August 31, 2017

Indian Basketball star Amritpal Singh has been signed by NBL's Sydney Kings

For those searching for the ultimate desi Cinderella story, the tale of 26-year-old star Amritpal Singh is even stranger than fiction.

At age 18, Singh, the son of a farmer from a small town in Punjab, had never held a basketball. By 22, he had become the captain of India's national basketball team. At at 26, he has taken his boldest step forward it: he will become the first Indian to be in a roster of a team in the Australian National Basketball League (NBL).

On Wednesday, August 30, the Sydney Kings officially signed Amritpal Singh, making the 7-footed center the first Indian-born player to be contracted to an NBL team following changes to the rules that allow for these nationalities to play as unrestricted players.

Earlier this year, Singh's teammate with the Indian national team and ONGC (Uttarakhand) Vishesh Bhriguvanshi signed a training contract with the Adelaide 36ers.

Sydney Kings Managing Director Jeff Van Groningen said it was a significant signing for the club and Australian basketball. "We welcome Amritpal to our organisation," said Van Groningen. "We take our responsibility as a member of the global basketball community very seriously and endorse the NBL’s focus on ‘bridge-building’ with those that share an interest and passion for our great game both in India and within the Indian community here in Australia. We are excited at what Amritpal can contribute to the Kings as a strong, rebounding big man and we look forward to contributing to his rising career. He is young in the game but secured this opportunity through hard work and professionalism."

Singh has served as captain of the Indian national team, most recently in the India's gold-winning triumph at the 2017 SABA Championships in Maldives. Domestically, he plays for the Pune Peshwas of the UBA Basketball League and was employed by ONGC in Uttarakhand. Over the past few years, Singh has had his share of professional experience abroad, as he played in the Japanese D-League and BJ Summer League. Earlier this summer, he impressed NBL scouts at a Draft Combine and Melbourne and was given an opportunity to train with the Kings. He traveled with the Kings' invitational squad to China for the Atlas Cup and helped them win the competition with his big performances.

Sydney Kings Head Coach Andrew Gaze, a former legendary player in Australian basketball, said he was excited to work with Singh. “Amritpal was a very strong contributor to the Kings offseason program, particularly during our invitational tour to China," Gaze said. "His rebounding was a major factor that allowed us to win the Suzhou event, and he also picked up our overall playing philosophies and schemes quite quickly."

"He's got great athleticism, runs the floor, got good hands, got good shooting touch," Gaze told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday. "He's got great size. Last season, one of the major deficiencies we had was our rebounding. He rebounds the ball really well."

The Kings found their most successful stretch in the NBL in the early 00s, when they won a three-peat of championships from 2003-2005. They have struggled in recent years, however, and finished second-to-last in the NBL's standings last season.

The Sydney Kings begin their National Basketball League 2017/2018 season with a game on Saturday, October 7 against the Adelaide 36ers at Qudos Bank Arena. But before that, Singh will be initiated to the team in the highest-level possible, with a pre-season game against the NBA side Utah Jazz on October 2. It will be his first time playing against this high level of competition, which could include a potential matchup against the 'Stifle Tower' Rudy Gobert.

Singh was born in the village of Fattuwal in Punjab, the son of a farmer, and used most of his athletic gifts ploughing the field or playing Kabaddi. At 19, he was finally introduced to the famed Ludhiana Basketball Academy (LBA) and their late head coach Dr S. Subramanian. Once he took to the game, Singh improved rapidly, graduated quickly the Indian national team, and has been a linchpin of the national squad for the past six years, a stretch that has included India's historic wins over China at the FIBA Asia Challenge and the most recent appearance at the FIBA Asia Cup.

"He's a good athlete, and he comes from a relatively small town in his area with not a lot of resources to refine his skills," Gaze told the Sydney Morning Herald. "It's testament to his work ethic and his love for the game and passion that he's been able to make this type of progress."

More from Gaze's interview with the Herald.

"You can't use one of those spots just for some token reasons or for marketing, there's none of that, as a coach I wouldn't do that, he's absolutely here on merit," Gaze said.
"We've got to keep this in perspective, he's got a long way to go. This is not the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon, he's a player I believe has huge upside.
"He's a quick learner, he's got a good IQ, he's got a good instinct for the game, a natural instinct. He's got a lot of upside on the basis he's only been playing the game for five or six years."

Singh will join a roster in the Kings that includes swingmen Kevin Lisch and Brad Newley, both of whom made the All NBL Second Team last season.

Singh's unlikely journey to the Kings took one last minor speed-bump, when the riots in his home state of Punjab earlier this week put the entire area in a curfew and caused him to miss his flight abroad. Singh arrived late to Sydney, but now, he is ready to contribute and start on a whole new chapter in his basketball life.

August 29, 2017

Prashanti Singh receives the prestigious Arjuna Award for Basketball

It's finally official.

Prashanti Singh, the 33-year-old shooting guard born in Varanasi, was conferred the prestigious Arjuna Award by the President of India Ram Nath Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on National Sports Day, August 29. Singh was among a list of 17 Indian athletes to receive the Arjuna Award on Tuesday, from sports including Cricket, Hockey, Paralympics, Golf, and more. Former hockey captain Sardar Singh and Paralympian javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia were given the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awards. The Arjuna Awardees received statuettes, certificates and cash prize of Rs 5 lakh each.

With her accomplishment, Singh becomes the 20th Indian basketball player to receive the Arjuna Award and just the third woman on the list. The last Indian basketballer to receive an Arjuna was also a woman: Geethu Anna Rahul in 2014.

Singh is now the most decorated women basketball player in India, holding the national record for most number of medals (22) in national championships for Delhi while she was an employee for MTNL. She has represented the national team in the 2006 Commonwealth Games, the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games, and six FIBA Asia Women’s Championships (2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013), plus one more at the junior level. Last year, Singh and her sisters were given the Rani Laxmi Bai Award in Lucknow.

August 23, 2017

On Kevin Durant’s comments and India’s misplaced outrage

This article was first published in my blog for The Times of India Sports on August 13, 2017. Click here to read the original piece.

