November 29, 2015

India's 2nd National Wheelchair Basketball Championship to tip-off in Delhi on December 2

The Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI) is set to hold its 2nd National Wheelchair Basketball Championship in New Delhi from December 2-6 at Indira Gandhi Stadium Complex. The WBFI is organizing the championship in partnership with the Sports Authority of India (SAI), the Government of India and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The championship will coincide with the International Day for Persons with Disabilities on December 3.

The WBFI are the governing and overseeing body of wheelchair basketball in India. Last year, they held several basketball workshops around the country and the first national wheelchair basketball tournament in Chennai, which was won by Maharashtra.

Both Men and Women's teams will participate in the tournament; the men's championship will feature nine state teams, while in the women's section, two teams from mixed states will play against each other. Additionally, an exhibition match for children wheelchair basketball players will be held as well.

Participating Men's teams for 2nd National Wheelchair Basketball Championship: Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh.

The opening ceremony will be held on December 2nd 2015, at 11 am, starting with an exhibition match by children from the Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust. Several dignitaries from the Government, Corporates and NGOs will grace the opening and closing ceremony as well as witness the championship prosper.

The WBFI hopes to send an Indian Wheelchair Basketball Team to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Paralympics, as well as prepare Indian Wheelchair Basketball for more international tournaments.

November 28, 2015

A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Counting down the top 10 must-watch players for the 2015-16 NBA Season

This feature was first published in my column for Ekalavyas on November 6, 2015. Click here to read the original article.

The new NBA season brings with it a new set of intrigue, drama, ambitions, and storylines. Basketball is first and foremost a team game, but in the NBA, it is the individual stories that truly elevate our sense of connection with the league and bring fans back thirsting for more. We obsess over the legacies of great players, we cringe when they come up short, sob when they’re injured, celebrate when they return, and scream in delight when they finally win a championship.

In a league full of must-watch personalities and stories, there are a few that stand head and shoulders above the rest. This is the league within a league of extraordinary gentlemen. Keep your eyes peeled for the intrigues, twists, and turns that these individuals traverse through for the next six to eight months. This isn’t a ranking of the NBA’s best players (you can find my contribution on this season’s SLAM Top 50 for that!); this is a ranking of the stories you can’t afford to miss.

10. Andrew Wiggins

A week ago, I made an outlandish prediction on the Hoopdarshan NBA Preview podcast that the Minnesota Timberwolves – the NBA’s worst team last season – will climb to eighth seed in the West. It’s the sort of dumb risk that could potentially rob me of all my crumbs of credibility and have a multitude of trolls destroying my online life. Or alternatively, it could make me look like a foreshadowing genius. There were a lot of reasons for my Wolves overrating: Ricky Rubio has returned healthy, Kevin Garnett – in perhaps the last season of his storied career – is shouting advice and blocking your practice shots. Number one pick Karl-Anthony Towns started the season looking like a completed project already. The supporting cast of Kevin Martin, Zach LaVine, Nemanja Bjelica, and Nikola Pekovic looks half-decent.

But the biggest reason for my projected T-Wolves jump is second-year swingman and reigning rookie of the year Andrew Wiggins. Every season, there seems to be one player that takes the leap from being a ‘prospect’ to a ‘superstar’ (see: George, Paul or Butler, Jimmy). I believe that Wiggins will take that leap this season. Wiggins has the talent to become one of the top wing players in the league and his ability on the defensive end ensures that he always earns ample playing time. As the season progresses, watch for Wiggins to blossom into a better player, realize the limitlessness of his own talents, and unleash hellfire on to the rest of the league. The future is very, very bright.

9. Kevin Love

Who is Kevin Love? Is he the slightly chubby rookie who was deemed tradeable on 2008 Draft Night for OJ Mayo? Is he the same guy who defied critics to become the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2011? Is he the person who wins rebound titles, three-point shootouts, and averages 26 and 12 for a season? Or is he only a numbers-monger, a classic good player on a bad team, high on stats but low on overall impact for a winning team? Is he a top 10 player in the league? Or is he a star who may never lead a team to the playoffs by himself?

Last season was Love’s chance to answer these questions once and for all. He was traded to the Cavaliers in exchange for Andrew Wiggins to join LeBron James’ return quest to finally bring a championship to his homeland. Instead, team chemistry (fitting out instead of fitting in) and a playoff injury (thanks for nothing, Kelly Olynyk) suspended the answers a little longer. Love’s first season for the Cavs was forgotten. Now, as he returns healthy and loaded with an extension to his contract, he will once again attempt to answer those questions. Is he overrated? Underrated? Overpaid? Underpaid? A perennial loser? Or a champion?

8. Derrick Rose

The youngest-ever MVP, a force of nature who brought intensity and pound-for-pound toughness to evoke memories of Allen Iverson, a player of passion and fury, and a Chicagoan in every sense of the word. Two and a half years ago, it seemed that Derrick Rose was heading to a legacy of greatness, en route to becoming one of the top players of the decade. And then came the injuries: the ACL tear, the torn meniscus, the hamstrings, and even the recent orbital fracture. Rose seemed curse, and off the court, his comments and controversies suddenly turned this much-loved young star into a figure of pity and annoyance.

He’s back (again). He’s 27. He’s rusty, but he’s healthy. If you’re a Rose fan, you’ve probably been jilted so often by his almost-comebacks that even you don’t believe them anymore. It doesn’t matter, because it seems that Rose never stopped believing in himself. So he’s back, now as perhaps the second-best player in his own backcourt (after Jimmy Butler), but the one player in the one team with a real opportunity to shake up the LeBron Dynasty in the Eastern Conference. He’s back on the court to aim for his top once again; whether he succeeds or he fails, it’ll definitely be a lot of fun to watch him try.

7. Tim Duncan

What more does the NBA’s greatest power forward ever, the most accomplished player in the league since Michael Jordan, have left to prove? Duncan has won five NBA titles in six Finals appearances over the past 16 years, been a three-time Finals MVP, a two-time MVP, a 15-time All Star, and has won over 70 percent of NBA games in an astonishingly dominant 18-year stretch. Now in his 19th season, as ever in the Spurs’ jersey that has become synonymous with his name, Tim Duncan returns as one of the NBA’s oldest players (39) for perhaps one last shot at the title.

