November 30, 2016

Former NBA champion Shawn Marion is matrixing it up in India this week


Back in 1999, in the good ol' days before the Y2K scare and smartphones, technology was a lot more mysterious and opaque for the average person with a Hotmail account. It was in these times that The Wachowski Brothers began to promote their upcoming, enigmatic film, 'The Matrix'. "What is the Matrix" asked the promos leading up to the movie; we didn't know anything about it, but we were told it was going to be something special, something futuristic, something intelligent, something difficult to understand. When it was released, it went on to become one of the most popular and influential movies ever, whilst still remaining special, intelligent, beyond easy comprehension.

What is the Matrix, indeed? In India, the film was released dubbed in Hindi as 'Mayajaal', the web of the Maya, or the illusionary world around us. It was a translation befitting the enigma and illusory shroud of the original. I saw the posters, but I regret never watching the dubbed version itself to hear whoever voiced Keanu Reeves's "I know Kung Fu" in Hindi.

Four months after the film's international release (so, probably right about the time we would've seen it in India!), the Phoenix Suns picked up a mercurial, hard-to-define, 6-foot-7 forward Shawn Marion with the 9th pick of the draft from UNLV. From his rookie season onwards, this forward showed that he could do a little bit of everything, score inside, outside, defend, dribble, attack, rebound, pass. In the time when the NBA was still strict about its positional definitions, he was a peak into the future, a player who excelled both at the physical and cerebral parts of the game, a do-it-all forward who has become the precursor to every small ball "big" that NBA lineups now thirst for (I'm looking at you, Draymond!).

Over the course of a successful - if a little underrated - sixteen year career, Marion became a multiple-time All Star and All NBA Third Teamer, played a crucial role for the mid-2000s Suns, one of the entertaining teams in history, and won an NBA title late into his career with the Dallas Mavericks. The 2005–06 NBA season in Phoenix was perhaps the best of Marion’s career. He was the only player in the NBA ranked in the top 20 in points, rebounds, steals, blocks, field goal percentage and minutes. He finished the season leading the Suns in points per game (21.8), rebounds per game (11.8), blocks per game (1.7), and steals per game (2.0). By the end of his career, he joined an exclusive four-man club in NBA history, which includes Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett and Hakeem Olajuwon, to record 17,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 1,700 steals.

Marion's game was something special, something futuristic, something intelligent, something difficult to understand. During pre-season of his rookie year, broadcaster Kenny Smith nicknamed him 'The Matrix', and it became his persona in the NBA forever.

Now, a year and a half after his retirement, Mr Matrix himself is in India to show us the Mayajaal side of that persona!

NBA India announced today that Shawn Marion will arrive in India on November 30 for a five-day visit of Mumbai. During his stay in Mumbai, Marion will be a part of the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme activities. On Thursday, December 1, he will chat with fans in India live on NBA India's Facebook page. He will visit New Delhi to conduct a Jr. NBA camp at the ITL Public School on December 2. Marion will be present at the inauguration of the 2016-17 ACG NBA Jump programme, which will take place on December 3, 2016 at Mumbai University Indoor Basketball Stadium, Kalina. He will feature on Sony Six’s Sunday show – NBA Around the Hoop – on December 4.

"I’m really looking forward to visiting India for the first time," said Marion. "It will be an incredible experience to interact and share my love and knowledge of the game with young Indian boys and girls."

By the time he retired in 2015, Marion had played for the Suns, the Miami Heat, the Toronto Raptors, the Mavericks, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. He will most be remembered for being the glue that kept together the mid-2000s Suns, which were led by Steve Nash and assisted - when healthy - by Amar'e Stoudemire. They were the original run-n-gun 'smallball' team, preceding the upcoming dominance of the Golden State Warriors, and Marion was the original 'tweener' forward capable of playing big or small (on both ends of the floor) as the lineup required. Although his numbers were down by 2011, he played an important role as a starter for the Mavericks squad that upset the Miami Heat 4-2 in the Finals to win the NBA championship.

November 26, 2016

Tamil Nadu Girls and Kerala Boys are 2016 Youth Nationals Champions in Hassan

It is a rare occurrence when both the boys' and girls' teams of the same state in India peak at the same time, but that was exactly the case with three states - Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Uttar Pradesh - over the past week in Hassan (Karnataka). All three states finished in the top three in both divisions at India's largest under-16 hoops meet, the 33rd Youth National Basketball Championship for Boys and Girls. The tournament concluded with the finals on Saturday, November 26th, as Tamil Nadu (Girls) and Kerala (Boys) won the last games of the week and emerged as champions at the city's Hasanamba Indoor Stadium

Organised by the Karnataka State Basketball Association (KSBBA) under the auspices of the BFI, the 2016 Youth Nationals featured 24 boys teams and 22 girls teams in the eight day tournament. Last year's washout had led the BFI to declare all the finalists as champions, so both the boys' and girls' divisions had two reigning champions each: Tamil Nadu and Delhi (Boys) and Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh (Girls).

This year, Tamil Nadu's Girls had an opportunity for sole ownership of the winner's trophy when they faced Kerala in the final. The only two undefeated teams thus far, Kerala and TN went toe to toe for the first two quarters of the game, and Kerala held on to a slim, 37-35 lead at halftime. TN turned things around drastically after the break, and took over the game: dominant efforts by Avanthi Vardhan (17) and S Pushpa (17) helped TN take a lead and stretch it to double digits, eventually to an impressive 82-66 victory. Shreekala R scored a game-high 27 to pace Kerala's efforts.

Kerala had better luck in the boys' final against Uttar Pradesh, where they turned a slow start into a dominant, blowout win. UP led 18-16 at the end of the first quarter, but it was all Kerala after that. Amal Reghu exploded for 33 points while Chacko C Simon (19) and Sejin Mathew (16) made valuable contributions to help Kerala win 85-51. UP's duo of Priyanshu and Bhagyansh Gulati scored 21 each, but they lot little offensive contribution from the rest of their squad in the loss.

