnership with India’s Reliance Industries is hell bent to change the face of the game – IMG-Reliance have been behind every major development for the BFI since 2010.

The NBA continues to put a lot of its time and effort in developing grassroots popularity of the game here: Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Brandon Jennings and George Gervin, to name a few, have carried the message of hoops to this cricket-crazy country over the last year. The NBA has held inner-city recreational leagues in five major cities around the country, and this year, introduced a Junior Skills Challenge to get the kids started early.

And then of course, there are the players themselves. More than ever, young players are taking basketball seriously as a career option and present stars are hopeful that they will one day participate in India’s own National Basketball League. The biggest (in size and potential) hope comes in the size-22 sneakers of Satnam Singh Bhamara, the 15-year-old, 7-2 inch giant with a rare combination of size and skill who is currently a student-athlete at the world-renowned IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL and is, as we called him on SLAMonline, the ‘Big Indian Basketball Hope.’

So yes, we’re ready to welcome the world of Basketball in India, bring it into our households, treat it with the respect that only a guest deserves, and make sure that we feed it until it’s full and then feed it a little more.

Is the world ready to welcome us?

May 24, 2011

Nagpur welcomes 24 boys’ and 23 girls’ teams for Basketball’s Youth Nationals

The future of basketball in India will assemble together to compete for the ultimate prize – the Youth Nationals Championship. The 28th National Basketball Championship for Youth (U16) Boys and Girls will be organised by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) at Nagpur (Maharashtra) from May 26, 2011 – June 2, 2011. The Indoor Stadium in Mankapur in Nagpur will be hosting this championship.

Only players born on or after 1st January 1995 are eligible to participate.
24 boys teams and 23 girls teams from across the country have confirmed their entry into this tournament. The participating squads are:

Boys: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Orissa, Punjab, Pondicherry, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal.

Girls: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Pondicherry, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal.

“The Youth Nationals will be a great exhibition of the young and upcoming players in the country,” said Mr. Harish Sharma, the CEO of the BFI, said, “These youngsters will become the future superstars of Indian basketball.”

The 27th Youth Nationals, held in Trichy (Tamil Nadu) from June 1-8, 2010, were won by Punjab (Boys) and Kerala (Girls).

May 23, 2011

Basketball Coaches clinic to be held in Thiruvanathpuram

A special three-day basketball clinic for basketball coaches in the state of Kerala will be held at the Central Stadium in the state's capital of Thiruvanathpuram from June 6-8th. The clinic will be headed by Troy Justice, the Director of Basketball Operations, NBA-India.

Coaches working with the Sports Authority of India (SAI) as well as the Kerala State Sports Council (KSSC) will be able to participate in this clinic. The clinic is also open for interested amateur coaches.

According to the Kerala Basketball Association (KBA) (source: The Hindu):

The release said that Troy has indicated three priorities for the growth of Indian basketball. To ensure the growth of the game throughout the country, provide a focus on the grassroots programme to encourage more kids to play the game and then to train and develop quality coaches and players. The idea, the release further stated, was to hear basketballs bouncing all over the country. Thirty-two boys and girls of the Kerala junior teams will also get the chance to work out with Troy during the three-day clinic.

Troy Justice, who assisted India's Kerala-born superstar Geethu Anna Jose to seal tryouts with three-WNBA squads last month, will be returning to Geethu's state to help the growth of the game.

In an interview with the Deccan Chronicle, Justice added: "NBA has set itself some goals in India. Firstly, we want to build and develop the game of basketball throughout the county. Secondly, we want to do that by focusing on programme at the grassroot level and finally to train and develop coaches and players. I am eager to lend my international experience to this workshop."

Coaches interested in attending the clinic should contact Dr. M.M. Chacko, clinic coordinator, ph: 9446030638 or 0471-2530638.

May 21, 2011

The World's Most Marketable Athletes

Sports Pro, a British-based sports and sports-business magazine, recently compiled a list of the 50 most marketable athletes in the world. Marketable - mind you, not best - because not only is it difficult to compare athletes in different sports (Leo Messi or LeBron James?) but some of the most talented athletes in the world couldn't sell water to a well (read: Tim Duncan).