While the keys to San Antonio’s destiny now rest firmly in the hands of Kawhi Leonard and new signing LaMarcus Aldridge, my eyes will be on Duncan as he approaches the end of the road. By the end of the NBA season, Duncan would’ve turned 40. He would’ve played a smaller role for the Spurs than ever before, but he would still be around schooling ignorant young’uns in the post offensively or positioning at an elite level defensively. The future is unclear, but if this is indeed the living legend’s final NBA season, it will be fascinating to see him lay everything on the line for one last hurrah.

6. Anthony Davis

On Grantland (RIP), Zach Lowe called Anthony Davis ‘Mr Limitless’, a perfect moniker for a 22-year-old superstar who is both the present of the league and its future. Davis is booming with talent, and is easily the NBA’s most valuable trade chip right now. He’s big, he’s athletic, he’s uber-talented, and he’s healthy. He finished the previous season with one of the highest PER’s of All Time and he’s still got over a decade of dominance left in him. Last season, he averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, and a league-best 2.9 blocks per game. He could only get better.

Watching Davis test his limits will continue to be one of the most intriguing storylines of the season. His future is an empty slate, and he has the potential of filling it up however the need be. Will he become a Duncan prototype or the new-generation Garnett? Will he dominate the post or the perimeter? Will he be the NBA’s leading scorer or the Defensive Player of the Year? Will he be all of the above? The options are limitless.

5. Kobe Bryant

After 19 years in the NBA (longest ‘one team, one player’ tenure), five championships, an MVP award, 17 All Star games, Olympic triumphs, popularity on every corner of the globe, and that one night he scored 81, The Black Mamba is now 37 and transformed into more myth than man. Gone are the days when he challenged to be the league’s finest and carried his team into title contention. Now, Kobe is one of the NBA’s creaky senior citizens, coming off a couple of injury-plagued seasons, and is further plagued by the rebuilt of the team around him.

This was not the way that one of the game’s greatest ever players hoped to ride into the sunset. Will this be Kobe’s last season in the NBA? And if so, what will be the last basketball entry into our box-full of Kobe memories. For better or worse, his thoughts and actions both on and off the court have shaped NBA history over the last two decades and inspired multitudes around the world. Even in a season of potential despair, fans shouldn’t miss their last chance – maybe – of watching Kobe fight against the inevitability of Father Time.

4. Russell Westbrook

Watch him play with the fury of a rabid dog on a mission to destroy every breathing soul in his path. Watch him post 40-point nights back to back to back like it’s a savage stroll in the park. Watch him do that while also setting triple-double records. Watch him average 30-point triple doubles for an entire month. Watch him be the human equivalent of ‘basketball cocaine’, a one-man force of nature that descends upon helpless opponents like a tornado. Watch him run past opposing elite point guards as if they were nothing but scared matadors. Watch him score 50. Watch him challenge for the NBA’s scoring title. Watch him when he plays like an MVP. Watch him scream at the top of his lungs. Watch him for his emotional outbursts. Watch him for his athletic prowess. Watch him dunk, watch him shoot, watch him block, and watch him pass. Watch him make game-winning shots. Watch him challenge for a title.

Just watch him.

3. LeBron James

The story has been told multiple times. Small town boy becomes the top draft pick of his home-state squad, a suffering team in a city with a history of failure but expectations of success. Soon enough, the small town boy becomes the best player in the game and gives that team an outside sniff of that ever-eluding success. But he becomes disenchanted by his near-misses and leaves the small town to team up with better players in a bigger city. He is hated, he is booed, he loses; he is loved, he is adored, he wins. And then, four years after his own success played out as a mirror opposite to the failures of his home team, he returns home.

LeBron James – he of four MVP awards, two championships, five consecutive Finals appearances, and an early spot booked in the pantheon of basketball’s greatest – returned to Cleveland last season to share his talents with the place he calls ‘Home’ and bring a title to the Cavaliers. Branded as one of the greatest even as a teenager, LeBron has lived up to most expectations and answered nearly every question asked of his career – except one: can he bring an NBA title to Cleveland? Once again, reloaded with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on his wings, he will try to achieve his lifelong mission. With his own legacy and the legacy of the Cavaliers on the line, this mission will be one of the stories of the NBA season.

2. Stephen Curry

Last season, many called him lucky, despite the fact that he broke shooting records without breaking a sweat, led his squad to 67 wins on a historically great point differential, defeated every other member of the All NBA team in the playoffs, and won an NBA championship. He sat atop the NBA throne, but many believed that this throne had been given away, not earned.

‘Many’ are wrong. Stephen Curry is one of the finest players in the NBA, and he just happens to be in his absolute prime right now. Single-handedly, Curry’s shooting, dribbling, and passing sprees have the ability to entertain and devastate with equal measure. NBA defences don’t yet have an answer for him, and by the looks of his early season success, no solution seems forthcoming. Curry deserved his MVP award and rapid rise to stardom last season, and going forward, he deserves to be in the conversation of the greatest players of the current era. Every Warriors game should be circled as must-watch TV for the rest of the year. This is a team aiming for 70 wins and another title, led by a player with the ability to score 70 if the night is right. Need I say more?

1. Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant is one of the NBA’s top players right now with the skillset of becoming one of the greatest ever. He had already confirmed his place next to LeBron as the most devastating force in the league before turning the dial all the way up to 11 in the 2013-14 season. Durant made that year his fourth scoring title (32 ppg) while also amassing 7.4 rpg and a career-best 5.5 assists per game. He shot over 50 percent from the field and largely in the absence of Westbrook and carried the Thunder en route to an MVP award. Last year was supposed to be a continuation of his growing prowess, but a Jones fracture put a pause to the ascent and placed uncertainty over his future.

