January 30, 2017

Hoopdarshan Episode 41: BFI's Himamshu Dabir on the rising stars of Indian basketball

Last week, India's largest domestic basketball tournament - the Senior Nationals - concluded in Puducherry, giving fans and scouts a taste of the best talent from around the country. To give us an informed discussion about the rising stars in Indian basketball, the Hoopdarshan podcast called up Himamshu Dabir, the chief of basketball operations for the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), to join us for Episode 41. Dabir shared his expertise with hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok on the most intriguing teams and players from the Senior Nationals, the future names and events to look forward to in Indian basketball, and on India's biggest need: the point guard position.

Dabir, an Indian-American born in Syracuse (New York), has been working with the BFI since 2012 and has been intimately involved with the growth of grassroots basketball programmes around India and assisting with the development of India's national basketball teams.

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!

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January 24, 2017

Abhishek Bachchan ready to play Satnam Singh in a biopic - if Satnam wins an NBA championship

The following statements are the truth:

- Abhishek Bachchan is an Indian actor, star of Bollywood hits like Dhoom, Dostana, Bunty Aur Babli, Guru, and Sarkar, and the son of India's most-respected actor ever, Amitabh Bachchan.

- Satnam Singh was the first Indian basketball player to be drafted into the NBA in 2015 and plays for the D-League team Texas Legends. His extraordinary story from poor Punjabi village of Ballo Ke to the NBA Draft was captured in the recent documentary One in a Billion.

- Bachchan is apparently a huge NBA fan, specifically of the Lakers, and has had interactions with the Laker great Magic Johnson. He was the first (and only) Indian to ever take part in the NBA All Star Celebrity Game in 2015, displaying his exceptionally limited basketball skills. He was also the brand ambassador of India's NBA Store and has often professed his hopes to help basketball grow in India.

- A few days ago, Satnam Singh said that, if a biopic was made of his life, Indian actors Akshay Kumar and Abhishek Bachchan would be "best suited" for the role.

- On Monday, Bachchan responded to the story on Twitter by saying that he would do the biopic - for free, too - if Satnam can win an NBA championship.

- Bachchan is 6-foot-2 and 40-year-old. Satnam is 7-foot-1 and 21-years-old. Satnam knows how to play basketball. Bachchan knows how to act.

- Satnam has yet to play an NBA game. Although he is never going to be an NBA star, there is still a possibility that the big guy gets signed on to a fringe role by an NBA team. Satnam's chances of winning an NBA championship would depend highly on a perfect situation of playing for a team that both has the space/requirement for a big guy of his skillset and the talent to beat the top contenders in the league for the title. Think DJ Mbenga from the 2009-2010 back-to-back champion Lakers' squads.

The following statements are the 'alternative facts':

- The Golden State Warriors will sign Satnam as a backup, where he immediately becomes 'The Splash Singh'. Satnam will join a roster that already includes Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. He would be the umpteenth big man option behind Green, Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee, David West, Anderson Varejao, Kevin Looney, James McAdoo, and Damian Jones.

- In the 2017 NBA Finals - round three between the Cavaliers and the Warriors - Golden State would lose Draymond Green after another accidental kung-fu reflex moment, Zaza to the Georgian parliament, McGee after he Shaqted-a-Fool one too many times, Varejao and David West to old age, and Looney, McAdoo and Damian Jones to foul trouble. In this moment of desperation, they would call upon The Behemoth of Ballo Ke, The Punjabi Premier of the Paint, to save the day in Game 7. In seven invaluable minutes of action, Satnam would set up important screens for open jumpers for Curry, Durant, and Thompson, outrebound Tristan Thompson, deny LeBron easy access to the basket, and pick up six quick fouls to destroy Cleveland's comeback momentum.

- Warriors will win the 2017 NBA Title and Satnam Singh will get his championship ring.

- In 2020, when Abhishek Bachchan is in his mid-40s, he will requires the help of India's finest computer graphic designers to make him a foot taller and 30-years younger. He will play Satnam from age 15-25 in India's greatest sporting biopic film of all time.

- 'King Singh: The Sikh With Da Sickness' will break all the box office records, win Bachchan all the Filmfare Awards, and become India's choice for Oscars' 'Best Foreign Language film', obviously winning that award, too.

- The film's popularity will make basketball one of the most popular sports in India and earn Satnam an honorary place as 'Basketball Ambassador' in the Hall of Fame.

- Satnam will eventually co-star in a travel show alongside Stephen Curry called 'The Curry-wallahs: Basketball and Butter Chicken from Ballo Ke to the Bay Area'.

Thank you for your time.

January 21, 2017

It's confirmed: India will host FIBA Women’s Asia Cup and FIBA Asia U16 Women’s Championship this year!

It's official! The Basketball Federation of India's (BFI) bid to FIBA for India to host major FIBA Asia tournaments has been approved. FIBA, the world's governing body of basketball, has announced the host cities and schedule for FIBA Asia tournaments this year, which includes the first, remixed version of the FIBA Women's Asia Cup and the FIBA Asia U16 Women's Asian Championship to be hosted by India.

These will be the first FIBA Asia events that India will host since 2009, when the cities of Chennai and Pune hosted the FIBA Asia Women's Championship and the FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women respectively. The BFI announced tentative plans to bid for both the events for 2017 last week, and the bids were confirmed and accepted by the FIBA Regional Office in Asia on Friday.

