February 27, 2018

India, in turmoil, lose 2019 FIBA World Cup Qualifiers to Jordan and Lebanon at home

The odds were already stacked against India before the February window of 2019 FIBA World Cup Qualifiers. Despite having two games scheduled on home ground, India returned to the qualifiers after losing their previous two games in November and without the services of their lead guard - Vishesh Bhriguvanshi - due to injury. But a self-inflicted catastrophe, followed by an uninspiring performance, led the national men's team to more turmoil. The short-handed Indian side failed to deliver again and lost two more qualifying matches at home over the past week to Jordan and Lebanon to fall 0-4 in the qualifiers.

This is the first time that FIBA - the international basketball federation - is holding their new qualifying format for the World Cup. India was drawn in Group C for the First Round of the 2019 World Cup’s Asian Qualifiers, along with Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. To qualify for the Second Round, India have to finish within the top three of their group.

Last week, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) announced the roster for these two matches with some good news: two of India's finest players, Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh who play in the NBA G-League and NBL Australia respectively, were set to return home for the week to boost the team. Led by interim head coach Rajinder Singh, the squad also featured the likes of Aravind Annadurai, star for India at the Asian Games Test Event in Indonesia, and Satnam Singh, the first Indian to be drafted to the NBA. The competition would be tough, but there was some optimism in the Indian camp with both games scheduled to be held at the Sree Kantaveera Stadium in Bengaluru.

Alas, confusion and a technical tragedy played a cruel joke on India's plans. Due to a clerical error between the federation and the players, FIBA didn't receive Amjyot and Amritpal's names in the official team list for India's two games. Despite being fully prepared for these games, the two star Singhs were unable to suit up for India. The rest of the team were forced to make do without all of their "Big Three".

New heroes had to emerge for India, and in the first game against Jordan on Friday. February 23, those heroes were Annadurai (28 points, 11 rebounds) and Satnam (20 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists). While Jordan kept a steady lead, the two bigs did their best to keep India in the contest. India trailed only by five, 66-61, before the beginning of the final quarter, before a deeper Jordan team finally pulled away, exploding offensively to finish the game with a 102-88 victory. The trio of Mohammad Hussein (19), Mahmoud Abdeen (18), and Dar Tucker (18) led Jordan to the win. Apart from Annadurai and Satnam, India got a positive contribution from newcomer Justin Joseph (16) in the loss.

The loss and official mix-up deflated the squad before their second game, against Lebanon on Monday, February 26. Lebanon had already defeated India in November 107-72 in Zouk Mikael back in November. On Monday, it was more of the same. Now also missing point guard Akilan Pari due to personal reasons, India struggled mightily on offence, committing 20 turnovers and converting less than 29 percent of their field goal attempts. Led by Ater Majok (17), Bassel Bawji (16), and Amir Saoud (16), Lebanon cruised to a 90-50 victory.

India will have a break from FIBA Qualifiers and turn their attentions to another major international tournament, the 2018 CommonWealth Games scheduled in Australia in April. Hopefully, the BFI can mend their differences with the star players and field a full-strength squad - otherwise, the entire exercise will be a waste of time, effort, and resources again. The next round of FIBA World Cup qualifiers are scheduled in late June and early July, both away games to Syria and Jordan respectively. At the bottom of their group, it is now virtually impossible for India to qualify for the Second Round of qualifiers.

The 2019 FIBA World Cup will be held in China in August/September 2019.

February 18, 2018

India announce squad for next window of FIBA World Cup qualifiers against Jordan and Lebanon in Bengaluru

India began the campaign for the 2019 FIBA World Cup with disappointments in the first window of their First Round games. In two games in November, India played uninspiring basketball, losing to Lebanon on the road, and then to Syria back home. The losses have put the team at the bottom of Group C and complicating any chances for India to qualify for the next stage.

If that course has to be corrected, however, the hard work has to start now. FIBA Asia's second window of 2019 World Cup qualifiers will begin next week. India will play two home games - against Jordan and Lebanon - at the Sri Kantaveera Stadium in Bengaluru. India will face Jordan on Friday, February 23rd, and Lebanon on Monday, February 26th.

This is the first time that FIBA - the international basketball federation - is holding their new qualifying format for the World Cup. India was drawn in Group C for the First Round of the 2019 World Cup’s Asian Qualifiers, along with Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. To qualify for the Second Round, India have to finish within the top three of their group.

A short-handed Indian squad lost to Lebanon 107-22 in Zouk Mikael in November, and came home for a more disappointing loss against a weaker Syrian team, 74-57. Jordan has won both while Lebanon and Syria have lost one and won one match each.

To prepare for the upcoming important games, India played in the 2018 Asian Games Test Event's basketball tournament in Indonesia last week, finishing with a silver medal.