Now, Durant’s career stands at a tipping point. He’s 27, and has come up short of his ultimate goal due to youth or injury every year. He’s also in his contract year and has been silent about his future in Oklahoma City. He’s playing for a new coach in the toughest Western Conference pile-up in years. Next summer, he’s going to be the NBA’s biggest free agent since 2010 LeBron. And meanwhile, his own teammate could challenge him for an MVP trophy. Early shines this season show that Durant is still a wizard on the court (pun intended) as he returns healthy back into the Thunder lineup. This season will define the path for the rest of his career. And this is why he’s the biggest story of the 2015-16 NBA season.

November 27, 2015

Basketball "Champions League" to debut next year featuring former NBA players

Basketball never stops.

If you’re a basketball player and fan, you’ve seen that axiom everywhere you look. You’ve seen it on T-Shirts, on TV advertisements, on the Facebook status updates of your friends and as a hashtag on Instagram. It’s three simple words that drive the lifeline of a true hoophead. Come rain or shine, summer or winter, indoor or outdoor, youth, middle-age, or seniority, whether we get new jobs, start or end families, move to new places, and change ouirselves, basketball stays constant. Basketball never stops.

Now, stretch your imagination and conceive the life of a veteran NBA player: you have played the game for a decade or more, your body and mindset is attuned completely to preparing for basketball and basketball alone, you spend the majority of your off-court time in practice, in locker-rooms, or on travel from city to city for more basketball. And suddenly, it all ends. You retire, take home your last pay-check, and those professional days are gone. Sure you have options to keep playing overseas, in smaller tournaments, or in recreational league, but it’s never the same, and it will never be the same again.

If the best-laid plans of one entreprenuer can come to fruitation, there will soon be an option for former NBA players to get a whiff of that NBA experience again, even after their playing days in the world’s finest basketball league are over.

With names like Rasheed Wallace, Brandon Roy, Rip Hamilton, Josh Howard, Al Harrington, Keyon Dooling, and Maurice Ager already committed, chairman and CEO Carl George is bringing elite basketball players and die-hard fans the ‘Champions League’, a venture not affiliated with the NBA, as an alternative basketball league for former NBA players and young talents looking for basketball employment. According to George, the first season of the league is scheduled to be held in July and August 2016, during the NBA offseason.

(This ‘Champions League’, has of course nothing to do with that ‘Champions League’, although my head automatically starts chanting “The champions!” song whenever I hear that phrase. FIBA - the world's governing body of basketball - has also planned their own unrelated European Basketball Champions league for 2016-17, which sounds like a tweak on the existing EuroLeague.)

In his comprehensive piece on USA Today, Sam Amick does a complete breakdown of the upcoming basketball Champions League.

Sixteen teams to begin competing in the summer of 2016, with a strong preference for players who have competed in the NBA during the last three years. According to George, the New York team is already fully formed and includes former NBA players Al Harrington, Rasheed Wallace and Maurice Ager. Teams in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and Cleveland are up next, with the goal to employ approximately 250 players in all (170 on teams, others as player-coaches or in other roles). Each team would have two former NBA All-stars on the roster and a Hall of Famer in the front office. George said that 60 players have committed to this point, with many more “in the pipeline” while the subsequent teams are rolled out.
Approximately 30 games to be played in July and August, with 10 charity/marketing events in non-NBA markets during the non-season months also included as part of a player’s compensation package. On average, George said, players would make approximately $200,000 per year (for 80 or 90 days of work) in their pay structure if they take part in both the season and the charity events.

“As surprising as it might sound, it comes as a surprise to most of (the players) when their career does come to an end,” George told USA TODAY Sports. “What we become, then, is a transition from that point forward. And we’re thrilled to be at that place. We’re the next step in the evolution."

"It’s not about the money," [Keyon] Dooling, who still serves the NBA Players Association as the Western region player representative, told USA TODAY Sports. "Most guys will tell you that they miss the community in the locker room, the camaraderie in the locker room, they miss their favorite restaurants that they used to travel to in all these different cities, that they miss the noise of the crowd. Those are some things that even a hundred million dollars can’t fill that void.

You should really go out to USA Today and read Amick’s full article to get every bit of detail about this exciting venture.

The Champions League will play an exhibition charity game on Jan. 29 in Saint Louis University’s Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis. Hamilton, Roy, Howard, and Harrington are expected to participate in the game.

November 26, 2015

Basketball and education brings Phillips Academy students from Massachusetts to Chennai

For several years, the relationship between Massachusetts and Tamil Nadu has been strengthened by basketball, specifically through the efforts of the Crossover Basketball and Scholar's Academy who have been flying from the USA to Chennai every year and using basketball as a vehicle for learning and education for Indian children. This year, one member of Team Crossover has extended that relationship by passing it on to students of Andover's Phillips Academy, who are currently in Chennai organizing basketball workshops and working with NGOs.

As part of the Niswarth Hoops 2015 programme, Phillips Academy's Biology instructor Raj Mundra has brought a team of 15 students and head coaches of the varsity basketball team "to explore the intersections of sport, education and culture." The group aims to interact with government and private classrooms, organize basketball workshops, learn from NGOs, and visit cultural sites in and around Chennai during their trip. They landed in India on Sunday, November 22.

The American International School of Chennai, Crossover Basketball, and Teach for India have partnered or are supporting Niswarth Hoops in this programme.

November 24, 2015

Second leg of ACG-NBA Jump basketball talent search held in Ludhiana (Punjab)

Last month, the NBA launched a unique talent hunt programme in India to find the young basketball player with most potential in the country. Joining hands with the ACG Worldwide Group, the NBA introduced the ACG-NBA Jump for players between the ages of 18-22 from around India. Tipping off in the third week of October in New Delhi, the ACG-NBA Jump is scheduled to be held in six Indian cities, pick a shortlist of the finest talents, and then train them to find the best among the best. The winner of this talent search will be given a shot to attend the NBA D-League tryout in the USA next year.

After a successful opening tip in New Delhi last week - which featured India's first NBA pick Satnam Singh as a special guest - the ACG-NBA Jump moved to the city that made Satnam the teenage star that he was: Ludhiana, Punjab. The second leg of the ACG-NBA Jump was held at Ludhiana's famed Guru Nanak Stadium on Saturday, November 21st. Senior Director of Basketball Operations for NBA India Carlos Barroca was among the coaches headlining this event and keeping their eye out for potential star talent from the city and nearby.