Uttar Pradesh will go home happy, however, because in addition to securing silver in the boys' tournament, they won a bronze medal earlier on Saturday when their girls' team - led by the unstoppable Vaishnavi Yadav - blew out Madhya Pradesh 71-39. Yadav, a rising basketball star from the state, scored 39, matching MP's entire box score! Divyani Gangwal had 22 for MP. The boys' bronze medal game also was not a particularly close affair. After a high-scoring, tight first quarter (26-26), Tamil Nadu revved up their engines with the help of their duo M Arvind Kumar (30) and K Surya (23) to win 99-69. The Tomar brothers - Pratyanshu (22) and Prashant (16) - led the way for the hosts Karnataka.

The top three teams in both sections awarded cash prizes of Rs 75,000/-, Rs 50,000/- and Rs 25,000/- respectively. Numerous Karnataka State Ministers and Kannada actor/former MP Ramya (Divya Spandana) were present in the final. Karnataka's U18 girls' team - winners of the 2016 Junior Nationals in Puducherry - were felicitated.

Final Scores
  • Girls: Tamil Nadu (Avanthi Vardhan 17, S Pushpa 17, T Dharshini 13) bt Kerala (Shreekala R 27, Olivia Shaibu 13) 82-66 [16-18, 19-19, 21-11, 26-18].
  • Boys: Kerala (Amal Reghu 33, Chacko C Simon 19, Sejin Mathew 16) bt Uttar Pradesh (Priyanshu 21, Bhagyansh Gulati 21) 85-51 [16-18, 26-15, 26-10, 17-8].

Third/Fourth Place
  • Girls: Uttar Pradesh (Vaishnavi Yadav 39) bt Madhya Pradesh (Divyani Gangwal 22) 71-39 [10-8, 21-10, 26-13, 14-8].
  • Boys: Tamil Nadu (M Arvind Kumar 30, K Surya 23, T Prathap 15) bt Karnataka (Pratyanshu Tomar 22, Prashant Tomar 16, Srujan BK 13) 99-69 [26-26, 28-14, 22-20, 23-9].

Final Standings

  • 1. Tamil Nadu
  • 2. Kerala
  • 3. Uttar Pradesh
  • 4. Madhya Pradesh
  • 5. Maharashtra

  • 1. Kerala
  • 2. Uttar Pradesh
  • 3. Tamil Nadu
  • 4. Karnataka
  • 5. Rajasthan

November 25, 2016

Review: Greg Pearson's "Maybe Next Year" is for the sports optimist in all of us

At first, it seemed like an arbitrary decision. I liked the colours on Patrick Ewing's jersey on his old basketball card. I became enamoured with Allan Houston's baseline fadeway, Latrell Sprewell's cornrows, and Marcus Camby's tattoos. I saw a team carry out a series of upsets in 1999 to become the first eighth seed to ever make the NBA Finals. And, sitting in India thousands of kilometers away from New York, I decided to myself, "Okay, this is my team. Now, I like the New York Knicks."

Over the next few years, the surprise and elation of 1999 would turn into suffering and embarrassment, but, in a perverse fashion of strange self-misery, my liking of this team turned into love. I loved the Knicks even during the Tim Thomas - Keith Van Horn era, loved them when they traded for Stephon Marbury (my first NBA jersey!) and tried to make the Eddy Curry - Zach Randolph duo work. I cringed, but continued to love them even as Isaiah Thomas committed errors and sins, as the team sunk to bottom-status depths, and found small pleasures in the David Lee 'era'. I was boosted when the team signed Amar'e, elated when they got Carmelo Anthony, and downright ecstatic with Linstanity happened. I raised a sceptical eyebrow when Phil Jackson made Kristaps Porzingis the fourth pick and turned into a unicorn worshippers soon after the greatness of Lord Zingis Khan was understood. And throughout a 17-year period of playoff disappointments and ugly records, I continued to rock the blue-orange-white. The pain, I believed - that I still believe - makes the pleasure all the more worth it.

What seemed like an arbitrary decision has become a defining characteristic. My personality as an adult is permanently dyed with that blue, orange, and white. I've visited New York only a few times in my life, watched just one game at the Mecca of the Madison Square Garden, and yet, I feel worthy to celebrate the Knicks' history, cheer with every big win, and throw my hands up in frustration at every moment of sorrow. There is a sense of optimism in this type of irrational fandom, a hope that, if the present is bad, maybe the future will be better. Knicks have only won two NBA titles, both in the early 1970s, a decade or more before I was even born. And after every wasted season, I think to myself, well, hell, at least there's next years!

I divide sports fans into two distinct brackets, and the bracket they fall in go on to define their higher philosophy in life: the pursuit of success versus the pursuit of loyalty. There are sports fans who are promiscuous with their fandom, following success wherever it may lead them. And then there are those who stay faithful to one life, through its bitter pains and occasional joys, following one team no matter where it leads them.

In the newly-published book Maybe Next Year (McFarland, 2016), newspaper writer and editor Greg Pearson profiles the fans of the latter category in various North American sports, both professional and collegiate, to discover a thread of optimism that somehow keeps them going and keeps their spirits high, even during the worst of times. The book features more than 100 loyal followers of 23 teams, who explain their reasons for never giving up. One of those followers featured, in a New York State of Mind, is me!

Pearson's guidelines for choosing his fans was simple: he focused on teams that hadn't won a championship for forty or more years, covering a couple of generations of shared grief, often passed down from parents to children. Some of the memorable fanbases featured include the Detroit Lions, the New York Jets, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Cleveland Browns. In the basketball world, fanbases of the Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, and New York Knicks talked about their years of pain and optimism. Pearson also included the Sacramento Kings, who moved to the city 31 years ago but were saved from relocation through fan efforts and a purchase by Indian-born owner Vivek Ranadive in 2013.

