July 28, 2016

Two Spanish clubs assist basketball camp with rural kids in Anantapur (Andhra Pradesh)

For several years, the Anantapur Sports Academy (ASA) has been organising grassroots sports activities in the Anantapur (Andhra Pradesh) region, with a mission to bring out the hidden talents of rural Indian children in different sporting disciplines. A part of the Rural Development Trust (RDT), ASA is considered to be one of the largest sport for development programs, providing participating youth with infrastructure, equipment and coaching support.

ASA currently runs an established three-tiered structure to develop sports in seven major sporting disciplines, Football, Hockey, Cricket, Judo, Tennis, Softball and Special Olympics. But over the past week, they got some international help to spread their wings and bring some Basketball joy to hundreds of rural kids in Anantapur, too.

From July 16-29, 2016, fourteen coaches from two Spanish basketball clubs from the town of Sant Cugat del Valles - Unió Esportiva Sant Cugat (UESC) and QBasket Sant Cugat (QBSC) - were in India, and they trained about 220 children from all over Andhra Pradesh at three different venues. The camp was held in collaboration with the RDT, Fundación Vicente Ferrer, and the Sant Cugat Esport FC Spanish football club who had been holding football camps in Anantpur since 2013.

Oriol Antras Marti, UESC's coordinator for the duration of this camp, said "We are very glad to associate ourselves with RDT to organise this camp. SCEFC is here for their fourth camp, they have established, a structure for football, and a strong bond with the children and associated personnel. This has helped them grow the game of football greatly over just four years. Which is why we are looking to follow their lead, establish a similar structure and emulate them to try and grow Basketball in Anantapur similar to how they have done with football."

Maxon Sequira, a member of the ASA Communications team, wrote that the prime objective behind organising the camp was to encourage the existing Basketball playing youngsters to continue playing the sport and introduce the sport to the younger non playing children who poured in from some of the most remote villages of Anantapur and nearby districts to learn and play Basketball.

Sequire added that apart from the daily coaching sessions, the coaches also met with local associations, coaches and PE teachers on their visits to the villages in Anantapur. They aimed to educate these people and equip them with necessary skills to carry on the work of promoting the sport till the next camp.

UESC and QBasket are both in the Spanish fourth division and Catalan first division.

July 26, 2016

William Jones Cup 2016: Taiwan visa error costs 2 Indian stars multiple games

After an 11-year gap, India's Men's national team's return to the prestigious William Jones Cup in Taiwan has been a bit of a mixed bag so far. India named their strongest-possible team out of the available pool, but still started the tournament with three consecutive losses. But the 0-3 record looks harsher than it should: India's first loss to California State University was to a miracle three pointer with 20 seconds left in the game and their third loss to Taipei Blue happened in overtime after a neck-to-neck contest. Even without a single win, India have announced their arrival as one of the most improved teams in the continent and a force to be reckoned with at next month's FIBA Asia Challenge.

Alas, India's close call losses early in this tournament now come burdened with an unfortunate - and frankly ridiculous - asterisk. On Monday, The Times of India reported that two of India's crucial players - captain Amrit Pal Singh and swingman Basil Philip - failed to fly to Taiwan with the rest of the team on Friday because of a visa blunder by the Embassy of Taiwan. TOI's Payal Dhawani reported that the Taiwan Embassy swapped the photographs of Amrit Pal and Philip in their visas. The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) only learnt of this gaffe on Friday evening, hours before the flight to Taiwan.

Without their captain and defensive stalwart Amrit Pal, and without the scoring ability of Philip off the bench, India have still played well behind the talents of Amjyot Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, and TJ Sahi, but the team didn't have enough juice to close out some of the close games. Amrit Pal and Philip are expected to miss one more game on Tuesday against Korea and will hopefully rejoin the squad after their visa troubles have been sorted for Game 5 on Wednesday against Egypt.

Amrit Pal spoke of his distress to The Times of India on Monday, while BFI's Secretary-General Chander Mukhi Sharma had stronger words to add, alleging that Taiwan purposefully tried to hold back Indian stars from making it to the William Jones Cup. Via The Times of India:

Photo Courtesy: Ekalavyas.com
A distressed Amritpal told TOI, "I was going to play in my first William Jones Cup and was very excited. Now, I am really disheartened that due to negligence of the embassy, I could not reach Taiwan. The entire team is in Taiwan except for me and Basil."
"Since (Saturday) morning, the federation is trying to get the visa issue resolved."

Meanwhile, the BFI suspects it to be a deliberate act on the part of Taiwan embassy since both Amritpal and Basil were strong players of the Indian team. Talking to TOI, Chander Mukhi Sharma, the secretary general of BFI, said, "Due to the fault of Taiwan embassy two of our important players Amritpal Singh and Basil Philip could not go for the William Jones Cup in Taipei. The federation will certainly file a formal complaint to Fiba on this."
Sharma further alleged, "This could also be a deliberate act to make our team weaker. I will get the documents on Monday. After discussing this with the federation a plaint will be lodged against the embassy."

Sharma has made a strong allegation, and it will be interesting to hear FIBA's reaction to BFI's complaint about this error. Whether it was a 'deliberate act' or not, the Embassy of Taiwan has clearly caused Team India unnecessary troubles, and may have even cost us a win or two.

UPDATE: Taiwan diplomat rejects India's accusations, blames travel agency.

Responding to accusations made by BFI's Secretary-General Chander Mukhi Sharma, Taiwanese diplomat in New Delhi Tien Chung-Kwang told China Post on Tuesday that Amrit Pal Singh and Basil Philip's mix-up was caused by the local travel agency that the BFI used, and not the Embassy of Taiwan.

Via China Post:
Tien Chung-kwang said the travel agency used by India's national basketball team to arrange the trip used the wrong pictures of two players in their visa applications, leading to the problems.