The first-of-its-kind ACG-NBA Jump programme will be split into three phases. In the first phase, six regional, one-day elite camps will be held in six cities: Delhi (Oct 26), Ludhiana (Nov 21), Hyderabad (Nov 28), Mumbai (Dec 12), Kolkata (Jan 9), and Chennai (Jan 16). Around 3-5 international coaches from across the globe will conduct the open try out session in all the six cities.The second phase will consist of a national elite training camp where 32 players selected from the six regional camps would assemble for a four-day training period. In the third and final phase, one top player from the national elite training camp would be selected to attend the NBDL Tryout in the USA for the opportunity to earn a spot on a D-League roster. The selected player would continue to undergo training up until the tryout in June 2016. Sony SIX, the official broadcaster of the NBA in India, will create a feature around ACG-NBA Jump, following the programme through its various stages and tracking the winner till his NBA D-league tryout.

November 23, 2015

Calicut University win 2015 All India Inter University Women Basketball Tournament in New Delhi

A close-fought win in the final handed Calicut University of Malappuram (Kerala) the 2015 All India Inter University Basketball Tournament for Women title on Thursday, November 19. The tournament was held at the Jamia Hamdard University in New Delhi.

This was Calicut's first victory in this tournament after a gap of 13 years. The final was a well-contested matchup between Calicut and Hindustan University (Chennai). Calicut led 34-27 at halftime and kept up their close advantage to end the game with a 60-54 win. Aswathy S Thampy scored 22 for Calicut, while Elizabeth Hilarious added 16. Hindustan's leading scorer was Sruthy, who had a team-high 18 points in the loss.

November 20, 2015

Game On: a basketball collaboration between USA and India to assist Dalit girls in Hyderabad

One of the worst things to afflict India - through its history and continuing into the present day - is the caste system. For centuries, the fate of certain human beings has been decided by society from birth simply because of the caste they were born into. In India, the caste system has been used to oppress certain sections of society or for political gain by creating further fissures between different castes. One of the most oppressed castes historically in India has been the Dalits: and over 200 million of them in the country oscillate between the extremes of unequal treatment and vote banks.

Fortunately, there are many in India and abroad who are fighting for Dalit rights. One of these organizations is the Dalit Freedom Network (DFN), created in 2001 by Indians of all different castes with a mission to "end atrocities against the Dalit people through a foundation of education, healthcare, and economic empowerment." Recently, the DFN joined hands with former American athlete Cassandra Irving to support their movement with an unexpected vehicle: basketball.

Irving played basketball in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where she was 1995 Western Slope League Player of the Year, and then went on to play NCAA basketball for Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. In 2013, a trip to India with her son Cooper Irving gave her life a new mission. She learnt about the unfair treatment of Dalits and decided to take action: Irving started the Game On Youth Basketball Camps in Glenwood Springs to teach basketball to young players from ages 5-13. The proceeds from her camp will be used to support 40 Dalit girls in Hyderabad, India, all of whom were rescued from slums by the DFN.

Next year, Irving plans to bring the Game On camps to India itself, in partnership with the DFN. Their first basketball camp is scheduled from February 15-19 at OM Campus in Hyderabad.

Further report via Post Independent

Although this will be the first camp of its kind for girls and sports, Irving sees it as more than just a camp to teach the girls about sports, nutrition and fitness.
“It is life-changing,” Irving said. “Sports gives kids a team around them, a coach behind them and the courage, confidence and competitive mindset inside them to dream bigger, dig deeper and work harder to overcome the challenges that they face in life, both on and off the court. It is also incredibly fun, which is something Dalit kids rarely get to have.”

The first official Game On camp was held this past summer in Glenwood.

November 18, 2015

UBA takes nine Indian basketball players to USA for special training

Earlier this year, the Universal Basketball Alliance (UBA) of India launched their first two-week professional basketball league in India. The league featured eight participating teams representing different Indian cities and games were played in Hyderabad in July. Although the league featured some high-level Indian basketball talent, only a small handful of players were among India's elite or in contention for India's national teams. Chennai Slam won the inaugural event with a final victory over Pune. UBA are also the organizers of India's Men's National University Basketball Tournament.

Now, the UBA is on a quest to help its top players get even better, and in the process shed further light on their efforts to promote their basketball events in India. The UBA has chosen nine Indian players - eight of whom played in the inaugural season of the 2015 UBA Basketball League - to take to Phoenix, Arizona, in the USA for special basketball and fitness training and the opportunity to watch an NBA game in person.

The nine Indian players are currently training at the Kiwanis Recreation Centre, Tempe in Phoenix. They have been provided specially designed professional basketball workout programmes with scouts in attendance. Among the eight veterans of the inaugural UBA pro league earlier this year are India's international player Gurvinder Singh Gill and 2015 UBA Basketball League MVP Ravi Bhardwaj. Although he didn't play in the first season of the league, Punjab and international Indian team veteran Jagdeep Singh Bains is the ninth member of the travelling contingent to train America.

Participating Players
  • Jagdeep Singh Bains (Punjab, Senior India International)
  • Gurvinder Singh Gill (Punjab Steelers, Current Senior India)
  • Ravi Bhardwaj (Punjab Steelers, MVP)
  • Sartaj Singh (Punjab Steelers)
  • Yudhvir Singh (Delhi Capitals)
  • Vijay (Pune Peshwas)
  • Ramkumar (Chennai Slam)
  • Kaife Azam Zia (Bengaluru Beast)
  • Ajinkya Mehta (Pune Peshwas)
Deepesh Solanki, the CEO of UBA India, who is personally accompanying the contingent said, "This programme has been specially designed by professional coaches for our players. Scouts have been invited as well and we are confident that this initiative will re-energize and transform the performance of these elite talents going into season 2 of the UBA India Pro Basketball League."

