February 28, 2017

The Biggest Season Yet

India's top international basketball superstars join UBA Basketball Season 4 rosters

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas on February 18, 2017.

The most important basketball decision in India this season didn’t take place on the court. It wasn’t a coaching decision, a new defensive scheme, a right pass, or a clutch three-point shot. That decision, instead, was taken in some far less dramatic settings: in sterile meeting rooms, ears plugged into cold mobile-phone screens, pens scribbling signatures over warm sheets of printed paper.

That decision was taken between the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), the governing body of basketball in India, and UBA India, the international company who have launched three seasons of short professional league basketball in the country. That decision could usher in a brand-new direction for Indian basketball.

The folks over at UBA India expanded and experimented in almost every possible direction to bring greater visibility and legitimacy to their league. They held three quick seasons of high-quality basketball in the space of one year in India. They showcased their league live on cable TV (Ten Sports) and produced high-level off-court material. They featured an experienced and highly-professional broadcast team. They found the help of Indian celebrities to celebrate and promote their product, expanded to a handful of cities in India, employed several high-calibre players and coaches, and took their top stars to the US for special pro training camps. In the announcement of Season 4 of the UBA Basketball League - set to tip off in Chennai on Thursday - they even brought ten international professional players to spike up the talent pool of the competition.

And yet, the league missed the most important of factors: the presence of India's best basketball players. A rift between BFI and UBA India had kept the best players in the national/international fray away from UBA participation. The secondary players in the UBA League were of course stars in their own right, but the names mentioned in absence were more notable than those who were marked 'present'.

That is, until now. On the eve of Season 4, the UBA Basketball League announced the rosters of all eight teams, where the biggest news here is that, in addition to the returning UBA stars of the past and the first-time international players from the pro camp in the USA, this season of UBA will feature India's top international basketball superstars. Some of India's best current players, including Amjyot Singh, Amrit Pal Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Palpreet Singh Brar, Yadwinder Singh, Prasanna Venkatesh, Rikin Pethani, and more have joined UBA rosters.

“The UBA has always been about raising the game of basketball in India,” said Paul Crane, the VP of broadcasting for the UBA Basketball League, “Not just from providing more opportunities to compete, but to teach more fundamentals, training and conditioning.”

“Having more of the top players from India joining new international players from the United States and others countries such as Australia, the level of play and competition continues to rise,” Crane added. “One of the many ‘big picture’ hopes and dreams of the UBA is to one day see Indian basketball be more competitive on the world stage.”

The new names will bolster the already-stacked UBA rosters and help make this into the most exciting professional competition Indian basketball has yet witnessed. The league stage of Season 4 will be held in Chennai's Satyabhama University from February 16 to March 1, before moving to Goa for the championship round (semi-finals and finals) from March 10-16.

Here is a more detailed breakdown of all the eight UBA teams.

Bengaluru Beast: Bengaluru have instantly become one of the must-watch teams for the league this season. Their roster includes Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, India's most talented guard and one of the best shooting guards in Asia, and Palpreet Singh Brar, the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA D-League last year. Current and former India internationals of various age levels Pratham Singh, Kaif Zia, Loveneet Singh, and Khushmeet Singh are also in this team. Indian-American player Chris Solomon, who played college ball in Florida at Northwood University, will be the foreign import for Bengaluru.

Chennai Slam: For the first three seasons, Chennai have been the model of excellence in the UBA. They have reached all three UBA Finals and won the title two times, including the most recent championship in July last year. Former Indian player Prasanna Jayasankar coaches this team, who’s strength is in their depth. Nigerian star Agu Chukwunanu (who scored a UBA record 50 points on opening night) will lead a squad of UBA veterans including Cammy Carmel, Jairam Jat, and Gopal Ram. This year, they will be boosted with the presence of national team big man Rikin Pethani and former University of Minnesota Duluth player Brendon Pineda from the USA. Home court advantage in the group stage and a winning habit makes Chennai one of the top threats once again.

Delhi Capitals: Delhi know how to win, too: they are Season 2 champions and feature former MVP Vinay Kaushik. Now, they have added the player who is perhaps the country’s most electric talent, Amjyot Singh. Amjyot has played professionally in Japan’s Development League, taken part in the NBA D-League draft, has been India’s top player in several big international wins, and is one of the top ranked 3x3 basketball players in the world. Delhi have surrounded these two stars with Ajay Pratap Singh, Sunil Rathee, and the American Ronald March.

Haryana Gold: Haryana’s big addition is Indian basketball’s seasoned Punjabi veteran Yadwinder Singh, who will join a squad consisting of explosive Indo-Australian guard Eban Hyams, Akashdeep Hazra, Prakash Mishra, and American player De’Sean Mattox.

Hyderabad Sky: The Sky have an interesting mixture of new and old, and foreign and domestic on their roster. Watch out for former India international point guard Joginder Singh, Indo-Australian swingman Mahesh Padmanabhan, Tamil Nadu’s veteran Gnanasekaran Sivabalan, and American additions Mak Boskailo and Tevin Kelly.