According to the diplomat, the travel agency sent information on all of the players headed to Taiwan to his office on July 20 to process visas, and their visas were issued the following day.
But the travel agency realized afterwards that it had switched the photos of Singh and Philip on their original applications, and quickly sent revised files for the two players to the office just before it closed on July 22, Tien said.
The new visas could not be processed in time to allow the players to catch a flight to Taiwan that night, leading them to miss India's opening game in the Jones Cup on July 23.

The William Jones Cup is supposed to be a crucial preparatory tournament ahead of the bigger FIBA Asia tournaments. It's a pity that, while India has performed well, they haven't been rewarded with the morale-boosting victories that they could have clinched with Amrit Pal and Philip. Hopefully, the two players will rejoin the squad safely and will be ready for tomorrow's game. India have four more matches at William Jones over the next five days, and a big victory or two will considerably raise the team's confidence level for the FIBA Asia Challenge next month.

Hoopdarshan Episode 33: NBA Free Agency Reactions with Jonathan Rego

It's been a hell of a summer for the average NBA fan, and Episode 33 of the Hoopdarshan podcast takes a deep, long dive into the most pressing issues on our mind in this historic offseason. NBA superfan and India's first FIBA agent Jonathan Rego joins hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok to talk about all the ramifications and reactions to Kevin Durant in the Warriors, the response from Russell Westbrook and LeBron James, the ever-changing concept of NBA loyalty after Dwyane Wade's move to Chicago, and the news of Tim Duncan's retirement that made Jonathan physically ill. It's all here, and it's going to blow your mind!

Aside from the NBA news, Episode 33 of Hoopdarshan also checks up on recent events in Indian basketball, including India's qualification for this year's FIBA Asia Challenge, the cold war between the BFI and the UBA, and the third season of the UBA Basketball League.

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...

July 22, 2016

Indian Senior Men’s Basketball team returns to the prestigious William Jones Cup in Taipei

Held since 1977, the William Jones Cup in Chinese Taipei is one of the most prestigious international basketball tournaments in Asia, an invitational championship that is both a source of pride and an important warm-up run for bigger FIBA Asia basketball events. After 11 long years, India Men's basketball team will finally make a return to the tournament this year.

Nine teams - a mix of international, clubs, and college - will take part in the 38th William Jones Cup International Basketball Tournament at the Hsinchuang Gymnasium in the city of Taipei from 23 to 31 July. The matches will be played in a round robin league format, with each team playing 8 matches. The team with the best record will be crowned champions.

This tournament will give India the opportunity to gain valuable exposure ahead of the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge, which is set to be held in Iran next month. The Indian lineup remains largely unchanged from the team that won the SABA Qualifiers earlier this month in Bengaluru, except for the return of star forward Amjyot Singh and the inclusion of Tamil Nadu’s Prasanna Venkatesh. Amrit Pal Singh will again take the captain's mantle for India and will be joined in the flanks with star Vishesh Bhriguvanshi. The team will be coached by Sebastian Padipurakkal Joseph.

"Being a prestigious tournament, the Indian men’s team got an invitation from the Taipei Basketball Association," said K Govindraj, the President of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) during the kit distribution ceremony at the Kanteerava Stadium Complex in Bengaluru earlier this afternoon on Thursday, "This will be excellent exposure for all our players who can correct themselves keeping in mind the upcoming FIBA Asia Challenge." Also present at the ceremony to convey his best wishes to the departing contingent was newly appointed Superintendent of Police & Director, Youth Empowerment & Sports Department, Bengaluru, Anupam Agarwal.

"It is going to be a great opportunity for us to prepare for the upcoming FIBA Asia Challenge," said Assistant Coach CV Sunny, "In all our positions, we have excellent depth and our chances are bright, so we can definitely put up a good fight against all the teams."

Participating Teams: Egypt, Iran, India, Japan, Korea, Mighty Sports (Philippines), California State University (USA), China, China B.

Indian Squad for the 38th William Jones Cup 2016
  • Arshpreet Singh Bhullar
  • Amjyot Singh
  • Vishesh Bhriguvanshi
  • Amrit Pal Singh Captain
  • Basil Philip
  • Rikin Pethani(
  • Aravind Annadurai
  • Arvind Arumugam
  • Ravi Bhardwaj
  • Akilan Pari
  • TJ Sahi
  • Prasanna Ventakesh
  • Head Coach: Sebastian Padipurakkal Joseph
  • Coach: CV Sunny
  • Physiotherapist: Navaneeth Atholi Thiruvoth
  • Manager: Chengalraya Naidu Talipinani

This is an impressive-looking Indian squad, and the addition of Amjyot can definitely help India achieve something special. Amjyot and India's captain Amrit Pal played last season for Japan D-League's Tokyo Excellence and helped guide them to a third-consecutive title. The last time Amjyot donned India colours, he was one of the top performers at the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship finishing among the top 5 in scorers (20 ppg), and among the top ten in rebounds (8.3 rpg), blocks (1.1 bpg), efficiency (+17.1), and freethrow percentage (73.1 FT%). India has an interesting core of youth (Ravi Bhardwaj, Arshpreet Bhullar) and experience (Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Prasanna Venkatesh). Explosive point guard TJ Sahi continues his return to the national scene. Talented young big men like Rikin Pethani, Aravind Annadurai, and Bhardwaj will also make India one of the longest teams at the tournament. India has long needed this type of exposure tournaments before bigger FIBA Asia clashes - the William Jones Cup will provide the team with the perfect platform to fine-tune their chemistry and cause some shocks at the Asian stage.

Team India's Schedule - All timings IST
  • India vs California State University – 23rd July, 12:30 PM
  • India vs Japan – 24th July, 12:30 PM
  • India vs China – 25th July, 4:30 PM
  • India vs Korea – 26th July, 12:30 PM
  • India vs Egypt – 27th July, 10:30 AM
  • India vs Mighty Sports – 28th July, 10:30 AM
  • India vs China B – 29th July, 10:30 AM
  • India vs Iran – 31st July, 10:30 AM

The schedule, as you can see, is relentless. All the teams will play in eight games in nine days, which is sure to take a toll on the players by the end of the tournament. On paper, India is the lowest rank national team, and the other squads from the USA, Philippines, and China will also prove to be huge challenges for the Young Cagers. Hopefully India can avoid injuries, post a respectable finish, and be in decent health and form for the FIBA Asia Challenge next month.