First of all, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Kevin Durant’s comments about what he saw in India were ignorant and lacked perspective.

Secondly, the outrage that has followed his comments in India has been totally misplaced and out of context.

Here’s the backstory: a few weeks ago, Durant, one of the world’s most-talented, richest, and famous basketball players, came to India on an official trip with the American National Basketball Association (NBA) to promote the sport in the country. Durant was the crown jewel of the NBA’s investments in the Indian market. A few months ago, he won his first NBA title with the Golden State Warriors and a Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. He divided opinions among fans for his decision to join the talented Warriors last year, but nobody can deny his talent and potential to be remembered as one of the greatest scorers in league history.

Even though basketball is a niche sport in India, Durant was welcome with enthusiastic support and hype. After spending his first evening meeting with Bollywood and sports celebrities in New Delhi, Durant got to work the very next day. His foundation donated two basketball courts to the Ramjas School in New Delhi and he interacted with young schoolkids at the courts’ inauguration. Later, he headed to the NBA’s state of the art elite India Academy in Greater Noida, where he trained several of India’s top teenage basketball prospects. Durant’s time at the Academy ended up as he was joined by hundreds of more young players from the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme, as well has a few thousand who checked-in via a live-stream from around the country, to create a Guinness World Record for “largest basketball lesson” (3,459 attendees). 

Before leaving India, Durant took a standard tourist pilgrimage down to Agra, where he visited the Taj Mahal. He documented his entire trip, from trying out local cuisine to hanging out at the Taj, in a short video on his YouTube channel.

So far, so good.

The trouble began with Durant returned home to the United States and was interviewed by Anthony Slater of The Athletic. It was a wide-ranging conversation that touched on his decision to take a pay-cut for the Warriors, the NBA’s summer transactions, and more. But it was what he said about India that caught the attention of the mainstream media in India.

Q: First of all, India. You just got back. What was that like?

DURANT: Um, it was a unique experience. I went with no expectation, no view on what it's supposed to be like. I usually go to places where I at least have a view in my head. India, I'm thinking I'm going to be around palaces and royalty and gold — basically thought I was going to Dubai. Then when I landed there, I saw the culture and how they live and it was rough. It's a country that's 20 years behind in terms of knowledge and experience. You see cows in the street, monkeys running around everywhere, hundreds of people on the side of the road, a million cars and no traffic violations. Just a bunch of underprivileged people there and they want to learn how to play basketball. That s— was really, really dope to me.

Q: Was there a particular situation or person or thing that was eye-opening on the trip?

DURANT: Yeah. As I was driving up to the Taj Mahal, like I said, I thought that this would be holy ground, super protected, very very clean. And as I'm driving up, it's like, s—, this used to remind me of some neighborhoods I would ride through as a kid. Mud in the middle of the street, houses were not finished but there were people living in them. No doors. No windows. The cows in the street, stray dogs and then, boom, Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world. It's like holy s—, this was built 500 years ago and everyone comes here. It's just an eye-opener.

Now, Durant didn’t “need” to answer straightforward questions about India with this much frankness and detail, but he is known to be a fairly open guy and not afraid to say what he believes is the truth, even if it might ruffle some people the wrong way. Most foreign celebrities would have answered the questions with the token “It was a beautiful country” and “I loved how nice the people were” answers. But no, Durant chose to say what was on his mind.

But by being this frank, Durant put himself at risk of sounding extremely ignorant, which he did. I won’t expect every American to know the differences in riches, culture, and lifestyle between India and Dubai, but Durant was an ambassador for the NBA to India and should have known better. India is infinitely complicated and it’s impossible for the most-learned expert on the country to describe in a few simple soundbites, let alone a 28-year-old American athlete who has spent most of his waking moments perfecting the craft of basketball instead of catching up on international cultures and history. This is why most visitors are advised against going off the script.

The reaction by many Indians, as expected, was to take quick offense (we’re getting better at that by the day). Around the world-wide-webs, mainstream media houses that rarely report on the positives of the sport and its athletes found the type of outrage they were looking for, and people began to write open letters to Durant to make the usual “Incredible India” pitch.  

Durant swiftly responded, and a day later, apologised on Twitter.

Sorry that my comments about India were taken out of context, I’m grateful for the time I’ve got to spend there and I’m really pissed about how my comments came off, that’s my fault, should’ve worded that better. I spoke about the difference between my imagination and reality there is in Delhi and about where the game is compared to the rest of the world. No offense from this back, I’m coming back out there for more camps and cool shit. Sorry…

Later in the day, his manager and partner Rich Kleiman cleared the air with The Times of India to say that Durant had an “amazing time” in India.

What should we make of those careless comments and the apology that followed? India is neither “palaces and royalty and gold” nor “20 years behind in terms of knowledge and experiences”. It’s a bit of all and none of the above. It all depends on where you go, which Indians you ask, and ultimately, who your tour guides are. India isn’t “just a bunch of underprivileged people” and not full of homes without doors, of mud, and monkeys and cows roaming everywhere as Durant may have made it sound to others ignorant to the country reading his comments.

Born in Suitland, Maryland, Durant has experienced poverty and a close periphery to crime in his youth, too, but he had probably never seen the challenges that India faces in trying to move forward with a population four times as large in a landmass one-third the size of his country. Uttar Pradesh, the state where the Taj Mahal sits, in particular, is India’s most populous and one of its poorer states. If it were a separate country, UP would be the fifth-most populous in the world.

Durant’s comments were ignorant and insensitive, especially since celebrities and role models of his influence in 2017 have been forced to limit their thoughts to the lowest, most-politically-correct, common denominator. If anything, I hope that this situation forces him to learn more about India’s culture and history, and learn that, even if we might be behind in infrastructural development, there is goodness in the country that has enriched the world in so many different ways. Hopefully, he’ll fulfil his promise to return for more “cool shit”, whatever that might mean.

But the larger issue here for me is the misplaced outrage that followed Durant’s comments. I was born and bred in UP, too, and if Agra culture-shocked Durant, he should’ve seen the sensory-overload that attacks visitors to my hometown, Varanasi. It is simultaneously one of the most beautiful places on Earth while one of the most difficult.