India will host the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup in Bengaluru from July 23-29. This tournament is the expanded version of the former FIBA Asia Championship for Women and will include teams from Oceania as well. India will also host the expanded 2017 FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women from October 22-28 in an yet-undecided host city.

The other major announcement was that the expanded 2017 FIBA Asia Cup will be held from August 17-27 in Beirut (Lebanon).

At the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship for Women in Wuhan (China), India played at the higher Level 1 and lost all five of their Preliminary Stage games to end the tournament at sixth place. They then lost a Level 1 playoff as well and fell to Level 2 for the 2017 FIBA Asia Women's Cup. Japan won the tournament.

India's U16 girls had a similar finish at the 2015 FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women in Medan (Indonesia), where they finished winless at sixth place in Level 1 and fell to Level 2 after losing their playoff game as well. China won the tournament.

Here's a full list of every FIBA Asia national tournament ever hosted by India, with winners in brackets:

  • Kolkata 1981: FIBA Asia Championship (China).
  • Kolkata 1998: FIBA Asia U18 Championship (China).
  • New Delhi 2000: FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Women (China).
  • Bengaluru 2004: FIBA Asia U18 Championship (Iran).
  • Chennai 2009: FIBA Asia Championship for Women (China).
  • Pune 2009: FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women (China).

Hosting another such major tournament will give our domestic players and fans a closer look at some of the best in the continent and force us to upgrade our facilities at home to handle a tournament of this stature. International stars like Ramu Tokashiki and Asami Yoshida (Japan), Danbi Kim (Korea), Shao Ting and Sun Mengran (China), Liz Cambage (Australia) and more could play a part in the FIBA Asia Women's Cup this year. The U16 tournament will be a showcase of the stars of the future!

Moreover, hosting a tournament will hopefully help boost our local players to give a better performance, too. The best recent example is of Geethu Anna Jose, who dominated for India at the 2009 FIBA Asia Women in Chennai and finished as the tournament's top scorer. India's national women's squad has some exciting young talent, led by names like Jeena Scaria, Poojamol Subhashmon, Bhandavya Mahesha, plus veterans Anitha Pauldurai, Shireen Limaye, and more.

January 18, 2017

Indian basketball legend Sajjan Singh Cheema to run for AAP in Punjab elections

Sajjan Singh Cheema has collected more than his share of accolades to be part of Indian basketball's hall-of-fame. The former Punjabi superstar played for India in the FIBA Asia Basketball Championship teams in 1981, 1983, and 1985, and represented the country in the Asian Games in 1982. In 1983, he was honoured with the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Award. Cheema retired from the game in 1994, and in 1999, he joined a select list of basketball players to win the Arjuna Award, one of the highest honours for Indian athletes.

Off-the-court, Cheema turned his attentions further into public service, serving as an SP (Superintendent of Police) with Punjab Police and additionally the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Traffic) in Ludhiana. Last year, however, Cheema became the latest in a long line of former Punjabi athletes to turn their attentions towards politics when he quit his job with the Punjab Police Service and joined the state's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), amidst the atmosphere of some internal feud within the party itself.

Now, with the Punjab elections on the horizon, Cheema will get a chance to become a rookie in a whole different sport. Cheema will make his election debut as he will contest as an AAP candidate from Sultanpur Lodhi constituency in the 2017 Punjab Legislative Assembly election, set to be held on February 4. The current ruling coalition in Punjab is Shiromani Akali Dal - Bharatiya Janata Party alliance led by Parkash Singh Badal.

Cheema was born in 1957 in Dabulian village in Kapurthala district in Punjab state. He studied at Kamalia Khalsa High School Kapurthala and at Sport College Jalandhar. He started playing basketball in 1976 and first participated in Inter university tournament held in Jaipur in 1976. Cheema comes from a family of basketball players, as his brothers Balkar Singh and Gurmeet Singh and his cousin Kuldeep Singh Cheema also played at the international level.

As far as I'm aware, Cheema will be the first person to represent India in basketball to make the substitution into electoral politics. It's going to be an athletic election in Punjab, as Olympic wrestlers Pargat Singh, Kartar Singh, and of course former Test Cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu in the polls.

In case you're curious to learn more about Cheema and his political priorities, here is an enlightening interview he did with The Tribune last year. Cheema has experience with the anti-riot police and one of his main agendas is to tackle the rising drug "mess" in Punjab.

January 16, 2017

BFI announces tentative plans for India to host two FIBA Asia tournaments this year

Lost somewhere in the action and hoopla of India's largest domestic basketball tournament, the Senior Nationals in Puducherry last week, was a major announcement by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). Although it hasn't been confirmed by FIBA yet, the BFI's president K. Govindraj claimed that India will be hosting two major FIBA Asia tournaments 2017, championships that will bring the finest Asian basketball talent to Indian soil for the first time in years.

First reported by Sportstar, Govindraj mentioned in an Annual Board Meeting of the BFI in Puducherry on Saturday that there will be two big international tournaments in India this year: The 2017 FIBA Asia Championship for Women in July tentatively scheduled to be in Bengaluru and the 2017 FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women in October-November in a still-undecided host city.

The FIBA calendar, however, is still to confirm India as the host for these two tournaments. Furthermore, some of the dates mentioned by Govindraj don't quite match the FIBA schedule: currently, the FIBA U16 Women 2017 is scheduled to be held in June and the FIBA Asia Women 2017 in September.