The William Jones Cup is a prestigious annual invitational tournament, the inaugural edition of which was held in 1977. The Cup was conceived and named to honour Dr. Renato William Jones, who served as one of the founders of FIBA and served as its first Secretary General for 44 years. Iran is the tournament's defending champion, while the team from the USA has been the most successful in the competition, with 15 gold medal finishes. The last time the Indian men’s team competed at the William Jones Cup was way back in 2005. The Indian Women's team, however, played in the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Cup.

July 21, 2016

Preview: India's campaign at 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship to tip off in Tehran (Iran)

The qualifying round was a breeze. India's Junior players, the future stars of the senior national squad, easily swept aside South Asian rivals at the SABA Qualifiers in Bangladesh last month. The average margin was victory was over 68 points each, and India - in impressive fashion - had secured their spot at the 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship.

Now begins the real test.

India's U18 squad was officially announced by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), as the 12-man contingent headed for Tehran (Iran) for the FIBA Asia U18 Championship, set to be held from July 22-31. The tournament will take place at the Azadi Sports Complex in Tehran. India will be among 12 teams taking part in this tournament, which is the highest level of competition for junior players in the continent. In the last iteration of the FIBA Asia U18 in 2014, China won the championship for the third time in the row while the disappointing Indian squad finished at last place (13th).

For the preliminary round of 2016 FIBA Asia U18, India have been grouped with reigning champions China, Philippines, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, and Iraq. India will be captained by Tamil Nadu phenom Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi and head coached by Dilip Gurumurthy, a former Indian Olympian from the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Participating teams
  • Group A: China, Chinese Taipei, India, Iraq, Philippines, Thailand.
  • Group B: Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Lebanon.

Team India roster for 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship
  • Hansraj (Delhi)
  • Saqlain Jamir Sayyed (Maharashtra)
  • Rachit (Delhi)
  • Vishal Kumar Gupta (Uttar Pradesh)
  • Mohammed Ali (Rajasthan)
  • Deepak (Haryana)
  • Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi (Tamil Nadu) - Captain
  • Hariram Raghupathy (Tamil Nadu)
  • Daniel Richards Arthur Wilson (Tamil Nadu)
  • Gineeb Benny (Kerala)
  • Muhammed Shiras Noushad (Kerala)
  • Sahil (Haryana)
  • Head Coach: Dilip Gurumurthy
  • Assistant Coach: Paramdeep Singh
  • Physio: Dr. Kannan Ratinasamy Bose
  • Team Manager: Ashok Sahu

India's Preliminary Round Schedule - All Timings IST
  • India vs Thailand – 22nd July, 5:00 PM
  • India vs China – 23rd July, 1:00 PM
  • India vs Chinese Taipei – 24th July, 5:00 PM
  • India vs Iraq – 26th July, 9:00 PM
  • India vs Philippines – 27th July, 9:00 PM

The top four teams from each group will qualify for the Quarter-Finals and Placement Rounds, which are set to begin on July 29th. The Final is scheduled on July 31st.

For India, qualifying for a Quarter-Final spot is a real possibility if the team can provide up to its potential. India, on paper, is better than Thailand and Iraq in Group A. If they are able to defeat both those teams, they can be ensured of a fourth place finish. Anything more - against better-seeded sides like China, Chinese Taipei, or the Philippines - will be a bonus.

India's fortunes will depend largely on the performances of Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi, who has played well for the national squad in the SABA Qualifiers and the FIBA Asia U16 Championship last year. He also represented India at the Basketball Without Borders Asia camp earlier this year. Fans should also keep an eye out for talents such as Gineeb Benny and Vishal Kumar Gupta.

The favourites for the tournament will again be China, while Group B giants Korea and Iran could also be in the mix for ending China's unstoppable run at the top.

July 16, 2016

3rd season of UBA Basketball League tips off in Pune with focus on improved infrastructure

Less than four months after the Delhi Capitals won the second season of the UBA Basketball League, the short-term professional league has returned to India for a surprise third season - their second season of the calendar year. Season 3 of the UBA Basketball League tipped off at the Balewadi Stadium in Pune on Friday, July 15, featuring the same eight teams that have been a part of the league since its origin. In Season 3, the organizers have stressed focus on improving the basketball infrastructure at the games, securing deals with international flooring and equipment companies.

Season 3 is scheduled to be held in Pune from July 15-31, 2016. The eight participating teams are: Delhi Capitals (reigning champions), Chennai Slam (season 2 runners-up, season 1 champs), Pune Peshwas (host team and season 1 runners-up), Mumbai Challengers, Bengaluru Beast, Hyderabad Sky, Punjab Steelers, and Haryana Gold.

One of the main new features to the Season 3 action will be an international standard floor at the Balewadi Stadium. For the first time in India, the wooden flooring has been imported especially for this tournament, and will be laid out in Pune. The new floor is of NBA quality and was last used at the NBA All Star Weekend in Toronto. The floor is an exclusive design for the UBA.

Apart from the floor, the season will also feature goals provided by Spalding and official balls from Evo1.

The third season will be shown live on Ten Sports Network channels, Ten 1 and Ten 2.

Present at the press conference at the announcement for Season 3 were Michael Yanke, Chief Marketing Officer – UBA, Todd Mack, Managing Director – UBA, Nandini Basappa, Vice President – Basketball Federation of India and Vivek Mehta, Director – UBA.

When speaking about season three, CEO of United Basketball Alliance (UBA), Tommy Fisher said, “After an overwhelming response to the earlier seasons of the UBA Pro Basketball League, we endeavour to make this edition bigger than before."

