July 11, 2014

Previewing the 5th FIBA Asia Cup with India's Coach Scott Flemming in Wuhan

The biggest international basketball tournament for India in the 2014 calender year is finally here! India are among the 10 squads in Wuhan (China) for the 5th FIBA Asia Cup India qualified for this tournament (previously known as the Stancovic Cup) by winning the 3rd South Asian (SABA) Basketball Championship in Kathmandu back in May. Now, Head Coach Scott Flemming will test a nine-game winning streak for Team India against some of Asia's finest.

The tournament tipped off Friday, July 11, at the Wuhan Sports Center but India will be playing their first game on Saturday afternoon against Japan, a side that India gave some trouble last year at the FIBA Asia Championship. India have been placed in the tough Group A, along with hosts China, FIBA Asia Championship holders Iran, Japan, and Indonesia. To qualify from the group and make it to the knockout round, India must finish four among five, which means that they realistically must win at least one game.

That's a task much easier said than done, of course. In the previous iteration of the FIBA Asia Cup - in Tokyo two years ago - India returned winless at last place. But Flemming is optimistic that this team has taken some steps forward and can improved results this year.

India's 12-man roster for this tournament was released last week and includes well-known names such as Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amrit Pal Singh, Amjyot Singh, Pratham Singh, Joginder Singh, and more. The team will play four games in four days against Japan, China, Indonesia, and Iran from July 12-15 (click the above link for India's schedule with timings), and if they can win at least one of those games, they can look forward to the quarter-finals from July 17. The final of the tournament is scheduled to be held on July 19.

I am here in Wuhan for the tournament, and will be providing as close coverage as possible. Catch features on the Hoopistani blog, my match reports for the Basketball Federation of India, and live commentary and interviews on Ekalavyas.

On the tournament's opening day, which was the eve of India's first game against Japan, I spoke to Head Coach Scott Flemming who joined me to preview India's chances looking ahead.

Take it away, Coach.

I was the coach at the Asia Championships last year, the Lusofonia Games, the SABA Qualifiers, but this is my first time at the FIBA Asia Cup.

The plus side is that many of these players have been with me for two years off and on now, and so I think that they have a good understanding of the system that I have implemented. I think that we have improved steadily, not drastically. We're on a nine game winning streak - now obviously it didn't come against teams that we are gonna see here and we understand that. But we beat some quality teams along the way in the Lusofonia Games and the last ABC games [India's streak started with a win over Bahrain at 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, the last game of the tournament] Unfortunately, we haven't played any games with this particular team. We're coming in here just trying to get an understanding of the team while we have to win. Most of these other teams have played a good number of games together coming in. Unfortunately our exposure trip scheduled before the tournament didn't work out.

We played in Nepal last. I don't want to downplay that but those weren't real strong teams. The Lusofonia Games were the last test we had in January. But we have different players now.

We've added Palpreet Singh, he wasn't available earlier because of exams. He gives us depth at the post position.

Stylistically, we're gonna try and keep an up-tempo game, but there are certain teams who are bigger, stronger, and more talented than we are. We're gonna have to make adjustments and beat those teams a little more in the half court. I think we're a team that can do both. We wanna fastbreak when the opportunity is there, but we work pretty hard on our half court offense as well. We can't depend on just one or the other. Our style will be similar to what I put in the beginning, but there are game-time adjustments as well.

There's still a gap between us and the top teams. I'm doing my best to narrow that gap. And hopefully, we'll have a breakthrough. We're better than we were when I first came, I believe that. We're a better team. We talked about this before, there are some practical things that need to happen for us to take a big step up [In an earlier interview, Flemming had mentioned that India needs to start nationalizing Indian-origin players who want to represent the national team for India]. We need some help from the government and other organizations. But that's out of my control. So right now, I'm here to work with who we have and use them to their highest level. I think our players are playing with more confidence. They're feeling good about things especially after the Lusofonia Games. Granted we were hope - that helped! Having thousands of Indian fans behind us in those games helped. But now we're back to 'normal', playing internationally.

We do have an injury - our starting point guard Joginder Singh strained his ankle last week in practice. But he's here and hopefully he's gonna play, but he's not at full strength, and he won't start for us. So that hurts because he has been real steady - he played in the Lusofonia Games, he knows my system inside out, he's really our leader. But we're hoping that he can get back and play in a big role here. Right now we have to wait and see.

Prakash Mishra will take his place for now in the starting five. And then Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Pratham Singh, Amjyot Singh, and Amrit Pal Singh. Those are our starters, but we're gonna play 9-10 people. My mission is to build depth. I think we have 10 or more players who can play crucial minutes.

We played Japan - our first opponents tomorrow - pretty tough in the ABC last year. But they're a different team, they've added some players that weren't there last year. They've played Iran right to the end today, they were even leading in the first half. So, we've got our worked cut out. We're gonna have to play at a really high level to beat them. I'm optimistic. I think we can, but, again, we haven't played any practice games before this, so we're gonna find out a lot about who we are when the game's on the line. Unfortunately that's the case, but we're gonna have to be quick learners.

My normal nature is that I want to win all four [preliminary round] games. I want to win them all. But, first, we need to get that first win. We didn't win any in the last FIBA Asia Cup. Our short term goal is to get the first win, build on that momentum, and hopefully win another one or two in this round. Our goal is to get into the second [knockout] round and then anything can happen. We have our strengths and weaknesses, but we have a chance to do something that no Indian team has done for a long time. We're gonna be learning our rotation etc. at game-time: I've got a good idea of it, but until you start games, you don't know.

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