It is easy for us as Indians to take these wild contradictions for granted. Many of us only wake up to care about India’s serious issues when we see them from foreign eyes. So many of us are okay to only care about the problems in our own home when an outsider embarrasses us to do so.

There is some truth to all of Durant’s observations. Agra may have one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but it is still a relatively underdeveloped city with a lot of poverty and crumbling infrastructure. Overall, 22 percent of Indians live below our self-defined official poverty line. Yes, there indeed are monkeys and cows running wild in many Indian cities, there are people indeed suffering, people who are poor, too many people without proper access to the basic human needs of food, shelter, and clothing.

Our outrage as Indians shouldn’t be about Kevin Durant speaking about India’s poverty; it should be about India’s poverty. I’ll quote my friend and podcast co-host Kaushik Lakshman who wrote that, “if taking offense was an Olympic sport, we’d win gold every time.” If we really want things to change, let’s turn this pent-up energy towards some positive change. 

August 21, 2017

Australia become first-ever FIBA Asia Cup champions in Lebanon; Disappointing India ousted in First Round

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) wanted to inject a greater sense of competitiveness in their continental championships in Asia and Oceania. So, for the first time ever, they simply combined the two, and made a massive rebrand of the event with the first-ever FIBA Asia Cup 2017 over the past few weeks in Beirut, Lebanon. The Cup introduced a couple of powerhouse teams to the crowded Asian fray, and in their first-ever appearance against this new competition, Australia ran rampant to win the gold medal with a crowning final victory against Iran on Sunday.

Team India, despite sending a full-strength team on paper, suffered from injuries and lack of full preparation, and returned from Lebanon winless and ousted at the preliminary group stage.

The FIBA Asia Cup featured 16 of the top senior men's teams from Asia and Oceania in the first-of-its-kind tournament held from August 8-20 at Beirut's Nouhad Nawfal Stadium. The tournament determined the composition of the joint FIBA Asia and FIBA Oceania qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

Australia and Iran both stormed into the final of the tournament undefeated, setting up a mighty clash at the top. But once the ball was tipped into play, it was the 'Boomers' that took complete command. Australia opened with a 12-2 run in the first five minutes and a commanding 43-26 lead by halftime. Led by Brad Newley (18), they cruised in the second half to a 79-56 victory. Iran's star center Hamed Haddadi finished the game with 18 in the loss.

Haddadi, who led the tournament in rebounds and even assists, ended up winning the FIBA Asia Cup MVP, his fourth Most Valuable Player trophy in this tournament.

Earlier in the day, Korea were led by Ung Heo (20) to defeat New Zealand 80-71 and win the bronze medal. Finn Delany (22) and Reuben Te Rangi (18) were the leading scorers for NZ in the loss.

India’s performance at the tournament turned out to be a dud. The team's recent improvements, the presence of our “Big Three” Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh, and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, the return of NBA draftee Satnam Singh, and even the coaching of NBA veteran American coach Phil Weber didn’t help in propelling the team to better results.

India were drawn in Group A of the tournament's preliminary round with eventual semi-finalists Iran, Jordan, and Syria. Their campaign in Lebanon got off to an ominous start from the beginning against the powerhouse Iran squad. India were supposed to be heavy underdogs anyways, but few expected how flat the team performed on the day, especially on the defensive end. The duo of Haddadi (20) and Mohammad Jamshidi (18) led an unstoppable Iran attack en route to the 101-54 win. Only one Indian player (Amjyot Singh) touched double digits on offense. To add insult to injury, star guard Vishesh Bhriguvanshi - still hampered by his knee injury from the BRICS Games - was ineffective in the game and was benched by Coach Weber for the rest of the tournament.

India improved in the next game against Jordan, who were playing without their star import players, and stayed close from wire to wire. But India couldn’t capitalise on Jordan’s shortcomings, and without Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, made silly errors at crucial moments to fall to a 61-54 loss. Mousa Alawadi led Jordan with 22 in the win, while Amjyot was again India's leading back with 17.

Most disappointing for India was their final group game, against Syria. It was a game of two halves, as India dominated Syria in the first period and even held a 19-point lead early in the third quarter. But an epic collapse followed, and Syria turned the game around in the second half to reverse the score and knock India out with a third consecutive defeat, 87-78. Ivan Todorovic finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds in Syria's win, while the duo of Michael Madanly and Tarek Aljabi added 18 each. For India, Arvind Annadurai (20) and Amritpal Singh (17 points, 13 rebounds) both played well in the first half but went ice cold in the second.

India finished the tournament 0-3 and didn't qualify for a chance at the knockout stage.

A number of issues led to India's disappointing tour in Lebanon, but Coach Phil Weber pointed out that the two biggest problems were the team's lack of preparation/conditioning and a hole in the guard position. Hired only a month before the team was to fly to Beirut, Weber simply didn't have enough time to work with the full team, and many of the players were far from being in game shape. Bhriguvanshi's injury led the squad rudderless without a backcourt leader, and his backup TJ Sahi was also inconsistent because he had missed a major chunk of action in the recent past due to injury, too. A major let-down was Satnam Singh, who was out-of-shape and played a limited, backup role for the team.

Amjyot Singh, the captain of the tournament, led the team in scoring (13.0 ppg) and assists (4.3 apg) and was one of the squad's few bright sparks. Amritpal Singh had the team's best efficiency rating and led them in rebounds (8.7 rpg). Arvind Annadurai did a good job in his role while 17-year-old point guard Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi showed potential that he could rise to be an answer for the team in the PG position in the future.

Final Standings
  • 1. Australia
  • 2. Iran
  • 3. Korea
  • 4. New Zealand
  • 5. China

All Tournament Team
  • Fadi El Khatib (Lebanon)
  • Hamed Haddadi (Iran) - MVP
  • Sekeun Oh (Korea)
  • Mohammad Jamshidi (Iran)
  • Shea Ili (New Zealand)

August 20, 2017

First 3x3 pro basketball league coming to India next year; showcase event planned in Gurugram next month

Progress and development isn't always a straight line - or in basketball terms, a straight drive to the open basket. Sometimes, offenses need to find creative ways of moving forward, to use new tactics, to approach the same solution from different angles.