Mumbai Challengers: Mumbai have the potential to be one of the few teams with an embarrassment of riches at the league. Led by Jora Singh Gulia – who has coached India’s national squad in the past – this team will feature the up-and-coming talent Prudhvi Reddy from Hyderabad, veteran former international Jagdeep Singh Bains, Gagandeep Singh, and current international Prasanna Venkatesh. In addition, they also feature three high-calibre foreign players in Alex Scales (who has played in 11 countries internationally, including one game for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs in 2005), Inderbir Gill (Indo-American former Canada NCAA Player of the Year) and Jimmy Scroggins (USA).

Pune Peshwas: Silver-medallists in Season 1 of the league, it’s going to be hard to deny Pune this season. Their head coach is India’s legendary basketball star and coach Ram Kumar, and he will marshal a team that features the league’s most recent MVP Narender Grewal and superstar new addition and captain of India’s senior men’s team Amrit Pal Singh. Filling the gap between this irresistible post-and-perimeter combination will be talented players like Siddhant Shinde, Ajinkya Mehta, Gaurav Ohlan, Arshpreet Bhullar, and the American addition Pierre Newton from the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Punjab Steelers: Punjab will definitely be feeling the push of positive momentum after they surprised better-favoured teams to reach the Season 3 Finals last season and pushed Chennai to the brink. Their roster features Season 1 MVP Ravi Bhardwaj, popular rising young star Gurvinder Singh ‘Gary’ Gill, international point guard Akilan Pari, and American Dermaine Crockrell, a product of Bemidji State.

There seems to be a fairly even distribution of talent this season, which will make it all the more difficult to predict which four teams will qualify for the championship round in Goa, and which one will eventually be the last squad standing with the Season 4 championship trophy. In particular, I expect Chennai, Delhi, and Pune to be among the top contenders for the title. But the favourites just might be Bengaluru, who have the right explosive mix of experience and youth and could separate themselves from the pack for the Finals in mid-March.

All games are televised live on Ten Networks from February 16 to March 16 in Chennai and Goa from 4:30 PM to 7:00 PM each gameday.

February 26, 2017

Orlando Magic celebrate India Day 2017 with Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty

The most important thing for the home fans at the Amway Center on Saturday night was that they got the win. The Orlando Magic, the second-worst team in the Eastern Conference, played one of their best games of the season, running past the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks to a 105-86 victory. New addition Terrance Ross from Toronto led his squad with 24. High-flying dunker Aaron Gordon added 18. Point guard Elfrid Payton even nearly had a triple-double. On-court, it was as good a night that the suffering Magic fanbase could've hoped for.

The bonus on this Saturday night was how the Magic scored an off-court victory - desi-style.

The Indian-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) continued their annual tradition in Orlando by hosting one more edition of 'India Day' at the Amway Center on Saturday, February 25. This was their fifth consecutive celebration of Indian heritage and culture with the local basketball team and after their win over the Celtics last year, the desi blessings helped the Magic pull off some jadoo on the court this year, too.

The big highlight at India Day this year was the special guest, the Indian film actress, producer, and former model Shilpa Shetty. Shetty was introduced to the fans at the game and also presented with a custom Orlando Magic jersey.

The night featured an 'India Day' fan-fest in Downtown Orlando and entertainment by Bollywood Dance Mania and even the Orlando Magic Dancers performed a routine in traditional Bollywood style. Fans were also able to take part in fun events such as cultural dancing, saree draping, yoga and Indian cuisine tasting. (So basically, all the usual desi cultural stereotypes that we're supposedly proud of).

Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins said, "India Day is just one way for the Magic to show to show its appreciation to this segment of our fan base for their support and dedication."

Great job for Orlando and the IACC for continuing with this tradition: it's about time more franchises around the league recognise the growing clout (and basketball fandom) of the Indian diaspora.

February 25, 2017

Diary allegedly belonging to BFI president K Govindraj details payoffs of hundreds of crores

As we have learnt over and over again, there is no escaping the weight of politics in Indian sports. Occasionally, basketball has found some infamy in the Indian political conversation, too.

Earlier this week, several media houses reported news of the so-called "Donation Gate", a controversy that was spurred up from a secret diary allegedly found at the residence of Karnataka's Legislative Council MLC of the Congress Party, K. Govindraj. Govindraj's diary was seized during an Income Tax raid of several politicians a few months ago. It was only recently, however, that news leaked that this diary contained suspicious entries detailing payoffs of money passing hands in payoffs of hundreds of crores.

Govindraj is known as an important legislator in the state and a major fundraiser for Congress.

Why is this news important on a basketball blog? Well, because this is the same Govindraj who happens to the president of ruling executive committee of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), running much of its operations from Bengaluru. He is also the president of Karnataka Olympic Association.

Here are more details of this case, including the diary entries and Govindraj's response, as written by Navika Kumar on The Times of India:

The secret diary No. AKG03 speaks of a staggering Rs 600 crore routed to mysterious names like AICC, AP, M Vora, SG office, RG office and DGS. The diary also has an entry under steel bridge from where Rs 65 crore was marked as received. There is one entry which shows Rs 7 crore being paid to media for the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike elections. The income tax department had called in Govindraj for questioning about the entries on February 11, 2017.
Govindraj claimed the handwriting isn't his and the signatures were forged. The Congress, too, has claimed the diary is fake and an attempt to malign them, while the BJP has called for a detailed investigation into it.