The players have been taking part in as many as four daily sessions that included basketball practices, strength and conditioning workouts, and physiotherapy. On Sunday, November 15, they got a chance to watch in person their first NBA game at Phoenix's Talking Stick Resort Arena, which the home team Phoenix Suns won 105-81 over the visiting Denver Nuggets.

November 17, 2015

Hoopdarshan Episode 20: The Greatest, Latest Bloomer with Amrit Pal Singh

At 19, Amrit Pal Singh was farming with his father in Fattuwal, Punjab when he was first introduced to basketball. At 23, he is one of India's finest basketball players and is playing professionally for the best team in Japan's D-League. Hoopdarshan - India's finest basketball podcast - introduces you to the dictionary definition of a 'Late Bloomer'. Listen in as Amrit Pal talks to co-hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok about his wild rise from the villages to the Indian hoops elite, his dominant performances in Japan, and finding Butter Chicken in Tokyo.

Apart from officially arriving into the 20s, this is also a Diwali special episode of Hoopdarshan, and we mention many tidbits of the festival from Mussoorie to Tokyo to Melbourne. Amrit Pal Singh further discussed his discovery at 19 in Fattuwal, his hopes to keep helping the rise of Team India, and who would win a 'war' basketball game between him, Amjyot Singh, and Satnam Singh. Furthermore, Kaushik and Karan recap recent events in Indian basketball including the rise of U16 star Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi, discuss the unstoppable machine that is the Golden State Warriors, and a story on randomly running into India's basketball captain at a train station.

Hoopdarshan aims to be the true voice of Indian basketball, and since we're such hopeless fans of the game, it will become the voice of everything basketball related we love, from the NBA to international hoops, too. On every episode of Hoopdarshan, we will be inviting a special guest to interview or chat to about a variety of topics. With expert insight from some of the brightest and most-involved people in the world of Indian basketball, we hope to bring this conversation to a many more interested fans, players, and followers of the game.

Make sure to follow Hoopdarshan on Soundcloud or search for 'Hoopdarshan' on the iTunes Store! Auto-sync Hoopdarshan to your preferred podcast app NOW!

Hoopdarshan can be found on...

    Amjyot's Ascent

    Amjyot Singh’s rapid journey to become the superstar that Indian basketball desperately needed.

    This feature was first published in my column for Ekalavyas on October 14, 2015. Click here to read the original article.

    On one end of the court, Amjyot Singh defended the star perimeter player, and when his opponent switched on a pick, moved in to deny a scoring opportunity to a different player in the post. On the other end of the court, the 6-foot-8 forward stretched his slower defender out to the three-point line and bombed away. Through the course of the game, he continued to secure rebounds, assists, and steals as per his team’s need. Late in the game, with the result still hanging in the balance, he trailed on a fastbreak behind teammate Vinay Kaushik, cleaned up Kaushik’s missed lay-up off the glass, and slammed it home, securing the Indian lead and the tournament’s most crucial victory.

    When the final buzzer rang, India had squeaked past the higher rated Palestine team 73-70 in the Second Round of the 2015 FIBA Asia Basketball Championship in Changsha (China). Amjyot’s teammates surrounded him in jubilation and supported him back to the locker room, just as he had supported them for the entire game. Amjyot finished with 32 points and 11 rebounds, playing 39 of the total 40 minutes in the game to earn India this surprise win and hand Palestine their first loss in the tournament.

    Less than 24 hours later, while most Indians were still being awoken to the kook-ra-koo of the morning rooster or the hollers of the kabari-wallah, Amjyot was in China dominating opponents again, leading India with 26 and 12 to yet another close win over Hong Kong.

    The stellar performances on all ends of the court – displaying both his motor and his versatility – would continue for Amjyot throughout the course of the 2015 FIBA ABC, which he finished as India’s leading scorer and the fourth-leading scorer in the tournament (20.9 ppg) and India’s leading rebounder (8.3 rpg) and helped the team finish at 8th place, their best results in 12 years. India lost to the mighty Chinese at the Quarter-Final stage, but Amjyot left Changsha as one of the top performers in Asia.

    Hailing from Chandigarh, the 23-year-old Amjyot’s rise in prominence as the best player in Indian national colours has paradoxically been both expected and surprising. Amjyot used to be a cricket player in school, but a shoulder injury kept him out of the game for three months. He watched his father – a basketball player – on the court while injured and his interest for the game grew. Soon, he began to sneak out of his after-school cricket practices to play basketball instead. At 15, he ditched cricket for basketball forever.

    He broke into the ranks of India’s youth (under-16) team in 2008, and then became the latest recruit to Ludhiana’s famed Basketball Academy – the same academy which has produced the likes of Yadwinder Singh, Amrit Pal Singh, TJ Sahi, Satnam Singh, Jagdeep Bains, Seema Singh and many more – under the legendary late coach Dr S. Subramanian.

    The discovery helped his ascent, but it was not as early as a player of his potential deserved. In most countries with a better youth scouting system, a talent like Amjyot Singh would’ve been ‘discovered’ and moulded at the highest level available from his pre-teens onwards. Amjyot had to wait till was nearly of college age to receive elite-level coaching. His mastery of the game accelerated, but his late bloom also served as a reminder of how much better he could’ve become had he received serious instruction of the game earlier.

    At 19, Amjyot was selected by the then-Head Coach Kenny Natt to India’s senior national team for the first time to play in the South Asia qualifiers and the 2011 FIBA Asia Basketball Championship. Amjyot showed great promise for India off the bench, and ever since – even as coaches and teammates changed – he became one of the lynchpins for the national team.

    Of course, one can’t speak of Amjyot without speaking of two other Punjabi big men who made the national team debut in 2011 alongside him. Senior national team rookies Amjyot, Amrit Pal Singh, and Satnam Singh – all products of the Ludhiana Basketball Academy – beefed up Kenny Natt’s frontcourt together in an explosion of youth and size that Indian basketball had rarely been blessed with before. Since then, Amrit Pal has been Amjyot’s partner in the national team’s starting frontcourt for the last few years as the two big men dominated at the domestic level, improved at the international level, and headed together to play professionally for the same teams in Japan.