The most pertinent chapter in the book is the first, which features on the Chicago Cubs, who hadn't won an MLB World Series since 1908. The Cubs serve as the book's opening, and perhaps, also its happy conclusion. The night before Maybe Next Year arrived at my doorstep, they defeated the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series and broke a 108-year title drought!

Reading through Maybe Next Year was therapeutic in a way. It made me realise that I am not alone: us loyal fans keep going through the ups and downs (mostly downs), no matter what the result. So the next time you jump on the bandwagon of the 73-9, Curry-Durant Warriors, tip a hat to those hardcore Warriors fans who lived through 40-years of near-misses, of Run-TMC, Chris Webber, Jason Richardson, the "We Believe" team, and Baron Davis. After decades of irrelevance, they found their year in 2015. The Cubs waited over a century for 2016. Perhaps, one day, our favourite teams will have their year, too.

November 24, 2016

Health, Wealth, and Ringzzz

Where I write Diwali greetings cards with Squad Goals for each NBA team.

This feature was first published in my column for on November 7, 2016. Read the original version here.

Photo courtesy: Ekalavyas. Image by Harshika Jain

It is of some fortune for NBA teams that the new season is starting off around the same time as billions of Indians around the world celebrate Diwali, the beginning of a fresh, new year. Just replace the LED lights with some diyas, tune down the sound of the DJ with some fireworks, and turn our attention to the demigods on the court.

Diwali is synonymous with greeting cards and large parcels of gifts, usually consisting of diabetes-inducing laddoos and addictive kaju-kishmish combinations, as friends pass on their good wishes to each other. Some need wishes of better performance in their exams, some for good health, and some for financial stability.

What wishes do the NBA teams desire? Of course, the ultimate goal of each team is to eventually win a championship (yes, even the 76ers, despite what seems like a ‘process’ as pain-inflicting and long as the whole of the kal-yug). But what are their realistic aims for the 2016-17 season? Every team, from the Warriors to the Nets, will start the season with the same record, 0-0. Where do they hope to go from there? With the new season and the new year on the Hindu calendar on the way, here are some of my wishes for each squad.

Atlanta Hawks: A new guest is in your house, a guest that calls your city his home. May Dwight Howard find peace in his hometown next to Paul Millsap, may Dennis Schröder not falter as the lead point guard, and may you survive the loss of Al Horford to remain a playoff contender in a rebuilt year for the Eastern Conference.

Boston Celtics: May the arrival of Al Horford from Boston bring you prosperity. The mantle for ‘second-best’ in the East is up for the taking, and we shower blessings for Coach Brad Stevens to figure out a perfect formula with the depth at his disposal to give you that mantle.

Brooklyn Nets: You suffer from lack of talent and lack of a future First Round draft pick. Wishing that you’ll do the decent thing to trade Brook Lopez away from his pain. When things look dark, put more wax in the diya for some optimistic light: at least you could get a season of semi-Linsanity with Jeremy Lin back in New York.

Charlotte Hornets: May Coach Clifford’s defensive intensity stay as consistent as ever, but for you to return to the playoffs, you will need Kemba Walker to have some help on offense, too. Hopefully the gods will fix Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump-shot so that he can master basketball as well as Arjun mastered the teer-kaman.

Chicago Bulls: You see that box of Diwali sweets that just rolled up to your house? Sure, the chocolates, bundi-wallah laddoos and barfis, look amazing right now, but remember that you can’t just have all the sweets, you need a balanced diet. You are blessed with the ‘Three Alphas’ in Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Jimmy Butler, but where is the outside shooting coming from? You are very intriguing, my Bulls, and a few healthy options in your diet could make you a surprisingly dangerous playoff team.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Your Diwali night was the ring ceremony, where you raised your banner and were celebrated as returning champions, and your Big Three of LeBron-Irving-Love is similar to the triumphant return of Ram-Laxman-Sita from Lanka. Lakshmi has been good to you in recent years. Your goal is to stay healthy, the East is yours for the taking but don’t underestimate it. Returning to the NBA Finals is a must, and after that, may you repeat your Ramayan once again with another title for Cleveland.

Dallas Mavericks: Here’s wishing that you don’t let people forget about you. You have a good coach (Carlisle) and a solid, if aging, backbone (Nowitzki). May your new additions – Barnes and Bogut – slide in seamlessly into the lineup, and your point guard – Deron Williams – show more consistency.

Denver Nuggets: Yes, you are sure to go through some of the bumps in the road. That is a part of youth, dear Nuggets. Don’t be down with failure this season, you must keep a long-term approach. May your brigade of exciting young players – Emmanuel Mudiay, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Jusuf Nurkic, Will Barton – grow into great talents. 

Detroit Pistons: May Guru Dronayacharya, I mean, Stan Van Gundy, be a positive influence on you and may Andre Drummond learn to make his free-throws. Many believe that you have the ability to become the surprise team in the East: my wish is that improved performances by Drummond, health for Reggie Jackson, and consistent outside shooting brings the chants of ‘DET-ROIT-BAS-KET-BALL’ back to the playoffs.

Golden State Warriors: Congratulations, for better or worse, you are heading towards a mythical season. Diwali is not a time for negative wishes, but so much negativity has been showered upon you recently that you must turn it into a feeling a revenge and retribution. You blew a 3-1 lead, the worst job of defending an advantage at home since Raavan in Lanka; nothing but a championship ring will be good enough. I wish great chemistry to Durant, Curry, Green, and Thompson and I wish for a historical season in the Bay.  

Houston Rockets: You do not need my blessings for offense: between Coach Mike D’Antoni and James Harden, you will have no trouble with the prosperity of points. But life is all about balance, my Rockets, and without defence, you can wave those post-season dreams goodbye. I wish to you the gift of more defensive intensity so that you are not just fun to watch, but successful, too.