Govindraj disowned the diary almost a year ago, reports The Hindu.

Congress leaders pointed out (quoting the statement recorded during the inquiry) that Mr. Govindaraj had told the I-T sleuths during questioning repeatedly that the diary did not belong to him. He had also filed a complaint with the Indiranagar police on March 21, 2016, suspecting that the “mysterious diary” was “planted” in his house by some unknown persons with “malicious intent”.
“Mr. Govindaraj had disowned the diary not now, but almost a year ago throughout the course of the inquiry. So the leakage by whatever source amounts to breach of trust by the Income Tax Department,” said Congress spokesperson and MLC V.S. Ugrappa.

Only future investigation will reveal the truth behind the diary and the consequences - if any - for Govindraj. As usual, the rest of us of the Indian Basketball fraternity will be hoping that the controversy doesn't spill over to mar the sport itself.

February 22, 2017

Patiala's Punjabi University crowned 2017 UBAU National University Champions in Chandigarh

India's largest collegiate level basketball tournament - the UBAU All India Inter-Zonal University Basketball Championship for Men 2017 - came to a conclusion in Chandigarh on Tuesday February 21 with Patiala's Punjabi University cruising to an easy victory in the final over Anna University (Chennai). This victory was especially significant to Punjabi University since they weren't even in the top sixteen of the inter-zonal championship last year.

This prestigious Association of Indian Universities (AIU) Championship was organised by Universal Basketball Alliance India Pvt Ltd. The top four teams from each zone - North, South, East, and West - qualify to the inter-zonal championship and are divided into four pools of four teams each. The top two teams from each pool after the league stages qualify to the knockout rounds: quarterfinals, semis, followed by the finals.

Anna had tasted defeat at the final stage of this tournament at the hands of last year's host team Mumbai University. With Punjabi University making the short distance from Patiala to Chandigarh for the tournament, Anna once again faced a team being treated as hosts in the final at the indoor stadium in Sector-42. Behind the efforts of Gurdit Singh (23) and Abhi Kumar (16), Punjabi took a comfortable 41-29 lead at halftime and turned the game into a blowout with a 23-point lead at the end of the third quarter. At the final buzzer, Punjabi University sealed the title victory with a 78-54 rout.

Earlier that evening, New Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia University were led by an explosive 47-point performance by Bhupender to defeat another Chennai team - the University of Madras - 90-62 and secure third-place at the tournament. Abhudaya scored 16 for Jamia, while Madras were led by Karthik's 18 points.

Tarlok Singh Sandhu, former Olympian and India captain, who represented India at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and 1982 Asian Games was the chief guest for the finale. Other dignitaries included Joseph Damsker, Managing Director, Merchandising – Elite Universal Sports Alliance India Pvt Ltd (EUSAI); Sunday Zeller, co-founder – Universal Basketball Alliance & Elite Sports India Inc.; Riyaz Mulla, Managing Director India operations – ESI; Dr. Raj Kumar, President – EUSAI; Dr. Gurdeep Kaur, Director of Sports – Punjabi University.

Final Four Standings
  • 1. Punjabi University
  • 2. Anna University
  • 3. Jamia Millia Islamia University
  • 4. University of Madras

The final 16 teams that participated in the UBAU All India Inter-Zonal University Basketball Championship this year were (several University sent 'A' and 'B' squads:
  • Pool A: Punjabi University (Patiala), University of Mumbai (Mumbai), University of Calcutta (Kolkata), University of Kerala (Thiruvananthapuram).
  • Pool B: Anna University (Chennai), Durg Vishvidyalya (Durg), Delhi University (New Delhi), Savitri Bai Phule University (Pune).
  • Pool C: University of Rajasthan (Jaipur), Panjab University (Chandigarh), SRM University (Chennai), University of Kerala (Thiruvananthapuram).
  • Pool D: Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith (Varanasi), University of Madras (Chennai), L.N.I.P.E (Gwalior), Jamia Millia Islamia University (New Delhi).

February 17, 2017

KD2Desi: Kevin Durant announces plans to visit India this summer

Seasons will change. Time will pass. An NBA champion will be crowned and an eager nation will open its doors to more basketball progress. And this summer, Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors will become the greatest basketball player to step foot on Indian soil.

A former MVP and one of the biggest global stars in basketball, Durant officially made the announcement on his social media accounts on Thursday night (Friday morning in India). NBA India released further details about his trip, which will centre around his plans to visit the soon-to-be-launched NBA Academy India in the Delhi-NCR region and Durant's own ambitions to see the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Durant is currently in New Orleans for the 2017 All-Star Weekend where he will make his eighth successive appearance at the 66th NBA All-Star Game on February 19.

“I will be the first NBA player going to the Academy," Durant said, "I’m super excited about it, to grow the game of basketball to a new level. I’m so excited about the grassroots programme. I’m looking forward to it. It should be a great time."

In November, the NBA announced its plans to launch the ambitious NBA Academy India to help nurture elite young basketball talents around the country. Recently, they named the prospects chosen for the first session of this Academy after a nationwide talent hunt.

Durant had encouraging words for the selected few in an interview on Firstpost: "I think it is just the fundamentals of dribbling, shooting, passing that you know and that crossovers no matter where you are as a basketball player. So when you get those fundamentals of the game right, that's where you start at."