For Indian basketball, that new angle has come through the launch of a first-ever professional 3x3 basketball league. India has a short-term UBA pro league but still no full-time 5x5 league for basketball professionals. On Saturday, the international pro 3x3 league was officially announced in New Delhi by YKBK Enterprise Pvt Ltd, which has the exclusive rights from International Basketball Federation (FIBA) to create and implement the league in the Indian Sub-Continent.

While the League is tentatively scheduled for next year, a special two-day 3x3 showcase event called the ‘3x3 Road to Mexico’ will be conducted on 16th & 17th September at the Ambience Mall, Gurugram.

Six international and six leading Indian club teams have been invited to participate in the 3BL, including India's ONGC, IOB, Railways, Services, Ludhiana Basketball Academy and Vijaya Bank, and visiting squads from overseas such as Hamamatsu, Alborada, Yokohama (all three are city based teams from Japan), the Malaysian National Team, Sri Lanka President’s Team and a side from Maldives.

"3x3 is not only FIBA's second official discipline and will be played in Tokyo 2020 at the Olympics, it moreover is the number 1 urban team sport in the world," said Robert Reiblinger, FIBA 3x3 Development Manager, at the league's launching press conference at the Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi. "Therefore, India with its plenty of metropolitan areas has a sheer unlimited pool of athletes and talent to offer. Indian teams have had their fair share of success already in 3x3 on continental national team level and Indian players raised some eyebrows on global level when they pushed their team last year to the finals of FIBA's 3x3 World Tour Final. FIBA is very excited to now have with this event as a direct World Tour Qualifier that will take India to the World stage again."

Also present at the launch ceremony were Yoshiya Katoh (YKBK Enterprise Pvt. Ltd. – Chairman), Rohit Bakshi (YKBK Enterprise Pvt. Ltd. – CEO), Neha Dhupia (Indian Film Actor & Host), Jyoti Jindal (Jindal PreFab – Managing Director), and Jitender Yadav (Pragati Infra Solutions Pvt. Ltd. – CEO & Founding Director).

Apart from cash prizes to the finalists, the winning team at the ‘3x3 Road to Mexico’ will receive an all expenses paid trip to participate the FIBA 3x3 World Tour – Mexico City from 30th September to 1st October 2017.

"We are excited to bring FIBA 3x3 Basketball to the Indian subcontinent and are committed to keep pushing this fast paced urban sport into many cities in the region," said Katoh. "'3x3 Road to Mexico' will be a new opportunity for players, spectators and fans alike to get their first taste of 3x3 Pro Basketball League action. 3BL will create grassroots 3x3 basketball and will be building 3x3 basketball courts across the Indian subcontinent."

The 3x3 format of basketball has come a long way in recent years and will be held in the Olympics for the first time in 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. India has enjoyed relatively betters in 3x3 in recent years at the international stage.

August 18, 2017

Can a strong Team India make waves at the FIBA Asia Cup? I interviewed Coach Phil Weber to preview our chances

This article was first published in my column for on August 7, 2017. Click here to read the original piece.

In recent years, almost every Indian basketball performance abroad—positive or negative—has been accompanied with an asterisk. Due to injury or other professional concerns, India have often been short of a couple of big names in the lineups. In international tournaments therefore, India either played well despite missing out some important players or, or struggled because they were short-handed.

In terms of personnel, that asterisk cannot apply any longer. When Team India step out on court against Iran on August 9 at Beirut’s Nouhad Nawfal Sports Complex for Asia’s most prestigious basketball tournament—the FIBA Asia Cup 2017—they will be doing so with theoretically their strongest roster ever assembled. The tournament, held in Lebanon from August 8-20 this year, will feature the top basketball squads from Asia and Oceania competing for the title and for the qualifying spots at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup. India, who have been improving gradually over the past few years, seem prepared – on paper, at least.

India has been drawn in Group A of the FIBA Asia Cup, along with Asian powerhouse and FIBA Asia Challenge champions Iran, a dangerous and higher-seeded team from Jordan, and Syria, who are—in terms of ranking—the weakest team in the group. In the last major continental tournament—the Challenge in Iran last year—India finished 7th and produced their best performance in 27 years. That tournament, however, featured many sides sending out slightly weaker teams; India will get no such breaks at the FIBA Asia Cup this time around.

India’s roster announced by FIBA in early August includes our “Big Three” of Amjyot Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, and Amritpal Singh. Over the past few years, this trio has been instrumental in helping India to respectable performances at the FIBA Asia Cup and the FIBA Asia Challenges. Individually, their career has jumped into the fast lane, as all three have flirted with professional opportunities abroad. Bhriguvanshi became the first Indian to be signed to an NBL (Australian league) contract. Amritpal is close to an NBL squad himself as he spent the preseason with the Sydney Kings. Amjyot has been India’s most successful players at the international 3x3 basketball circuit

Added to this cocktail of talent is the biggest name, who has been missing in national team action since 2013, Satnam Singh. In 2015, Satnam made history by becoming the first Indian citizen to be drafted into the NBA and has played bit-minutes for two years in the NBA’s G-League. His return presents interesting new directions in the team’s potential.

Joining these four big names are players like TJ Sahi, Rikin Pethani, Arvind Annadurai, Muin Bek Hafeez, Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi, Prasanna Sivakumar, and Anil Kumar Gowda. The only marquee names missing from the list are Palpreet Singh Brar (who was drafted to the NBA G-League last year) and long-time veteran Yadwinder Singh (out with back injury), but with a roster so rich in size, India would have barely had space for more bigs, anyways.

The cherry on the top of this roster is the head coach and NBA veteran Phil Weber. Weber, who has been an NBA assistant coach for nearly two decades and will be in the New Orleans Pelicans’ front office when he returns to the States later this year, was hired by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) in early July to lead the team forward at this important tournament. He will be bringing with him years of elite-level basketball experience and a tactical understanding of that game that should immediately create a more demanding playing environment for the team.

And if everything looks theek-thaak and fantastic on the squad, India should be cruising in Lebanon this week, right?

Well, not exactly.