Indiana Pacers: Count your blessings, dear Pacers, I’m sure only the intervention of Lord Dhanvantari helped Paul George return to the court and back to superstar status. I wish to you more continued health for PG-13 as he makes an ambitious bid for the MVP award. You are in arm’s reach away from the Eastern Conference Finals, and I wish that your role players – Myles Turner, Monta Ellis, Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young – can provide George the supporting cast he needs.

Los Angeles Clippers: I wish to you to stop complaining, dear Clippers. Sure, you’ve never been past the Second Round despite a wealth of talent, but you are blessed with a strong, consistent core of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan. You can be a legitimate challenger to the Warriors in the West: my blessings for you to figure out some team chemistry issues so you may finally make franchise history.

Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe has gone, crossing over the river from the Maya to the Atman, achieving basketball immortality and Nirvana. This is a good opportunity, young Lakers, for you to start over in the mortal with new deities to worship. Sure, you will lose a lot, but you should stay in track for a strong rebuild. May D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle, form a strong young core and the distractions of the great Swaggy P kept to a minimum. The latter will need some extra prayers.

Memphis Grizzlies: Lakshmi’s blessings of prosperity have been especially kind to Mike Conley, who now has the richest contract in the NBA. Times are changing in the league, but you remain the same. I wish for health for Marc Gasol, offensive output and shooting from Chandler Parsons, and for Conley to live up to his contract and make Lakshmi proud. May the dominance of the gritting and grinding era never end.

Miami Heat: Life has its ups and downs. A few years ago, you were blessed with the NBA’s best players, had championships, a great coaching and management staff, and weather to attract the top free agents. The top players are gone but you must count your blessings because all the rest is still intact. Starting new without a long-term loved one – Dwyane Wade – is never easy. I wish you a relatively painless rebuild.

Milwaukee Bucks: There are some curious creatures in the universe with the power to astonish, surprise, and leap into greatness with the finesse of a hiran. In Giannis Antetokounmpo, the ‘Greek Freak’, you have one such special creature, a hiran, I mean, a Buck. I wish you the best for the ‘Point Giannis’ experiment and for him to make a tantalising young duo along with Jabari Parker. You have my blessings to jump back to a playoff spot in the East.

Minnesota Timberwolves: This Diwali, I won’t offer you any good fortune: you already have been showered with luck by Lakshmi after adding Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and Coach/President Tom Thibodeau in recent years. But fortune is only half the job: now, you need to follow Guru Thibodeau’s lead and become the hardest working team in the NBA. A long-awaited return to the playoffs is near.

New Orleans Pelicans: Do you know that some souls have a third-eye chakra, a part of the brain that sees more than the physical realms of the two eyes, that can see into the people of humans and into the future of the universe. This is a very special gift, and you, dear Pelicans, have a special soul with the ‘third eye’ in Anthony Davis. His has the shape of a unibrow, but the results are the same: dominance. At times, the talent around Davis could make this season seem depressing: I wish continued health for Davis and consistent play from his teammates to make sure the future remains bright.

New York Knicks: One of the most contentious traditions of Diwali is gambling, and this Diwali, you have really gone for a high-stakes gamble, adding Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to a squad with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. I wish that all these maha-yoddhas mesh together to thrive in your holy triangle and you treat those long-suffering fans with deep playoffs action.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Don’t feel alone Russell Westbrook, the brother by your side has left you for Bay-area pastures, but you have some decent teammates around you: Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, and Enes Kanter. Perhaps no individual has as much pressure to carry team like Westbrook does. Hanuman moved a mountain, remember. Westbrook would himself say: “Why not?”

Orlando Magic: You confuse me Magic-wallahs. What’s up with all the bigs? Remember, the holiday season is a time of generosity, too, and each generous act returns to one with greater goodness. Trade away some players, give away some players, edit and sharpen your roster. You have a good coach in Frank Vogel and some interesting pieces – I wish Aaron Gordon develops into a star and you have some real jadoo in Orlando in the future.

Philadelphia 76ers: Remember, Diwali didn’t happen in a day. It took Ram, Laxman, and Sita the suffering of exile from their kingdom, a kidnapping, a battle, and a long stroll back to return to Ayodha triumphantly. You have been broken down, but every depth leaves room for a rebuild. Nurse your injuries and enjoy your precious gifts. I guess what I’m trying to say is: trust the process.

Phoenix Suns: Believe in your karma, Suns. A decade before the Warriors free-wheeling, three-point-shooting style revolutionised the NBA, you did it first and nearly perfected the art. You have an inexperienced team right now, but the fruits of your labour will come back to bless you in the future. Be patient. Devin Booker is the real deal.

Portland Trail Blazers: May Damian Lillard truly become an MVP-level talent and may your role players grow to greatness besides him. After the first three teams, the Western Conference is there for the taking; with Lillard as your leader, may you improve on your playoff performances from last year and even go a step further.

Sacramento Kings: I hope that when he inaugurated the new arena – the ‘Golden 1 Center’ – your Indian-born owner Vivek Ranadive decorated with ample diyas and agarbattis and held a grah-puja to court the blessings of all the gods. You are going to need it. The only true raja among those Kings is DeMarcus Cousins. May he find basketball nirvana in the league – even if it means a trade for him and a few new faces for you.

San Antonio Spurs: The last two decades have been your satya yug, a time where paradise has come on Earth, and you have enjoyed unprecedented, continued success. Now that the leadership of Tim Duncan is over, may the good times continue with Kawhi Leonard as your franchise player. May you be blessed with one more title and some much-needed smiles for Kawhi.

Toronto Raptors: You were blessed with a franchise-best season last year. How do you follow up with the rising expectations? You know what to expect from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but I wish that Jonas Valanciunas will develop into a game-changing center this year so you can continue to become an elite team in the East with a realistic chance of upsetting the Cavaliers.