Anyways, it is an interesting list, and this is how Sports Pro describes how they got to their conclusions:

The list comprises the 50 athletes deemed by SportsPro to offer value for marketing money if signed today to a long-term global endorsement deal.
As the sports landscape has shifted over the last 12 months, so has the make-up of these unique rankings. Clearly, when evaluating ‘potential’, a degree of subjectivity is involved. Nevertheless, myriad resources were consulted and contacts nigh-on interrogated.
As was the case last year, the list has been designed and compiled to shed light on where the value might lie across the industry, and as a basis for discussion – both a snapshot of the moment and a three-year forecast.

The top ten are:
1. Usain Bolt
2. LeBron James
3. Cristiano Ronaldo
4. Lionel Messi
5. Lewis Hamilton
6. Carmelo Anthony
7. Sebastian Vettel
8. Michael Phelps
9. Caroline Wozniacki
10. Mahendra Singh Dhoni

Here are some thoughts from the rest of the list, which you can check out in its entirety here:

  • Usain Bolt is #1 - partly because he's the fastest man on Earth, and partly because his last name is Bolt.
  • LeBron James was #1 on this list last year - no really, he was. Of course that list was named before he became Public Enemy #1 in the eyes everyone on the planet expect Miami Heat bandwaggoners after his 'Decision'. Still, #2 ain't half-bad.
  • The most marketable basketball players, in order, are LeBron James (2), Carmelo Anthony (6), Yao Ming (11), Kobe Bryant (13), Dwyane Wade (15), Kevin Durant (30), Deron Williams (48).
  • Yes, you read that right, Kobe Bryant is 13th - below LeBron, Carmelo, and Yao (!!!). I know Carmelo's Knicks move has been taken into consideration, but then why no Amar'e on this list? Why is Deron Williams there?
  • Why no Derrick Rose on this list? He plays for formerly the most marketable team ever, right.
  • Shaq?
  • I'm surprised Kevin Durant, despite all his talent, made it to 30. Personality-wise, he's about as marketable as white bread.
  • There are two Indians on the top-50 list, both cricketers: MS Dhoni, at an impressive 10th, and Yuvraj Singh, who just makes the cut at 49.
  • Which brings me to my next question: Where the zark is Sachin Tendulkar? He's a friggin God, you know? If every second advertisement on television isn't considered good marketing, then I don't know what is. I know he's old, but this guy is going to remain India's sure shot salesmen for everything from Visa cards to chocolate milk for the next three decades, at least.
  • What is most impressive that is the variety in the top 50 - 18 different sports are represented, including 7 racing drivers, 7 NBA players, and 6 football players.
  • Wow, racing car drivers are popular.
  • Ronaldo and Messi remain virtually inseparable - whether in talent, output in goals, league standings, and now, marketability.
  • I wasn't exactly sure why tennis star Caroline Wozniacki is so marketable, but then I saw this and I shut my mouth.

    In addition, Sports Pro is doing a poll of the world's most marketable retired athletes too, a list that is headlined by Michael Jordan and Zinedine Zidane
  • May 20, 2011

    Vasu Kulkarni, India-raised software entrepreneur bringing a change to basketball analytics

    I've said it before and I'll say it again - if there is one thing my fellow Hindustanis are good at, its software. And when the techie also happens to be a fellow Hoopistani (aka, Hindustani Hoopster), then the result will be Vasu Kulkarni.

    Kulkarni is the young entrepreneur and the CEO of New York based tech company Krossover Intelligence. In (relatively) non-geek terms, this is what their most well-known product, the Krossover Sports Intelligence Platform does: It is an on-demand video analysis tool that provides basketball coaches with indexed tags on every possession of the game. The video of a basketball game is broken down into these short clips and statistics can be generated based on the tags. The tags identify hundreds of events in the game, such as shots, steals, and fouls. These tags can then be accessed from the Krossover website by the coaches and sorted into a database. Coaches can go in-depth to see each aspect of the game, saving time on sorting out minute details of the game tape themselves, and can even create customised highlight reels. The software is also useful for players and for fans/media, who can check out personalised statistics, film, and highlights.