    The story of Satnam Singh diverted sharply. Satnam – four years younger and five inches taller than Amjyot – spent much of his later teenage years in High School at the IMG Academy in Florida, USA, where he developed into a solid young player and eventually became the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA earlier this year. Satnam’s focus on High School hoops in the USA and NBA tryouts kept him out of Indian national team duty after 2013. In his absence, Amjyot and Amrit Pal grabbed the reigns in the middle and flourished in the India jersey.

    But it wasn’t until 2014 that the legend of Amjyot – and the Indian Men’s team around him – took a sharp turn into higher, uncharted territory. At the FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan, China, Amjyot and Amrit Pal – both Sikhs who don the customary turbans to cover their long hair – faced the discrimination of FIBA’s “No Headgear” policy in their first game against Japan, leading to a distracted start and a loss. A day later, hair tied by headbands, Amjyot and India – led by Head Coach Scott Flemming – took out their frustrations on hosts China, the finest team in the continent.

    Amjyot scored a game-high 13 points to go with five rebounds and was masterful on both ends of the floor against the Chinese bigs to help India upset China – for the first time in history – with a 65-58 win. A highlight of the victory was the clutch alley-oop dunk finished by Amjyot to secure the lead for India in the game’s dying minutes. Amjyot would go on to lead India in points, rebounds, and steals at the tournament and make waves with the local and continental media for his skill and versatility. Even more astonishingly, Amjyot and India earned respect at the FIBA Asia Cup despite having any professional basketball experience.

    His work at Wuhan, and later, his domestic and international play at the Asian Games, got Amjyot recruited – along with Amrit Pal – to become the first Indian players chosen for Japanese BJ Summer League in summer of 2015. The two Indian bigs dominated the competition, so much so that they were handed Japanese D-League contracts with the Tokyo Excellence soon after.

    By the time he re-joined Team India in preparation for the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship in Changsha, Amjyot had clearly elevated himself into one of the leaders of a national team in flux, along with Amrit Pal and experienced captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi. India had a new head coach (Sat Prakash Yadav) and were missing five top players who had played a key role in the wonders at Wuhan. Lacking gravely in depth, the big three of Amjyot, Amrit Pal, and Vishesh had to shoulder the heaviest weights in carrying the squad – Amjyot finished the tournament playing a team-high 37 minutes per game, third-most in the competition.

    But instead of pressing him down, the heavier load only pulled the rising star higher up. Amjyot always played like a guard blessed with more size than he had expected. He had the game of a swingman and the height to better most Asian forwards.

    In Changsha, however, his game elevated to another level; there was fluidity with which he moved, handled the ball, and attacked the basket, a confidence that seemed to have been triggered at the recent realization that few in the continent could now stop him or match-up with the offensive arsenal that he had developed. Amjyot played with a combination of inside and outside, height and speed, strength and agility; the only way to guard him was to be as physically gifted as him.

    But it isn’t enough to be only physically gifted: the reason that Amjyot has become one of India’s most prominent male players in recent decades is that he has played with a humility and duty to put team over self. While other prodigious Indian talents – think TJ Sahi or S. Robinson – came up short of their potential, Amjyot seems to be charging rapidly towards his. While many players halted the progress of team development, Amjyot’s rise has come in sync with the rise of Team India. He constantly deflected all the praises we lavished upon him in our Hoopdarshan interview towards his teammates, and speaking to FIBA after his big performance against Palestine, he laughed off his own 32-point, 11-rebound effort by talking about his teammates instead: “They do all the hard work, and I get to score.”

    India has had several individual talents in the last few decades, but there have been few whose talents have worked consistently to provide positive results for the nation. As of now, it may not be a stretch to say that he can be the best male basketball player for India since Jayasankar Menon, who was named to the Asian All Star team in the mid-90s and was nominated for an Arjuna Award.

    If this was cricket, Amjyot Singh – the best performer for the Indian basketball team and one of the best players in his position in Asia – would've been a household name in India by now. Unfortunately, every other sport in the country takes a major backseat in the eyes of the Indian mainstream after cricket.

    The last Indian basketball player to make news across the country was Satnam Singh, on the day he was drafted into the NBA. But Amjyot has done more for the Indian national team, and may be a better overall talent than Satnam right now. Satnam, of course, has an age and size advantage, which will see him start his professional career in the NBA D-League.

    Meanwhile Amjyot (and Amrit Pal) will be heading back to Tokyo for the Japanese D-League, but the former’s performances at Changsha have alerted basketball scouts across the globe of his talents and (still untapped) potential. It would not surprise me if offers from other Asian leagues or Europe come calling. And one can never discount the possibility of that dream NBA or NBDL trial, either.

    In a short span of time, Amjyot Singh’s ascent into the Asian basketball elite has been marvellous and heartening. It should give hope to other late bloomers of the game as well as encourage coaches (and parents) in India not to waste the early, formative years of potential talents. Meanwhile, the Indian basketball family and fans will hope that Amjyot continues to improve, continues to rise up the ranks of Asia’s best players, and with him, carries India higher up, too.

    November 16, 2015

    Hyderabad District Basketball Association (HDBA) panel has been dissolved

    After charges that accused them of holding back the promotion of basketball and basketball players in the city, the incumbent panel of the Hyderabad District Basketball Association (HDBA) was dissolved at a Special General Body Meeting, reported The Hans India. Consequently, a five-member Ad-hoc Committee was formed to run the affairs of the HDBA and conduct fresh elections.

    It was reported that a "growing fissures" within the committee led several members of the HDBA to question the panel's decisions, including non-participation Hyderabad players at the Youth National Championship in Bhavnagar and Junior National Championship in Ludhiana earlier this year. The Hans India reported that: "The decision to dissolve the body was unanimous on the charges that the incumbent panel was not promoting the game to the required levels and for preventing players from the district from attending selection trials called for by the Telangana Basketball Association."

    Via Hans India:

    The observers for the meeting included Vijay Kumar Yadav, President of Hyderabad District Olympic Association and A Aleem Khan, DSDO of DSA, Hyderabad.