Nevertheless, if the BFI can go through to confirm these tournaments, it will be a huge bonus to the growing status of basketball in India. Apart from hosting South Asian tournaments and the Lusofonia Games in 2014, India has rarely had the opportunity to host a major FIBA Asia basketball championship. In the decades-old combined histories of all the national FIBA Asia tournaments (Men, Women, U18 Men, U18 Women, U16 Men, U16 Women), India has only hosted six times, most recently in 2009 when the FIBA Asia Women was held in Chennai and the 1st-ever FIBA Asia U16 Women in Pune.

Here's a full list of every FIBA Asia national tournament ever hosted by India, with winners in brackets:
  • Kolkata 1981: FIBA Asia Championship (China).
  • Kolkata 1998: FIBA Asia U18 Championship (China).
  • New Delhi 2000: FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Women (China).
  • Bengaluru 2004: FIBA Asia U18 Championship (Iran).
  • Chennai 2009: FIBA Asia Championship for Women (China).
  • Pune 2009: FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women (China).

No, it's not that China likes to win a lot in India; when it comes to Asian basketball, China ends up winning a lot everywhere.

Hosting another such major tournament will give our domestic players and fans a closer look at some of the best in the continent and force us to upgrade our facilities at home to handle a tournament of this stature. In the past, these FIBA Asia tournaments have brought home great Asian talents like Yao Ming, Yuta Tabuse, Chen Nan, Jaber Rouzbahani, Hamed Haddadi, Bian Lan, and Li Meng. Hosting FIBA's top women's tournament will give India a chance to see more international stars like Ramu Tokashiki and Asami Yoshida (Japan), Danbi Kim (Korea), Shao Ting and Sun Mengran (China), and more. The U16 tournament will be a showcase of the stars of the future!

Moreover, hosting a tournament will hopefully help boost our local players to give a better performance, too. The best recent example is of Geethu Anna Jose, who dominated for India at the 2009 FIBA Asia Women in Chennai and finished as the tournament's top scorer. India's national women's squad has some exciting young talent, led by names like Jeena Scaria, Poojamol Subhashmon, Bhandavya Mahesha, plus veterans Anitha Pauldurai, Shireen Limaye, and more.

In the long run, more international basketball is definitely destined towards are desi. FIBA's new competition system ensures that every team will play multiple qualifying games towards the big international tournaments home and away. So, even if India doesn't host many more of those FIBA tournaments, we will at least get the opportunity of playing in qualifying matches around the country.

January 15, 2017

2016: The Year in Indian Basketball

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas.com on January 5, 2017. Click here to read the original feature. The internal links on this repost have been subsequently altered.

If life was a basketball game, it wouldn’t be a coast-to-coast fast-break towards the basket or a 360-degree dunk in every possession. It would be hesitant, back-and-forth, a battle against progress where there would be several lead changes and as many easy baskets as turnovers.

2016 for Indian Basketball was definitely one such year. For every open basket, there was an air-ball. For every flawless defensive possession, there was a flagrant foul. And yet, despite the missteps, basketball in India continues to crawl ahead towards progress, slowly increasing its lead despite a poor field-goal percentage.

Here is a roundup of the top moments of 2016 in Indian Basketball.

- As usual, the Basketball Federation of India’s (BFI) calendar year began with a splash, with India’s biggest domestic tournament – the Senior Nationals – held in Mysuru (Karnataka). Over 53 combined teams in the Men and Women divisions participated, and after two high-flying finals on January 16, Indian Railways (Women) and Services (Men) emerged as national champions. 

- Ranbir Chopra, an Indian basketball legend and the captain of independent India's first national team at the First Asian Games in 1951, passed away in his home-town of Kapurthala on January 25th.

- The 42nd edition of the Sub-Junior U14 nationals, India’s youngest national tournament, concluded with two closely-contested finals on February 8th in Puducherry, won by Madhya Pradesh's boys and Chhattisgarh’s girls.

- In the continuing spat between the BFI and the Indian Olympics Association (IOA), the international basketball federation – FIBA – cancelled basketball at the South Asian Games in Guwahati, sending selected players, coaches, and fans into distress.

- In mid-February, Indian basketball legends of the Indian Basketball Players Association (IBPA) teamed up to launch the ‘Save Our Game’ campaign in New Delhi.

- Former NBA champion Brian Shaw came to India near the end of February and helped choose Punjab’s youngster Palpreet Singh Brar as the winner of the first-ever ACG-NBA Jump programme at the national finals in Delhi-NCR. Palpreet was chosen to be prepared for the NBA D-League draft later in the year.

- The Federation Cup – a top national tournament for state and club teams – was held in Goa. Kerala Women rose to the top, while ONGC Men made it a three-peat in mid-March.

- Season 2 of the UBA Basketball League concluded in Hyderabad in early April with Delhi Capitals winning the Finals series 2-1 over Chennai Slam. Delhi’s Vinay Kaushik was named season MVP.

- The IBPA brought to attention Government of India’s de-recognition of the BFI among the National Sports Federations of 2016, adding further instability to the federation’s new committee, run by K. Govindraj.

- NBA players Robin Lopez and Seth Curry travelled to Noida and Mumbai from April 28 - May 1 to support the continued growth of basketball by conducting youth clinics and interacting with local fans. They engaged with players at Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Elite National Camp and took part in Sony SIX's show "Around the Hoop."