The good news for India going ahead for the next two home games is that two of the country's top players - Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh - will return from professional obligations for the Oklahoma City Blue (NBA G-League) and Sydney Kings (NBL Australia) respectively to rejoin Team India next week. Also playing for the team will be Aravind Annadurai, star for India at the Asian Games Test Event in Indonesia, and Satnam Singh, the first Indian to be drafted to the NBA. Rajinder Singh will serve as India's coach for these match-ups. The Basketball Federation of India's (BFI) President K. Govindraj and Secretary-General Chander Mukhi Sharma announced India's roster in Bengaluru on Saturday,

Team India
  • Ravi Bhardwaj
  • Arvind Arumugam
  • Satnam Singh
  • Arshpreet Singh Bhullar
  • Aravind Annadurai
  • Akilan Pari
  • Justin Gnanaraj
  • Jeevanantham Pandi
  • Yadwinder Singh
  • Joginder Singh
  • Amritpal Singh
  • Amjyot Singh
  • Loveneet Singh Atwal *injury replacement
  • Head Coach: Rajinder Singh
  • Assistant Coach: GRL Prasad
  • Assistant Coach: RH Lalding Sanga

The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) has announced free entry to all fans hoping to attend the games in Bengaluru. The city hosted three major FIBA events last year: the 2017 FIBA Asia Championship for Women, the 2017 FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women, and India's FIBA World Cup Qualifier against Syria.

"After looking at the enthusiasm of the fans in the previous events we have decided to open up the gates for all the basketball fans," said Govindraj. "Providing free entry will be a great opportunity for all the school children in Bangalore to witness basketball played on the highest level."

February 14, 2018

Follow my Fantasy NBA column for 'India Fantasy'

It's not news that Fantasy NBA has been a big deal worldwide for decades. In India, however, even as Fantasy Sports have become more popular, basketball has trailed behind to Cricket (international and IPL) and Football (generally English Premier League, but other leagues around the world, too). India, of course, doesn't have its own full-time pro basketball league, and there are few statistical records from Indian domestic tournaments.

Fortunately for Indian hoop fans, there is always the NBA, with competitive fantasy leagues on CBS Sports, ESPN, Rotoworld, Yahoo! Sports, and the NBA's own daily fantasy game, launched with Dream11 for the Indian audience.

For those of you looking for predictions, advice, or just some good reads, check out my new Fantasy NBA column for India Fantasy. India Fantasy, who have been a comprehensive source for Fantasy Cricket and Football news and contests, will now expand to Basketball, too. For my first piece, I wrote about the underrated Denver Nuggets foursome of Nikola Jokic, Jamaal Murray, Gary Harris, and Will Barton, and made some more picks from top games for the rest of the week.

February 12, 2018

Hosts Indonesia win Basketball tournament at 2018 Asian Games Test Event over India in the final

Looking forward to hosting the Asian Games later this year, Indonesia needed a tournament to prepare for the big sporting festival. Looking forward to big FIBA Asia Qualifiers, India needed some international basketball experience. And at the 18th Asian Games Invitational Tournament 5x5 Basketball Test Event in Jakarta over the past week, both the nations got their wishes fulfilled. At the finale of this invitational four-team event, it was the hosts, eventually, who added the cherry on top, defeating India in the gold medal game on Monday.

After losing to India earlier in the group stage, Indonesia put up a stronger performance in the final, outscoring India 18-10 in a crucial second-quarter run that eventually decided the result. Despite a monster game by forward Aravind Annadurai (25 points, 19 rebounds) India's attempt at a late comeback fell short. Indonesia won 78-68 to win the gold, led by Andakara Prastawa's team-high 18. India, who had finished the group stage 2-1, settled for the silver medal.

The basketball tournament at the Asian Games Test Event was held from February 8-12, 2018 at the GBK Hall Basket in Jakarta, Indonesia. Led by Coach Rajinder Singh, India sent a 12-man squad to this event, featuring the likes of the aforementioned Annadurai, Satnam Singh, and Akilan Pari. The 2018 Asian Games are set to be held in Jakarta and Palembang in Indonesia from August 18 - September 2 this year. In the 2014 edition of the Games in Korea, the host squad won gold in both the Men and Women's divisions. India's Men finished the tournament at 12th place while the Women at 6th.

India had a slow start to the tournament. In their first game Nutchapong Pattharapisan (20) led Thailand to a 79-72 win, despite a 27-point outing by Annadurai. Led by Joginder Singh (19), India got back in the win column against Indonesia in Game 2, 66-55. India's final group stage victory was a blowout over Timor-Leste 145-50. Nine Indians hit double digit scoring in this win while Timor-Liste were led by Gilberto Soares Pinto (22).