A strong roster, in this case, isn’t necessarily a sure-fire precursor of strong results. According to the Head Coach, many of India’s top players came into camp extremely late due to injuries and other professional duties. Bhriguvanshi, India’s best back-court player, suffered a serious knee injury at the BRICS Games in China a few months ago, and only got his first taste of action in Weber’s lineup a week before the FIBA Asia Cup. Amritpal and Satnam joined the team late and missed last month’s William Jones Cup because of their other obligations. And a couple of other players did not arrive in full game-shape for the challenge ahead, Weber adds.

“It’s a challenge right now,” says Weber. “I wish I had had everybody together because, right now, [I feel like] a painter without the colours before he puts all paint down. Probably our best player, Vishesh has been hampered and is coming back from a knee injury. Amritpal has practiced only a few times. One constant has been AJ—Amjyot—he is a very good player and has been working harder than probably anybody we’ve had here.”

“We had some guys who basically didn’t come in the shape they needed to,” adds Weber. “But since they’ve been here, they have worked hard. It’s probably my background that has not allowed me to feel good, compared to what I’m used to coaching. But I know we have a long way to go. And we’re gonna work hard and try to put everything together.”

India’s advantage is size. The Men’s national team is loaded with a logjam of frontcourt riches, featuring Amjyot, Amritpal, Satnam, Pethani, and Annadurai. With a variety of skillsets and experience levels, these big guys will ensure that India will have the tools to go up against any frontline in the continent.

“We are probably going to be one of the biggest teams going in with Amritpal and Satnam,” says Weber. “I’d be foolish not to go into the post with them and run certain actions that will maximise their abilities. As coaching staff, all we can do is what the players’ strengths are and minimise or try to hide their weaknesses.”

The real problem for India, however, lies in the backcourt. Bhriguvanshi is the only Indian player with All-Asia talent among the guards. Over the past few decades, guards have been faster, stronger, better shooters, and more athletic. A team with great big players will only be half as useful if it doesn’t have creative and talented options in the backcourt, too.

After a short absence, uber-athletic point guard TJ Sahi returns to the team, and will prove valuable for his pace and scoring ability. Coach Weber also shared positive feedback about two relatively newer faces: Anil Kumar Gowda, who played well at the William Jones Cup, and 17-year-old Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi, who has made rapid improvements in practice.

It will ultimately circle back to the “Big Three”, however. India’s past success came on the back of the individual brilliance of Bhriguvanshi, Amjyot, and Amritpal, and going forward, these three are likely to remain the strongest pieces on Weber’s offensive chessboard.

“We just want to be efficient offensively,” Weber says. “In order to do that we have to have our three best players involved in the actions. We want ball movement and quick decisions... Our benefit is that we have Amritpal, Vishesh, and Amjyot, and all three really know how to play… We’re going to have quick ball movement, and want our main guys to be in the action, and the other guys to be very smart in spacing the floor – spacing will be huge for us.

“Defensively, we will emphasize defensive transitions and matchup of course: all the basics, which are fundamentals... We’ll mix up our defences because I don’t believe we’ll have the depth to go ten deep.”

Weber, who has had the experience of working with some of the best basketball players in the world including Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins, is rightfully cautious of projecting the potential of the Indian talent he has seen at camp so far. A strong team on paper can only perform if all those pieces to be healthy, fit, and gelling together at the right time.

Last week, India’s Women’s team ended the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup at home in spectacular fashion, winning the Division B final on a last second shot to enter the higher tier. Despite basketball on the whole getting lesser attention than other sports in India, this victory was greeted with great jubilation by fans, even though it was only a promotion game. If anything, the reaction has taught us that Indian fans are yearning to see our national teams succeed, and any positive result could go a long way in promoting the sport.

So, which Team India will we see in Iran? The stacked, giant, confident squad with three superstars and Satnam Singh, ready to shock the continent? Or a team that is too rough around the edges to go deeper into the tournament? With tip-off only days away, this is certain to be one of the most-intriguing outings for Indian basketball in recent history. 

August 13, 2017

Durant, Yao, and FIBA Asia Success – It was an auspicious week for basketball in India

This article was originally published in my blog for the Times of India Sports on August 2, 2017. Read the original piece here.

A ‘muhurat’ is an auspicious date, or series of dates, which bring good fortune to any venture. Hindu shaadis, for example, have been sticking rigorously to wedding muhurat days for centuries, ensuring that all the holy matrimonial unions are tied in the same two-week stretch in December when every citizen gains an extra six kilos on the laddoo overdose and bombastic brass bands become the soundtrack to every traffic jam.

There are muhurats for naming your child, muhurats for entering your new house, muhurats for that first haircut, and muhurats for buying a new car. Recently, however, it seemed that the basketball pundits finally shone their grace on the game: with major victories, star power, and record-breaking events, this past week ended up being one of the most auspicious weeks for basketball in India.

We should probably begin this propitious week down in Bengaluru, where India played host to the top women’s basketball teams from Asia and Oceania in the prestigious FIBA Women’s Asia Cup 2017. This was the first time that India was hosting a tournament of this magnitude since the same event was held in Chennai in 2009. India weren’t in the top tier at this championship and could only contend against lower pool teams in Division B. However, fans in attendance got to see several of the top players from the region hooped on Indian soil, including the Australian-American Kelsey Griffin (eventually the tournament’s MVP), China’s Li Yueru, Manami Fujioka and Moeko Nagaoka of Japan’s title-winning team, Korea’s Lim Yung-Hui and Danbi Kim, and more.

Team India, however, made the most of their circumstance in Division B and went on to top their group. Stars like Anitha Paul Durai, Jeena Scaria, Grima Merlin Varghese, and more all looked in top form with the hope to win the knockout stage and earn promotion to Division A.

By the time the knockout stage arrived, the tournament got ready to face a certain big distraction. Seven-foot-six-inches big, to be exact. In what turned out to be a pleasant surprise, Chinese basketball legend and Basketball Hall of Famer Yao Ming arrived on India to watch the Cup in Bengaluru. Yao, 36, indisputably the most successful Asian basketball player in history, retired from the game in 2011 and is currently the president of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). Without much fanfare, Yao sat in his corner at the Sree Kantaveera Stadium, took in some high-level basketball action, and briefly donned a turban and shawl in a traditional Indian welcome from the Basketball Federation of India (BFI).