- Tamil Nadu Boys and Karnataka Girls won the 2016 Junior (U18) National championship in Puducherry.

- 6-foot-7 Prince Pal Singh (15), the son of an electrician from Gurdaspur (Punjab), was chosen for a three-year scholarship worth $75,000 (Rs. 50 lakh) to train and go to school at the Spire Institute in Geneva, Ohio, USA. He was picked by FIBA agent Dermot Russell at open trials conducted at the Delhi Public School in Rajnandgaon (Chattisgarh).

- At the 2016 South Asian (SABA) U18 Basketball Championship for Men in Dhaka (Bangladesh) on June 1-2, India's junior team defeated South Asian opponents Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, won the SABA U18 Basketball title once again, and qualified for the FIBA Asia U18 Championship. 

- Three promising Indian players - Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi, Aashay Verma, and Sahil - were chosen for the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Asia 2016 Camp in Australia.

- Indian official Naresh Aneja was appointed in July to be one of eight jury members representing FIBA at the Rio Olympics 2016 in Brazil.

- India hosted South Asia Qualifiers for 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge in Bengaluru from July 6-8, looking to defend their title against Nepal, Bangladesh, and Maldives. Captained by big man Amrit Pal Singh, India’s Men’s team won all their games convincingly and qualified for the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge.

- At the 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Men in Tehran, the home team Iran emerged as champions. Team India, meanwhile, made the Quarter-Final stage of the tournament for the first time in twelve years and finished at 8th place.  

- India’s Senior Men’s team, meanwhile, returned to the William Jones Cup in Taiwan, where they finished 1-7 but managed to impress with significantly improved performances. Philippines’ club Mighty Sports won the invitational tournament.

- Just months after the second season, the UBA launched Season 3 of their basketball league, which concluded in late July with a second title for Season 1 champions Chennai Slam. Chennai defeated Punjab Steelers 2-1 in the Finals’ series. Narender Grewal of the Pune Peshwas, the highest-scoring player in the tournament, was named MVP for Season 3.

- In July, the BFI sent out a warning message that all participants in 'unauthorised competitions' won't be allowed to take part in official national or international basketball events. After the end of UBA’s Season 3, BFI came through with their warning, banning 122 players, coaches, referees and support staff of the UBA from official India basketball competitions and sending shockwaves in the sport throughout the nation.

- India’s Senior Men, meanwhile, continued their accelerated improvement: at the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge in Tehran (Iran) in September, India had their best performance in 27 years. India defeated China, Philippines, Chinese Taipei, and Kazakhstan, made it to the tournament’s quarter-finals, and finished at 7th place with a 4-4 record. India’s “Big Three” of Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh, and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi established themselves as Asia’s elite. Hosts Iran beat Korea in the final on September 18 to win the tournament.

- Two prominent members of India’s Senior Men’s team – Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Rikin Pethani – played for team ‘T-Rex’ of the Maldives Basketball Association (MBA) from September 20 to October 3. T-Rex won the MBA title.

- It was a familiar conclusion at the end of the 43rd Sub-Junior (U14) National Basketball Championship for Boys and Girls on October 7 in Hyderabad, as the reigning champions in both the boys' and girls' divisions - Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh respectively - won their final matches to retain their trophies.

- Three Indian players – ACG-NBA Jump winner Palpreet Singh, Amjyot Singh, and Amritpal Singh – were deemed eligible for the NBA D-League draft.

- Asia's premier international club basketball tournament - the 2016 FIBA Asia Champions Cup - concluded in Chenzhou, China, on October 16 with the host country's representative China Kashgar winning the finale. India were represented at this tournament by Dehradun's ONGC, who, despite featuring some top Indian talent, were ousted from the Preliminary Round stage without a win and finished tied for 9/10th place in the ten-team fray. 

- India’s superstar Amjyot Singh had himself a busy fall season, headlining Japan’s 3x3 squad ‘Team Hamamatsu’ which won itself accolades in FIBA 3x3 tournaments around the world, including the 3x3 World Tour Finals in UAE and FIBA 3x3 All Stars in Doha (Qatar).

- Palpreet Singh made history by becoming the first Indian to be drafted directly into the NBA’s D-League when he was picked 11th in the sixth round (80th overall) in the D-League draft by the Long Island Nets on October 30th. India’s other prospects – Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh – were not picked. Unfortunately, Palpreet was dropped from the Nets’ final roster a week later.

- India’s Youth (U18) Women’s team suffered a major setback at the FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Women in Bangkok (Thailand). India 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. China won the tournament for the third consecutive time.  

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

- The 2016 Youth National (U16) Championship concluded with the finals on November 26th, as Tamil Nadu (Girls) and Kerala (Boys) emerged as champions in Hassan (Karnataka).

- Former NBA champ Shawn Marion came to Mumbai and New Delhi for a five-day trip starting in the end of November, where he took part in the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme, chatted with fans live on NBA India's Facebook page, conducted a junior NBA camp at the ITL School in Delhi, and more. He made the obligatory 'Around the Hoop' TV appearance, too.

- The second season of ACG-NBA Jump talent search programme was launched in Mumbai on December 3 with Marion. The programme that commenced this year – set to be held in six cities – will go on to provide the top 24 prospects with scholarships and training at the NBA Academy India.