This is Earth-shattering news right here. With respect to all the NBA legends of the past and present who have visited India (I have a running list here!) Kevin Durant is most-likely the best-ever. That list has included Hall-of-famers like Dominique Wilkins, Robert Parish, Dikembe Mutombo, and George Gervin, and more recent stars like Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Chris Bosh, Isaiah Thomas, and Shawn Marion. Only Kevin Garnett, who made a trip to India with adidas ten years ago, is of equal status to Durant right now; but I believe that Durant in 2017 is even better than KG was in 2006.

Still in his prime at 28, Durant is the NBA's 2014 MVP, a six-time All NBA Player, eight-time All Star, and four-time scoring leader. Unless you were in an isolated vipassana for the past eight months, you probably know that Durant shocked the world by leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors, forming one of the NBA's most-fearsome units alongside two-time MVP Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. The shift in scenery hardly effected Durant's game: he's averaging 25.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this season while enjoying one of the most efficient shooting seasons ever. Plus, he has a couple Olympics gold medals to his name, too. With his Warriors currently holding the best record in the NBA, he is certain to be vying for an NBA Championship this June, which would add extra masala to his India trip later in the summer.

As ESPN reported, Durant is aware of Kobe Bryant's relationship with China and his popularity among the Chinese people. Durant wants to have a similar influence over fans in India.

"I think what people really appreciated about Kobe was that he really wanted to learn about different aspects of life and how people approach different things," Durant said in interview to ESPN India. "I feel the same way. I want to feel the culture when I go to India. I want to see what it's about. I want to get to touch the people and check the pulse -- not only the game, but life in general."

Finally, he also said that he has had the Taj Mahal on his "bucket list" for a long time.

Only trust the Government-approved guides, KD. Watch out where you leave your Nikes. And most importantly, Stay hydrated. Those North Indian summers are no joke.

Home-Court Advantage

As India readies to host two international tournaments this year, I look back at every major FIBA Asia event we’ve ever hosted.

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas.com on February 2, 2017. Read the original piece here.

India's Senior Women's Team 2015. Photo Courtesy: Ekalavyas.com

In 2016, Yao Ming would be elected into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, inducted the same night as basketball greats Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson. In 2011, he would retire from basketball as a five-time NBA All Teamer and one of the greatest international basketball players ever. In 2002, he would be selected first into the NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets.

But before he achieved any of that, before he became a lynchpin for the Chinese Basketball Team, for the Rockets, or even the Shanghai Sharks back in the CBA, he was an 18-year-old basketball phenom about to announce his breakthrough moment to the rest of the world.

And he did it, of all places, in Kolkata.

Back in 1998, the Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata hosted the 15th FIBA Asia U18 Basketball Championship. Top teams from all over the continent, including India, of course, took part. China, the reigning champions, went on to defend their title with a victory in the final against Qatar. A young seven-footer by the name of Yao Ming was named the tournament’s MVP.

Yao, the only Asian-born player to be in the Basketball Hall of Fame, is perhaps the greatest player to play competitive basketball in Indian soil. But there have been so many more. Over the years, the likes of Yuta Tabuse (Japan), Chen Nan (China), Jaber Rouzbahani (Iran), Bian Lan (China), Li Meng (China), and many more have played in major FIBA Asia tournaments in India. India’s opportunities to host such tournaments over the years – considering India’s past struggles with infrastructure and organisation – have been rare occurrences, but each major ABC or other international basketball event has ultimately boosted the game’s growth at home.

Fortunately, there’s good news for Indian basketball fanatics in the near-horizon. FIBA Asia – the game’s ruling body in the continent – announced India as hosts of two major continental tournaments in 2017: the 1st FIBA Asia Women’s Cup (a revamped version of the 27th FIBA Asia Championship for Women) and the 5th FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women. The FIBA Asia Women’s Cup will be held in Bengaluru from July 23 to 29, while the U16 FIBA Asia ABC will be from October 22-28 in a soon-to-be-decided host city (apparently a toss up between Chennai and Hyderabad).

This will be the first time in seven years that India will be a host to a full-scale international basketball tournament. While India has regularly hosted tournaments at the South Asian stage and limited events like the 2014 Lusofonia Games, the last time that we had a major FIBA Asia Championship on home soil was 2009, when Chennai and Pune hosted the FIBA Women’s ABC and FIBA U16 Women’s ABC respectively.

Just years into becoming an independent nation, India was introduced to basketball. The country’s own basketball federation – the BFI – was formed in 1950, and less than a year later, at New Delhi’s National Stadium, independent India’s first national team strolled out as hosts to our first major tournament. India was hosting the first Asian Games in 1951 and five teams – Philippines, Japan, Iran, Burma, and India – participated in the event’s basketball competition. Led by captain Ranbir Chopra, India took just one victory from the tournament – a 50-47 triumph over Burma – and finished at fifth place; Philippines took the gold medal.