Less than 24-hours later, the basketball excitement in India was about to tuned up to a fever pitch. Kevin Durant of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors-the reigning NBA champion, Finals MVP, former MVP, four-time scoring champions, and definitely the greatest player to set foot on Indian soil-landed in New Delhi. The 28-year-old’s mission was to help the development of the sport in India, and from raising public awareness to helping out in the grassroots, and he did all of that in a couple of short days.

Durant was greeted with a happy set of fans when he landed in Delhi, and the fandom got considerably more star-studded at a reception with some of India’s biggest sports and entertainment celebrities on his first night. The next morning: Durant got to work. His foundation donated two basketball courts to the Ramjas School in New Delhi and he interacted with young schoolkids at the courts’ inauguration. Later, Durant headed to the NBA’s state of the art elite India Academy in Greater Noida, where he trained several of India’s top teenage basketball prospects. Durant’s time at the Academy ended up as he was joined by hundreds of more young players from the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme, as well has a few thousand who checked in via a live-stream from around the country, to create a Guinness World Record for “largest basketball lesson” (3,459 attendees).

While Durant was taking cheesy photographs at one of the seven wonders of the world in Agra, the basketball action was heating up down in Bengaluru. India had defeated Lebanon to reach the Division B final, and needed one more victory-against Kazakhstan-to ensure promotion. After falling to a 14-point deficit, India made a brave comeback to ensure that the game came down to one final shot. That shot was delivered by Pune-girl Shireen Limaye, who hit a clutch game-winner as time expired to give India a 73-71 victory and send the fans home more jubilant than a successful shaadi cocktail/sangeet party.

In the midst of all this, the BFI-Indian basketball’s governing body-were finally granted recognition among India’s National Sports Federations after spending a year outside this list by the government’s Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. Two years ago, a drama between two parties competing for the BFI’s executive committee role had split the federation and caused the committee leading Indian basketball to lose support of several national bodies. Last month, the Indian Olympic Association finally granted affiliation to this “new” BFI, and the Sports Ministry decision last week was a cherry on the cake of the successful FIBA Asia Cup.

All in all, yes, it’s been a great few days to be a basketball fan in India. But like every married person know, a successful shaadi is not made by the date of its muhurat; it’s about all the hard work that follows. Indian basketball has enjoyed a fantastic week: now, it’s time to build about this awareness and positive energy and help the game reach the potential it deserves.

August 6, 2017

All Around The World

There are over a billion people in India—and none have ever played in the NBA. With a new elite Academy, the League hopes to turn this raw potential into basketball’s next big market.

This feature was first published in SLAM Magazine's September 2017 issue (SLAM # 211) and on on July 17, 2017. Click here to read it on the official website.

Morning practice has ended for the 21 elite prospects at the NBA Academy India in Greater Noida, a city in the suburbs of the capital city New Delhi. The 13- to 17-year-old young men—chosen from a competitive evaluation stage that included hundreds of players from six cities around the country—now pair up for a few minutes to stretch, cooling down after a tiring session.

There are no more sounds of basketballs bouncing on the wood court, no rims clanging, no instructions from the coaches, and no squeaking from the soles of the royal blue Nike KD 9s that the 21 young players have laced up over their feet.

It’s a state of peace rarely found in the culture that created Yoga in its never-ending quest for tranquility. India is expected to overtake China as the world’s largest population in a few years, and every hectic moment in the country is a full-court press of pressure, from competing for the highest grades in the cutthroat national examination systems, jostling for space in Mumbai local trains, to queuing up in desperate masses outside ATMs when the currency was de-monetized. We Indians are in a constant state of squeezing in together and fighting to make our space.

Which is why the first class of recruits into the Academy—launched in May as the NBA’s biggest investment in India yet—enjoy the luxury of being free from the tougher distractions of life. They are in a world of their own, a secluded lagoon of basketball, where international coaches are training India’s best young prospects to make the next big jump and inspire a nation of young Indians to be devoted to the sport.

Despite a population of over one billion, not a single Indian has played in an NBA game. In 2015, the Mavs made 7-2 big man Satnam Singh the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA, but he has since only played for the Texas Legends, the organization’s G League affiliate. Last year, Palpreet Singh Brar was drafted by the G League’s Long Island Nets but never made the roster. India has a long yet largely unsuccessful basketball history, but there is potential in the grassroots to unearth a player capable of participating in NBA basketball.

Robin Banerjee, a 6-3 14-year-old, is one of those young players with hoop dreams. Banerjee’s father owns a small printing business in Patna, Bihar, a poor state that has rarely produced basketball talent in the country. Banerjee, however, had passion and aptitude for the sport early in his life. At 12, he left Patna to attend a specialized coaching center in Varanasi, another small town in a neighboring state. Last year, he heard about the ACG NBA Jump program that scouted the best prospects for the Academy, so he traveled about 430 miles southeast all alone on a train to take part in the event in Kolkata. He and two others were chosen from among over 600 aspiring ballers. A few months later, he qualified as one of the final 21 prospects. [As of presstime, the NBA Academy was planning to invite three more prospects for a total of 24, but they hadn’t been selected yet.—Ed.]

The Academy’s location at the Jaypee Greens Integrated Sports Center in Greater Noida is secluded from “real” India. Here, Banerjee and the other young prospects play, live in large dormitory-style rooms, eat their meals, and have access to exclusive club gym and swimming facilities. Twice a day, Banerjee takes part in training with coaches from Spain, Belgium, the United States and India.

“We practice all the time,” Banerjee says, “and when we’re done, there is nothing else to do but more basketball. There is a TV in our room where we watched the playoffs together.”

To spread the game in the grassroots, the NBA has been making inroads in India for several years. Their most concentrated efforts have come through the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program, a strategy that has been introducing basketball curriculum to schools since 2013 and has reached over six million kids and five thousand coaches.