- The story of India’s first NBA draft pick – Satnam Singh – was filmed into the documentary ‘One in a Billion’ by director Roman Gackowski. The documentary was released on Netflix Worldwide on December 6.

- Team India ended 2016 on a positive note at Hong Kong’s invitational Super Kung Sheung Cup. India sent a star-studded Senior Men’s team to the tournament and finished at third place with the bronze medal. USA’s Southern California Fukienese Association won the gold medal on December 18.

Basketball will continue to progress in India in 2017: fans should look forward to seeing the NBA Academy unearth new talents from the country, keep up with India’s blossoming domestic scene with grassroots and national tournaments around the country, and see our national women return to action at the 2017 FIBA Asia Championship. Like always, there will be three times on the top of my annual wish-list: for India to win more international games, to see progress towards a full Indian professional basketball league, and witness an Indian citizen finally getting to play in the NBA.  

January 14, 2017

Uttarakhand Men and Kerala Women become 2017 National Basketball champions in Puducherry

In the largest and finest annual collection of Indian basketball talent, only the most toughest survive to reach the pinnacle, to gain the prestigious honour of being called 'National Champions'. At the 67th Senior National Basketball Championship for Men and Women - the 'Senior Nationals' - in Puducherry, a couple of wounded predators got their retribution. Uttarakhand (Men) and Kerala (Women) - both runners-up from the tournament in 2016 - found their salvation in Puducherry by winning the Finals of the Senior Nationals on Saturday, January 14.

The 2017 Senior Nationals tipped off on Friday, January 7th at the Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium in Puducherry. The championship was being organised by the Puducherry Basketball Association under the aegis of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and featured over 50 total men and women's teams from states and units across India.

The women's final pitted 2016 runners-up Kerala against the upstart team from Telangana, who had upset the mighty Indian Railways in the semi-finals and made it this far for the first time in their history as an independent state. Known for producing some of the best women's basketball talent in India, Kerala as a state had come short for over three decades at the Senior Nationals. When Telangana got off to a strong start on Saturday, leading 34-26 at halftime, it seemed that Kerala's misery would be stretched even longer. It took until the crucial fourth quarter for Kerala to bounce back, as they slowed the game down to a grind and began to dominate proceedings. Kerala outscored their opponents 22-8 in the final period On Saturday, and finally broke their 32-year curse to win the Senior Nationals gold with a 68-59 victory. Rising international star Jeena Scaria led Kerala with 20 while M. Gayatri scored 16 for Telangana in the loss.

The men's final pitted familiar foes and two heavyweights of Indian basketball - Uttarakhand and Tamil Nadu - against each other. Both teams had faced off in one form or another, including as ONGC and IOB, several times in big finals in recent years. Last year, Uttarakhand had bounced back from a 20-point deficit to beat TN in the Semi-Final, only to lose to Services in the final game. This year, TN, backed by nearby home support in Puducherry, hoped for a different outcome. But the result was decided chiefly on the talents of one exceptional superstar: Uttarakhand's and India's talented big man Amritpal Singh. TN had no answers for Amritpal, who scored 34 and caused havoc in the post all night. The two teams traded big runs back and forth in the first two quarters, but it was Uttarakhand who had the final word, finishing 23-16 in the fourth period to secure a 68-60 victory and their third national title in five years.

Kiran Bedi, the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, was the chief guest for the women’s finals between Kerala and Telangana, and distributed the trophies, medals and cash prizes. V Narayanasamy, Chief Minister of Puducherry, was the chief guest for the men’s finals between Uttarakhand and Tamil Nadu. In both men and women sections, the winning team received a cash prize of Rs 2,00,000/-, the first runners up Rs 1,00,000/- and the second runners up were awarded Rs 50,000/-.

A felicitation ceremony was also held for the Indian national men’s squad which finished a historic 7th at the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge (in Iran in September) and won a bronze medal at the 21st Super Kung Sheung Cup 2016 (in Hong Kong in December). The FIBA Asia Challenge squad won a total cash prize of Rs 5,00,000/-, while the Hong Kong contingent received Rs 1,45,000/-.

Earlier on Saturday, the third/fourth place matches were held to determine the bronze medalists in each division. The Women's bronze medal was won by Indian Railways, who survived despite a semi-final injury to their veteran Anitha Pauldurai to defeat Chhattisgarh 84-77. Navaneetha PU (21) and Sruthi Menon (16) led the way for Railways, overcoming another big game by Chhattisgarh's giant center Poonam Chaturvedi (31). The Men's game was a fun matchup between Punjab and the surprising semi-finalists from Rajasthan. Punjab relied on the explosiveness of point guard Talwinderjit Singh 'TJ' Sahi (21) plus contributions by Rajveer Singh (18) and Gurvinder Singh Gill (16) to win 88-70. Vinod Kumar (22) and Sharad Dadhich (18) led the way for Rajasthan in the loss.

The BFI's President K. Govindraj also made several important announcements to the press on the day of the Finals in Puducherry. The big news was that India is setting up to host two major FIBA Asia tournaments this year: the Women's FIBA Asia Championship in Bengaluru, tentatively scheduled for September, and the FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women, for which a city hadn't been decided yet.

The tournament concluded on Saturday with one major omission: Services. After some troubles between the federation and the units, it seemed that Services and Indian Railways had found a solution with the BFI to attend the Senior Nationals. Railways eventually attended, but Services - who won the 2016 Men's gold at the Senior Nationals - were last-minute absentees.

