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.

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