Utah Jazz: Do you know the story of Satyavadi Harishchandra, an ancestor of Ram? At one time, he was a great, rich king, just like you were a great contender with Stockton and Malone. But by the manipulation of Vishwamitra, Harishchandra lost everything and spent years in suffering. You, our Jazzy friends, have suffered a lot in recent years too. But remember, Harishchandra’s tragic story had a happy ending, and he came to rule Ayodha. You have an uber-talented young core: may your tapasya pay off so you return to the playoffs and become one of the surprise teams in the West.

Washington Wizards: Listen, I get it, brothers fight, it’s been happening forever, from Pandavs and Kauravs to Cain and Abel. The tension between your talented backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal is worrisome but not unfixable. Without pukka-dosti, a good bond between your backcourt, your playoff chances will be dim. I wish you camaraderie and positive vibes for the rest of the season.

NBA to launch first elite Academy in India, signalling a bright future for young basketball talents

For most of the world, Satnam Singh is the first name in the word cloud of 'NBA' and 'India'. The giant young man, born in humble beginnings of a Punjabi village, won a scholarship with IMG Academy at age 14 to learn basketball and study in the USA, made history by becoming the first Indian drafted to the NBA in 2015, and now, plays in the NBA's D-League. Satnam's is a true success story, of a young man who beat the odds to achieve more than his wildest dreams.

But, along with the story of Satnam's success, there is a story of some regret, too, on almost every step, of missed chances. Satnam was a rare case who happened to be discovered, in place of dozens more potential talents like him lost every year. Due to his poor English upon arrival to America, he struggled in the classroom, fell behind a year, and couldn't make the most of his High School experience. Eventually, his grades were too poor to get him a necessary college scholarship in the US, leading him to forego the option of college altogether to declare for the NBA. The good news is that he got drafted; the bad news is that, without skills still unpolished for the elite stage, he has yet to make his NBA debut.

Satnam - with his combination of size, skill, and youth - was truly a 'One in A Billion' talent, but his tale, a mix of caution and optimism, has added intrigue to the potential of many more talented NBA-worthy prospects from India. The NBA has, of course, taken notice, and successfully implementing a couple of grassroots development and talent-searching programmes, they are finally making the big splash that could potentially shake up basketball development in India and make a massive impact on the NBA's global growth.

On Tuesday, November 22, the NBA announced plans to launch NBA Academy India, an elite basketball training centre for the top male and female prospects from India, in Delhi National Capital Region (NCR). NBA Academy India, which is the first of its kind in the country, and the NBA’s fifth elite training centre globally, will be fully funded by the NBA. The Academy will open in April 2017 and will provide academic education through a school partnership.

The NBA will conduct a national scouting programme beginning later this month to identify the inaugural pool of 24 elite prospects who will receive scholarships and training at NBA Academy India. The 24 prospects will be selected by February 2017. According to ESPN, the league is also in the process of selecting coaches, scouts and consultants who will staff and instruct at the academy. The academy plans to begin assembling a roster of top female athletes to train there soon after the facility begins operation.

Over the past few years, the NBA found success in developing basketball in India at the grassroots stage, through the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme for youth development. For the more polished talents, they held the first-of-its-kind ACG-NBA Jump programme last year, a talent search that helped them find a young prospect to develop and send to the NBA D-League draft this summer. That prospect was Palpreet Singh Brar, who was drafted to the D-League by the Long Island Nets, only to be released from the team a few days later.

Now, the launch of NBA Academy India is sure to get prospects and fans excited for the future. If implemented as promised, the academy will prepare talents from a young age and provide for their education. This will open doors for many more Satnams to emerge from around India, and instead of being shipped off to a different country, these young players will be introduced to the larger basketball world in their own country. It should make for a smoother process in preparing the players physically and mentally for the NBA stage, and of equal importance, provide them with educational stability so they can have the option for higher education, too.

This will be the fifth such elite training centre globally and also, will be fully funded by the NBA itself. So far, the NBA has similar academies in Hangzhou, Jinan and Urumqi in China and one in Australia.

"The NBA remains committed to growing the game in India, and the launch of NBA Academy India marks our most significant investment in basketball development in the market,” said NBA Vice President, International Basketball Operations Brooks Meek. “This Academy will provide the top male and female prospects in India with world-class coaching and training, as well as academic support and an emphasis on life skills."

"NBA Academy India will help us identify and develop elite homegrown prospects and shape the next generation of national players," said NBA India Managing Director Yannick Colaco. "Youth basketball players in India have had relatable figures to look up to in Sim Bhullar and Satnam Singh, and now NBA Academy India will give them a platform to prepare for the opportunity to develop into a professional-level prospect."

A press release from NBA India declared that the NBA Academies, which will consist of a network of elite training centers around the world, include educational development for top international male and female prospects and mark the NBA’s most significant investment in elite player development. The initiative will support existing international basketball academies by exposing elite prospects to NBA-level coaching, facilities and competition and by providing a global framework for elite-level prospects to maximize their success. NBA Academies will employ a holistic, 360-degree approach to player development extending beyond the court by focusing on education, leadership, character development and life skills.

The prospects at the NBA Academy India will play against top domestic and some international teams. Each centre will feature Under-18 and Under-16 teams, reported Northbridge Times, with travel sides selected for international events. Ultimately, the most promising players at NBA Academy India will be considered for promotion to the NBA Global Academy, which the league recently established in partnership with Basketball Australia in Canberra as an international hub for the training of elite prospects.

In an editorial for Sportstar, Colaco called this academy a 'game-changer' for Indian Basketball.

The NBA believes that it is the utmost essential element, to not only develop but also create avenues that would generate a pool of elite players of national/international standards.

Each of our elite training centres will be staffed with NBA-trained coaches to foster the development of prospects, on and off the court, both during and after their basketball careers. We think top international prospects will benefit from a complete approach to player-development that combines NBA-quality coaching, training and competition with academics and personal development.
The selected 24 players will get a 100% scholarship and receive high-quality education, which takes care of one of the key concerns of Indian parents. More often than not, taking up basketball hasn’t been considered as a secure career.