Unfortunately, we would have to wait three more decades to feature a major international basketball tournament in India. A year after a series of unexpected events landed India into their first (and only) Olympics basketball slot at Moscow 1980, FIBA Asia rewarded India by allowing the country to host the 11th FIBA ABC in 1981 in Kolkata. India’s men’s squad were near the peak of their basketball prowess in those days, having finished 4th in Asia in 1975 and 5th in 1979. Back in Kolkata, India made it to the championship round (top six) and finished at fifth place. Some of our greatest-ever players like Ajmer Singh, Paramjit Singh, Shyam Radhey, and more were a part of this talented era of Indian basketball.

A year later, India’s continued ‘Golden Generation’ would have another chance to defend their home court. After thirty years, the Asian Games returned to India, to New Delhi, where India took part in the thirteen-team basketball fray at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. In a championship rematch from 1978, South Korea defeated China in the final to win their 2nd Asian Games basketball title. India qualified from the Preliminary Round but lost all seven of their Championship Round games to finish at 8th place.

Since the early 80s, India is yet to host a major international tournament featuring Senior Men’s teams, either in the form of a FIBA ABC or the Asian Games. In 1998, however, India did get a glimpse of Asia’s dominant future at the U18 ABC: this was the tournament where Yao Ming won the MVP award and carried China to another title. This is the tournament that also featured Japan’s legendary point guard Yuta Tabuse, who went on to become the first Japanese player to play in the NBA.

Boosted by the success of the Men’s U18 ABC, FIBA awarded India the Women’s edition of the same tournament two years later. The 15th FIBA U18 Women’s ABC was held in New Delhi in December 2000. India won one game against Sri Lanka in the Preliminary Round and one more in the classification stage against Hong Kong to finish at 9th place. China, led by a young Chen Nan on her way to greater glories, won the tournament, their eighth title in this competition.

In 2004, the Men’s U18 ABC was held in India again, and this time, Bengaluru was chosen as the host city. Held at the Rajiv Gandhi Sports Complex, this tournament proved crucial in a shift in the balance of power of Asian basketball. After decades of East Asian dominance over the title, Iran enjoyed their coming out party with their own golden generation, featuring tournament’s MVP Jaber Rouzbahani. This was Iran’s first title in this tournament, which they secured with a close win over South Korea in the final and finished a perfect 8-0. This Iran team went on to dominate many senior men’s ABCs and are still among the top teams in Asia. India did well in the Preliminary Round in front of their home fans but finished at the bottom of the Second Round group. Nevertheless, they ended the tournament at 7th place, which still stands as their best finish since 1972.

In 2009, for the first time, FIBA’s flagship tournament for Senior Women – the Women’s ABC – was held in India, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai. Representing her home team Southern Railways, India’s superstar Geethu Anna Jose led the entire tournament in scoring (22 ppg) and was fifth in rebounds (8.7 rpg). Once again, however, it was China who shone brightest, going perfect to win their tenth title in this event, led by MVP Bian Lan.

Later that same year, FIBA Asia launched its youngest event, the U16 FIBA ABC, and rewarded India the honour of being the host nation. At the Shree Shiv Chhatrapatri Sports Complex in Pune, India fielded a young squad of talented players, including Sneha Rajguru, Kavita Akula, Jeena Scaria, Navaneetha PS, and local girl Shireen Limaye. India finished third in Group A and had to finally settle for 5th place in the tournament. China debuted at this tournament by winning the gold, defeating Japan in the final.

New Delhi brought the Commonwealth Games to India for the first time in 2010. Basketball was introduced to this tournament in 2006 in Australia, but because of scheduling difficulties with other major international events, the Games’ basketball tournament was scrapped in 2010.

Many of the young talents from India’s 2009 U16 team have now become a part of our national team rotation, and as FIBA chooses India as the host for the Senior ABC again in 2017, it will be a chance for fans at home to see how they have developed into team leaders over the years. India’s national women’s squad has a promising mix of youth and leadership, featuring Scaria, Poojamol Subhashmon, Bhandavya Mahesha, Anitha Pauldurai, Limaye, and more. Two years ago, India had a disappointing outing at the FIBA Women’s ABC, losing all their Level 1 games and getting relegated to the lower Level II. Playing at home, this will be India’s chance to bounce back up to the higher stage.

This year, for the first time, the senior-level FIBA Asia Championships are transforming into the FIBA Asia Cup, a tournament that will feature the top teams from Oceania like Australia and New Zealand. The 2017 FIBA Asia Women’s Cup will be the qualifying tournament for FIBA Asia at the 2018 FIBA World Championship for Women in Spain. International stars like Ramu Tokashiki and Asami Yoshida (Japan), Danbi Kim (Korea), Shao Ting and Sun Mengran (China), Liz Cambage (Australia) and more could feature on court in Bengaluru this year.

India’s top performers from the domestic youth (U16) and sub-junior (U14) tournaments will comprise of our national U16 women’s team at the FIBA U16 ABC. Two years ago, India failed to win any games at the 2015 FIBA U16 ABC in Medan (Indonesia), while China secured the title with a win over Japan in the final.

It is rumoured that the tournament will be held either in Chennai or Hyderabad. It will be the qualifying tournament for FIBA Asia at the 2018 FIBA Under-17 World Championship for Women.

Hosting these two major tournaments will give our domestic players and fans a closer look at some of the best in the continent. Hopefully, the preparation leading up to the two tournaments in Bengaluru and the second city will force authorities to upgrade our facilities at home to handle events of this stature. Most importantly, fans will be hoping that the home-court advantage will lift up India’s own performances and help us bounce back to a better finish.