    It's a great piece of software making life easy for several coaches in the US right now. From an article on Kulkarni/Krossover from Fast Company:

    Krossover, which went live in late 2010, is making inexpensive analytics tools available over the web for basketball and lacrosse coaches at small colleges and high schools.

    And all of it is the brainchild of an unlikely basketball polymath raised in Bangalore, India, playing on a dirt court outfitted with homemade backboards and rims.
    Vasu Kulkarni, now 25, had been a star on his high-school basketball team in India -- at 5-foot-10 and 135 pounds. When Kulkarni moved to the United States to attend the University of Pennsylvania, he thought he was good enough to try out for the basketball team. He got crushed by far bigger and better-coached players. "I didn't know there was such a huge discrepancy between where I came from and here," Kulkarni told me as he downed breakfast at the Reebok Sports Club in New York. Kulkarni, though, worked out and bulked up until, in his senior year, he walked on and made the Penn junior varsity.
    While on the Penn team -- often on the bench -- Kulkarni got a view of the scorekeeper who used pen and paper to mark down everything that happened in a game. The notes would later get tallied by hand into statistics.
    By the time Kulkarni graduated, he was convinced that technology could make better use of such stats. He built a service that allows coaches and players to locate specific shots in game video with the click of a button. A friend invested $50,000, and Kulkarni's deceptively simple idea became a startup.

    "The big picture for us is content," Kulkarni says. "These are lifelong memories of playing high-school and college basketball, with stats."

    As of April, Krossover had about 65 basketball teams as customers; he's hoping to sign up 500 by year's end. The company recently launched a similar product for lacrosse, and Kulkarni says it's building versions for volleyball and football.

    Kulkarni, who on his website mentions that he is athlete and then an entrepreneur, has done well to take his love for the game of basketball to the next level. was a part of the JV Basketball Team at the University of Pennsylvania where he also earned a BS in Computer and Telecommunications Engineering, and Entrepreneurship. He was also amongst the 2010 Finalists of the Bloomberg Businessweek's America's Best Young Entrepreneurs.

    The Krossover platform has already been used to index over 200,000 possessions in basketball and other sports, like Lacrosse, Volleyball, American Football, and Ice Hockey.

    Interested? What are you waiting for? Watch a product demo here.

    May 19, 2011

    Brandon Jennings in India: “Basketball is an easy game that anyone can enjoy”

    Brandon Jennings isn’t exactly the typical NBA star. While most of the NBA’s best players follow a similar path to stardom (High school star, College star, lottery pick in the draft, and then, slowly growing into a productive NBA player), Jennings took a different route that took him from the West to East to the West, and in this journey, he has collected a plethora of experiences that make him the unique player that he is today.

    From Compton (California) to Rome (Italy) to Milwaukee (Wisconsin), and now, the Milwaukee Bucks point guard who has just completed his second professional year in the NBA, added two more destinations to his resume: the cities of Mumbai and Pune in Maharashtra, India. In the process, Jennings became the 16th NBA/WNBA player/legend to visit India over the past three years. He came to this country following the footsteps of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol last year, but Jennings is a different case.

    Firstly, it’s his height: Troy Justice, the Director of Basketball Operations in NBA India, said that the NBA was adamant in making sure that this time around, a smaller player is brought over to India so that even the young players who aren’t gifted with naturally bigger bodies can feel encouraged that they can work hard to stand amongst the best in the world. At 6 foot 1 inch, Jennings is one of the shorter players in the NBA, but that hasn’t stopped him from being a burgeoning superstar.

    This is his story, so far, in summary: He was one of the most acclaimed high school stars in the USA, before he skipped college and headed to play professional basketball in Europe, playing amongst the best in the world, far away from home, at the tender age of 18. He came back to the NBA a year later, was picked 10th by the Milwaukee Bucks, and had a successful rookie year, highlighted by a 55-point performance in just his seventh NBA game.

    Last week, Jennings came to India where he took part in several programmes. He participated in the ‘Magic Bus’ programme to hold a basketball clinic for kids from vulnerable communities. He attended and judged the Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA National Skills Challenge Finals on May 15 in Mumbai. And he traveled to Pune to become the first NBA player to visit the city, where he also held Jr. NBA/WNBA and NBA Cares clinics.

