August 11, 2014

Legendary Indian basketball coach Dr. S Subramanian should win posthumous Dronacharya Award

Named after Dronacharya - the legendary teacher of the Mahabharata mythology - the Indian government has presented the 'Dronacharya Award' since 1985 for excellence in sports coaching. The name of the award is only fitting, as the parallel award given to sportspersons is named after Dronacharya's favourite pupil, Arjun. Since the award's inception, Indian coaches in the fields of Athletics, Boxing, Wrestling, Chess, Cricket, Football, Volleyball, Billiards & Snooker, Weightlifting, Powerlifting, Shooting, Kabaddi, Yatching, Hockey, Volleyball, Squash, Rowing, Archery, Gymnastics, Table-Tennis and even Kho-Kho have received the prestigious annual award. And yet, not once has a basketball coach come close.

But for the second consecutive year, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) has applied for the late Dr. Sankaran Subramanian - one of the greatest Indian basketball minds of All Time - to be nominated for the award. Subramanian passed away last summer at the age of 75 after dedicating 43 fruitful years to coaching hoops in India. He has spotted and developed some of India's finest players over the years, created the country's finest basketball academy, and been responsible for the success of various teams over the years. And yet, his contributions - like those of other masterminds in Indian basketball - have been ignored by most of Indian sports fraternity outside of basketball.

This year, former captain of India's Hockey team Ajitpal Singh is heading the committee for selecting the Dronacharya awardee. The committee will have 15 members, including 12 eminent sportspersons and three officials, who will be the director general of the Sports Authority of India and a joint secretary and deputy secretary from the ministry. Several coaches are given the award every year, and in 2013, there were five recipients. The Dronacharya and Arjuna awards will be handed out on August 29, 2014 in New Delhi.

Once again, the BFI's President RS Gill has sent the selection committee details of Subramanian's achievements, and today (August 11), the committee is meeting in New Delhi to decide on the final nominations. Hopefully, the slight against this great coach - who was ignored by the mainstream for over four decades of dedication to the game as a coach - will be corrected and he will be given this highest coaching honour in India posthumously.

Subramanian has a long history of success, for himself and for the talents that he produced. From 1968 onwards, he had been thoroughly involved in coaching and developing players in Punjab and for the Indian national team. Subramanian was the coach of the Punjab state team, the director and chief of the Ludhiana Basketball Academy (LBA) in Punjab and also the director of the National Institute of Sports in Patiala. He was the man behind the discovery and development of several star players who are currently in India's national men squad - the team which achieved the 'Wonder of Wuhan' by defeating China at the FIBA Asia Cup last month - including Amrit Pal Singh, Amjyot Singh, Yadwinder Singh, and Palpreet Singh. He was the man who first honed the skills of Satnam Singh Bhamara, India's 17-year-old 7-footed phenom who is garnering hype to become the future face of Indian basketball. Over the past years, he trained hordes of athletes (at the Senior as well as Junior level) who went on to represent India in FIBA Asia Championships, in Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, and even the Olympics.

Subramanian played basketball for his school and college teams and later joined Indian Air Force in the year 1958. He played in Air Force and Inter-Services Championships and also participated in the National Basketball Championships for three consecutive years from 1964-1967. He took to coaching after that in 1968, working with the Air Force team and with Services and leading them to wins in several national level tournaments. He also briefly coached the Mysore Girls team in the early 70s. He joined NIS in Patiala in 1973 from where he worked to hone several junior and senior players and host national coaching camps at NIS.

Subramanian had been the head coach of the Punjab State teams from 2000-2013, and led them to an era of great dominance in this period, collecting 14 Gold, 13 Silver and 9 Bronze Medals in Sub-Junior, Youth, Junior and Senior National Championships. Under his tutelage, Punjab's Senior Men's team won the National Championship in 2012 and finished as runners-up this year.

He was also a FIBA certified International Referee in basketball and had officiated in many international Tournaments in India and abroad.

The number of talented stars who had blossomed under his tutelage during this period is too vast to be mentioned here, but some of them include Arjuna Award winner Manmohan Singh, Paramjit Singh, who represented Indian in the 1980 Olympic Basketball team, and Tarlok Singh Sandhu. In India's most recent Men's squad, a record number of six players were developed under Subramanian in his Ludhiana Academy: TJ Sahi, Yadwinder Singh, Jagdeep Singh Bains, Amjyot Singh, Amrit Pal Singh, and Satnam Singh Bhamara. He also trained women's international Kiranjit Kaur, who won gold for India in the 2012 Asian Beach Games.

Subramanian was originally from Tamil Nadu, but it was to Punjab Basketball where he dedicated in life, and it was in Patiala, Punjab, where he breathed his last breath. His daughter, Indira Bali, summed up his love for basketball in the perfect way. "He was a man who would have died on the Basketball Court rather than in a hospital," she said.

Basketball in India has recognized this great legend of the sport - hopefully, the Government at large does too and brings his memory the honour it deserves. It is preposterous that basketball doesn't yet have a Dronacharya Award winner, but Dr. Subramanian would make the perfect nominee to finally break that curse. It will only be right if, inspired by Guru Dronacharya himself, we can refer to Dr. Subramanian as 'Guru Subramanian' too, because he was indeed one of the nation's greatest teachers - of any sport. 

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