Final Results
  • Women: Kerala (Jeena Scaria 20) bt. Telangana (M. Gayatri 16, Ramya R. 15) 68-59 [14-19, 12-15, 20-17, 22-8].
  • Men: Uttarakhand (Amritpal Singh 34) bt. Tamil Nadu 68-60 (23-9, 5-24, 15-13, 25-16).

Third/Fourth Place
  • Women: Indian Railways (Navaneetha PU 21, Sruthi Menon 16, Madhu Kumar 15) bt. Chhattisgarh (Poonam Chaturvedi 31, Sangeeta Kaur 13) 84-77 (25-18, 17-15, 25-14, 17-30).
  • Men: Punjab (Talwinderjit Singh Sahi 21, Rajveer Singh 18, Gurvinder Singh Gill 16, Arshpreet Singh Bhullar 14) bt. Rajasthan (Vinod Kumar 22, Sharad Dadhich 18, Mohamad 13) 88-70 (22-22, 23-9, 18-17, 25-22).

Final Standings

  • 1. Kerala
  • 2. Telangana
  • 3. Indian Railways
  • 4. Chhattisgarh
  • 5. Tamil Nadu

  • 1. Uttarakhand
  • 2. Tamil Nadu
  • 3. Punjab
  • 4. Rajasthan
  • 5. Kerala

January 13, 2017

Is Satnam Singh going to become a WWE Wrestler? The hoops nation wants to know


Satnam Singh, the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA, a player for the D-League squad Texas Legends, and the star of the inspirational documentary "One in a Billion", now seems to have enough time in his hands (he has played less than four minutes total for the Legends in the D-League season) to try out another outlet that could magnify his size, strength, and international appeal: WWE Wrestling.

Last week, Satnam, who plays and lives in Frisco, Texas, traveled to Orlando, Florida for a special event with other international athletes at the WWE Performance Center. With the permission of the Legends, Satnam participated in a workout session at the facility, which was opened in 2013 and is home to WWE’s talent developmental system.

The story was covered in much greater detail on the Indian Express by Shahid Judge, a write-up that included WWE's statement: "Satnam Singh participated in the workouts alongside WWE recruits this week, taking their exploratory steps inside the squared circle. Satnam was at the WWE Performance Centre in Orlando for tryouts from January 3. He had a few pro athletes along with him and if selected, he’ll be offered a contract and he’ll become a Superstar of WWE."

Satnam was joined at the visit to the WWE in Orlando by “American Ninja Warrior” sensation Kacy Catanzaro, and New Orleans Saints linebacker Kasim Edebali.

Now, I don't have any particular qualms with the WWE; as a matter of fact, I've been a fan of fake professional wrestling (sorry, children, spoiler alert!) since I was kid, since it was called 'WWF', since the days of British Bulldog, Tatanka, and The Undertaker all the way through to the years of Stone Cold, The Rock, Chris Jericho, and the Dudley Boyz. I've been choke-slammed in "practice" by my elder brother and have tag-teamed with friends to '3D' unsuspecting classmates. I'm appreciative of its existence in the realm of 'sports entertainment', as long as we all know that its less competitive sport and more scripted entertainment.

But now, with the WWE lurking to potentially entice India's most-famous basketball name, I wonder if his basketball dreams are going to be sacrificed, if 'sports entertainment' will take the place of 'sports'.

Satnam's manager Sunny Gill, however, made it very clear to Judge in the Indian Express story that basketball remains the big man's top priority.

They (WWE) were very interested in him and invited him to check out their facility. They made him an offer, but we did not accept. Right now he’s pursuing his NBA dream and basketball is the main focus,” says Sunny Gill, Bhamara’s manager.
Bhamara though enthusiastically travelled to Orlando, as he holds the possibility of developing a professional wrestling career once he’s done with playing NBA-level basketball. “Satnam also wanted to see the setup there. It’s a good Plan B to have, once basketball ends for him,” Gill adds. “We told them that right now basketball is the focus, but that he can make a few appearances for them during the off-season. When it does not interfere with basketball.”
With the permission of the Texas Legends (his development league team) management, Bhamara participated in a workout session at the WWE’s facility. “His agent was with him, and that’s a high-level NBA agent. So there was nothing done that could jeopardize his basketball career,” Gill asserts.

With his playing time in the D-League limited, the WWE can definitely seem like an enticing, and maybe even a more lucrative option. The WWE is a more popular brand than the NBA with folks back home in India, too. But as long as he has the chance to make the most of his basketball talents, to become the first Indian to play in the NBA, to make history, I believe he should keep his hoops dreams as his main focus. Hopefully, nothing he does in the ring jeopardises his future on the court.

We've heard a part of this story before. A giant Singh from a poor Indian family goes to the USA and becomes a pro wrestler. That other Singh was Dalip Singh Rana, who became known as The Great Khali, who joined the WWE in 2006, won their World Heavyweight Title, and also appeared in various films and TV shows. Khali was a major marketing success for the WWE, and with a fervent fan following back in India, Satnam could be, too.

But for now, I am hoping against it. As great as it would be to see Satnam gain 'sports entertainment' popularity, I would much rather see him slamming a basketball on DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis than body-slamming AJ Styles and John Cena.