    I got the opportunity to hold a short Q & A session with Jennings at the end of his trip in India. In addition to several questions that I threw at him concerning the present and future of basketball in India and of his own play in the NBA, I also asked him a few questions sent over to me by Jennings fans via Twitter. Enjoy!

    Hoopistani: Is this your first time in India? How has the trip been so far?

    Jennings: Yes it is my first time here. The trip is going really well, although I am a little jet-lagged! I have had some incredible food in India, and I’ve especially enjoyed the fish and chicken dishes. Mumbai reminds me a lot of New York City, because it’s a city that is always alive and busy. The weather has been good, too.
    Of course, the highlight of my trip here has been the experiences I’ve had teaching kids the fundamentals of basketball.

    Hoopistani: What has been the most memorable experience of your time in India?

    Jennings: Just getting the opportunity to observe the Indian talent and work with them has been great. I have seen a lot of talent in India, and the kids are very eager to learn.

    Hoopistani: You worked with the Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA programme – how do you rate the talent level of the kids you saw there?

    Jennings: The game of basketball is still relatively new to these kids – but I’ll say that they have the fundamentals and the mentality right. They want to be good at basketball – and from what I saw, they listen to their coaches and have been coached very well.

    Hoopistani: You also took part in the ‘Magic Bus’ NBA Cares programme (a not-for-profit organisation using ‘sport for development’ for underprivileged childrend) in Mumbai – tell me about that experience?

    Jennings: That was tough – I was teaching fundamentals to children who didn’t know anything about basketball. Many of them didn’t even have shoes on their feet. They played barefoot or in sandals. It took me back to my younger days in the hood I grew up in where I played against guys who couldn’t afford to buy shoes.
    But the wonderful part was that they were eager to learn the game of basketball and have fun. They understood me and we enjoyed the experience.

    Hoopistani: What do you think India needs to do to raise the level of the game here?

    Jennings: The first thing is that we must accept that cricket is the #1 sport in India – basketball might not get to the top but it can be the #2 sport here. To raise the level of the game, the young players just have to keep practicing hard. Basketball is an easy and a fun game that anyone can enjoy.

    Hoopistani: You have a unique view of global basketball, especially after your experience in Italy. Do you think playing away from the USA for a year improved your game?

    Jennings: I didn’t go to college in the USA and became a professional at 18, and I stayed with my family overseas. Playing with grown men at that age helped me mature my game a lot. It also brought in certain habits that are common in the European game, such as twice-a-day practices which instilled a habit of hard work in me. All that hard work helped me raise my game to the next level.
    Before the NBA Draft in 2009, many of the people hadn’t really seen me play for a long time or knew about my game. I think it helped me, because they were curious to see what I had learnt in Europe and that’s why I got picked 10th.

    Hoopistani: What do you predict for the future of global basketball?

    Jennings: The game of basketball is getting everywhere now. I’ve seen it being played all over the world. The NBA is doing a good job in promoting the game, and in India, the sport is growing and getting a big response.
    The international competition in the game of basketball is getting great. We have seen this for several years now, and we saw it in the Final of the Beijing Olympics, where a very talented USA team had a hard time beating Spain.

    Hoopistani: What is so special about the game of basketball that it can be embraced by so many worldwide?

    Jennings: Basketball is a simple game – you can put up a hoop anywhere and play. It’s unique, easy, and fun. You don’t even need too many people to get started – it can be played one-or-one or five-or-five. It’s this simplicity that makes it such a popular sport.

    Fan Question- Karan Talwar, New Delhi: What do you think about the new point guard revolution in the NBA?

    Jennings: I think it’s great – it’s a new era. I love that some of the best players in the NBA are now smaller guards. Especially with someone like Derrick Rose winning the MVP, it gives other point guards hope for the future.

    Fan Question- Kaushik Lakshman, Bangalore: How did the European experience give you an edge last season? How is the style of play different there?

    Jennings: I got to travel all around Europe and play some of the best talent in the continent – the Euroleague is the second-best league in the world after the NBA and the competition was tough. The style of play in Europe focuses more on team ball, and it is never about just one player. That habit naturally rubbed off on me and it helped me play with the team-ball philosophy in the Bucks.

