July 30, 2013

Preview: India, Rebooted, head to Manila for the 27th FIBA Asia Basketball Championship

The team is set. The players are ready, practiced, and confident. And the coach has given them all his preperatory wisdom over the last few months as possible. For India's National Basketball Team, the 'Road to Manila' for the 2013 FIBA Asia Basketball Championship in the Philippines has concluded. And now, the continent's most prestigious basketball challenge awaits them ahead.

But before we look ahead, we should look back a little. There was a lot of optimism around Indian Basketball in 2011. The team was heading to Wuhan, China, for the 26th FIBA Asia Championship with a former NBA Coach Kenny Natt at the helm. They were packed with the perfect balance of youth and experience and loaded with some good young bigs. They had practiced hard and raised expectations. After finishing in the bottom half of the table year after year, there was some hope that this team could break into the top eight. They dominated the qualifiers and looked ready to make an upset or two.

Instead, the Wuhan 2011 campaign was an unfortunate failure. India returned from the tournament without a single win on the court, and earned a ‘victory’ only in the record books after Qatar was forced to forfeit their classification round game. India’s 1-4 record landed them at 14th place (out of 16 in Asia), and the Natt experiment saw their standing fall below even their previous finishes.

The rise of Indian Basketball took an abrupt pause soon after. The federation's head honcho Harish Sharma tragically passed away in early 2012 and Kenny Natt's sojourn with India ended earlier than expected, fizzling out a period of great promise and potential.

Two years after Wuhan, India's Basketball squad will get another shot at Asia's finest tournament, and this time around, the expectations have been curbed to allow a new rebooted generation of players and coaches to take some baby steps back into the path of improvement.

Formerly a head coach with NBDL side Texas Legends, Scott Flemming was appointment the Head Coaching position with India's Senior Men's squad late last year and has brought back some cautious optimism with a remodeled and younger Indian team. Flemming, who has promised to focus on bringing consistency and continuity to Indian Basketball, will face his biggest challenge starting on August 1, in India's first game against Bahrain. And expect the challenges to keep getting bigger from there on forth.

This will be India's 22nd appearance in the FIBA ABC, but their finest days - two fourth-place finishes back in the mid-60s and mid 70s - are decades behind them. India qualified for the tournament this year easily by winning the SABA (South Asian Basketball Association) Zone Qualifiers in New Delhi in early June against Afghanistan and Nepal. India's preperation for the FIBA ABC also took them to Turkey for the past 10 days, where they played against four clubs from the nearby region and won each game by impressive blowouts. Owing to the weak stature of their opponents so far, the team has looked dominant and been undefeated in the Flemming era.

Expect that to change against the big boys in Asia in the Philippines.

India have been drawn in the relatively easy Group D at Manila 2013, against Bahrain, Thailand, and Kazakhstan. Going strictly by the FIBA rankings, the only team 'better' than India in the group are Kazakhstan, by just one spot. If focused, India should not have any trouble against Bahrain and Thailand, and if truly ambitious, can dream of defeating the athletic Kazakhs, too.

The top three teams from the Group will move on to the Second Round Group F, where they will join the top three teams from the powerhouse Group C, which are most likely to be China, Korea, and Iran (Group C has Malaysia, too). If India make it to Group F, they will play their next three games against these three teams, and their accumulated points from the previous two rounds (or six games) will determine their standings for the Quarter-Finals of the event.

India hasn't made it to the top eight of the FIBA ABC since 2003, and have finished 12th, 15th, 13th, and 14th in subsequent years since in the biennial competition. If they can finish amongst top four of the six teams in Group F - a tough task since it will be near impossible to upstage powerhouses like China, Korea, and Iran - they will get entry into the top eight and the quarter-finals. From then on forth, the knockout round will begin on August 9th. If India is knocked out earlier, they will play in classification round games to determine their final spot.

The tournament's finale is scheduled for August 11th.

Flemming has made several changes to the squad that was representing India in Wuhan, leaving out big name players like TJ Sahi, Trideep Rai, Jagdeep Singh Bains, and Prakash Mishra and encouraged a generation of younger players to merge into the senior squad. Representing India will be their excellent captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, talented youthful big men Amrit Pal Singh and Amjyot Singh, energy-boost Yadwinder Singh, experienced point guard Sambhaji Kadam, and a supporting cast that includes Joginder Singh, Narender Kumar Grewal, Vinay Kaushik, Arjun Singh, Pratham Singh and Rikin Pethani. The man in the middle - or should we say the boy in the middle - will be India's 17-year-old, 7-foot-2 phenom who will garner the most attention and interest at the tournament, Satnam Singh Bhamara. By now, Satnam's story of rapid improvement at the IMG Academy in Florida are well know. The youngster, who played a bit role in Wuhan two years ago, will be hoping to breakout against Asia's best over the next two crucial weeks. Long-plagued for not having the size to compete against stronger frontlines in the past, the likes of Satnam, Amjyot, Amrit Pal, and Pethani will now make India one of the tallest sides in the competitions.

If I had to guess, India's starting lineup would be with Joginder at the point, Vishesh and Narender on the wings, and Yadwinder and Satnam in the post. Kadam will provide maturity on the point off the bench and Amjyot and Amrit Pal will come boost the front line whenever required. Coach Flemming seems to be flexible with his tactics and will probably adjust according to the competition.

Only 15 teams will be participating in Manila after Lebanon were suspended by FIBA in August: hosts Philippines, holders China, reigning silver medalists Jordan, reigning bronze medalists Korea, Chinese Taipei, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Japan, Qatar, Iran, Malaysia, Bahrain, India, Kazakhstan, and Thailand. Despite going through a downward spiral recently, China - record 15-time winners of the tournament - are still the team to beat in Asia and have been bolstered with the good news that Yi Jianlian will be participating in the tournament, too. Iran, Jordan, Korea, and Japan also feature some great players and will be amongst the teams to watch at the tournament. Boosted by a fervent, basketball-crazy home support, the Philippines could spring some surprises, too.

Our eyes though will be firmly on Team India and their hopes of a respectable finish at the tournament. Check out India's full schedule and roster here to be prepared for the road ahead. And follow the rebooted squad as they hope to bury the ghosts of Wuhan and turn some heads over in Manila.

Team India concludes practice run in Istanbul with four easy wins

In preparation for the biggest Asian basketball tournament – the 27th FIBA Asia Championship for Men to be held in Manila from August 1 – India’s National Basketball squad spent the last nine days in Istanbul (Turkey) with their Head Coach Scott Flemming, taking part in intense training and scrimmages from various squads from across the region. India won all four of their practice games by blowout margins.