January 8, 2017

Warriors-Kings will be first Regular-Season game to be streamed live on Facebook - for India!

When two California teams at the forefront of the NBA's technological push, both with hand-prints of Vivek Ranadive, with international aspirations, meet on "Bollywood Night", a little bit of history is only inevitable. So when the Sacramento Kings host the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night (Monday morning in India), it will become the first time that an NBA regular season game will be streamed live, via Facebook, exclusively for Indian fans!

On Monday, Jan. 9 (7:30 am IST), the NBA will stream the Kings-Warriors matchup to fans in India across the Facebook Pages of the NBA, the Kings and the Warriors. This game, to be held at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, marks the Kings’ fourth annual "Bollywood Night", a celebration of traditional Indian culture, cinema and music.

The game will be geo-targeted to fans in India. The Facebook stream will feature the league’s newly released “NBA Mobile View” feed, delivering a closer shot of the action optimized for viewing on the smaller screens of tablets and phones.

"We are excited to once again take part in an innovative league initiative that will provide a unique experience for our fans in India," said Warriors President and COO Rick Welts. "We are always looking for ways to utilize technology for opportunities to connect with our diverse group of fans throughout the world and are thrilled to engage with our followers in India tomorrow night."

Kings' owner Ranadive, who is the first Indian-born majority-owner in the NBA, used to be a minority owner with the Warriors and introduced the "Bollywood Night" concept in Bay Area in 2011, and then took the 'Night' with him once he bought the majority stakes of the Kings. This game could feature up to six soon-to-be NBA All Stars, including Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins... and Zaza Pachulia. The Warriors are of course one of the most popular teams in the league and currently have the NBA's best record at 31-6, leading the Western Conference. The Kings have struggled again this season (15-21) but are at 9th in the West and could actually sneak into the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

January 7, 2017

2017 National Basketball Championship tips off in Puducherry with 52 top Indian teams

It's Indian basketball's greatest tradition, the beginning of every 'Happy New Year' with the happiest of news, the largest and most prestigious basketball competition in the country.

The 67th Senior National Basketball Championship for Men and Women - known as the 'Senior Nationals' - tipped off on Friday, January 7th at the Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium in Puducherry. The championship is being organised by the Puducherry Basketball Association under the aegis of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). Featuring 52 total men and women's teams from states and units across India, the championship will conclude with the finals on January 14.

Last year, the 66th Senior Nationals were held in Mysuru (Karnataka), and won by Services (Men) and Indian Railways (Women).

29 international players in both Men and Women's divisions are expected to take part in the tournament this year, making it a major star-studded event, including Rikin Pethani, Pratham Singh, Aravind Annadurai, Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi (Tamil Nadu), Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Yadwinder Singh, Amritpal Singh (Uttarakhand), TJ Sahi (Punjab), Smruthi Radhakrishnan, Anitha Pauldurai (Railways), Jeena Skaria, Poojamol Subhashmon (Kerala), Shireen Limaye (Maharashtra), and Bhandavya Mahesha (Karnataka). India's senior men's team star Amritpal Singh lighted the inaugural flame to officially tip-off the tournament.

After a brief scare where it seemed that Railways and Services may pull out from the Nationals this year, the BFI was able to reach an amicable resolution with both top units in the last minute and invite them to Puducherry for the championship. Apart from these teams, other top contenders at this year's nationals will include Uttarakhand and Tamil Nadu in the Men's division and the Women's teams from Kerala and Delhi.

Participating Teams

  • Group A: Services, Punjab, Karnataka, Kerala, Haryana.
  • Group B: Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Indian Railways, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh.
  • Group C: Delhi, Chandigarh, Goa, Rajasthan, Sikkim.
  • Group D: Telangana, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Puducherry, Tripura.
  • Group E: Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh.
  • Group F: West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh.

  • Group A: Indian Railways, Telengana, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Maharashtra.
  • Group B: Kerala, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Rajasthan.
  • Group C: Karnataka, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttarakhand.
  • Group D: Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh.
  • Group E: Bihar, Chandigarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Tripura.
  • Group F: Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Odisha, Puducherry.

In an early opening-day game, Gujarat's Men's team were led by Harpal Singh 23 to post a 57-51 win over Chhattisgarh. In Women's competition, Kerala flaunted their depth and star-power to beat West Bengal 66-21. Hosts Puducherry Women had a weak start to their campaign, losing to Odisha 61-24, with J Bakshy (23) and S Panda (18) leading the way for the winning side.

January 1, 2017

10 things to look forward to in Indian Basketball in 2017

Indian basketball was a roller-coaster in 2016, providing in equal measures joy and despair to fans and players. While the national men's team made waves with historically great performances, Palpreet Singh was drafted to the D-League, and a new NBA Academy promised to hone the nation's best youth talents, there were some downers, too, like the cancellation of basketball at the South Asian Games, the banning of 122 individuals of the UBA by the BFI, and a major setback for the U18 Women's team.

Still, there is a little more to celebrate than to mourn, and I'll be looking forward to 2017 with optimism. A new FIBA calendar, the rise of new talented players, and a whole host of domestic and foreign events will capture the imagination of Indian basketball fans. Here are 10 things that I'm most looking forward to this year:

1. Fireworks at the Senior National Championship in Puducherry

Every new year in India begins with Indian basketball's biggest domestic event, the Senior National Championship, where dozens of India's men and women teams from around the country come together for a showcase of the best of the country's talent. This year, the Senior Nationals will be held in Puducherry from January 7-14, and as always, will be organised by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). The tournament won't be without controversy, as there is a chance that powerhouse units Railways and Services may not take part in the event. If so, they will be sorely missed; the rest of the fray of talent from Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Delhi, and more will have to do their best to provide fireworks at this championship.