    Fan Question- David Stern, Milwaukee (USA): What will be the goals for the Bucks in the upcoming season?

    Jennings: We want to bring the winning mentality back into the team. We are hoping to finish top five in the Eastern conference, and get back the same form and team chemistry we had in my rookie season.

    May 18, 2011

    Cavs win 2011 draft lottery

    There are some smaller market teams who, for the longest time, remain shunned from the limelight. Whether they perform well or badly or anything, they remain mostly anonymous, especially in comparison to the Los Angeles', the New Yorks, the Miamis, the Bostons, or the Chicagos.

    The Cleveland Cavaliers are not one of those teams.

    It is been quite a decade for the Cavs, hasn't it? And no matter what their ups and downs have been, they have somehow remained relevant, remained breaking news.

    The Cavs won the draft lottery in 2003, just in time to pick a certain fresh-faced high-schooler by the name of LeBron James as the first pick of the draft. It was a no-brainer of a pick, and LeBron paid them back well during his years. He won rookie of the year and a few years later, Cleveland, who had suffered a history of sporting heartbreaks, was suddenly a major contender. Not only were they winning basketball games but they were also winning the hearts of bandwagon fans from across the world. This was a team that historically didn't make the playoffs very often, and when it did, it didn't get very far.

    Suddenly, the Wine, Gold, and White colours of the Cavs were sexy. Suddenly, every second basketball fan was a Cavs fan in his/her James 23 jersey. LeBron took the Cavs to an NBA Finals appearance and twice helped them finish with the best record in the league. He changed the face of the franchise.

    We all know what happened then, right? LeBron made a 'Decision', packed his bag, and joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami Heat, South Beach. The Cavs were left with nothing. Suddenly, we started to see blowout losses and a 26-game losing streak. Suddenly, I began to wonder, where had all the Cavs fans gone?

    People connected with the Cavs organisation reacted sharply to LeBron's decision, from owner Dan Gilbert writing him a scathing open letter to fans burning his jersey and cursing his name. Things became so bad that the only real identity they had for 2010-11 season was that they were 'LeBron's Ex'.

    But on Lottery Night for the 2011 draft, the Cavs won their chance at redemption. The lottery bounced the right way for Cleveland, and they scored two picks of the top five of the draft, including the #1 pick. What was perhaps ironic that the pick that won them the #1 spot wasn't their own to begin with, but a pick they had received in a trade from the Clippers earlier in the season. (Aaah! the Clippers luck continues - but that's another story).

    What is perhaps also intriguing is that, eight years ago, the last time that the Cavs won the first pick, the talent level was mesmerisingly good - as a matter of fact, 2003 is considered to be one of the best draft classes ever, featuring: All NBA-ers LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh; All Stars Chris Kaman, David West, Josh Howard, Mo Williams, other great role players like Kirk Hinrich, TJ Ford, Mickaël Piétrus, Nick Collison, Boris Diaw, Kendrick Perkins, Leandro Barbosa, Luke Walton, Steve Blake, Zaza Pachulia, Matt Bonner, James Jones, Kyle Korver, and a certain bust named Darko Milicic.

    The 2011 Class, unfortunately, is considered to be one of the worst. In an article by Marc J. Spears for Yahoo! Sports, one Western Conference GM called the pool of available player "horrendous". If the Cavs really did win big, the general consensus is that they won big at the worst time possible.

    Of course, no one can fully predict how well or how badly the current draft class will do as pros. The Cavs are expected to make Duke's point guard Kyrie Irving into the first pick, a player in the mould of Chris Paul who is expected to finally give a new identity to LeBron's Ex-es. Other big names in the draft include power forward Derrick Williams, NCAA tournament winning PG Kemba Walker, Lithuanian Center Jonas Valanciunas, and PG Brandon Knight.

    Here is the order at which the lottery teams will be making their picks come draft day, June 23.

    1. Cleveland Cavaliers (via LA Clippers)
    2. Minnesota Timberwolves
    3. Utah Jazz (via New Jersey Nets)
    4. Cleveland Cavaliers
    5. Toronto Raptors
    6. Washington Wizards
    7. Sacramento Kings
    8. Detroit Pistons
    9. Charlotte Bobcats
    10. Milwaukee Bucks
    11. Golden State Warriors
    12. Utah Jazz
    13. Phoenix Suns
    14. Houston Rockets

    The other 16 playoff teams will pick in the opposite order of their end-of-season record.