India’s final 12-man roster chosen to represent the country at the FIBA ABC in Manila was revealed last earlier this month, and Flemming – formerly coach of the NBDL side Texas Legends – took the same squad of players to Turkey for friendly matches.

Here are the results, via the Basketball Federation of India:

July 22: India bt. Pasa Yildirim Club 91-49
July 25: India bt. Professional Club from Cameroon 108-65
July 26: India bt. Combined Turkish Club 82-51
July 27: India bt. Tildirim Bosna Club 88-50

The Indian squad has now left for Manila, and their next game will be in their tournament opener against Bahrain on Wednesday, August 1. India are in Group D of the FIBA Asia Championship, along with Bahrain, Thailand, and Kazakhstan.

July 29, 2013

USA win fifth consecutive title at FIBA U19 World Championship for Women

USA continued their dominance in the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women by winning their fifth consecutive gold (and sixth in seven) at the tournament with a final win over France at the 2013 championship in Klaipeda, Lithuania on Sunday. The American girls were undefeated in the tournament - which began back on July 18th - and dominated France with a 61-28 victory in the finale.

At the heart of their memorable final performance was their lock down defense in the second half, where USA only held France to eight points. Breanna Stewart led the way with 16 points and nine rebounds.

Stewart was also named MVP of the tournament, following up as her finish in the All Tournament team at the competition two years ago in Chile as well.

The final was America's second win over France in the tournament, after edging them 69-63 in the Eighth-Final round stage earlier.

On Sunday, the Bronze Medal game was also held between Australia and Spain, a close-fought contest as Australia made a strong second half comeback to edge Spain 73-68. Carley Mijovic (25) and Stephanie Tolbot (22) led the way for the Australians, while Leticia Romero Gonzalez had 16 points for Spain.

A day earlier, France had edged Spain 62-58 in a thrilling semi-final using a balanced scoring attack and overcoming 27 points and 10 rebounds by Spain's Astou Ndour. In the second semi-final, USA had no trouble cruising past Australia 77-54 behind 23 points and eight rebounds by Breanna Stewart.

Final Standings

1. USA
2. France
3. Australia
4. Spain
5. China

All Tournament Team

Breanna Stewart (USA)
Olivia Epoupa (France)
Jamie Weisner (Canada)
Stephanie Talbot (Australia)
Astou Ndour (Spain)

July 25, 2013

Dwayne Wade: Three (Is the Magic Number)

This feature was first published as the cover story in the 111th edition (2013 - No. 14) of SLAM China Magazine. Here is my original English version of the story.

Everything had to be perfect.

Dwyane Wade’s red blazer had to match his new fiery-red shoes. It had to be left unbuttoned, to show off just enough of the red and black T-shirt he wore inside. The frame of his sunglasses had to match the colours of his suit. The background had to merge with everything together, and the intensely bright lights that shone on him at the photo shoot in Shanghai had to amplify the superstar that shone brighter than all of them.

He sat down for a different shot, taking a seat that would signify his throne. And he took the look of a man who had reached the top of the scale with fiery competitiveness, and yet, exuded the calm of a philosopher-king, of a man at complete ease, or at peace, with his success.

He folded his palm and pinky finger in to throw up his index, middle, and ring fingers up. The number three. On his throne, one of the Kings of the NBA had just won his third championship, and now, here he was celebrating the magic number.


And at guard… standing at 6-foot-4 from Marquette… Number 3… Dwyaaaaaane Waaaadddee!

The Miami Heat are back-to-back NBA champions, and feature perhaps the best basketball player in the world and his name is LeBron James, the man who has been the league’s MVP and the Finals MVP in the last two championship seasons. When the Heat make their pre-game introductions, LeBron is called first, and they always save Dwayne Wade for last. He may not be the Finals MVP or the scoring champion that he once was, but Wade continues to be the heart and soul of the Heat franchise, the man who has had a major role in lifting all three of the Miami Heat championship trophies.

There is another subtle significance in calling Wade out last, as the explosive – if injury-riddled – guard has made a career out of becoming the kind of player who saves his best moments for the very end.

Like the time when, as a rookie for the Miami Heat in 2004, he hit a game-winning shot in the last seconds of the first-ever playoff game of his career.

Like the 2006 NBA Finals, when he saved his four best performances to date for the last four games of the year, defeating the Dallas Mavericks four times in a row after going down 2-0 in the series to lift his first NBA Championship.

Like how he continued to script out a career as one of the game’s greatest clutch players, owning the fourth quarters and dying moments of close games, taking the last shots, making the game-changing defensive plays, and helping to keep a poor Heat team relevant through the tough years that followed his first championship. In the process, he became a yearly entrant into the NBA All Star team, was always hovering around the All NBA Teams, and in 2008, became an Olympian. Despite coming off a serious injury, Wade dominated the 2008 Beijing Olympics to lead the team in scoring and tallying a game high 27 points in 27 minutes of the classic final against Spain to win a gold medal.

Already confirmed his seat amongst the NBA’s greats, Wade then changed the course of history altogether when he recruited LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join the Heat in the summer of 2010. The Big Three was born, and Mr. Number Three, Dwyane Wade, was in the middle of it all.

Since then, the Heat have been to three consecutive NBA Finals and won two more championships, bringing Wade’s tally to three in total. With each passing year, he has given more and more of the team’s helm to LeBron while becoming a support player on his own squad. It is a unique situation where the team’s leader is not their best player any longer. Through injuries, age, and LeBron’s sheer brilliance, Wade has been forced to settle for the role of the NBA’s most dangerous sidekick. But with championships piling up, it seems to a role that he has no trouble accepting.

Many are still in awe of watching LeBron and Wade run in the same team together. True, advance stats prove that the two are perhaps most efficient in a lineup when either one of them is on the floor, but in the rare moments when both of them are functioning at their highest level, the Heat become a juggernaut of historic proportions. Wade’s improvement was a major reason why the Heat won 27 consecutive games this season. And it was his ability to bounce back from injury struggles at crucial moments that aided to their tough second championship.


The defining characteristic of Dwyane Wade’s career hasn’t been the big picture, but the small moments that complete the big picture. Wade has long had the reputation of being the game’s ultimate ‘switch’ player, someone who goes into the highest gear at the most crucial moments. From college, like his much-publicized triple-double against Kentucky in the Elite Eight, to the 2006 Finals, to the Olympic Games, and in small moments in every other season. This included 2012 playoffs when, with the Heat down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers, Wade had his ailing knee drained and came back to completely dominate the next three games to take the Heat into the Conference Finals.