While the UBA League has brought an exciting new avenue to basketball in India, it has not been without its share of controversy. The Basketball Federation of India (BFI), the governing body of Indian hoops, recently announced that players/officials in any 'unauthorized' competition in India, like the UBA, will not be allowed to take part in India's official national and international events. This has created an 'outcast' feeling to the league, much like the ICL was to Indian cricket a decade ago.

July 10, 2016

In Your Face: Zhou Qi

I originally wrote this article for the August 2016 edition of SLAM Magazine (SLAM No. 200).

Xinjiang, 7-2, C

When Yao Ming announced his retirement in 2011, he left a 7-foot-plus hole in the hearts of the world’s most-populous nation. But months before Yao’s career officially ended, China already got a promise of the future. Proudly wearing China’s colours at the little know Turk Telecom youth tournament in Turkey, 15-year-old Zhou Qi helped his country to an unlikely gold medal, putting up 41 points, 28 rebounds, and 15 blocks in the semi-final against Germany and providing a game-winning encore with 30-17-8 against the hosts in the Final.

For the next five years, Zhou slowly turned his promise to reality. He made his name in China’s youth circuits, destroyed Asian opponents, and become a young star in the Chinese Basketball Association.

But now, the skinny (listed at 218 lbs), 7-foot-2, 20-year-old from the city of Xinxiang is ready to bulk up into an even larger pair of shoes: after years of success in China, the young man must prove himself all over again in the United States.

“I want teams and fans in the US to know, first and foremost, that I’m a team player,” Zhou says. “I wanna be in an environment where I can help my teammates to be the best they can be.”

“Today’s NBA is asking so much more from a single player. To be more than a single position. The game is much faster. I need to adopt to different styles of play. On offense, I must learn to attack from the outside, be both a perimeter and a post player. On defence, I must learn to guard guards as well as centers.”

Zhou hopes to find long-term success in the league. But even before he ever steps on an NBA court, he’ll know that the weight of Yao be hanging over his slender shoulders.

“I don’t feel any pressure. If I can take the torch from Yao, I hope I can have a good career and pass the torch to someone to else. Right now, I just want to be myself.”

July 9, 2016

Olympic Dreams

Indian Basketball’s Olympic Dream: A step-by-step guide.

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas.com on June 29, 2016. Click here to read the original feature.

The photographs of the past – black-and-white, sepia, unfocused, and unclear – tell stories of a million words. Brown-skinned players in tight basketball vests, some wearing turbans, spread across a basketball court, playing with the words भारत (Bharat) in the Devanagari script adorned across their backs. They were making history. For the first and only time ever, an Indian Basketball team had played at the Summer Olympics.

In the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow (Russia), India’s Basketball team lost every game they played by a huge margin, finished 0-7, and at last place out of the twelve participating teams. And yet, the achievements of Ajmer Singh, Paramjit Singh, Radhey Shyam, and more left an indelible mark on the game. India had played at the biggest stage in international basketball. The future of the sport for the young country seemed to be in good hands.

Alas, that future has been mostly downhill since then. In the 36 years since Moscow, Indian Basketball hasn’t even sniffed the success they enjoyed in the 70s and 80s. India has generally struggled at the FIBA Asia Basketball Championship (ABC) stage, and without continental success, failed to qualify for the FIBA World Cup or make the exclusive club of Olympic teams. Despite brief respites such as the victory over China in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup, both Men and Women’s squads have a long way to go before they can truly contend against the highest level.

But with 2016 Rio Olympics nearing and the Indian contingent in other sports gearing up to bring back some medals to the country, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the Olympic fever, too. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how India made it to the Olympics in 1980, how our Men’s and Women’s squads can improve to contend for a future Olympic spot (2024), and the qualification process to make the dream come true.

So, how exactly did we get there in 1980?

The 1980 Olympics will probably be remembered as one of the most controversially staged events in post-World War history, and I recalled Indian Basketball’s 1980 presence at the Moscow Olympics in comprehensive detail for SportsKeeda four years ago.

It took a topsy-turvy chain of events – both political and athletic – that eventually landed India among the final twelve Men’s basketball teams in Moscow. In 1979, the Soviet Union began their military invasion of Afghanistan. In retaliation, the United States decided to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in the Soviet capital of Moscow and withdraw their athletes. Soon, more nations aligned with the USA’s stance withdrew from the Olympics as well.

There was one spot for Asian teams at the tournament, and China – winners of the 1979 FIBA ABC – had withdrawn after the USA. And then, the second, third, and fourth placed countries from the 1979 ABC – Japan, South Korea, and Philippines – withdrew from the Olympics, too. This left the Asian Olympic spot free for the lucky fifth place finishers. Which was… India!

India found themselves among Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Italy, Poland, Australia, Spain, Brazil, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, and Senegal at the Olympics Men’s Basketball Tournament. Team India comprised of captain Paramjit Singh, 6’5” superstar Ajmer Singh, talented forward Shyam Radhey, Amarnath Nagarajan, Baldev Singh, Hanuman Rathore, Diniar Parvez Irani, Tarlok Singh Sandhu, Paramdip Singh, Dilip Gurumurthy, Jorawar Singh, and Harbhajan Singh. India lost every game, which was definitely a disappointment, but nevertheless, the twelve men who represented the country in Moscow were immortalised forever.

After another fifth place finish at the 1981 FIBA ABC, India never reached the top five in Asia again. The Women’s team only made it to the top five of the Women’s ABC in 2013. Neither have ever been close enough to qualify for the twelve-team Olympic contingent.

How can we contend again?

The next few paragraphs are mostly speculative, utopian fiction. A lot easier said than done.

To qualify for the Olympics, India’s Men’s and Women’s teams need to first be good enough to challenge the best in Asia. For the 2016 Olympics, only one Asian team of each gender – the ABC winner – was guaranteed a spot; the rest of the top four (Men) and top three (Women) booked their place in FIBAOQT and had to qualify from there. India will need to contend with the likes of China, Iran, Japan, Philippines, South Korea, etc.