Before the Indonesia-India final, Thailand defeated Timor-Leste 139-76 on Monday to win the bronze medal. The game featured an incredible 65-point scoring outburst by Thailand's Guntapong Korsah-Dick, and 27 by Chatin Rattanawiwatpong. Abrito Guimaraes countered with 39 for Timor-Leste in the loss.

This little tournament was perfectly-timed for the Indian national squad, who have spent the past week in camp in Bengaluru preparing for the next round of FIBA World Cup qualifying games later in the month. After losing the first two qualifying games in November, India will hope to bounce back as they host Jordan and Lebanon on February 23 and 26, respectively.

It's not known yet whether any of India's top players - namely Amjyot Singh (NBA G-League), Amritpal Singh (NBL Australia), or Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (injury) will be available for the crucial qualifiers in a couple of weeks. For now, India can take heart in the experience provided by these few games, and particularly, in Annadurai's performances as the team's top offensive option.

February 11, 2018

Meet the Indian basketball stars nominated for 2018 Times of India Sports Awards

This piece was first published in my column for The Times of India Sports on January 30, 2018. Click here to read the original piece.

Despite its large population, India is still a relative minnow in international basketball, a nation where one of the world’s most popular sports is only an afterthought. While the sport has developed considerably over the past decade, India is still looking for a spark to ignite the next generation.

That spark can be provided with star-power. With Yao Ming, China got a readymade superstar who helped turn an entire generation of young Chinese into basketball fans. India has a considerably different sports atmosphere, and although basketball might never become the country’s top sport, it could gain considerable fan following with successful role models.

No, there’s no Indian ‘Yao’ in the horizon, yet; but we feature our own set of star players who have been grinding away over the past few years and found success on the domestic and international stage. This year, for the first time, the Times of India Sports Awards (TOISA) 2018 will feature an award for India’s best basketball player. Here are the five nominees, and each of their years in review.

Amritpal Singh: 2017 was certainly a banner year for Punjab’s Amritpal Singh (26), headlined by the news that he became the first-ever Indian to play for Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL). After impressing in workouts, training camps, and the pre-season tour, Amritpal was signed by the Sydney Kings and has since played a consistent backup role in the NBL. For the national team, where he is the starting center for India, Amritpal played in many major tournaments including the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, the FIBA Asia Cup, and the South Asian Basketball Championship. In the latter, he captained India to a victory and was the tournament’s MVP. Amritpal was also best player of the Uttarakhand and ONGC’s squads that won gold medals in the two biggest domestic basketball meets in 2017: The Senior Nationals and the Federation Cup.

Amjyot Singh: Like his fellow front-court mate Amritpal, Amjyot Singh (26) of Chandigarh broke barriers and made history for Indian basketball. Amjyot’s crowning achievement was to become the second Indian (after Satnam Singh) to make it to the NBA’s G-League with the Oklahoma City Blue in late October. The sharp-shooting 6-foot-8 forward has seen his role grow with the Blue over the past few months and has taken a step closer to the NBA than any Indian citizen before him. Back home, Amjyot continued to be a lynchpin for India’s national team. He was India’s captain at the FIBA Asia Cup, and finished the tournament leading the team in points (13.0) and assists (4.3). He was also India’s top player at other international trips to the William Jones Cup and the BRICS Games.

Anitha Paul Durai: 2017 marked the beginning of Paul Durai’s (32) “second innings” with Indian basketball. The veteran forward from Chennai returned to the national team after a maternity leave and enjoyed a stellar comeback. She was the captain of the national team and leading scorer (16.4 ppg) when India won Division B of the FIBA Asia Cup for Women held in Bengaluru. When India’s U16 squad stepped out to participate in the Youth version of the same Women’s Cup in Bengaluru later in the year, Paul Durai got her first chance to serve as the team’s assistant coach. Like the seniors, the U16 team won Division B and promotion into Division A.

Jeena Scaria: Scaria (24) took centre-stage for her home state when she led Kerala to their first Senior Nationals gold medal in over thirty years. She was one of India’s top players in the squad that won Division B at the FIBA Asia Women’s Cup in Bengaluru in July. She was also part of India’s 3x3 team which made it to the semi-final of the FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup in Mongolia in late October.

Vishesh Bhriguvanshi: Bhriguvanshi (26), India’s best backcourt player and a former national captain, had a topsy-turvy year, but still managed enough to make it to the list of nominees. He became the first Indian to ink a training deal with an Australian NBL team: the Adelaide 36ers. In his first appearance at the UBA Basketball League, Bhriguvanshi was named the league’s Indian MVP, averaging around 28 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds per game, and led the Bengaluru Beast to their first UBA Finals. He helped India win gold at the South Asian Basketball Championship in Maldives and also played in the BRICS Games and the FIBA Asia Cup. An injury in the former, however, side-lined the star guard, and India suffered in international matches without him.