This year, Wade seemed a shade of his former self during most of the playoffs, once again falling victim to the injuries that have long cursed his career. Still, he became the spark for Miami just when they most needed him. He capitalized on the moment to takeover in the close-out Game 5 against the Bulls in the second round. He upped a gear to vanquish the Indiana Pacers in the close-out Game 7 of the Conference Finals. He saved his best performance of the season for Game 4 of the NBA Finals, to save the Heat from going 3-1 down and instead, bouncing back and leveling the series against the Spurs at 2-2.

The Heat were given a second shot at life when they miraculously came back to win Game 6 of the Finals. On the day of Game 7 – the last and most important game of the year – Wade had his knee drained and went through eight hours of game-day therapy. On the night when LeBron brilliantly led the way to a Heat win, Wade also played 39 minutes, scoring 23 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to seal the championship.

Soon after, he changed his Twitter name to simply ‘THREE’. He celebrated with his teammates, and twisted his fingers to throw up the number three to celebrate his own achievements.


The ‘three’ is still up, nearly a month after his championship. He’s far away from the shores of South Beach, but those who welcomed him in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai recognize the significance of that number.

Back in our photo shoot in Shanghai. Wade may have clearly been the sharpest-dressed individual in the studio, but it is those who surround him, in simple white T-shirts, that somehow catch our eye. Their Li Ning shirts all bear the same three letters bearing Wade’s motto for his newest life venture: ‘Wade of Wade’. The motto has become a rallying cry for the star who is charting his own path into greatness.

Last off-season, Dwyane Wade became the biggest NBA superstar to join the Li Ning roster, leaving behind his previous American shoe deal for this surprising and path-breaking new move. To conservative minds, this could be seen as a risky new endeavour for both sides: Li Ning because of Wade’s age and injury, and Wade because of Li Ning’s relative inexperience in untested waters. But for as long as Number Three continues to rack up championships and make game-changing moments, he will continue to be a relevant force around the world. And in the process of success on court, he’ll be able to carry the ambitious young Chinese company to relevancy with him.


After another long season that lasted until the third week of June, followed by championship celebrations and a tour of China, Wade has vowed that he will be giving his knees some much-needed rest. And those knees need the rest as much as he (and his team) needs those knees. His physical, swash-buckling style of play has made him one of the most dominant and exciting players in the league, but it has also accumulated several niggling injuries throughout his career. As he gets older, he will have to evolve his game to remain amongst the league’s elite and help keep his team in the championship hunt. In a recent interview with USA Today, he mentioned the need to change his game and become a consistent outside shooter for the future.

That will be one of major questions looking ahead in the career of a player who has never quite excelled in the outside shot throughout his career. The other question concerns not his own status as a player, but the status of the teammates around him. By 2014, the contracts of the Big Three in Miami are set to expire. With more stringent tax rules, it would take highly creative planning to extend LeBron, Wade, and Bosh in Miami together for a few years.

For now, the immediate concern is the near-future. There are going to be many obstacles in their way to another championship: Derrick Rose returns to bolster the Bulls, the Pacers will be hungry and motivated for another shot at Miami, the Nets have made key off-season acquisitions to align themselves for a championship run, and Carmelo Anthony will ensure that the Knicks trouble them in the East too. Out West, the Spurs will be back as ever, Durant and Westbrook will keep the Thunder in the run, the Clippers will be dreaming big, and the Rockets will hope Dwight Howard can make them into contenders. Wade and the Big Three will have to be well-rested, and with all three in their contract years, they will need to produce another historic season if they are to complete their three-peat.

Yet, the philosopher-king seems to be taking it all in his stride. On his throne, fighting for the status of NBA royalty, and still in peace as the mastermind behind his past, present, and future successes. Right now, three is the magic number for Wade, and everything in his world is once again perfect.

But we can be rest assured that he is already thinking about number four…

July 23, 2013

India's Snehal Bendke becomes one of two first women referees to officiate at Men's FIBA Asia Championship

Snehal Bendke has always been ahead of her contemporaries and ahead of her time. While most young basketball lovers focus on playing the sport in their early 20s, Bendke took a different angle and chose to focus on refereeing instead. She became one of India's first women referees to be qualified with a FIBA licence. She has officiated since officiated at women's basketball competition across the globe, including the FIBA World Championship and FIBA Asia Championship, just to name a few.

Now, she's set to make history again. Bendke and Chinese referee Ling Peng will become the first women to officiate games at the highest level of basketball competition for Men, as they have been called up amongst the list of 24 other referees at the 27th FIBA Asia Championship for Men in Manila next week.

“Well. This will be the first time that women referees will officiate in a FIBA Asia Championship." said FIBA Asia Secretary General Hagop Khajirian, "I call this the next step in the evolution of FIBA Asia technical officials. The term FIBA Referee is beyond gender. It does not different differentiate between male and female referees. If a referee is good enough to be called a FIBA Referee, then he or she is capable to officiate any game be it for men or women."

Congrats to Snehal: you can find out more about her through this excellent interview with Gopalakrishnan R. a few months ago on SportsKeeda.

July 22, 2013

Say “Queensbridge”

14 years after the Knicks missed a chance to draft a hometown hero, Ron Artest - or Metta World Peace - comes back home. He isn't in his prime anymore, but after a career from Chicago, Indiana, Sacramento, Houston and Los Angeles, from being the league's best defender, a game-changing performers, making mistakes that marred both his career and his character, and winning a championship, he's back where his basketball career began to play for the New York Knicks.

"Prime ain't nothing but a world... Heart - that's what it really is."

Click here to read full feature.

July 21, 2013

Taking Flight with Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin in Beijing

Earlier this week, I attended an event in Beijing hosted by the Jordan Brand in their 'Take Flight' promotional tour featuring three of the biggest names on their roster: Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks and Clippers teammates Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Missing from the lineup was the fourth big name - Russell Westbrook - who didn't come to China for some reason (injury rehab, perhaps?)

Anyways, the Jordan Brand event in Beijing was glossy, to say the least. The media event was designed like an airport as we literally got ready to 'take flight', with boarding passes as entry tickets and ushers dressed up as flight attendants. Melo, Paul, and Griffin were interviewed by Jordan representatives about their time in China, their new shoes, and about the upcoming season.

The three players talked about their most memorable moments of the past season. For Chris Paul, it was the All Star weekend, where he ended up winning the MVP award for the first time. For Carmelo Anthony, it was the stretch in early April, when he scored 90 points in two games on 66 percent shooting. For Blake Griffin, the moment was the Clippers' 17 game winning streak back in December.