The first step towards this drastic improvement will be to fix the issues plaguing Indian basketball at its leadership level. Due to the chaos caused by warring factions and subsequent inaction by the Ministry of Sports, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) is de-recognised, crippling the development of the sport to its full potential. Only once the BFI can come to a peaceful resolution will it encourage confidence among investors like IMG-Reliance to provide funding into Indian basketball, funding that will help grow the game at the grassroots, attract expert coaches, improve infrastructure, and encourage young players to invest their careers in basketball.

India needs great coaches like Scott Flemming and Francisco Garcia, our former Men’s and Women’s national coaches, and we need these coaches long-term to set-up a system and inspire a generation of young coaches to train other coaches and players around the country.

We need a professional basketball league, one that provides our players with round-the-year basketball opportunity, keeps them in shape, and creates a more professional and disciplined environment. It will incentivise more Indian players to take basketball seriously as a career.

While some grassroots academies are already functioning well around the country, more effort should be put into discovering and honing talent from a younger age in big cities, small towns, and even villages, to make basketball more accessible. Schools in India already have the potential. Once the coaching and scouting improves, more talents will develop in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Haryana, Assam, West Bengal, etc. This will deepen India’s talent pool and inevitably benefit the national teams.

One of the biggest complaints of past Indian coaches and current/past players is that India rarely gets enough exposure or practice games before big international tournaments. Our federation needs to invest in ensuring that our national team players play in more international matches against a variety of opponents. The new FIBA calendar will ensure a longer qualification period with more games after 2017, but India needs to be better prepared and organized to take part in other international contests, too. Big game experience against great teams will make our own players better.

Finally, all of this coaching, grassroots preparation, and improved infrastructure should result in some top-heavy star power for the national team. Players like Satnam Singh, Amrit Pal Singh, Amjyot Singh, and Palpreet Singh are already taking their skills internationally. With our bigs on a steady road to improvement, the men’s squad will need to develop better perimeter talents like Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and floor generals on the point guard position.

The women’s squad lost its greatest-ever talent Geethu Anna Jose to a self-imposed exile from the game, but there are some young up and comers like Jeena PS, Poojamol, and Poonam Chaturvedi to carry the mantle forward. While the men need help in the perimeter position, the women could definitely do with some size and physicality to hold strong against some of Asia’s best bigs.

Now that we’re in contention, how do we qualify for the Olympics?

Even in our entirely hypothetical scenario, let’s be semi-realistic, and imagine that India can achieve all of the above in about five years (Summer 2021). Cool. Now we have a team that can contend against the best in the continent. So, what do we have to do to qualify for the Summer 2024 Olympics?

We’ll have to qualify for the 2023 FIBA World Cup first. The FIBA Calendar, as I mentioned previously, is going to change from 2017. Teams from Oceania (Australia, New Zealand) will now play in the Asian qualifiers pool. Currently, India’s FIBA Asia ranking is 10th for Men and 5th for Women. Adding Oceania teams will push both down a couple of spots. This will still keep us in the higher level Group A of the World Cup qualifiers (top sixteen). These qualifiers will be held from November 2021 to February 2023 over the course of several international windows in home and away games. India will have to finish in the top seven to qualify for the World Cup, which means challenging Australia, China, Iran, New Zealand, Philippines, Jordan, and Korea.

If India is successful, we will play among the 32 teams at the 2023 FIBA World Cup. Seven of these teams will then qualify for the 2024 Olympics, and for India to be among them, our only hope is to finish among the top three Asian squads. Finishing as the best Asian team is an automatic Olympic qualification. Finishing second or third will direct India to the eight-team FIBAOQT in 2024; four of these eight teams will qualify for the 2024 Olympics.

Remember, India is already in the top twelve of the Asia/Oceania combination. We have five to six years to improve to get into the top seven and make the World Cup. There, we have to finish in the top three of only the Asian teams (excluding Oceania) to have a shot at the Olympics.

The final twelve-team Olympic field in 2024 will be: top seven teams from World Cup (two from Americas, two from Europe, one each from Africa, Asia, and Oceania), one host, and four teams from the FIBAOQT.

Got all that? In our dream scenario, India is among those twelve. And the real “acche din” have begun.

We’ve made it! Now what?

Making the Olympics is a herculean task, because there are a hundred teams around the world who will look at the qualifying structure and believe that they can perform miracles and make it, too. India’s Men currently rank 53rd in the World and the Women rank 40th. To break into the top twelve for the Olympic stage will require intense amount of preparation and a lot of good fortune. We cannot count on a 1980-type political situation to gift us a spot again: this time, we’ll have to earn it.

The task isn’t impossible, it’s just highly improbable. But what if we make it? What if it’s India facing up against the best in the world, including Spain, Lithuania, Argentina, France, and of course, the mighty United States, featuring whoever NBA stars are running the league at that point (Karl Towns will probably be the centrepiece)?

India will have a shot at glory. Every half-decent performance will reverberate exponentially back home. Proud fans will cheer on the ‘Young Cagers’. Our best players will become sporting icons.

It’s mostly a dream, but India has the world’s largest youth population. Professional interest into the sport could open the floodgates for another golden age of basketball in the near future. Hopefully, there will come a day when desi accents infiltrate into the international hoops world and we can bust out those amazing भारत jerseys again!

India win 2016 SABA Qualifiers in Bengaluru and qualify for FIBA Asia Challenge

Once again, Team India proved to be in a class of their own at the South Asian level. With three convincing victories from July 6-8, India steamrolled through opponents from Nepal, Maldives, and Bangladesh to a perfect 3-0 record at the South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) qualifiers and clinched their qualification for the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge. India hosted the qualifiers at Bengaluru's Sri Kantaveera Stadium this week.

Captained by big man Amrit Pal Singh with head coach Sebastian Padipurakkal Joseph calling the shots from the sidelines, India showed no hitch or hint of letdown against teams from neighbouring nations. The three victories were notched up by an impressive average margin of 48 points each.