    May 17, 2011

    Basketball Federation of India Signs World-Class Coaches to Lead Indian National Basketball Teams

    BFI Appoints experienced former NBA and elite U.S. college coaches to take training and development efforts to the next level for both players and coaches

    New Delhi, May 17, 2011: The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) has announced the appointment of three preeminent American coaches to lead India’s men’s and women’s national basketball teams, and further the BFI’s grassroots growth of the game in India. Kenny Natt, with 3 years playing and 13 years coaching experience in the National Basketball Association (NBA), was named as the Head Coach of the Indian Men’s Senior Team, and esteemed U.S. college men’s and women’s coaching veteran Pete Gaudet as the Head Coach of the Indian Women’s Senior Team. Natt and Gaudet will be taking over the reins from Bill Harris and Tamika Raymond, respectively, who led such efforts in 2010. Additionally, Zak Penwell, a highly trained, experienced, and regarded strength & conditioning coach will serve in that capacity to support all men’s and women’s national basketball team efforts. All the three coaches will be based at the Basketball Federation of India in New Delhi.

    IMG Reliance, which recently partnered with BFI to develop the sport of basketball in the country, was instrumental in identifying and forging the relationships with this top coaching talent.

    For 13 seasons, Kenny Natt was an assistant coach for the NBA’s Utah Jazz, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Sacramento Kings, including as the head coach of the Kings during the 2008-09 NBA season. The Players coached by Natt include NBA legends John Stockton and Karl Malone, as well as current NBA superstar LeBron James. Natt also had a 3-year NBA playing career with the Indiana Pacers and the Jazz, having been the 7th pick in the 2nd round of the 1980 NBA Draft.

    The epitome of an accomplished basketball coaching veteran, Pete Gaudet has been in basketball for more than 40 years and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the position. He has coached both men and women at the highest levels of American college basketball, including positions at West Point, Duke University, Vanderbilt, and The Ohio State University, and has extensive technical and international basketball experience. While at Duke, Gaudet won 2 NCAA men’s championships and made 7 Final Fours, coaching 8 All-Americans, 3 national players of the year, and 12 NBA draft picks.

    As the BFI’s Strength & Conditioning Coach, Zak Penwell will be responsible for developing and implementing specialized nutritional, strength training, and conditioning programs for all Indian national men’s and women’s teams. He will also advise Indian coaches throughout the BFI system to enhance and nurture the development of top basketball talent throughout the country. Penwell comes most recently from Scotland’s Sportscotland Institute of Sport, where he worked with athletes from a range of national teams including swimming, basketball, sprint canoe, judo, rugby, golf, curling, triathlon, and field hockey. Since 2006 he has spent over 40,000 athlete contact hours in the weight room, with over 550 elite collegiate and international-level athletes. Penwell is a graduate of the U.S. men’s and women’s college basketball power the University of Connecticut, where he earned two degrees from the top Kinesiology program in America.

    In addition to individual skill development and team coaching of the elite men’s and women’s players in India, Natt, Gaudet, and Penwell will play integral roles in the development of basketball coaching talent in the country, educating and mentoring Indian basketball coaches throughout the BFI system. They will also be deeply involved in construction of the BFI’s and IMGR’s overall basketball development plan for both the Youth and Senior Men’s and Women’s National Team programs.

    “We are excited beyond words to bring on board these three incredible coaches, who will play a critical role in helping us achieve our vision of growing basketball in India by developing and showcasing the best player and coaching talent in the country,” commented Mr. Harish Sharma, BFI Chief Executive Officer. “The introduction of this wealth of basketball knowledge and ability is a watershed moment for Indian basketball.”

    “IMG Reliance played a pivotal role in making this foundation for the future a reality, and is indicative of the tremendous potential that the BFI-IMG Reliance relationship holds to take basketball to greater heights in India."

    Sharma added: “The support given to the BFI and IMGR by the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports of the Government of India was instrumental in making the hiring of the coaches possible. The Government of India continues to offer its full backing of our vision for growing the sport of basketball in the country.”