February 13, 2017

GMC Club of former Indian basketball stars to play exhibition games in Dubai

Several of India's former basketball stars, including retired big names like CV Sunny and Unwin Antony, will be heading to Dubai next week for exhibition games in an effort to promote the game in the UAE. GulfNews.com reported on Thursday that the team Good Morning Club (GMC) comprising of players who formerly represented India, all-India government organisations and state teams, is scheduled to play vs. teams in Dubai on February 15 and 16.

More reporting by Alaric Gomes via GulfNews.com

“These players have all played basketball at quite a level and our aim now is to have them pass on their invaluable knowledge to youngsters here in the UAE,” Ali T., one of the organisers told Gulf News.
“In recent years, basketball has shown a lot of promise especially in India and we want to cash in on this and further help in the development of the game,” he added.

The tour is being coordinated by the pioneer coaches of grassroot development in the sport in the UAE for the past two decades IBS-UAE, the only registered expat non-profit sports organisation with the Indian Business Council at the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce.

The veteran GMC side takes part in senior state and national age group competitions and in motivational programmes for upcoming talent in India. Their players in this exhibition tour will include former India captain Unwin Antony, former India captain CV Sunny, and former India players Thomas Varghese and George Zachariah. Experienced former state players KM George, Jose Kurian, Jose Joseph, Philip Zachariah, and more will be part of the squad.

GMC will play against All Stars Dubai at the NIMS Dubai Indoor Stadium on February 15 and Beatrice Dubai at DPS Dubai Indoor Hall on February 16.

February 12, 2017

Hoopdarshan Episode 42: All Star Everything with Indian NBA expert Akshay Manwani

With the 2017 NBA All Star Weekend around the corner, the Hoopdarshan podcast takes a deep (and often ridiculous) dive into the festivities. NBA India expert and best-selling author Akshay Manwani joins co-hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok to talk about the biggest stars at the Weekend like Westbrook, Curry, Durant, Harden, and Kawhi, Warriors/Cavaliers title contentions, Carmelo Anthony trade chatter, and Abhishek Bachchan's on-court skills.

Manwani is a best-selling author of two Cinema-themed books - Sahir Ludhianvi: The People's Poet, and Music, Masti, Modernity: The Cinema of Nasir Husain. He's one of the top NBA experts in India, has written and edited for NBA India, and appeared on TV on the Around the Hoop show.

In Episode 42, Kaushik and Karan also discuss recent Indian basketball headlines, including the news of India hosting two FIBA Asia events this year, the start of the new UBA Basketball League season, and the BFI's cryptic note about starting a professional basketball league in India later this year.

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...

February 11, 2017

NBA announces selected young players for launch of NBA Academy India

In about two months, the NBA will officially kick-off perhaps their grandest project in India, an elite academy in the Delhi-NCR region where they will groom and develop the country's best young basketball players. To populate the first group of youngsters who will join the NBA Academy India, NBA India hosted a final selection programme in Noida this week. On Saturday, February 11, they made the dreams of a few dozen come true with the announcement of the selected young players for the launch of the NBA Academy India.

Back in November, 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-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. It is set to open in April and will provide 24 young prospects (ages 13-17) high-level training by NBA-affiliated coaches.

As part of the ACG-NBA Jump , the NBA conducted a national scouting programme in Chennai, Delhi, Ludhiana, Kochi, and Kolkata, and then brought the 45 best talents to Jaypee Greens in Greater Noida for the final stage. From February 9-11, the NBA refined their search even more and made their final selection. 21 players joining the first session of the elite Academy were named on Saturday, and three more will be identified over the next few months. The NBA has only picked male players for the first session, and will reportedly add female players in the future, too.

The selected players (via SportStar) are: Manoj Sisodiya, Md. Ali, Riyanshu Negi, Amaan Sandhu, Sejin Mathew, Virat Dhakad, Achintya Krishna, Rajveer Bhati, M. Shanmugam, Shaurya Kohli, Prashant Rawat, Vivek Chauhan, Jagshanbir Singh, Brijesh Tiwari, Arvind Kumar, Robin Banerjee,Digvijay Shekhawat, Preshit Pawar, Suraj Phathak, Parth Sharma and Rishabh Jaiswal.

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.

"For the youth, it is a pathway to make a career out of the sport. We are committed to growing the program in the years to come", said the NBA India's Managing Director Yannick Colaco.

"The 24 players will now have a solid platform to prepare for the opportunity to move into the professional ranks," said ACG director Karan Singh, "The final pool of players represented the very goal of the program that was to identify, hone and create a pathway for the untapped talent pool of basketball players in India."

February 8, 2017

Two Indian youngsters in NBA All Star Weekend's Basketball Without Borders Global Camp rosters

The NBA All Star Weekend features the best talent in the world: the NBA's finest and most-popular players, the best shooters, dunkers, dribblers, and the entire larger multiverse of basketball. But in 2015, the All Star Weekend added a taste of the world basketball's future to the festivities, too, with the addition of the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Global Camp. The camp brings together more than 50 of the most-talented high-school age boys and girls from outside the US to the All Star Weekend for an elite training session and the opportunity to be a part of the All Star experience.