India's campaign to qualify for the FIBA Asia Challenge got underway on Wednesday, July 6 against Nepal, who eventually staked their claim as the second-best team at the tournament. India started in the best way possible, on a 17-0 run and holding on to a 23-4 advantage at the end of the first quarter. While Nepal showed considerable improvement in the second period, India did just enough after halftime to post an insurmountable lead and notch a 81-53 victory.

India had a major size advantage in Game 2 against Maldives on Thursday, and despite some inconsistencies and unforced errors, they again started off on fire (23-5) and held a comfortable 37 point lead at halftime. India remained on cruise control in the second half and a fourth-quarter flurry saw them extend the lead to a huge, 96-40 win.

India took no chances in the final win against Bangladesh on Friday, July 8, putting up their best defensive performance of the tournament en route to a 95-35 victory. India outscored Bangladesh by double digits in each quarter. Experienced guard Vishesh Bhriguvanshi was India's leading scorer with 16.

Final Rankings
  • 1. India [3-0]
  • 2. Maldives [1-2] (+10)
  • 3. Nepal [1-2](+6)
  • 4. Bangladesh [1-2] (-16)
The trophies and medals were distributed by Ramalinga Reddy, Minister for Transport of Government of Karnataka. The other chief guests included Pramod Madhwaraj (Karnataka's Minister for Fisheries & Youth Services) Priyank Kharge (Minister of Karnataka for IT & BT Tourism, K Govindaraj, MLC (Karnataka) & President of Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and Chander Mukhi Sharma, Secretary General of BFI.

India will be thrilled to see the team play in some international games and get a feel for the system and each other before the bigger upcoming international challenges. The likes of Amrit Pal Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, and Yadwinder Singh will have to continue to be positive influences for the team, while the enigmatic point guard TJ Sahi returned to the squad in style. Youngsters like Arshpreet Bhullar and Ravi Bhardwaj made their national team debut, and India saw some impressive performances by Karnataka's Arvind Arumugam, too. The biggest name missing from this list is of Amjyot Singh, India's superstar forward who is currently playing in Japan and hopes to return to the national team by the time the FIBA Asia Challenge begins.

This was India's fourth win in the last five edition of the SABA Qualifiers. The 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge is set to be held in Tehran, Iran, from September 9-18. It is the second step in the qualification process for the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup, which will be the first continental cup that will see participants from both Asia and Oceania. The FIBA Asia Cup (starting in 2017) was previously known as the FIBA Asia Championship and the FIBA Asia Challenge (starting in 2016) was previously known as the FIBA Stankovic / Asia Cup.

July 7, 2016

Indian School Basketball League is set to tip off in 16 states across India in August 2016

After a gap of one year, India's biggest official school basketball tournament - the Indian School Basketball League (ISBL) is set to make a return to 16 states around the country from August 2016. In a special press conference in Bengaluru on Thursday, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) announced that this season's ISBL will play out approximately 1,856 matches over a 2-3 month period, culminating in a National Finals to be held in one of the participating states/cities. The 2016 season will only feature the ISBL; the Indian College Basketball League (ICBL) continues to face its hiatus for now.

In a press conference headed by President K Govindaraj, Secretary-General Chander Mukhi Sharma, and Senior Vice President Teja Singh Dhaliwal, the BFI announced that the 2016 edition will create a structured, self-sustaining, pan-India School League, which will serve as the platform to increase organised basketball participation at grassroots level and subsequently become a talent development/feeder system for the Indian National Teams. Eventually, the aim is for this league to also become a talent development platform for the future Professional Basketball League in India. This decision was taken after the Steering Committee of the BFI met on July 6 to finalize the details of the league.

Participating States in the 2016 ISBL: Punjab, Chandigarh. Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Telangana, West Bengal, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Mizoram.

In each state, 12 to 16 teams for each gender will be divided into four groups (in 2014, 24 cities took part). For some states, this year of the league will focus on teams from just one city, while others will bring in talent from many different cities in the state. Each team will play home-and-away system within their own group. The top 2 teams from each group will play a State Final, and the winner will eventually be invited to the National Championship. The prize money is set at Rs. 1 lakh in each participating state.

In a press release, the BFI announced that creating a hierarchical system of basketball participation that starts with the school leagues will be key to the long-term growth of basketball across India. To ensure the sustenance of the leagues, it is imperative to start small, focusing on the high basketball potential cities, perfecting the operations while showing its value and potential to the community, and then slowly transitioning to pan India leagues which include newer basketball cities. The leagues will also serve a vital role in development of school basketball infrastructure and ancillary basketball disciplines as programs will be implemented to develop all areas of the game through this platform.

The 'bottom up' approach is of course different from the UBA Basketball League, who brought together interested players from All India College Championships to a quick launch and are already in their third season. The BFI, who have recently barred UBA players from participating in official national/international basketball events, are taking the big picture, long-term approach to build their way up to a professional league in India. But the start-stop nature and unreliability stemming from BFI's recent conflicts have slowed this process even further. Hopefully, the launch of this massive grassroots programme that the basketball in India is back on the mend from the ground up.

In the press release, the BFI also announced the implementation of the new FIBA Competition System, and the tentative schedules for future national basketball championships. The 33rd Youth National Basketball Championship will be held in Hassan (Karnataka) in November 2016 and the 67th Senior National Basketball Championship will be in Pondicherry from January 7-14, 2017.

July 6, 2016

Five decades of Kerala basketball veterans come together for REBOUND 2016 in Kochi

More than 200 veteran basketball players from five decades of basketball in the state came together for a massive mix of hoops and nostalgia last weekend in Kochi. The city's Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium hosted REBOUND 2016, the first-of-its-kind veteran basketball event, in Kochi on July 2-3. REBOUND 2016 featured basketball matches, visits by legendary players of the state, three-point and free-throw competitions, and a special dinner event for the guests.

2016 is also the 125th "birthday of basketball" after the game was invented by Dr. James Naismith in 1891. This REBOUND platform marked the beginning of a deliberate action plan to help the sport progress in the state and country.