    Office-bearers of the Ad-hoc Committee: Mohan Rao (Chairman), R. Sridhar Reddy (Convenor), Norman Isaac, S Nagabhushnam and Solomon Prem Kumar as members.

    Hyderabad - one of the fastest-growing basketball cities in India - is the capital of Telangana and de jure capital of Andhra Pradesh.

    November 15, 2015

    Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA: First-ever weekend 'Festival of Basketball' tips off in Kochi

    The Reliance Foundation and the NBA began tipped off the first-ever Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Weekend Festival, an extension of the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme, on Saturday, November 14, at the SN Public School in Poothotta, Kochi (Kerala). This was the first-ever such weekend basketball festival for children between the ages of 6-10, held on Children's Day in India!

    Over 470 children were invited to this festival and introduced by NBA coaches to five basic basketball skills stations: passing, dribbling, shooting, footwork, and game-play. The camp was led by Carlos Barroca, the Senior Director of Basketball Operations in NBA India, and assisted by coaches Joa Rocha, Jedh, and coaches from the Jr. NBA programme in Kerala.

    The festival was free for participants. Boys and girls between the ages of 6-10 years in Kerala will have two more opportunities to take part in similar festivals: on November 21st at YMCA Alapuzha and November 27 at Little Flower High School in Koratty.

    November 14, 2015

    Satnam Singh named to Texas Legends roster, makes D-League debut on opening night

    It has been a whirlwind few months for Satnam Singh, the 19-year-old 7-footer from Punjab who made history by becoming the first Indian to ever be drafted into the NBA this year. After he completed his storied journey from far rural Punjab to the IMG Academy in Florida, he declared for the NBA Draft after five years at the basketball academy earlier this year. He spent a month travelling around different NBA cities to work out and show his skills, and at the 2015 NBA Draft, he made history when the Dallas Mavericks picked him 52nd. He played for Dallas' Summer League team with mixed returns, came back to India a hero to promote the game and work with the NBA's "Jump" programme, and then returned to the US for his shot at the Mavericks' D-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.

    2015 will be a year that Satnam - and all Indian fans - will never forget. And now, 'King Singh' finally gets the stability he has craved for in Frisco, Texas, to focus back on the one thing that started off his entire journey: basketball.

    A day before their first game of the season, Satnam Singh was named among the 12-man opening night roster for the Texas Legends for their upcoming D-League season. In the Legends' first game on Friday, November 13th on the road to the Austin Spurs, Satnam made his D-League debut off the bench!

    The Legends' opening night roster features Jamil Wilson, Brandon Ashley, Allen Durham, Toure' Murray, and Tu Holloway who started for the team against Austin. Aside from Satnam, the team has more intrigue for Asian fans in the form of Philippines' basketball player Bobby Ray Parks Jr.

    Satnam played 10 minutes in his debut, shot two of four for four points, grabbed three rebounds, and registered one block. However, his Legends lost the game in a blowout to to the Spurs 106-81. Check out Satnam's first pro basket in the video below:

    The D-League season will last till April 2nd, and if Satnam is able to contribute and improve his performances and in-game conditioning, he can be sure to call Frisco his home for the next five months. However, in the best case scenario, I hope that he performs well enough to be relocated about 45 kilometers south to Dallas and earn that NBA call-up!

    Meanwhile, enjoy the Legends' season with Satnam - the schedule is available here and their games are broadcast on YouTube.

    November 13, 2015

    The Hungry Kings: Why the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors could be one of the most dangerous teams in NBA history

    The best team in the league seems to have gotten better. The Golden State Warriors have the dangerous combination of talent and anger, of wearing the crown while being motivated to prove a point to all contenders again. They are the NBA's 'Hungry Kings', and their blistering start to the season could lead them on to become one of the greatest NBA teams of All Time.

    Check out my full article on SportsKeeda

    November 9, 2015

    Great Leap: 7 NBA players who could make the leap from good to great this season

    Time passes, Champions are crowned, MVP awards are won, everyone gets a year older, your favourite players slowly fade into oblivion, and life goes on.

    But for every star that begins to die down, a new star is born!

    Every year, a new group of players take a giant leap from becoming good to great. It usually happens between the second and fourth years in the career of a young NBA talent, as the player begins to fully grasp the true potential of his basketballing powers and begins to get comfortable with the pace and systems in the NBA. In recent years, we have seen the likes of Paul George and Jimmy Butler make such a leap, going from solid starters to NBA All Stars.

    Here are the players who could make that great leap this season - read full article on SportsKeeda!

    November 8, 2015

    Korea win 2015 FIBA Asia U16 title in Jakarta; India drop to 13th place

    Korea's youth team have emerged among Asia's best and given a ray of hope for the future of the nation's basketball programme. At the 2015 FIBA Asia U16 Basketball Championship (FIBA U16 ABC) in Jakarta (Indonesia), Korea ended China's monopoly at the top of the tournament's standings at the semi-final stage, and followed it up with a victory in the Final against Chinese Taipei on Saturday, November 7. This was Korea's first title at the tournament, and the first time that anyone other than China has won the FIBA U16 ABC after four iterations of the tournament.

    The tournament was held from October 29 to November 7 and featured 15 teams (should've been 16 but North Korea pulled out) including India. India's U16 team ended the tournament with a 2-3 record and dropped to 13th place.

    Korea were still buzzing after ousting China at the semi-final stage, but their energy was matched by Chinese Taipei's youngsters in the Final. For the first half, there was little to separate the two teams, as Chinese Taipei held on to a slim 31-30 lead at halftime. But Korea pushed into an extra gear in the third quarter, outscoring Chinese Taipei 28-15 in a stretch that ultimately proved to be the difference. Lee Junghyn and Minwoo Park both scored 17 apiece to lead Korea's march to a 78-69 victory. Minsuk Shin added 16. Lin Ting-Chien was Taipei's highest scorer with 19.

    Both the finalists qualified for the 2016 U17 FIBA World Championship in Spain, as did China, who finished third in the tournament.