There is good news this year: the rosters of the BWB Global Camp were revealed on Tuesday, and two young Indian basketball players - Priyanka Prabharaka and Aashay Verma - will be among the 67 boys and girls from 32 countries and territories heading to New Orleans for the NBA All Star Weekend from February 17-19.

Priyanka Prabharaka (18) is a 5'10" shooting guard from Nemmara (Kerala) who represented India at the 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Women in Bangkok. She was an important starter for the team led India in rebounds (8.2 rpg) in the tournament.

Aashay Verma (17) is a 7'1" center from Hyderabad who was chosen by NBA/FIBA to be one of three Indians in last year's BWB Asia camp in Melbourne (Australia). Verma is reportedly new to the game but showed great potential at the camp.

The coaching participants at the All Star BWB Global Camp will include Cheick Diallo (Pelicans), Wayne Ellington (Miami Heat), Justin Holiday (New York Knicks), Meyers Leonard (Portland Trail Blazers), Thon Maker (Milwaukee Bucks) and Emmanuel Mudiay (Denver Nuggets). Current NBA assistant coaches Joe Connelly (Denver Nuggets), Jay Hernandez (Orlando Magic) and Fred Vinson (New Orleans Pelicans), along with Brooklyn Nets scout and NBA D-League Assistant GM Matt Riccardi, will also serve as BWB Global coaches. Patrick Hunt (President of the World Association of Basketball Coaches; Australia), Gersson Rosas (Houston Rockets; Colombia), Marin Sedlacek (Philadelphia 76ers; Serbia) and Masai Ujiri (Toronto Raptors; Nigeria) will serve as camp directors. Former NBA trainer Wally Blase (U.S.) will serve as the camp’s athletic trainer.

More via SLAMOnline.com

Players and coaches will lead the campers through a variety of activities on and off the court, including movement efficiency, positional skill development, shooting and skills competitions, 5-on-5 games, and daily life skills seminars focusing on health, leadership and communication. One boy and one girl will be named BWB Global Camp MVPs at the conclusion of the three-day camp.
The campers will attend the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge, State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night, and the 66th NBA All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center.

This camp is a great opportunity for Prabhakara and Verma to learn in the presence of NBA players, coaches, and other great young players from around the world. Hopefully, this experience can help improve their game as their future potential.

February 7, 2017

UBA Basketball League season 4 to be held in Chennai and Goa from Feb 16

In the space of one year, the United Basketball Alliance of India (UBA India) held three quick, short basketball leagues around the country, holding events in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and Pune. The rapidly rising association has now announced the dates and host cities for Season 4: for the first time, UBA will be holding official events in two new cities - Chennai and Goa - in the new season, which is set to be held from February 16 to March 16, 2017.

The league is structured as eight teams play a regular season during competing to qualify for the playoffs. The teams are divided into two divisions and feature some of the country’s finest players: The Mumbai Challengers, Delhi Capitals, Haryana Gold and Punjab Steelers form the North Division, and the Chennai Slam, Pune Peshwas, Bengaluru Beast and Hyderabad Sky make up the South Division. The league stage will be held in Chennai's Satyabhama University from February 16 to March 1, before moving to Goa for the championship round (semi-finals and finals) from March 10-16.

Chennai Slam have been the league's most excellent team thus far, qualifying for all three finals and winning Season 1 and 3. The Delhi Capitals paused Chennai's reign with a victory over them in the Season 2 finals. With home advantage in the early stage of the tournament, Chennai will once again be one of the big teams to watch this season. Season 3 finalists Punjab Steelers will be searching for redemption this time around, too.

In December, the UBA hosted its second Pro Performance Camp in Phoenix (USA), where 15 elite UBA players joined American players to take part in various team-building exercises, working on fundamentals, dribbling, defense techniques and shooting drills.

An exciting new addition to the league this season will be the introduction of ten international professionals from the USA to join current UBA teams. These players worked out with the UBA's Indian players in December and will step into the UBA spotlight for the first time this February. At least one international American player will be added on each UBA team, creating stronger competition, performance and a unique experience for the fans of basketball across India.

The most experienced American player coming to India to play in UBA Season 4 is Alex Scales. The 38-year-old shooting guard from the University of Oregan, reached the pinnacle of his career in a one game stint with the San Antonio Spurs in 2005. He has played professionally around the world, including the NBA's D-League, Italy, China, Argentina, Korea, Spain, Greece, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Puerto Rico, and most recently, for Tadamon Zouk in Lebanon. Joining Scales will be Indian-American player of Indian origin Chris Solomon, who played college ball in Florida at Northwood University, then professionally in Italy and Mexico. Other American players include Ron March, Pierre Newton, Tevin Kelly, Mak Boskailo, De'Sean Mattox, Jimmy Scroggins, Brendan Pineda-Morales and Dermaine Crockrell.

On announcing Season Four, CEO of United Basketball Alliance, Tommy Fisher said, "We are absolutely elated to raise the game of basketball in India for the fourth season of UBA. Our goal is to always improve in all aspects from the previous season. The past three seasons have shown significant growth and excitement, and we expect nothing less in Season 4. Basketball continues to gain popularity across India in a big way and we are delighted to be associated with this movement in India. We look forward to seeing talented young players step up and showcase their exceptional skill and talent."