Attendants and participants at REBOUND 2016 included Unwin J Antony, Mohammed Iqbal, CV Sunny, Sunny Thomas, VV Harilal, TK Sheshadri, Leelamma Thomas, Jeena PS, Giji Biju, Ancy Mathew, Molly Mathew, Sheebama, Renny Harilal, Emily Mathew, Indulekha, and also coaches like Bevin Chacko, Prem Kumar, PC Anthony, and Dimal C Mathew. Arguably the most popular person in attendance on day 1 was hon. High Court Justice AM Shafeeque, former basketball player, was also in attendance.

On Sunday, July 3, SFS Tigers anchored by former international Unwin J Antony took the Men's title, defeating Eastern Bulldogs in an exciting final 31-29. In the Women's section, the Dynamos led by Jenna PS and Leelamma beat the Choice Mermaids 25-11 to win the title.

REBOUND also congratulated Sebastian Padipurakkal Joseph and CV Sunny for being named coaches of India's national team at SABA Qualifiers in Bengaluru.

July 3, 2016

India to host South Asia Qualifiers for 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge in Bengaluru: Full Roster and Preview

Over the past year and a half, Karnataka's capital city Bengaluru has also become the capital of Indian Basketball, as the new executive committee of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) has shifted the federation's head office down south from New Delhi. Now, once again, Bengaluru is set to play center-stage and host, as the city's famous Sri Kantaveera Stadium will host the South Asian qualifiers for the FIBA Asia Challenge Cup from July 6-8. India's senior men's basketball squad, the defending champions of these qualifiers, will set out to defend their title in a round robin league format against Nepal, Bangladesh, and Maldives.

India's 12-man roster for these qualifiers has also been announced, which will be captained by Punjabi big man Amrit Pal Singh and coached by Sebastian Padipurakkal Joseph. The detailed anouncements regarding this regional competition were made by BFI President K Govindaraj at a press conference held on Sunday, July 3rd at the Karnataka Olympic Association building within the Kanteerava Stadium complex in the city.

After the round-robin tournament, the team with the best record at the end of this championship will progress from the South Asian region to the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge scheduled for 9th to 18th September in Tehran, Iran. A round robin tournament is when each team will face every other team in the tournament once, and the final standings will be based on win/loss statistics. The South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) serves as a sub-zone qualifier for the FIBA Asia Challenge.

The 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge is the second step in the qualification process for the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup, which will be the first continental cup that will see participants from both Asia and Oceania. The FIBA Asia Cup (starting in 2017) was previously known as the FIBA Asia Championship and the FIBA Asia Challenge (starting in 2016) was previously known as the FIBA Stankovic / Asia Cup. These changes were decided on at the second meeting of the 2014-19 FIBA Asia Central Board which took place in New Delhi on 30th-31st January 2016.

India has won three of the last four editions of these qualifiers, with Bangladesh scoring a victory in 2013 when India did not participate.

Tentative Fixtures (Subject to Change)
  • July 6: India vs. Nepal - 5 PM
  • July 6: Bangladesh vs. Maldives - 6.30 PM
  • July 7: Nepal vs. Bangladesh - 5 PM
  • July 7: Maldives vs. India - 6:30 PM
  • July 8: Maldives vs. Nepal - 4:30 PM
  • July 7: India vs. Bangladesh - 6 PM

"From accommodation to the indoor playing facility, all the arrangements have been made for the players and coaches to ensure a successful conduct of the event," said Govindraj, "Additionally, entry is free because we want to encourage youngsters to come and watch the matches."

India’s training camp had begun at Kanteerava, Bengaluru on 22nd June with 30 players, and the final selections were made on 26th June. The Indian squad will feature a mixture of youth and experience, and captained by center Amrit Pal Singh, who has returend from winning Japan's NBDL championship with Toyko Excellence. Also returning to the Indian team is guard Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, ONGC veteran forward Yadwinder Singh, high energy point guard Talwinderjit Singh 'TJ' Sahi, and guard Arjun Singh. Other familiar faces are guard Akilan Pari, centre Rikin Pethani (both Income Tax, Chennai), Basil Philip (Central Customs & Excise, Kochi), power forward Arvind Arumugam (Vijaya Bank, Bengaluru) and center Aravind Annadurai (Indian Overseas Bank, Chennai). Promising shooter Arshpreet Bhullar (Punjab) and big man Ravi Bhardwaj (Chandigarh) will make their senior team debut at this tournament. Missing from this tournament will be India's star player Amjyot Singh, who is currently in Japan.

Team India for SABA Qualifying Round 2016
  • Arshpreet Singh Bhullar (Punjab)
  • Arjun Singh (ONGC)
  • Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (ONGC)
  • Amrit Pal Singh (ONGC) - Captain
  • Basil Philip (Customs and Central Excise)
  • Rikin Pethani (Income Tax)
  • Aravind Annadurai (IOB)
  • Arvind Arumugam (Vijaya Bank)
  • Ravi Bhardwaj (Chandigarh)
  • Akilan Pari (Income Tax)
  • TJ Sahi (Punjab)
  • Head Coach: Sebastian Padipurakkal Joseph
  • Assistant Coach: CV Sunny

Hoopdarshan Episode 32: Akanksha Singh speaks up for basketball in India

In Episode number 32 of India's finest basketball podcast Hoopdarshan, star international point guard Akanksha Singh joins hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok to speak up for the problems in Indian basketball. One of Varanasi's famed 'Singh Sisters', Akanksha candidly discusses how the BFI split is hurting Indian players, the growing popularity of Women's basketball in India, and dealing with her creepiest fans.

Born in Varanasi, Akanksha Singh (27) has already enjoyed a run as an experienced veteran point guard for India and Delhi state and represented the country regularly in international contests at the FIBA Asia or South Asian stage. Aside from our interview with Akanksha, Kaushik and Karan also recap the NBA Finals in great detail, give their hot takes about the NBA Draft, and look forward to free agency.

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...