"It will be the largest ever investment made by NBA globally in elite development centre," Colaco said on the Deccan Chronicle. "We have identified about six facilities in NCR already but it may take 30-45 days more to finalise the centre."

Photo courtesy: Ekalavyas
When the global academies were first rumoured to be in the planning stage a couple of months ago, I wrote that an academy in India will allow the NBA to go out and nurture the talent themselves, instead of waiting for the end product to arrive to them on draft day. What this means is that, instead of waiting for state level federations or the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to identify and develop our players in their own, flawed way, the NBA will be able to give the best young Indian players a higher level of of coaching, administration, development, and educational options.

India has its own specific conditions and expectations: the NBA will have to work with a careful balance of bringing their knowledge and expertise of the game to India, but at the same time, understanding the limitations of what works - and doesn't work - in the Indian environment and cultural setting.

For the NBA, their vested interest in developing more international talent will help basketball as a whole become a larger sport worldwide and help spread the NBA brand globally. If India can have more players in the NBA or in NBA contention, then fans here are more likely to become larger consumers of the NBA brand, too.

The academy is a long-term plan: India won't start developing superstar, NBA-ready talents overnight, but this academy will definitely sow the seeds to help young players make a jump into elite basketball company, and also provide an aspirational goal to many more young players around the country.

Satnam is in the history books. He was the first. Hopefully, with the help of this academy, there will be many more following in his footsteps.

November 22, 2016

2016 FIBA Asia U18 Women's Championship: China win third straight title; winless India finish 6th and fall to Level II

Chinese youth players remain the queens of Asian basketball, as for the third consecutive time they have brushed past Japan in the final to win the continent's premier U18 tournament. With an impressive victory at the finale on Sunday, November 20, China were once again crowned champions of the FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Women, held from November 13-20 in Bangkok (Thailand).

Meanwhile, it was a terribly unsuccessful and disappointing tournament for India, who lost all of their Level I games and then lost the promotion/relegation game to fall into Level II for the tournament's next iteration in 2018.

On the last day of the tournament in Bangkok, China faced Japan in the U18 FIBA Women's ABC final for the third consecutive time, and once again, to the same result. China's duo of Jiaqi Wang (29) and Yueru Li (22) continued their dominant streak in the final, helping to give China a nine-point lead at halftime, and eventually, turning the second half into a long celebration. China won the final comfortably, 78-47.

Earlier in the day, Korea squeezed past Chinese Taipei in a well-contested game 66-63 to secure the bronze medal. Chinese Taipei led the back-and-forth contest 37-35 at halftime, but Korea took a slim lead in the second half and Juyeon Lee (31) hit two late free-throws to secure the 66-63 win. Jihyun Park added 22 for Korea, while Chinese Taipe were led by Jing-Ting Wang's 24.

A day earlier, China had shown more flashes of their dominance on both ends with an impressive 64-35 win in the semi-final against Chinese Taipei. China took a double-digit lead in the first quarter and behind a dominant night by Yeuru Li (20 points, 17 rebounds), were in-charge of the game till the final buzzer. Japan pulled off a minor upset of sorts in the second semi-final with a blowout win over Korea, 63-41. Jisu Park's double double (18 points, 14 rebounds) was not enough to keep Japan's balanced offense from racing ahead for the win.

Once again, the big four of Asia - China, Chinese Taipei, Korea, and Japan - were the semi-finalists and the four top teams in Level I. But the tournament's higher level also featured India and the hosts Thailand. India's squad was led by former international player and veteran coach Shiba Maggon and captained by Karnataka's experienced young star Bhandavya HM. The team had finished sixth in the tournament two years ago but managed to retain their Level I status.

India's best chance of a Level I win was in their very first game, against the hosts Thailand. But a poor start against the highly-motivated hosts doomed India from the start. Thailand's impressive 26-7 second-quarter run gave them a huge, 45-20 halftime lead. India were crawling back from the deficit from that point on, but time was against their side and their comeback fell short as Thailand held on to win 67-58. Captain Bhandavya HM scored 17 for India in the loss.

Things were not going to get any easier for India. The next day, they were pitted against the reigning and eventual champions China, and the difference in class between the two teams was clear immediately. China led India 55-23 at halftime and then improved to 59-15 in the second half, eventually ending the game with a dominant 114-38 victory. Shuangyan Tan (18) and Yueru Li (17) led China in this massive win.

Game 3 for India was against Chinese Taipei, and once again, things began inauspiciously. India were outscored by double digits in each of the first two quarters and trailed 41-13 at halftime. A slight improvement in the second half didn't help matter as India eventually fell to a 80-46 defeat. Meng-Hsin Chen led the way for Chinese Taipei with 17.

The next afternoon, India made a concentrated effort to have a good start, and they were hanging on behind Korea 13-12 at the end of the first quarter. But Korea's depth in talent eventually took over the game, as India's shooting woes continued and the team struggled mightily on the offensive end for the rest of the contest. Korea dominated proceedings to win 69-27.

India's final Level I game was against eventual-finalists Japan. This turned out to be the team's worst offensive performance. India were held under double digits in each quarter and Japan finished with a 31-4 run to cap off a huge 93-26 victory. Kiyo Miyashita had 25 points and 10 rebounds to nearly outdo all of India's production single-handedly.

After five straight losses, India's final chance of redemption was to win their playoff game against Level II winners Indonesia and ensure their place in Level I for the next iteration of the tournament. India started well against the lower level team, leading 26-21 at halftime and holding a six point advantage before the beginning of the final quarter. But in the final quarter, it all fell apart; Indonesia dominated India on both ends of the floor to race out to a commanding 21-3 run and eventually win the game 49-38. The victory secured Indonesia's place in Level I. India's silver lining in this contest was the performance of captain Bhandavya, who chipped in her personal tournament-high 23.