Photo courtesy: UBA India
The UBA were recently victims of some controversy when the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) considered them an 'unauthorised competition' and banned 122 players, officials, coaches, and staff who took part in UBA's Season 3 from participating in all official Indian basketball activities. Last month, the BFI's president K. Govindraj hinted that the BFI will be reconsidering the ban with their sub-committee later this year. It remains to be seen if Season 4 participants will face a similar ban, too

You can catch all the action LIVE for the 4th Season on the Ten Sports network channels - Ten 1 HD and Ten 3 from 16th February- 16th March 2017 from Chennai and Goa.

February 5, 2017

FIBA board recommends change in "No Headgear" policy which affected Indian basketball players

Three years ago, two Indian basketball players - Amritpal Singh and Amjyot Singh - were denied playing against Japan on the opening night of the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan until the two players of Sikh origin removed their turbans. The FIBA officials at this event were only carrying out the international basketball committee's Article 4.4.2, the "No Headgear" rule, which doesn't allow players wearing headgear such as turbans, hijab, kippah, etc. in their official basketball events. Going against their strict religious and cultural traditions, Amritpal and Amjyot took their turbans off to enter the game eventually that night. Later, to avoid further distractions, the two talented stars cut off their long hair altogether.

It was a controversial moment in international basketball, and soon, voices rose in protest the 'No Headgear in India and around the world, until FIBA announced their decision to review this policy, before eventually, choosing to delay a permanent decision in their Central Board meeting in September 2014.

It seems that now, finally, the association has taken a sure step in the right direction. The FIBA's central board announced it supports a change in the 'No Headgear' policy in international competition. The board's recommendation will be considered when FIBA's mid-term Congress meets in May.

Following a meeting of FIBA's Central Board in Switzerland on January 27-28, FIBA said: "After initiating a revision process of the headgear rule (Article 4.4.2) of the Official Basketball Rules in September 2014, the Board received a report on the impact of the exceptions applied on a domestic level during a two-year period. It (the board) favoured a modification of the rule and issued a mandate for the Technical Commission to come forward with a proposal that would allow headgear to be worn safely by athletes. This will be presented to the Mid-Term Congress in May."

Two top American lawmakers who have fought FIBA against this ban have welcomed the move towards ending its "discriminatory" policy. "We're thrilled that the board has endorsed a change that, if adopted, will let Sikhs and other athletes who wear articles of faith play," Joe Crowley and Ami Bera said in a joint statement.

If this policy is removed, it would be a huge boon for Sikh players who had to make a choice between tradition and sport when facing this dilemma. It will also be a huge respite to Muslim players who prefer to play in a hijab - such as Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, whose story was featured in UNINTERRUPTED's documentary 'FIBA Allow Hijab'.

February 4, 2017

India internationals Amritpal Singh, Yadwinder Singh, and Amjyot Singh to play in Mizoram Super League this season

UPDATED February 22, 2017

Two of India's top basketball players will be heading North-East next month as the marquee names in season three of the Mizoram Super League (MSL). Superstars Amritpal Singh and the veteran Yadwinder Singh have signed with the MSL team Zarkawt BCA for season three, which is set to begin from March 21, 2017. India's international star Amjyot Singh signed for Tuikual South Basketball Club.

The The MSL was announced by the Mizoram Basketball Association (MBBA) in the state's capital city Aizal in November 2014 and launched early in 2015. Zarkawt's bagging of the two national superstars isn't unprecedented; last year, India internationals Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Pratham Singh both played for the Tuikual South Basketball Club. The arrivals of Amritpal and Yadwinder makes Zarkawt virtual favourites to win the league in Season 3.

Amritpal Singh has captained India in various international tournaments and has been a linchpin for the national team for several years. He and Amjyot Singh have also played professionally in Japan's BJ Summer League and the Japan's Development League, winning the title in the latter for the Tokyo Excellence. Last year, they declared their names for the NBA's D-League draft but weren't picked. Amjyot is one of India's top players and has been ranked one of the top 3x3 players in the world. Yadwinder Singh has a part of India's national squad for almost a decade and continues to be an important veteran presence off the bench.

While other sports have raced ahead through professional leagues in India, basketball has lagged behind, due to a split within the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), among various other reasons. The MSL is one of the few part-time leagues in the country, the most popular of which is the UBA. The UBA, however, launched their league without full affiliation with the BFI, and the BFI disallowed players associated with India's international/domestic basketball structure from taking part in the UBA League. This is why several players like Bhriguvanshi and Pratham last year and Amritpal and Yadwinder this year have taken for any paying basketball option they could find. Last year, Bhriguvanshi and big man Rikin Pethani also played in a pro league in Maldives.

Mizoram doesn't have a long history of national basketball excellence, but the state does feature passionate support for the game and an eager association looking to get basketball off the ground. Hopefully, the presence of Amjyot, Amritpal and Yadwinder this year can help shine a spotlight on MSL and the other rising basketball talent in the state.

And of course, no such article would be complete without another hopeful nod towards the BFI's own full pro league in India. No matter how many years pass, I'll keep hoping for that big news, one melancholy blog post at a time.