July 2, 2016

Federation-League Basketball Drama: BFI won't allow UBA participants to represent India in national / international teams

In a division that recalls the BCCI/ICL Cricket rift almost a decade ago, playing or taking part in 'unauthorized' basketball events in India is going to cost you an opportunity to represent India's national teams. The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) sent a circular last week clearly stating that any players, coaches, officials, and technical staff taking part in any unauthorized basketball events in India will be ineligible to participate in national/international events in any capacity. These 'unauthorized events' include the rapidly-growing UBA Basketball League, which features several players with international experience or on the cusp of the national team.

The BFI, who are the governing body of basketball in India and are affiliated with FIBA (the international basketball federation) sent the circular titled 'Non-Participation in Unaffiliated Events / Competitions / Leagues' to all presidents/secretaries of affiliated BFI units around the country on June 26. The circular clearly warns the presidents/secretaries from ensuring that their players/officials do not participate in any unaffiliated basketball events in the country:

Therefore it is requested to all of you that please ensure no player, coach, official, or technical staff of your state should participates [sic] in any unaffiliated basketball events / competitions / leagues etc. If any player, coach, official, or technical staff participate [sic] in any unauthorized/unapproved event, he/she will not be eligible to participate in any National and/or International Event, in any capacity (as per the FIBA Statutes & Internal Regulations "Players who participate in professional leagues must be registered with organizations which are affiliated to a national member federation; otherwise they will not be able to participate in the Competitions of FIBA.") Under the FIBA Statutes & Internal Regulations, Rules and Regulations pertaining to National Events fall under the responsibility of the Basketball Federation of India. Hence it is requested to you to please ensure that any player, coach or official do not [sic] participate in any unauthorized event/competition/league.
If any event/competition/league (including the UBA) is authorized by the BFI, it will be communicated to you immediately.

The circular was sent from the desk of BFI President K Govindraj and signed by Secretary-General Chander Mukhi Sharma.

The BFI is not wrong in following the rules of the FIBA Statutes: the UBA, which has completed its first two seasons over the last two years, hasn't yet been authorized, and thus, will be considered unaffiliated for BFI or FIBA events.

But it is the BFI's decision to authorize the UBA, and if they refuse to do it, several young players, coaches, referees and more will be effected. There is little money in basketball in India. The BFI itself has failed in launching their own professional basketball league. The UBA's existence has made it possible for players etc. to seek professional basketball opportunities and make a deserving salary from the game. But now, seeking that salary will effect their chances at the ultimate goal: representing their state or their country at official national and international events.

UBA's Season 3 is set to begin on July 15, and the league will feature several experienced or promising male players in Indian basketball. Players in the national team circuit like Narender Grewal, Joginder Singh, Akilan Pari, Vinay Kaushik, and Gurvinder Singh Gill played in Season 2 of the UBA League, while big name coaches like Prasanna Jayasankar, Shiba Maggon, and more took charge on the bench. Some of these players, like Joginder and Narender from Services, were invited to the BFI's national coaching camp before the circular went out, but either chose to not join the camp or were told by their units not to. The BFI circular takes a stand that if any others participate in Season 3, they will not be allowed to return to participate national/international events for India.

Joginder Singh, who was India's starting point guard for our memorable triumph over China at the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup, played for the Hyderabad Sky in the UBA's second season. He refused to comment on the BFI's latest circular, but he did show concern for his future. "I just want to play basketball," he told me. "But if circumstances stop me from playing, then what can I do?"

The BFI had released a similar circular a year ago when the UBA League had first launched, but this time around, they have clarified the definition of 'unaffiliated events', and directly addressed the UBA.

A professional basketball league could revolutionize hoops in India. The BFI's much-anticipated league continues to be delayed, and with no professional options, I do not blame players from seeking to play for short-term, smaller leagues like the UBA. The UBA Basketball League isn't perfect, but it is certainly a good option and it fills in an extremely important void in Indian basketball. It is a pity, then, that players making the most of this opportunity will be penalized or forced to choose between country or a pro-league.

July 1, 2016

Indian official Naresh Aneja nominated by FIBA for Rio Olympics Basketball Event

Despite our far-fetched dreams, India's basketball teams won't be playing in the Olympics anytime soon. But the good news is that there will certainly be a major Indian presence at basketball biggest international stage in Rio de Janeiro next month.

Naresh Aneja, one of the most respected basketball referees and commissioners in India and worldwide, has been nominated by FIBA (the world's governing body for basketball) to be one of eight jury members who will represent FIBA at the Rio Olympics 2016 in Brazil, announced the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). The duties of a jury member will be to supervise officials and to provide oversight to officiating and refereeing.

The composition of the jury pool is as follows: 2 from FIBA, 2 from Europe, 1 from Asia, 1 from Oceania, 1 from Africa and 1 from the Americas.

“This is a big honor for me,” said Aneja. “I hope I can meet the expectations that FIBA has for this event.”

This is the third prominent time that an Olympic basketball event will see Indian participation. The Indian men’s team had participated in the 1980 Moscow Olympics and three decades later, Snehal Bendke was a woman’s referee at the 2012 London Olympics.

Aneja is a basketball veteran who played for Delhi for 14 years and was selected for the All-Star Junior Indian Team. He has been awarded 2 medals by the President of India: The President’s Medal for Meritorious Services and the prestigious President’s Medal for Distinguished Services.

His career in officiating began in 1978. He has refereed at 14 national finals. In 1998, he took the International FIBA Referee Test and then went on to be a referee at senior men’s, women’s, U-18 and U-16 men’s games. Due to a 50-year cap on the age of active refereeing by FIBA, he undertook the FIBA Commissioner Exam, and went on to provide his expertise at the Asian Games and the FIBA Asia Championships. He has played a role in 3 Asian Games, 3 World Junior Championships and various Asian Championships. Aneja has also been asked by FIBA Asia to conduct referee clinics at various countries and has also been nominated to be a referee supervisor in the FIBA Asia Men’s, Women’s and Junior Championships.