All three players spoke about the influence of Michael Jordan on their careers, whose shoes they now bear as they have become stars in their own right. They also mentioned playing and coaching in a five-quarter game with young basketball enthusiasts in Beijing the night before.

The 'Take Flight Tour' headed to Shanghai and other Chinese cities, too. Here is a video of some of the events in Beijing via Carmelo Anthony's website.

July 20, 2013

Alvida Bosh: A Bosh-tastic trip comes to an end in India

Can you believe that it only lasted four days? Less than a month after winning his second consecutive championship with the Miami Heat, eight-time NBA All Star Chris Bosh came to India for the first time on July 16, spending four very productive days in Mumbai. Dozens of NBA players, WNBA players, or former stars of the game have already visited India in the past, a list that included All Stars like Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol in 2010, but Bosh's trip this year was by far the most engaging for NBA fans in India.

NBA India has existed for over half a dozen years already, already feature an India-centric website (with weekly features by yours truly), a hugely popular Facebook page, a brand new office in Mumbai, dedicated staff that travel around the nation preaching the gospel of hoops, and a plethora of different annual events around India including grassroots leagues and fan interaction festivals to promote both basketball and the NBA. But they made their biggest splash - promotion-wise - with the Bosh visit, and have perhaps been able to truly expand their fan-base beyond the niche hardcore hoop-heads to the larger mainstream populace of India.

Bosh, known back in his homeland for being one of the league's great big men, the third star in the NBA's most successful team, and a world champion photo-bomber, brought his energy to Mumbai for four jam-packed days. Here is a selected recap of his Bost-tastic trip, as he left India last night:

- Before Bosh showed up, NBA India and their broadcast partners Sony SIX ran the ingenius '#NamasteBosh' campaign on Facebook/Twitter and on the TV channel, to get fans hyped up and create a competition where the fans with the best greetings to Bosh would get to meet him in Mumbai.

- Then, Sony SIX created one of the greatest things ever with the #NamasteBosh Hinglish rap song. "Namaste Bosh... Namaste India..." has been stuck in my head for days.

- Bosh finally showed up in Mumbai with his wife and got to work/tour on July 16th. He toured several sites across Mumbai, including the Dhobi Ghat at Cuffe Parade and the famous Gateway of India.

- Oh, and he brought along a replica of the Larry O'Brien Championship trophy with him, too.

- Bosh tried some Indian food and had his fortune told by a palm reader.

- He also headed out to Mumbai's famous Times of India office building where he served as a guest editor in TOI's Sports Page for the next day (remember that two years ago the NBA announced a digital partnership with the TOI group) and answered questions in a fascinating, detailed interview about the NBA Finals, on LeBron James, on Heat fans, and on basketball in India.

- He launched NBA-India's Instagram page.

- Day 2 was a chance for the Indian media to interact with Bosh in lengthy one-on-one interviews, where he spoke about how Indian Basketball is growing every year, how basketball can make space for itself in India despite cricket being number one, and about introducing the element of fun when promoting hoops to the Indian audience.

- Bosh also announced the new season of the NBA Jam - a basketball and music festival - in four Indian cities, which will be held through September.

- And by the end of the day, he ended up socializing with some fringe Bollywood types, including Dino Morea. And this was all just Day 2.

- On Day 3, Bosh quit all the touring and talking about basketball and got down to basketball itself. This was the day that he first held an Elite Development Basketball Basketball Clinic with up-and-coming young players of the country.

- This clinic was held with NBA Cares event at the Magic Bus camp, an NGO dedicated to mentoring less-fortunate children, who have been involved with NBA Cares for the past few years in Mumbai. Bosh shared some of his basic knowledge and basketball drills with the kids of Magic Bus, too.

- At the Don Bosco School in Mathunga, fans from the city were given a chance to drop in and have a chance to meet Bosh.

- On this day, Bosh also made an appearance at Radio One Mumbai for a chat with RJ Rishi K. The interview aired the next morning on Radio One.

- July 19th was his last day in the country. NBA India had asked their fans on Facebook to send questions for the big man. On this day, my NBA-India co-blogger Akshay Manwani sat down with Bosh for an interview where he also passed on many of the fans' questions.

- Later, made a visit to the Wilson College in Mumbai to tip off their annual festival (Polaris), where he interacted with students and gave away some of those awesome '#NamasteBosh' T-shirts.

- And so, his trip came to an end on Day 4. Of course, fans across the country would've wanted Bosh to visit other cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and more, too. While Bosh couldn't see any of India outside of Mumbai, those in India's largest city got a heavy dose of the NBA star, as he was basically everywhere, and talked about basically everything.

India gave a pretty memorable greeting to Bosh, so this particular 'Namaste' would be remembered forever by both sides. Now, it's time for us to say 'Alvida' to the big man, but since Kishore Kumar taught us never to use that word, maybe we should say 'Phir Milenge' Bosh. Come visit India again. And bring along a couple of your famous friends next time, too.

July 19, 2013

India’s Men’s Basketball roster revealed for 2013 FIBA Asia Championship

The final 12-man roster of players who are set to represent Team India at the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship Basketball in Manila (Philippines) from August 1-11 has been revealed by the team’s Head Coach, Scott Flemming. The FIBA Asia Championship (known popularly as the FIBA ABC) is the most prestigious basketball tournament in Asia.

Team India for 2013 FIBA Asia Championship

Joginder Singh - PG - 5-11
Sambhaji Kadam - PG - 5-10
Vishesh Bhriguvanshi - G - 6-2
Narender Kumar Grewal - SF - 6-3
Vinay Kaushik - G - 6-2
Arjun Singh - G - 6-4
Pratham Singh - G - 6-2
Yadwinder Singh - F - 6-6
Amjyot Singh Gill - F - 6-9
Rikin Pethani - F/C - 6-9
Amrit Pal Singh - C - 6-11
Satnam Singh Bhamara - C - 7-2

Head Coach: Scott Flemming
Coach: Jora Singh
Coach: Prasad Rama Linga
Physiotherapist: Naved Hameed

Coach Flemming has made three changes to the squad from the one that helped India qualify for the FIBA ABC in early June after winning the SABA Zone Qualifiers against Nepal and Afghanistan. The most important addition has been of 17-year-old 7-foot-2 phenom Satnam Singh Bhamara. Bhamara, who currently studies and practices his craft at the IMG Basketball Academy in Florida, came back to India after missing out on the qualifiers and won his place back in the team. The youngster played a backup role in Kenny Natt's team at the 2011 FIBA ABC, but his rapid improvement and of course, incredible size might thrust him into the starting lineup this time around.

In addition, 6-4 expert point guard Arjun Singh ('Golu') and Pratham Singh have been added to the team to replace Basil Phillip and talented youngster Loveneet Singh.