“No development programs can work on their own—there has to be an entire ecosystem,” says Yannick Colaco, the Managing Director of NBA India. “We had to start at the base of the pyramid, the bottom. To get kids to have fun playing basketball.”

Once the game is more ingrained in the culture, the Academy hopes to find the diamonds in the rough. India’s tussle against a large, competitive population is also the country’s undeniable advantage.

The NBA’s Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum was in India for the launch of the Academy. Tatum was previously part of Indian basketball history when he called out Singh’s name with the 52nd pick for the Mavericks at the 2015 NBA Draft. Now, he is hopeful that a successor can rise from the Academy.

“There will be a lot of divergent pathways,” Tatum told us in an interview from Mumbai on the day before the Academy’s launch. “Some kids will play at DI colleges in the US. Some will play in the G League. Some in other leagues around the world. We’re hopeful that in the next five to 10 years or so that we’ll see an NBA talent coming through.”

Potential NBA talent in India has been squandered too often. Skilled players have either been scouted too late or not provided the correct infrastructure to raise their games to be more competitive at the international level. The most poignant case is of Amritpal Singh, a powerful, 6-10 center. Amritpal is the son of a farmer, born in the tiny Punjabi farming village of Fattuwal. He didn’t know what a basketball was until he was 18 years old. By 22, he was the captain of the Indian national team, leading the group to surprising victories over China. The now-26-year-old has also played professionally in Japan and India.

Amritpal’s story can be seen as encouraging. But from another perspective, Amritpal’s case is a sobering reminder that a great number of young players weren’t getting the guidance and training at an early age to make the most of their potential.

With the Academy, there is now some hope the next generation of Amritpals can be scouted and taught the game earlier. Colaco says the Academy hopes to employ a holistic, 360-degree approach to player development with focuses on education, leadership, character development and life skills. The NBA will provide education for those selected at the public school in Jaypee Greens. The Academy has already hired a technical director to customize a future woman’s program.

There are similar NBA Academies in China (in Hangzhou, Jinan and Urumqi) and in Senegal (in Thies). India is a unique culture, however, and Tatum understands both the challenges and the opportunities that this program presents for the League’s ambitions.

“I think the opportunity is that in a short amount of time, there are kids here who have been identified through a national scouting network,” Tatum says. “What’s so positive is the level of talent we’re seeing from young kids in a market where basketball infrastructure hasn’t been great. It is a huge opportunity that we’re excited about.”

For now, the millions of young players who are beginning a relationship with the sport can have a realistic goal in mind, an aim to be among the chosen few at the NBA Academy India, to find breathing space for themselves from the cacophony of the country with the calm of basketball. For recruits at the Academy, like Banerjee, the promise is now of a brighter future beyond their wildest dreams, of earning a scholarship in a college abroad, of playing in a foreign professional league, and, of course, in the holy grail of hoops.

It’s simple, really, as the young Banerjee says: “I want to play in the NBA.”

Hoopdarshan Episode 51: Coach Phil Weber on India at FIBA Asia Cup & the New Orleans Pelicans

India's men's national team will be in Lebanon this week to take part in the prestigious FIBA Asia Cup 2017. To help preview our chances at the tournament, the team's Head Coach and NBA veteran Phil Weber joins co-hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok on Episode 51 of Hoopdarshan. In an informative and entertaining conversation, Weber discussed the players who have impressed him, shared his concerns with the team's fitness level, and took us back to the NBA where he looked forward to a full season with Davis and Cousins in New Orleans.

Join us to hear a lively conversation that includes a breakdown of India's challenge ahead, stories from Weber's days coaching with the Steve Nash Phoenix Suns, news of India's Women's team's success, Kevin Durant and Yao Ming in India, Weber's views on Lonzo Ball, and more.

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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August 5, 2017

FIBA Asia Cup 2017 tips off in Lebanon on Tuesday - Preview with India's roster and schedule

If you are an Indian basketball fan of any capacity, now is the time to pay attention.

On Tuesday August 8, the most prestigious of tournaments for India's men's national basketball team is set to tip off in Lebanon. The FIBA Asia Cup 2017 (formerly known as the FIBA Asia Championship) will be held among 16 of the best teams from the Asia and (for the first time) Oceania region from August 8-20. The tournament will determine the composition of the joint FIBA Asia and FIBA Oceania qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

The last iteration of this tournament was held in Changsha, China, in 2015, where the host teams romped undefeated to the title. Popularly known as the FIBA ABC, this tournament has been held 28 times in the past and China has won an incredible 16 of those championships. India put up some good performances at Changsha 2015 and improved to 8th place.

China is set to be one of the favourites to regain their trophy again this year, although they will be fiercely challenged by Australia, who will be playing in the 'Asian' fray for the first time. The other top teams to watch will include New Zealand, Iran, and Lebanon.

India qualified for this tournament by winning their fifth-straight gold at the South Asian (SABA) Championship in Maldives back in May. Since then, however, India has struggled in the exhibitions tournaments leading up to the FIBA ABC, returning 0-3 from the BRICS Games in China and 0-9 from the William Jones Cup in Chinese Taipei.

In both cases, India sent out depleted squads due to injury and other professional obligations. Fortunately, that won't be the case anymore. India has recently announced their final roster for Lebanon and the team is as stacked as they could possibly be on paper, including the talented "Big Three" of Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amjyot Singh, and Amritpal Singh, as well as the NBA drafted Satnam Singh who returns to national colours for the first time since 2013. Other players of note include the uber-athletic point guard TJ Sahi, 17-year-old phenom Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi, big men duo of Rikin Pethani and Aravind Annadurai, and the veteran swingman Prasanna Venkatesh. This is a relatively young squad (average age: 24).

Steering the ship from the top will be India's recently-hired foreign Head Coach Phil Weber, who holds a front office role in player personnel with the New Orleans Pelicans and has been an NBA assistant coach for nearly two decades. Utah Jazz video analyst Steve Klei is with the team as the assistant coach.