2. More Satnam in the D-League

He may have starred in the riveting documentary 'One in a Billion', but India's first NBA draft pick Satnam Singh continues to play an incredibly small role in his D-League squad, the Texas Legends. So far this season, the 21-year-old has only appeared in three games off the bench for the Legends, playing a total of less than eight minutes in the season. Satnam still harbours dreams of playing in the NBA one day, but without a chance to showcase his skills in the D-League, that dream may be fading away. Hopefully he can earn more minutes and start to make a bigger name for himself.

3. More Indians in leagues abroad

Satnam is just the highest profile Indian citizen playing abroad right now, but there are many more making waves around the world. Palpreet Singh Brar became the first Indian to be drafted directly to the NBA's D-League a few months ago, even if he was dropped just a week later by the Long Island Nets. Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh have already cemented their greatness in Japan's D-League and will once again try to take their talents to the USA later this year. Youth player Harshwardhan Tomar is learning the craft in Italy's Stellazzurra Basketball Academy. Hopefully, more Indian players join their numbers this year, and the likes of Palpreet, Amjyot, and Amritpal take a next step forward.

4. The 24 elite talents for NBA Academy India

The NBA is currently hosting the ACG-NBA Jump programme around the country to find the best players from six top cities in India. The top 24 youngsters - between the ages of 13 to 17 - will be recruited as the first batch of student-athletes at the NBA's groundbreaking elite India Academy. The Academy is set to be opened in the Delhi-NCR region in April 2017. The young students will be provided top-level basketball coaching, fitness training, and infrastructure, as well as provided scholarship for the rest of their school education. Hopefully, this programme can make it easier for the NBA to find, scout, and hone young Indians with potential at an early age and provide them the platform to follow in Satnam's footsteps.

5. FIBA Asia Champions Cup

Just seven months after the previous iteration of Asia's top club championship, the FIBA Asia Champions Cup will return in May 2017. In the tournament's recently-concluded edition in Chenzhou, China, the host nation's loaded squad Kashgar took the gold medal. India's usual representatives - ONGC (Dehradun) - had a poor performance and finished at last place. Hopefully, they can use the failure as motivation to bounce back with a better performance this year.

6. UBA Basketball League - Season 4

The upstart short basketball league, held so far in cities like Pune, Hyderabad, and Bengaluru, has already completed three seasons and is aiming ambitiously for a fourth this year. UBA has provided Indian players with another platform to participate in, since the country is yet to have its official BFI-endorsed full professional league. UBA will return for another season with its usual slate of eight squads and hopefully is able to expand to more cities.

7. Can our U16 squads bounce back in continental championships?

Both the 2017 FIBA Asia U16 Championships for Men and Women are currently scheduled for June this year. India's youth players have six months to heal their wounds from two years ago and bounce back with respectable performances. In 2015, the boys' team fell to 13th place in the continent, while the girls' team went without a win and dropped to Level II. India will need concentrated efforts to ensure that the young players who make this year's teams have ample experience and are in good shape as they go out for the championships again this year. The boys should aim for a top 10 finish, and for the girls, the priority will be to return to the higher Level I.

8. A bigger, badder FIBA Asia Cup

New name, new cup, and a bigger challenge for Team India. Asia's biggest basketball tournament, the FIBA Asia Championship, gets a remodel this year as the FIBA Asia Cup. This tournament will feature 16 of the best teams from Asia, and for the first time, from Oceania. This means that, apart from going against continental giants like China, Iran, Korea, and more, India will also have to contend with world-class talents from Australia and New Zealand. If all goes well, I will be hoping for that Amjyot Singh x Ben Simmons matchup! The tournament is set to be held mid-to-late August and will determine the composition of the joint FIBA Asia and FIBA Oceania qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

9. Senior Women, finally returning in international action.

It's been a long time since we've seen India's Senior Women's team in official, international, 5x5 basketball action. Unfortunately, India's women's squad hasn't received the same attention as the men in recent years. Back in mid-2015, India's women took part in the last FIBA Asia Championship, where they returned winless and dropped to Level II. They had another opportunity to get some international exposure last year, but FIBA banned official basketball events at the South Asian Games. India played some games anyways, but they didn't count. This September, finally, the Women will play again. Times have changed, and its unlikely that the legendary Geethu Anna Jose will make a comeback to the team. The new roster with youngsters like Jeena PS will have a chance to script a new story.

10. Hoping against hope: India's professional basketball league?

Every year, I welcome January 1st with the same reoccurring, foolishly-optimistic hope: will this finally be the year when the BFI launches India's professional basketball league? Sports like Cricket, Football, Wrestling, Badminton, Kabaddi, Hockey, etc, etc, etc, have all made the jump to professional leagues. But basketball, one of the world's most popular sport with a long history in India, continues to fall behind. The split within the BFI and the federation's tensions with the government's Ministry of Sports have been major speed-bumps in basketball's progress. Hopefully, this is the year when the BFI can find the right partnerships and take the already existing school/college league platform to the next level, and provide our best players with a proper pro basketball option.