In an effort to get younger, there are also some big-name omissions from the team that played in the 2011 ABC, including Hareesh Koroth, TJ Sahi, Jagdeep Singh Bains, Trideep Rai, and Prakash Mishra.

The Indian squad left for Istanbul (Turkey) on July 19th, where they will take part in a training camp and practice matches before their trip to the Philippines at the end of the month.

Groups and Preliminary Round Schedule

India have been placed in Group D with Kazakhstan, Thailand, and Bahrain.

Group A: Jordan, Chinese Taipei, Saudi Arabia, Philippines
Group B: Japan, Qatar, Hong Kong*
Group C: China, Korea, Iran, Malaysia
Group D: Kazakhstan, Thailand, India, Bahrain

*Lebanon, who were initially in Group B of the tournament, were suspended by FIBA on August 11. Since they couldn't find a replacement in time, the fray of the competition has been reduced to just 15 teams.

August 1, 2013: India vs. Bahrain
August 2, 2013: Thailand vs. India
August 3, 2013: India vs. Kazakhstan

Photo courtesy: Gopalakrishnan R.
India has to finish in the top three to qualify for 'Group F' in the Second Round of the tournament, carrying on their points from the preliminary stage and playing against the top three teams from Group C. If they finish amongst the top four (of six) in Group F, they will be in the Quarter-Finals for the beginning of a traditional knock-out round. The Final of the tournament will be held on August 11th.

China are the reigning champions, who won an incredible 15th FIBA ABC title at home in Wuhan in 2011. India finished at a dismal 14th place two years ago, but this year's squad will be hoping to make some noise in Manila to secure a higher finish at the tournament.

July 18, 2013

Chris Bosh announces new season of NBA Jam in India

NBA Jam - a basketball and music festival organized by the NBA in India and Sony SIX - is set to get bigger and better this year.

Chris Bosh won his second consecutive NBA Championship with the Heat less than a month ago, and he's decided to celebrate it - along with the Larry O'Brien trophy that he helped lift - in Mumbai. Where else, right? Well, if you've been keeping track, Bosh has been pretty active in Mumbai over the past few days, from trying out some Indian food to mingling with fringe Bollywood types.

But Bosh got down to business on Wednesday morning, taking the opportunity to announce the next iteration of NBA-India's hugely popular NBA Jam. A free event featuring 3x3 basketball and performances by musical artists, NBA Jam will be held this September in four Indian cities: Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi, and Mumbai. The 3x3 tournament will culminate with a National Finals in Mumbai on September 29 and the winning team will get to compete against three NBA Legends (we wonder who?) for the first time.

Nearly 500 teams are expected to participate in the 3x3 contests this year as opposed to 400 last year. This edition of the event will include women’s divisions for the first time. In each city, 120 teams will compete across two age divisions for men and women, 16-18 and 19-23. Winning teams from each city will be invited to the National Finals in Mumbai, where they will play in a small-scale replica NBA arena.

Sony SIX, the league’s broadcast partner in India, will create content around each event stop, integrating celebrities from the network’s top shows, and will air a 60 minute program showcasing the National Finals.

NBA Jam will have free fan activities including a slam dunk contest, basketball clinics, 3-point shootouts, skills challenges. Apart from this, there will be a technology boutique featuring social media fan integration, an NBA photos and video wall, and a gaming zone for fans. Each stop will also feature free concerts from leading artists to keep fans entertained.

"NBA Jam is a great event that brings excitement and energy of the NBA to the fans in India," Bosh told reporters in Mumbai, "It is exciting to see so much passion for basketball here and I look forward to working with the youth during my visit."

“NBA Jam will engage both the passionate and casual fan with a mix of basketball and live entertainment,”said Yannick Colaco, Managing Director, NBA India. “SONY SIX is an ideal partner that is committed to developing basketball further in India, and we are excited to bring an authentic NBA experience to fans across India.”

NBA Jam was last held in India two years ago, and it was launched by former NBA star and NBA TV analyst Steve Smith.

July 17, 2013

Tanveer Bhullar joins Sim at New Mexico State

The New Mexico State Aggies are about to get a lot bigger and Indian-er next season.

Tanveer Bhullar, the 7-foot-2 behemoth from Huntington Prep, has officially signed on to attend the New Mexico State University next season, joining his older brother (who stands an even bigger 7-foot-5) Sim Bhullar.

If you haven't kept track of their story yet, the brothers - aged 20 and 18 - are Canadian of Indian (Punjabi) descent, and have been catching the eyes of scouts for the past few years. Sim joined NMSU last season and had a freshman year to remember, helping his side win the WAC Championship and winning the MVP award, and then leading the team into the NCAA Tournament. NMSU lost in their very first tournament game to Saint Louis, but Sim made enough of a impact on the court (and on Twitter) to interest fans for the years ahead.

Now, his younger brother has joined the lineup and the Aggies pretty much become the biggest college team since... Hell, I don't know. College ball experts fill me in on that one. 7-5 and 7-2 are no joke. And, as an extra bonus to us desis, they are both of Indian descent. Tanveer's addition also adds him to my list of Indian-origin players to ever be in NCAA D1 programmes. The brothers have played together in High School and prep schools in the past, so they should have no trouble fitting in the same lineup together.

It took Sim some time to figure out the pace of college basketball last season and lose a ton of weight before he started earning heavy minutes for the Aggies. Tanveer won't have the same weight issues, but it may take him some time (like most freshman) to get accustomed to the game. Having an experienced big brother will help. Hopefully, he's in full gear before the season ends, and by tournament time next year, we'll see two Bhullars wrecking havoc in the NCAA.

July 14, 2013

Interview: India's New Women's Basketball Coach Francisco Garcia talks about the road ahead

After working with former Duke Assistant Coach Pete Gaudet for the last year and a half, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) decided to change directions and pursue a different angle of a leader for India's Senior Women's squad. That's how they found experienced Spanish coach Francisco Garcia. Garcia, who has coached at various different levels in Europe over the past 20 years, was officially announced as the Head Coach of India's Women's Basketball Team last week, and arrived in India for the first time just a few days before that.

Prior to joining BFI, he had been involved in various women’s professional programs in Spain, Denmark, and Finland. Since returning to Spain in 2005, Coach Garcia coached various Spanish Federation Youth National Development Camps, in addition to acting as a private development coach for a number of Spain’s senior national women’s players, including Amaya Valdermoro, three-time WNBA Champion.

Garcia will have his work cut out for him. He only has a few months of preparation before India's Women get a chance to play for the Asia's biggest basketball event - the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship for Women - from October 27 - November 3 in Bangkok (Thailand).