    “IMGR’s relationship with BFI has been an endorsement of the true spirit of partnership,” said Bobby Sharma, IMG Senior Vice President, Global Business Development, Basketball. “The support from management at the BFI for our ideas and the framework for the sport of basketball in India has been wholehearted. The appointment of these world-class coaches marks the beginning of an exciting journey, and we are confident that the elite Indian basketball players and coaches will begin to have their true potential unlocked before our eyes, under the guidance and leadership of Kenny, Pete and Zak. In line with the vision articulated by Mrs. Nita Ambani and the active support from the BFI, IMG Reliance looks forward to encouraging the growth of this talent pool of young Indian men and women, as they compete internationally and successfully represent India on the world stage.”

    May 16, 2011

    Brandon Jennings attends finals of Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA National Skills Challenge

    Danish Qureshi of Hume High School, Mumbai and Nishanti of St. Joseph’s Anglo Indian Secondary School, Chennai were crowned champions in the Jr. NBA and Jr WNBA National Skills Challenge and earned an all-expense paid trip to the NBA headquarters in the US.

    Together with 50 of the most skilled youngsters of the 10-12 year age group, Qureshi and Nishanti exhibited their skills at the National Finals of the Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA National Skills Challenge at the Indian Gymkhana basketball courts on Sunday evening.

    The event was attended by Brandon Jennings, star NBA player of the Milwaukee Bucks, who was also a judge at the finals. Jennings handed the winners their trophy and their prizes. Impressed by the talent displayed by some of the kids, and gave the students some useful tips on the game and demonstrated a few tricks, too.

    Geethu Anna Jose, the former captain of the Indian women national team, too was pleased with the talent and determination displayed by some of the students and had encouraging words for the winners, who will have the opportunity to train with an NBA coach, visit the NBA league headquarters and historic landmarks in New York.

    The Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA program in India, supported by Basketball Federation of India (BFI), HP, Spalding, and Ten Sports saw around 500 schools from five cities participate in the Skills Challenge, a competition that tests the participants’ abilities in various basketball fundamentals, including dribbling, passing, and shooting.

    2011 Conference Finals Predictions

    I realise that, unlike my past prediction article, this one has a weird timing around it - after all, the Conference Finals have already technically begun, as the Bulls have destroyed the Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals already. But you have to blame Oprah Winfrey for that one: between the last game of the 2nd round (Thunder vs Grizzlies Game 7) and the first game of the Conference Finals was a gap of only 2 hours.

    Anyways, I don't think it needs to be reiterated that these have been some of the most unpredictable playoffs in recent years. The Hawks and the Grizzlies caused the big upsets as they entered the second round, and then the Mavs' demolition of the Lakers left a lot of predictors (including me) shell-shocked. Still, I got three of my four Conference-Finalists (Bulls, Heat, Thunder) right - now let's see where they go from here.

    Before we delve into the Conference Finals, let's take a quick recap of the second round. The story of the round was definitely the Mavericks, who rode the hot hand and mental toughness of Dirk Nowitzki to sweep the two-time defending champions. I'll hand my unofficial player of the round award to Dirk - the numbers are great, not amazing, but Dirk's value to his team is unmatched. Gotta give some credit to Zach Randolph, who despite a loss left a large impression on the league, and to his opponent Kevin Durant, who had some big games in the round and stepped up in a crucial Game 7 with 39 and 9 to lead his team to the next round. In the East, Derrick Rose continued to do his thing and LeBron and Wade played at the peak of their powers to eliminate the dangerous Celtics' side.

    While the great older powers of Boston, LA and Spurs fell, the youth has emerged in the form of Derrick Rose's Bulls and Durant-Westbrook Thunder. This will be the first NBA Finals in 13 years without either Shaq, Kobe, or Duncan participating. This will be only the second time in the last 13 years that the West won't be won by either the Lakers or the Spurs - the only other time was when the Mavs won it in 2006! The four conference-finalists this year all failed to make it past the first round last season!