Coach Phil Weber with Team India at the 2017 William
Jones Cup 
Team India for the FIBA Asia Cup 2017
  • Aravind Annadurai
  • Vishesh Bhriguvanshi
  • Muin Bek Hafeez
  • Anil Kumar Gowda
  • Rikin Pethani
  • Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi
  • Amjyot Singh
  • Amritpal Singh
  • Rajvir Singh
  • Satnam Singh
  • TJ Sahi
  • Prasanna Venkatesh
  • Head Coach: Phil Weber
  • Assistant Coach: Steve Klei

Despite being stacked on paper, India has been struggling with injuries and availability. Most concerning is the health of Bhriguvanshi, India's only true elite backcourt player, who suffered a major knee injury at the BRICS Games and will not be at 100% at the FIBA ABC. Important players like Amritpal and Satnam joined the team late due to playing abroad, and Coach Weber was pressed for time in having them gel together with the rest of the team before the tournament.

India are in Group A of the tournament, along with the powerhouse squad Iran, Jordan, and Syria.

FIBA Asia Cup 2017 Groups
  • Group A: Iran, Jordan, Syria, India.
  • Group B: Iraq, China, Philippines, Qatar.
  • Group C: Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Korea, New Zealand.
  • Group A: Japan, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Australia.

The availability of superstar center Hamed Haddadi is questionable for Iran right now, but the reigning FIBA Asia Challenge champions are still clear favourites to top this group with big names like Arsalan Kazemi, Oshin Sahakian and Rouzbeh Arghavan on the roster. Jordan's player to watch will be the naturalised American Kevin Ware, and their frontcourt threats including Mohammad Shaher Hussein, Ali Jamal Zaghab and Yousef Abuwazaneh. Syria are underdogs in this group but can be a threat with players like Michael Madanly and Ivan Todorovic on their team. India is the third-best team in this group in terms of ranking.

The top team in each group will move on automatically to the Quarter-Finals and the bottom team will be automatically eliminated. Teams ranked 2 and 3 in each group will enter a qualifying bracket for the Quarter-Finals.

India's Preliminary Round Schedule at FIBA Asia Cup 2017 - all timings IST
  • August 9 - Iran vs. India - 06:30 PM
  • August 11 - India vs. Jordan - 09:00 PM
  • August 13 - Syria vs. India - 11:30 PM

The knockout stages begin with the pre-quarter-finals on August 14 and the final of the tournament will be held on August 20.

Last week, India's Women's basketball team made the country proud by sweeping through their Division B opponents and winning Division A promotion in Bengaluru at the FIBA Asia Women's Cup. The men will obviously have a tougher time since the Men's ABC pits India against all the top tier teams. But hopefully, on the backs of some of our superstar talent, they, too, will be able to generate some waves and excitement for basketball in the country.

August 2, 2017

Scott Flemming returns: Former national team head coach will lead NBA India operations

By the time his three-year tenure ended as Head Coach of India's Men's Basketball National Team in September 2015, Scott Flemming left the country with an unmatched legacy. From 2012-2015, the American coach carried the national team to unforeseen heights with confidence-boosting victories and helped strengthen the domestic grassroots basketball structure.

Now, two years after serving as head coach of Northwest Nazareth University back in the USA, Flemming will return to India to continue the job he began - the development of Indian basketball - under a different title. On Monday, July 31, Northwest Nazarene announced that Flemming was stepping aside to begin a new role as the Senior Director of Basketball Operations for NBA India.

"Going back to India is close to my heart, but working for the NBA takes it to another level,” Flemming said. “It would have taken a job like this to pull me away from NNU. I was enjoying what I was doing."

More on this news from the Idaho Press:

With NBA India, Flemming will oversee a program which has grown from a grass roots organization, to a program which is hosting major events. Flemming will be involved in hosting events like the Global Games, and Basketball without Borders, which will bring NBA stars to India to teach at camps. Flemming said there is also talk of holding an NBA preseason game in India.
But one of the biggest goals for the program, Flemming said, is identifying and producing the player who the program hopes will become India’s first NBA player.
Satnam Singh Bhamara, who played for Flemming on the Indian National Team, became the first Indian drafted when the Dallas Mavericks took him in the second round of the 2015 NBA draft, but he has yet to play at the NBA level.
“That was one big step to get a player drafted,” Flemming said. “They saw what Yao Ming did for China. That’s one of the goals, so they’re trying to evaluate and identify talent.”

Flemming first came to India when he was hired as the national Men's NT coach by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) in September 2012 after 30 years of coaching experience in the USA, including serving as an assistant coach with the NBDL squad Texas Legends. Flemming helped the national team hold their heads up higher with respectable performances at the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, a gold medal at the Lusofonia Games, and important experience at the Asian Game. He was responsible for leading India to the 'Wonder of Wuhan', our biggest ever international victory over hosts China (for the first time) in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan, China. In a country with fleeting basketball success where foreign coaches had been hired and dropped like flies, Flemming had lasted the test of time and the challenges of a broken system to become arguably India's greatest international coach ever.

Beyond his international influence, Flemming also served as an adviser to coaches domestically, helping to further cultivate and grow basketball at the grassroots level in India. He took part in various Coaches Coaching programmes around the country, launched the Indian Basketball Coaches Network (IBCN), and made basketball player development videos to reach out to the legions of hoop hopefuls in India. He and his wife Chawn forged valuable relationships with coaches and players in India and he went out of his way to have honest and open communication through interviews, his blog, and social media with the Indian fans and media. Memorably, Flemming fought for the religious rights of India's Sikh players Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh when FIBA forced them to play without their turbans at the FIBA Asia Cup.

Over the last two years at NNU, Flemming posted a 20-32 record for the Crusaders, including a 12-14 record this past season. The Crusaders tied for sixth place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference standings, just missing out on the conference’s postseason tournament due to tiebreakers. Assistant coach Paul Rush will take over as the interim coach to help the team prepare for the upcoming season.

Flemming has the coaching expertise, India experience, and an attitude to deal with the challenges that India might present, and he is the ideal hire to lead NBA India's basketball operations. The league is obviously betting big on India as a market for basketball and a vast land from where they hope to unearth an NBA talent. With the launch of the NBA Academy India in Greater Noida earlier this year, they have already selected the first batch of youngsters to hone and develop into future potential stars. With Flemming on the team, hopefully they will take the next major step for the game's development in the country.