To kick off this new chapter in Indian Basketball, I caught Garcia for a brief interview on his past experiences with basketball and his expectations for the future while working with legends such as Geethu Anna Jose to lead the Indian team forward.

Hoopistani: After spending your career as a basketball coach in Europe, what made you decide to choose India? How were you picked for this job?

Garcia: I thought about coming here as a personal challenge. As a coach I felt I needed a change in my career. I also believe that [in India] is a good project that can be built with time.

Hoopistani: Have you had any experience of India before?

Garcia: Not really. The only experience of India I had before was Indian food! Nothing else...

Hoopistani: How long is your contract for in India?

Garcia: I have a one year contract, plus one more if both parties (Garcia and the BFI) agree.

Hoopistani: Please tell me about your past coaching experience, the teams that you worked with, and your accomplishments.

Garcia: I have been involved with coaching since I was 19 years old, and I have coached both Men and Women at all levels and ages. I have coached at the professional level in Denmark, Finland, and Spain, too. I won a gold medal in Finland in a Men's team working with Montenegrin Coach Mihailo Pavicevic, and a silver medal in an under-20 women's championship. I have won 18 Regional championships, coached in several youth Spanish National team camps and elite camps for professionals. I have also run clinics in Spain, Lebanon, and Sweden.

Hoopistani: Have you had a chance to interact with any members of the team yet?

Garcia: Yes I have, and they seem to be very positive [about the changes ahead].

Hoopistani: You will be taking over from Pete Gaudet now and taking the team ahead to the FIBA Asia Championship. What is your expectation for this squad against Asia's best teams?

Garcia: Obviously, we have not too much time left to prepare for this championship properly, but I'll make sure that we work hard on the court to compete at our maximum level.

Hoopistani: Please tell me a little about your coaching philosophy and style?

Garcia: I like transition basketball on offense, and tough defense on the other end. Offensively, I also like to add short set plays for the team.

Hoopistani: Aside from coaching the women's national team, would you be involved in other aspect of basketball in India?

Garcia: Yes, I'm going to be in charge of the younger national teams to install a model and philosophy.

Hoopistani: Have you had a chance to watch Geethu Anna Jose or any of the other stars in the team play? How do you think you will use them in your system?

Garcia: Clearly, Geethu is going to be our inside reference because she can create plays inside and will be one of the most important parts of the team. But obviously we need to play as a team with a good balance inside and outside.

Hoopistani: What is your vision, looking ahead, for how good this team can be in your tenure in India?

Garcia: The main point has to be to be growth and incorporate young players into the group little by little. So we must focus on the youth talent properly. Clearly, the basis is the grow the game in the grassroots.

July 13, 2013

Boston’s Forever Truth

The Celtics traded Paul Pierce to the Nets, ending his 15-year relationship with the franchise that first drafted him. He leaves the team with 10 All Star appearances, a championship, a Finals MVP award, and as one of the greatest players in franchise history. No matter what happens in his career ahead, he will always remain a Celtic at heart. Pierce has moved to Brooklyn, but The Truth will always be in Boston.

Click here to read full feature.

July 12, 2013

Fantastic, Fast, Four – Holiday, Lillard, Rubio, & Wall are the breathtaking future of the NBA

This feature was first published as the cover story in the 110th edition (2013 - No. 13) of SLAM China Magazine. Here is my original English version of the story.

Bring together the ingredients of the perfect point guard. You can ask for floor vision, leadership, ability to take the outside shot, ability to drive in and create, the ability to score, the ability to dish, and oh, the speed. Lots and lots of speed. And when four of the most exciting young point guards assembled under one roof, all of the ingredients came together like a perfect mosaic to create the breathtaking future of the NBA.

So what more can you ask for? An All Star, a Rookie of the Year, a number one draft pick, and perhaps the most exciting European player of All Time. Over the past week, Jrue Holiday (newly traded to the New Orleans Pelicans), Damian Lillard (Portland Trailblazers), Ricky Rubio (Minnesota Timberwolves) and John Wall (Washington Wizards) were all in Beijing and all together under one roof. At an average of less than 23 years, these four point maestros are the fast and furious future of the league.

SLAM caught up with all four with quick-fire questions to see how each one completes the puzzle and develops into the perfect point guard.

SLAM: Jrue: How much of a challenge is it to move on to a new team in the off-season and be leader in the backcourt, with new coaches and new teammates?

Holiday: I have had a lot of different coaches in my life already, and I have faith that the coaching staff will help in making the transition easy.

SLAM: Jrue, How do you see yourself fitting into the Pelicans offense?

Holiday: I think it’s gonna be easy. Need to study their game, watch them play, and I’ll take what they have, that’s my style of game. I think everyone’s gonna be happy in the system, we’ll use many screen-and-rolls, a lot of pick and rolls, I can hit the threes going around the big men and going around the guards.

SLAM: Damian, Congrats on the Rookie of the Year award. Did you start off last season actively aiming to be the league’s ROY?

Lillard: It was definitely a goal of mine. Like I always said, I always set out to be productive. I played a lot of minutes, so the opportunity was already given to me. I just wanted to take advantage of it as much as I could.

SLAM: Damian, What is going to be the challenge ahead to get into the playoff picture for the Trailblazers?

Lillard: I think we need to improve defensively. Now we have a year under our belt playing together. We know each other a little bit better so we should be better because of that. As long as we make the improvements we need to defensively, I think we’ll be a better team. Hopefully, we can find a way to get into the playoffs.

SLAM: Ricky, It was a tough finish for you guys with all the injuries at the end of last season. How good can the Timberwolves be at full health in the upcoming year?

Ricky Rubio: We’re still working and we’re still building a team, but I think we have something going on. I’ve very excited for the next season to see if everybody can be healthy and we can get to the playoffs. That was our goal for the last two years. We couldn’t reach it for many reasons, and one of them was too many injuries. I’m working hard this summer to improve my game.

SLAM: Ricky, What goal do you choose of achieving first – An Olympic Gold or an NBA championship?

Rubio: I can’t pick between those two. I’m a winner and I want to win, so I’ll choose both.

SLAM: John, Your Wizards started the last season slow, but once you got back, you became one of the top teams in the East. What are your expectations going forward for the next season?

Wall: I personally feel that to be a great point guard in this league, you just gonna win, so my goal is to make the playoffs.

SLAM: John, What was the biggest challenge coming from an injury like you had early last season?

Wall: The biggest challenge is being mentally prepared, being mentally strong, just fighting through it when you know you can’t play. I wanted to do a good job being a leader for my team, to be like a coach on the sidelines.