    So here we are, on the cusp of a new era. When it's all said and then, the championship this year will either be won by a talented player with regular season success but post-season disappointed (LeBron or Dirk) or by a young player taking a leap much quicker than anyone expected (Rose or Durant). Of course, there is also Dwyane Wade, the only remaining all star with a championship ring, who won it in 2006 beating Nowitzki's Mavs.

    Eastern Conference Finals: (1) Bulls vs. (2) Heat

    Despite all the upsets and surprises, the East Finals find themselves exactly where they should be, in a battle between the first and second best Eastern teams of the regular season. It has been a great season for Chicago, led by MVP Derrick Rose and Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau. The Bulls had an uncertain start to the playoffs after an underwhelming performance against the Pacers and just-about-average series against Atlanta, but they have seemingly gotten better as the playoffs have progressed. Now, after blowing out Miami in Game 1, Chicago is showing its full potential, as a team where Derrick Rose scores at will and scores the big buckets, Luol Deng plays tough defense and scores important points, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah command the paint, and the support crew make crucial contributions. The Bulls have been the league's best defensive team, and that defense is on fire right now. They have played their best game in Game 1 - now it's Miami's turn to retaliate. They were able to shut down both LeBron and Wade, but you can't keep such incredible talents down forever.

    The Heat did get exposed for their lack of depth in Game 1, but no one (including the Bulls) is expecting the other games in this series to end the same way. Chris Bosh regained some confidence after a big game today, but really, this team wins if LeBron and Wade make big contributions, which I think they will. There is too much hunger in Miami to bow down so easily - and someone else from their bench, like Mike Bibby, James Jones, Mike Miller, or Udonis Haslem - will have to step up.

    These two teams have so many undercurrent connections between them: during the Free Agent Class of 2010, when Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh were all free agents, Chicago, who had the money, tried to signed each of them at some point or the other and pair them up with Derrick Rose. It never happened, and the three ended up signing together in Miami, and played well enough to finish second in the East. The Bulls, meanwhile, picked up their pieces, brought in Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver, brought in new coach Thibodeau, and saw Rose emerge into an MVP, and in the process, they finished with a better record than Miami! Additionally, Chicago is a homecoming of sorts for Dwyane Wade, who grew up there - this will be an interesting time for him since he has struggled at the United Center in the past.

    When it's all said and then, I expect this to be a long, back and forth series, where perspectives will change after every game. In the end, I think the Bulls' depth and home-court advantage will help them make it to the NBA Finals after seven games. Chicago Bulls win 4-3

    Western Conference Finals: (3) Mavericks vs. (4) Thunder

    First off - my apology to the Mavs and the Mavs fans - I never had faith in this team. Not for their on-paper talent, because they have one of the deepest and most balanced rosters in the NBA. No, my doubts sprung from the Mavericks' shoddy track record. They never seemed to show enough mental strength and whenever a potential upset could happen with this side, a potential upset did happen! Not this year though. This year, I doubted them in the first round, and they beat the Blazers. I doubted them in the second round, and they swept the Lakers. No more doubts! Dallas is legit, physically and mentally now. I expect this team to play in a similar way against Thunder as they did against Lakers, and I expect Nowitzki to continue the hunger for his first ring. Plus Kidd, Terry, Barea, Marion, Chandler, Stevenson, Peja etc will continue making big contributions. The only negative against the Mavs currently is that this team may be slightly rusty after such a long break without games.

    The Thunder, on the other hand, have been the model of inconsistency in the second round. The Grizzlies presented them with a mismatch because of their strong interior play, and OKC's troubles with finding their own identity caused this young team to stutter a few extra steps in the second round. Still, on the positive side, Kevin Durant emerged as one of the game's best closers and took the leap after the big Game 7 performance. Russell Westbrook showed the potential of this team if he played like a true point guard, and if all their other pieces play their role - Harden, Ibaka, Collisson, Perkins - this team can play well against the more finesse-minded Mavs.

    Still though, the experience of the Mavs, coupled with the fact that OKC might be emotionally drained-out after the seven game series, will give the team from Dallas the advantage. The Mavericks will be better at executing the right plays, and barring a super-human effort from Durant-Westbrook, I say they will win this series in six games. Dallas Mavericks win 4-2.

    So those are my predictions - A Bulls-Mavericks final - Tell me what you think will happen in this round?