It was eventually a disappointing trip for India to Thailand, as Coach Maggon's team returned winless with a 0-6 record and got relegated to Level II. India can take some heart in the performances of Bhandavya HM, who led the team with 12.7 points per game. Nishanthi Masilamani and Priyanka Prabhakara also played big minutes for the team. Hopefully, the individual players will soak up the positive lessons and experience of this tournament and improve for India at the U18 and senior side in a few years.

Final Standings
  • 1. China
  • 1. Japan
  • 1. Korea
  • 1. Chinese Taipei
  • 1. Thailand

November 19, 2016

2016 Youth National Championship for U16 boys and girls to tip off in Hassan (Karnataka)

Last September, heavy rainfall and controversy behind the organization marred India's premier national U16 basketball tournament - the Youth Nationals - in Bhavnagar, Gujarat. Now, over a year later, the tournament is back, a little later in the year, heading further south to Karnataka, and with hopes from the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to purge the memories of the past and launch the new, young stars of Indian basketball.

The 33rd Youth National Basketball Championship for Boys and Girls is set to tip off in the city of Hassan in Karnataka on Saturday, November 19th. Organised by the Karnataka State Basketball Association (KSBBA) under the auspices of the BFI, 2016 Youth Nationals will feature 24 boys teams and 22 girls teams are in the eight day tournament. Last year's washout led the BFI to declare all the finalists as champions, so both the boys' and girls' divisions will be competed for between two reigning champions each: Tamil Nadu and Delhi (Boys) and Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh (Girls).

In a KSBBA press conference at the Century Club in Bengaluru on Wednesday, the BFI President and KSBBA secretary K Govindraj announced the tournament which will include, as usual, accommodation and catering for over eight hundred players, coaches, referees, officials, and invitees to the event. The matches will be conducted at three venues - the indoor and outdoor courts of the Hasanamba Stadium and the courts of the Malnad College of Engineering.

Participating Teams

  • Level 1: Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Chandigarh.
  • Level 2: Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Puducherry, Uttarakhand, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tripura.

  • Level 1: Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Kerala, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh.
  • Level 2: Delhi, Odisha, Puducherry, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Telangana, Gujarat, Bihar, Uttarakhand.

The inauguration ceremony for the 2016 Youth Nationals is scheduled to start at 4:15 PM on Saturday at the Hasanamba Stadium in Hassan. A Manju, the Minister for Animal Husbandry and Sericulture and also District In-Charge of Hassan and Pramod Madhwaraj, Minister of Fisheries and Karnataka's Dept. of Youth Empowerment and Sports, will be the chief guests at the event.

November 18, 2016

Modern School (Boys) and Motilal Nehru School (Girls) win 2016 Win Mumby Basketball Tournament in Mussoorie

It might be a little difficult for newcomers to adjust to the altitude five and a half thousand feet above sea level in Mussoorie. Physical intensity of any type is a challenge. A high-caliber basketball game becomes a true test of endurance.

But it was under these difficult conditions that the truest stars are born. The Woodstock School in Mussoorie hosted the 17th Win Mumbai All India Basketball Tournament over the past week, featuring sixteen teams in a the largest school competition of its kind in North India. The tournament completed with two entertaining final games on Saturday, November 12, as New Delhi's Modern School (Boys) and Rai's Motilal Nehru School of Sports (Girls) won the tournament in their respective divisions.

This was the second consecutive Win Mumby win for Modern School Boys, who defeated Welham Boys' (Dehradun) in the final this year with relative ease, 56-37. The girls' final was a closer affair, but the Motilal Nehru School team from Rai (Haryana) upset Modern School's hopes for a double by defeating Modern's Girls' team 50-47.

Woodstock’s Student Life Coordinator and Head of Sports Ajay Mark said, “This year the standard was particularly high, with exceptional play and sportsmanship. The competition was closely fought, and in particular the semi-finals where only a handful of points separated the teams. We should remember that while this is a platform for school level players, some of the players we see here at Win Mumby could well be representing the country in the near future.”

The 2016 Win Mumby tournament was held from November 9-12. Participating teams included:
  • Boys: Welham Boys' School (Dehradun), The Doon School (Dehradun), Motilal Nehru School of Sports (Rai), Sacred Souls School (Gharuan), The Asian School (Dehradun), Modern School (New Delhi), Bangalore International School (Bengaluru), Woodstock School (Mussoorie).
  • Girls:Welham Girls School (Dehradun), Sacred Souls School (Gharuan), Strawberry Fields High School (Chandigarh), Modern School (New Delhi), Motilal Nehru School of Sports (Rai), St. Joseph Academy (Dehradun), The Heritage School (Gurgaon) and Woodstock School (Mussoorie).

November 16, 2016

Amjyot Singh's Team Hamamatsu to compete in FIBA 3x3 All Stars in Doha (Qatar)

Whether he is enjoying success or disappointments, having ups or downs, there is one clear certainty of India's basketball star Amjyot Singh: he isn't going to stop. Amjyot has been involved in a never-ending cycle of hoops, from playing professionally in Japan's D-League, to leading India to big international wins, to starring in FIBA 3x3 roles both in Japan first and then at the 3x3 World Tour in UAE, and up to declaring for the NBA's D-League draft. After a steady stream of progress, the last of those ambitions - the D-League - didn't prove fruitful this year. But Amjyot's response, as always, is to continue ballin'.

A few weeks after the disappointment of NBA D-League draft night, Amjyot is back on the court, back with his teammates of Tokyo's 'Team Hamamatsu' to take part in the final FIBA 3x3 event of the calendar year. Amjyot and his squad finished second in the 3x3 World Tour last month, and his superstar performances have now carried him and his team to the FIBA 3x3 All Stars in Doha (Qatar), starting on Friday, November 18.

There will be 8 teams participating in a direct knockout contest at the 3x3 All Stars event.