    China took out the frustrations of their semi-final loss in the Bronze-Medal game earlier on Saturday against Japan. Led by Rui Wang (22) and Jie Xu (20), China blew the game open in the second quarter. Their 13-point halftime lead was unassailable for the Japanese as China stretched their lead to a 80-58 win. Yudat Nishida scored 18 in a losing effort for Japan.

    Both the semi-finals on Friday were memorable contests between the remaining East Asian teams in the tournament. Korean captain Jae-Min Yang exploded for 30 points as his team edged China 90-84 in an entertaining, high-scoring contest. Minsuk Shin dropped 21 for Korea while Junghyun Lee added 18. China's duo of Rui Wang (20) and captain Yibo Wang (17) couldn't do enough to stop Korea from turning a three-point halftime deficit into a six-point victory. In the earlier semi-final, Chinese Taipei survived a late flurry by Japan to win 60-57 and book their ticket in the final. After a close first half, Chinese Taipei created some separation between the two teams in the third period, and held on to their lead just in time for the final buzzer. Wei-Chieh Tang of Taipei led all scorers with 21.

    At the start of the tournament's Preliminary Round, India found themselves in a tough Group D, which featured two semi-finalists - Korea and China - as well as Iraq. The team was led by Head Coach Mahendar Singh Rathore and captained by rising young star Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi from Tamil Nadu.

    India's start - against threepeat winners China - was not pretty. Despite a good offensive showing in the first quarter, India were helpless to put a roadblock on China's onslaught on the other end of the floor. China outscored India by double digits in each quarter and raced to a comfortable 116-57 win. Rongqi Huang scored 22 to pace China, while Poiyamozhi - a 5-foot-11 undersized forward - had 18 for India.

    Facing the eventual champions Korea the following day, India were determined to correct the previous day's mistakes and put up a more respectable showing. Despite a 19-point loss, India played one of their best games on the tournament. Korea had a three-point lead at the end of the first quarter, which they opened up to 12 by halftime. But an offensive explosion in the third had India down by just 8 before the start of the final period with dreams of an upset. Alas, Korea showed their class in the decisive fourth, outscoring India 28-17, and cruising to a 104-85 win. The Korean duo of Jae-Min Yang (25 points, 12 rebounds), Sechan Seomoon (22), and Hyunjung Lee (19) were a handful for India all game, but it was Indian captain Poiyamozhi that truly stole the show, totaling his tournament-best 33 points to go with 10 rebounds for India in the loss. Adarsh Jayakumar aided his effort with 23.

    India followed the encouraging performance with a dud against Iraq, in what would've been their most-winnable game of the Preliminary Stage. Despite ranking higher than Iraq, India came out flat and allowed Iraq to lead by double digits early in the game. India had no answer for Iraq's Abdullah Abdullah, who exploded for 39 points and 6 rebounds in an impressive solo performance that helped his squad win 90-69. Abbas Al-Qarnawi added 16 for the winning side. Poiyamozhi was again India's top man, scoring 26 points in a losing effort, while his teammate Ankit Joshi scored 24.

    By finishing last in their group, India failed to qualify for the tournament's Second Round and had to settle for 13-16th place classification games. They received a 'bye' win 20-0 against the absent North Korea in the first game.

    India's first and only 'real' win of the tournament was in their last game against Hong Kong. After gaining an extra day's rest because of North Korea's no-show, India played with an extra skip in their step in the second and third quarters of the game versus Hong Kong, outscoring their opponents by 16 in that crucial 20 minute stretch. Three Indians touched 20 in this encouraging 80-70 win, led as always by Poiyamozhi (22 points, 8 rebounds), Ankit Joshi (20 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists), and Adarsh Jayakumar (20 points, 7 rebounds). Hong Kong's captain Yiu Pong Yip scored a team-high 21.

    India ended the tournament at 13th place, dropping two spots after finishing 11th in 2013.

    It was a tournament of ups and downs for the young, relatively inexperienced Indians. The performances against Korea and the finale versus Hong Kong showed the potential of many of players, as individuals and as a collective. But the loss against Iraq will be remembered as the tournament's big tipping point for India. They can also consider themselves lucky to earn a win without playing against North Korea, although an extra game would've always been useful to provide more exposure to the players.

    The big story for India was of course the star captain Baladhaeshwar Poiyamozhi. After dominating the youth and sub-junior levels for Tamil Nadu in recent years, Poiyamozhi was a force to be reckoned with in his first big international tournament for India. He finished as India's leading scorer (24.8 ppg) and rebounder (6.2 rpg) and was second in assists (3.5 apg) and would've finished as among the leading scorer in the entire tournament had India played more games. The little forward plays much bigger than his size, and hopefully has a bright future ahead of him for the country. India also got encouraging performances by Ankit Joshi (13.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Adarsh Jayakumar (14.2 ppg) and Manoj Sisodiya.

    November 7, 2015

    Delhi's Modern School boys and girls win 2015 Win Mumby Tournament in Mussoorie

    Perched over 7,000 feet above sea level in the Himalayas can be a challenging place for basketball, but its only from the challenge that the most elite of young talents can emerge. Woodstock School in Mussoorie - my alma mater! - hosted the 16th Win Mumby All India Basketball Tournament from November 3-6. Both boys and girls finals were held on Friday, November 6, with Modern School from New Delhi hoisting both the titles in an impressive clean sweep.

    Led by Sunil Rathee - one of the top young players in Delhi state - Modern's boys team showed no mercy to hosts Woodstock in the boys' final, running to a blowout 65-33 win. Earlier in the day, Modern's girls defeated Welham Girls from Dehradun behind a strong effort by Ragnee Jha.

    Modern's Ragnee Jha was named the MVP in the girls' section, while Woodstock's Dipankar Nakarmi was the boys' MVP.

    Earlier on Friday, Modern's girls defeated Strawberry Fields High School (Chandigarh) in the semi-final stage, while Welham Girls' got past Wynberg-Allen Mussoorie. In the boys' semi-finals, Modern defeated The Asian School (Dehradun) and Woodstock beat Welham Boys' (Dehradun).

    Padma Shri winning actor and former captain of Woodstock's basketball team Tom Alter was the chief guest at the event.