SLAM: Personally, how do you plan to improve your own game over this off-season to get to the next level?

Holiday: I’d like to see myself in the All Star Game again and hopefully make it to the playoffs. I think that’s the ultimate goal: to get to the playoffs and win championships.

Lillard: I think I just have to expect more for myself. I of course have to work on my game. I have to get my percentages up, work on finishing better, on new ways to score, and find a way to make my teammates better. If I can do those things and everybody else also improves their game, then we should be a playoff team.

Rubio: It’s a very important off-season for me. Last year I was hurt and I couldn’t get good workout for my knee. This year, I’m really focused on working on my body, and in getting stronger, and after that, improve my jump-shot and get ready for the next season.

Wall: Just be working every day in the summer to improve my jump-shot, and finishing on floaters to make myself a better player.

SLAM: So who is the fastest out of all four of you?

Holiday: I think John’s probably the fastest. John’s an incredible athlete; you have to play against him to see it. And then, it’s probably me.

Lillard: Probably me and John Wall.

Rubio: I have to go with… Me! [Laughs]… I dunno, we have to compete and see who is better.

Wall: I’m the quickest, I’m not the fastest!

SLAM: And who in the group is the toughest for you to defend?

Holiday: They all bring something really different. John is fast, strong, gets to the basket. Ricky Rubio, obviously is very deceptive: he can throw the ball behind your back and all of a sudden, somebody’s open! And Damian can score from just anywhere on the court.

Lillard: John is pretty good, but Jrue Holiday is probably the toughest, because he’s the biggest.

Rubio: All three are tough! I can’t pick one, but if I had to say, I’ll say… Jrue!

Wall: I’ll probably say Dame [Lillard]. Dame is a very good young player and probably one of the toughest to play against.

SLAM: Who is the best point guard in the NBA right now?  

Lillard: Before he got hurt I think it was Derrick Rose, but right now it’s probably Chris Paul.

Rubio: Before the injury, I think Derrick Rose was on another level. When I played against him, he was the toughest one to guard. Now we’ll see how he’ll recover. It was good for him to take a year off and be ready. I suffered the same injury and I know that it’s very tough. So yes, I’ll say, number one is still Derrick Rose.

Wall: It’s very tough, depends on what you need from what point guard. Every other point guard gives you something different.

SLAM: What do you need to do in your game to get to number one?

Lillard: I think I can be a better floor general, make the game easier for my teammates, control the pace of the game better. The top point guards are an extension of the coach on the floor and I think I can do a good job of playing the point guard position, but it takes experience to grow into the ‘coach on the floor’ role.

Wall: Just keep improving, like I said earlier, on my jump-shots, floaters. Just watch every aspect of my game and work every day.

SLAM: Which player as a youngster did you idolize or model or game after?

Lillard: When I was younger I really like Allen Iverson, so if there was anyone that did model my game after, it was him.

Rubio: [Long Pause] I like basketball and I like to watch all kind of players. But especially if I had to name one, I’d name Steve Nash. There’s a lot of Magic Johnson. There’s a lot of great point guards in this league!

Wall: My favourite player was Allen Iverson growing up. But I want leave behind my own legacy so people remember John Wall.

SLAM: If you could pick any player in the NBA to throw a lob up to, who would it be?

Holiday: Probably Blake Griffin

Lillard: LeBron.

Rubio: Um… [Long Pause]… I would say… I’m think about a lot of names… Vince Carter… In his prime, Vince Carter.

Wall: Blake Griffin.

SLAM: What is your secret weapon?

Holiday: It might be my jump-shot.

Lillard: My athleticism.

Rubio: It’s a secret, I can’t tell you!

Wall: Can’t tell you, it’s undercover.

SLAM: And what is your kryptonite?

Holiday: That’s kinda tough: I’m trying to model my game so I don’t really have one.

Lillard: I’m not even sure man. I probably don’t have one.

Rubio: I can’t tell you that either. If I tell you my kryptonite then they’re gonna stop me!

Wall: If there’s one thing that can hold me back, it’s myself. I’m the only person that can hold myself back.

SLAM: With so many NBA events happening in China over the summer, it seems that the off-season is the ‘in-season’ in China. What do you think about the growing interest of the game here?

Holiday: I think it’s awesome. I think basketball is definitely a world sport, and the NBA is kind of the hierarchy of that. So just being able to come here and to interact with fans who will probably never get to see us in person, it’s awesome. They’re excited for us to come over here and it makes me personally feel good and makes me wanna come back!

Lillard: The sport is growing here and it’s a great opportunity for us to come over here and experience how passionate the fans here are. They are huge fans of us and they don’t have access to us the way the people in America do. For us to come over here, it’s an experience for us and the fans. It’s amazing to see how much they know about us here. I see people wearing my jersey, knowing my first name. It’s just mind-blowing.

Rubio: It’s awesome. That’s why I was really excited to come here. I came here in 2008 (Olympics): I knew basketball was huge here, and I think it’s even bigger now. I love basketball and I like when people are excited about it. Fans of China are the best ones at that – they’re excited to watch basketball and we feel that, so we too are excited to be here. 

Wall: This is my first time to China and it’s great to be here in this tour as China Basketball also gets bigger and bigger. There’s no better time to be here.

July 11, 2013

Yao Ming’s ‘Team America’ vs Team China: Random notes from a (very) random night of basketball in Beijing

I wrote this feature for SLAM Online, and it was originally published on their website on July 2, 2013.

The starting five checked out of the game at halftime, were each member was patted on the back by Coach Yao Ming and Assistant Coach Tracy McGrady as they headed to the bench. Joakim Noah, Metta World Peace, Luis Scola, George Hill and Kyle Lowry—the not-entirely-American starting five of the team erroneously named “Team America All Stars”—were then replaced for the third quarter by a bunch of elementary school kids. On the other side, the Chinese National team were replaced by their mini-mes, too. On the “American” bench, John Wall and Ricky Rubio watched while McGrady enthusiastically coached the 10-year-olds. Metta joined in to give a pep-talk, too. All this was happening while Chinese cheerleaders dressed like one of the Mario Brothers danced in the middle of the floor and the crowd of several thousand chanted McGrady’s name like he had just been named Finals MVP.

Wait, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Sorry. That’s what happens when you’ve just witnessed the zaniest exhibition game on this side of the globe (or any side of the globe, for that matter) to kick off the NBA offseason. On July 1, the Yao Ming Foundation organized its third charity game between the Chinese National Basketball Team and a group of Yao’s super-friends (from his time at Houston, mostly) playing under the Team America moniker against Team China, featuring the host country’s finest players. With little expectations, I set out to witness this event at the MasterCard stadium in Beijing, the same stadium that hosted the 2008 Olympics gold medal game.