After his performances in UAE, Amjyot was named as the highest ranked 3×3 player in the "Rest of the world" category. His Team Hamamatsu are a team rich with Indian-origin talent, also featuring Inderbir Singh Gill (USA), Bikramjit Gill (Canada), along with Japan's Chihiro Ikeda.

List of Participating Teams this Year - via Ekalavyas.
  • Novi Sad Al Wahda, UAE
  • Saskatoon, Canada
  • Doha, Qatar
  • Hamamatsu, Japan
  • Ljubljana, Slovenia
  • NY Harlem NBA, USA
  • McGill U, Canada
  • Manila, Philippines

Hamamatsu has been seeded 4th and will face hosts Team Doha in the opening quarterfinal game on 18th Nov, from 8:30 pm IST.

November 12, 2016

India's roster, schedule, & a preview of the 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Women in Bangkok

The future of the continent's women's basketball talent will be showcased in Bangkok (Thailand) starting this weekend as the 23rd FIBA Asia Championship for Women is set to be held from November 13-20. As it has been in recent years, this championship will once again feature teams from 12 nations from across Asia. While squads like reigning champs China, Japan, and Korea fight for the title, India will be hoping to stay in Level 1 of the tournament and perhaps, even cause an upset or two.

On Friday, India's roster for the tournament was finalised by the Basketball Federation of India as the team set out to Thailand. The Indian team is currently ranked 38th in the world and 5th in Asia (as per the combined FIBA World Rankings for U16 and U18 teams). India is grouped alongside five other teams in elite Level 1, with the top four teams at the end of the league rounds progressing to the semifinals stage. The team is being coached by former international player and veteran coach Shiba Maggon and will be captained by Karnataka's experienced young star Bhandavya HM. Another star to watch for India will be Delhi's Sushantika Chakravortty.

Participating Teams
  • Level 1: China, Japan, Korea, Chinese Taipei, India, Thailand.
  • Level 2: Indonesia, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka.

China has won this tournament the previous three times and will be looking to complete an impressive four-peat. In 2014, China defeated Japan in the Final in Jordan, while India finished at 6th place but retained their Level 1 status.

As always, Level 1 consists of the higher-tier teams, including the 'Big Four' of the tournament: China, Japan, Korea, and Chinese Taipei. India will have a difficult time against all of these opponents, and any win here will be considered a historic upset. India's best chance of a Preliminary Round victory is against Thailand, but they will have to be at the top of their game to defeat the home squad, too. The top four teams from Level 1 will move on to the Semi-Final stage while the bottom two will play the top two Level 2 teams in qualification matches to decide the Level 1 status for this tournament in 2018.

India's roster for 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Women
  • Priyanka Prabhakara
  • Riya Verma
  • Nishanti Masilamani
  • Aakarshan Sandhu
  • Sakshi Pandey
  • Carina Clarence Menezes
  • Bhandavya HM - captain
  • Sushantika Chakravortty
  • Nimmi George
  • Anusha IP
  • Gulabsha Ali
  • Shrishti Suren
  • Head Coach: Shiba Maggon
  • Assistant Coach: Kalva Rajeshaver Rao
  • Manager: Jugraj Singh Baidwan

"Our motto is to never give up and keep trying to better ourselves," said Maggon. "We will try to improve upon how we performed against Thailand [from their previous encounter in 2014 which they had lost 68-62] and also try to play well against Chinese Taipei."

India's Preliminary Round Schedule - All timings IST
  • India vs Thailand – 13th November, 1:30 PM
  • India vs China – 14th November, 3:30 PM
  • India vs Chinese Taipei – 15th November, 3:30 PM
  • India vs South Korea – 16th November, 3:30 PM
  • India vs Japan – 17th November, 3:30 PM

November 9, 2016

Hoopdarshan Episode 39: Satnam Singh readies for the new NBA D-League season

A little over a year ago, Satnam Singh made history by becoming the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA. After spending a season with the D-League, Satnam readies for another season with the Texas Legends. The 7-foot, 20-year-old phenon makes a comeback on India's finest basketball podcast, Hoopdarshan, to talk to hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok about striving for more time to prove his talent, his off-court life in the D-League, NBA ambitions, and finding life-size cutouts of himself around Frisco.

In addition, Hoopdarshan's hosts also discuss Palpreet Singh getting drafted into the NBA D-League, Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh's chances in the future.

Hoopdarshan is the truest 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...

In Kashmir, students turn to basketball for respite from turmoil and curfews

Kashmir, that firdaus, that heaven on Earth, has for decades been a place as cursed with violence as it's been blessed with beauty. India's northernmost state has been especially facing unrest and conflict over the last few months: the killing of Burhan Wani by Indian security forces in July set off a series of protests in the state which led to eventual clashes between Indian paramilitary forces and the citizens. Many districts in the state have faced curfew in the duration and aftermath of these clashes.

But, after more than three months of being held prisoner in their own homes, many young students in Srinagar - Jammu and Kashmir's capital - found respite as they headed outdoors for basketball.

The Jammu and Kashmir State Sports Council (JKSSC) took a step in diverting the attention of students and youth from the ongoing disturbance in the Kashmir Valley by hosting a basketball tournament in Srinagar, reported ANI. The tournament was held at the newly inaugurated Indoor Stadium in the city from November 1-3, 2016, and said to have involved over 100 participants.

Via ANI on Business Standard

Around 100 students participated in the tournament and expressed relief at coming out of their homes after more than three months. Some said that the disturbed situation in the valley had taken a toll of their physical and mental health, and hampered their studies and extracurricular activities. They said the tournament had provided them with some relief and has filled them with hope.
"If tournaments like this are organised, then children will be gainfully occupied. It is almost going to be four months since the curfew was imposed in the valley. Schools have been closed and children want to be involved in such curricular activities," said Rehan, a player.

We know that basketball is not going to solve any problems, but it can definitely be a small part of the solution. The Valley has had its share of suffering and turmoil in recent months; kudos to the JKSSC for helping a few young players find some respite in the distraction of this wonderful game!