First, let’s do a roll call shall we? The following were present at the game, either participating in the game or watching from the sidelines: Yao Ming, Tracy Mcgrady, Joakim Noah, Metta World Peace, Luis Scola, George Hill, Kyle Lowry, Ricky Rubio, Chris Singleton, John Wall, Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday, Chinese players Yi Jianlian, Wang Zhelin, Sun Yue, Liu Wei, Wang Zhi Zhi and super-famous Brazil and Real Madrid soccer/futbol player Kaka. Yes, that Kaka.

(Bonus: Here’s a hilarious picture of Kaka with Yao and Wang Zhi Zhi from the day of the event.)

Yao has held this event twice in the past six years, with Steve Nash and Baron Davis amongst those to have starred in it in the past. But as far as I know, this year was the “biggest” show. It had everything. Drama (Joakim Noah’s clutch defense), excitement (Noah on the offensive end, Tracy McGrady coaching) and World Peace (Metta). And all this for a good cause, to support the primary school in China that’s funded by Yao’s foundation and his other charitable efforts for children in poverty-stricken areas in China.

Here are some of my notes from the game:

- Metta was working on his jump-shot a lot pre-game, and it was looking like the opposite of pretty.

- Chinese fans really, really love Tracy McGrady. This goes back to T-Mac’s time with Yao in Houston, and of course, McGrady’s stint playing in China last season. I was thoroughly impressed by the variety of McGrady jerseys in attendance, with fans donning his jerseys from Toronto, Orlando, Houston, New York and Detroit. No one seemed to commemorate his time with the Spurs, though. Fans chanted his name throughout and cheered for him louder than anyone else. When Team America took the floor, Metta was announced first and McGrady last.

- Those were the same fans wh would soon be very disappointed to discover that McGrady wouldn’t be suiting up and instead would be Yao’s assistant coach.

- Kaka—who played no part in Brazil’s Confederation Cup victory the same morning—gets asked to speak to fans before the game.

- Yao is the biggest human being I’ve ever seen.

- (Speaking of Yao, this all took place the same day he skyped with Dwight Howard and pitched him to join the Houston Rockets)

- While Yao had gotten Metta, Noah, George Hill etc. to volunteer to play in the game, the surprise attendees were four point guards: John Wall, Ricky Rubio, Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday, who just so happened to be in Beijing at the same time for an adidas promotional event. Wall, Lillard and Holiday watched from the Team America sidelines in street clothes, but Rubio couldn’t resist and changed into gear to check into the game minutes in the first quarter.

- The Yao-and-McGrady coached Team America fielded Noah, World Peace, Scola, Hill and Lowry as its starting five.

- Team America’s first shot was a Metta three and a Metta miss.

- Despite spending a season in China, McGrady feigned ignorance to the existence of Wang Zhelin, one of the brightest young Chinese prospects and possible draft pick next year. Wang had a pretty dominant start to the game for Team China. Wang, 19 (supposedly), is a talented, mobile 7-footer, and was definitely the center-piece for China’s team. We hope T-Mac knows him now.

- Joakim Noah doesn’t have an off switch, and he decides to play playoff defense from the get-go. He is aggressive and emotional on the other end, too, dunking emphatically, taking ill-advised long twos, and on one occasion, playing the role of a point guard while trying to beat his man off the dribble. Good times.

- Watching Yi play in this game (and for his CBA team Guangdong in the past), it’s clear that being in China raises his confidence to another level; he plays with the swagger of a superstar. He takes a far more aggressive role in the offense. It didn’t amount to much in this game, but at least he was trying.

- In two consecutive possessions in the second quarter, Metta attempts to inbound the ball from his own end with a heave pass to the running Chris Singleton all the way on the other end of the floor. Two turnovers.

- Luis Scola’s under-the-radar career went a little further under when he joined the Suns, but the big Argentinian definitely still has some of the prettiest back-to-the-basket post moves.

- Rubio checks in to the surprise and delight of the fans. He looked a little rusty throughout the game, but was aiming to please.

- Rubio and Metta on the same team is my dream come true.

- The crowd breaks into “Mai Di” chants (that’s McGrady’s Chinese name) on numerous occasions, urging him to play. But it’s to no avail.

- The game itself is a pretty even, low-scoring affair, with the American side not taking things too seriously yet (except for Noah) and the Chinese side looking quite rusty.

- After halftime, quite inexplicably, the two participating teams get replaced by two teams of Chinese primary school-kids (presumably from Yao’s foundation school) wearing the same jerseys as the actual teams that now sat on the bench. For the next 10 minutes, the kids play a full-court game on a lowered rim and with a smaller ball. This surprisingly turns out to be a more entertaining affair than the “big-boys” game, as the kids ran helter-skelter end to end and each basket was greeted by rousing applause. McGrady was promoted to Head Coach for the kids, and took this brief job as primary tactician very seriously, mock-arguing with the refs on the sidelines, stepping out on the court animatedly and shouting tactics to his young players during the timeouts. As a matter of fact, this was the most animated I had ever seen McGrady.

- I initially assume that the game is just an extended half-time show, but my Chinese friend clarifies that the kids have just played the third quarter of the game, and the accumulated scores will count when the real teams return for the fourth quarter.

- By the time the fourth quarter does begin, Team America and Team China hit the floor again with China leading 42-40. Team America stops messing around and perks up on the defensive end. Noah is a monster, commanding the post to shut down all comers. The result is two-fold: the “Americans” begin to get a lot of fast-break opportunities that lead to breathtaking dunks and the Chinese players then retaliate by shifting into higher gear, too. Suddenly, we have a game!

- America’s crunch-time lineup is the starting five again: Noah, Scola, World Peace, Lowry and Hill.

- Noah continues his dominance on both ends of the floor, blocking several shots and scoring on numerous occasions. He ultimately ends up being the difference as Team America pulls through for a 61-58 victory.

- Hugs, cheers and applause for Yao.

And, that wraps it up. Watching basketball in China is always an awesome, if surreal, experience, which includes ingenious chants from the fans, a conglomerate of different and sometimes random NBA jerseys (I saw a guy in a Celtics Larry Bird uni a few rows in front of me), inappropriate arena music, a lot of laughs from the crowd, awful, sweet popcorn (this one is a personal pet-peeve) and awkwardly gyrating cheerleaders.

Mix those ingredients with an invasion of random NBA players, and the end result was a pretty memorable night of basketball. Thanks for the fun times, Yao.