One of these players will go home with the honour of being TOISA 2018’s best basketball player. You can make your own voice heard and vote for the TOISA Sports Awards here.

February 10, 2018

Three Indian players chosen for 2018 Basketball Without Borders camp at the NBA All Star Weekend

For the second consecutive year, a small number of young Indian basketball talents have been invited to the Basketball Without Borders camp, set to be held during the 2018 NBA All Star Weekend in Los Angeles, USA. The three Indian players - Sejin Mathew, Princepal Singh, and Pushpa Senthil Kumar - will be among 43 prospects, ranging in age from 16-18, from 36 countries around the world. Organised by FIBA and the NBA, the camp will be held from February 15-18, 2018.

Originally from Kerala, 6-5 forward Sejin Mathew (18) is one of the two dozen prospects at the NBA India Academy in Greater Noida. Last summer, Mathew was selected for the NBA Asia-Pacific Elite Camp in China and was part of India's under-18 squad for the 3x3 FIBA Asia Cup.

Like Mathew, Punjab's 6-9 forward Princepal Singh (16) is also part of the NBA Academy India. Princepal was also part of the NBA Asia-Pacific Elite Camp last year and been one of the rising forces in Indian basketball. Last year, he won the MVP award of the Youth Nationals for Punjab and was given the MVP award when he carried India to a gold medal at the 2017 U16 South Asian Basketball Championship.

Pushpa Senthil Kumar (16), who plays Center at 5-10, was the captain of India's U16 Women's team that secured promotion to Division A after a flawless performance at the FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women in Bengaluru.

According to a report by ESPN's Jonathan Givony, the attending prospects will get measured, undergo athletic testing, practice, scrimmage and conduct drills under the watchful eyes of representatives of all 30 NBA teams at the Los Angeles Lakers' practice facility. Participants will also attend daily seminars for life skills and take in the Rising Stars challenge, dunk contest, 3-point shootout and All-Star Game at Staples Center.

Other notable players attending the camp will include: Sekou Doumbouya (France), Luka Samanic (Croatia), Killian Hayes (France), N'Faly Dante (Mali), and Charles Bassey (Nigeria).

Several current NBA players will attend the camp as coaches, including Al Horford (Boston Celtics) Goran Dragic (Miami Heat), Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers), Timofey Mozgov (Brooklyn Nets) and Sam Dekker (LA Clippers).

Last year, two Indian players - Priyanka Prabharaka and Aashay Verma - attended the Basketball Without Borders global camp in New Orleans.

February 8, 2018

Kerala (Girls) and Punjab (Boys) win basketball tournament at first-ever Khelo India School Games

Two finals: one nailbiter, one a dominant blowout. And a complete display of Indian basketball's future talent. The basketball tournament at the first-ever Khelo India School Games (KISG) came to a conclusion on Thursday, February 8, with Kerala (Girls) and Punjab (Boys) going home with the gold at the KD Jadhav Indoor Hall at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi.

The flagship Khelo India School Games (KISG), a nationwide gathering of school-going athletes participating in sixteen sporting disciplines, will be held in New Delhi from January 1 - February 8. At the first KISG, under-17 athletes were invited to participate across 26 disciplines, including basketball.

Kerala's girls team - who originally were only considered among the small fray of teams in the tournament through a wild-card entry - proved to be an unstoppable force in the tournament. Powered by India's junior internationals Sreekala R (33) and Ann Mary Zacharia (21), they blew past Haryana to win 90-47 in the final. Ritika scored 17 for Haryana in the loss.

The Men's final was a close neck-to-neck contest between two of the best junior states in basketball in the country, Punjab and the home team, Delhi. Punjab were led by Rajan (26) and NBA Academy India standout Princepal Singh (21); Princepal hit a last grasp shot to help Punjab edge out a close victory, 78-76. Jai Prakash scored 16 for Delhi in a losing effort.

Led by Divyaraj Singh Rathore (30) and Mani Thakur (16) Madhya Pradesh defeated Haryana 89-84 to win the boys' bronze medal, despite good performances by Kapil Mor (22) and Rampal (20). In the girls' bronze medal game, hosts Delhi defeated Karnataka 70-57, led by 19-points apiece by Kritika Dhingra and Khushi Ahlawat.

With an overall tally of 38 gold medals, Haryana were crowned overall champions of the KISG.

Organised by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, the Games will assist in scouting youth (under 17) talent in various disciplines by a High-Powered Committee. The plan is to provide the identified talents with annual financial assistance of Rs. 5 lakh per annum for 8 years.

2018 Khelo India School Games - Basketball Final Standings

  • 1. Kerala
  • 2. Haryana
  • 3. Delhi

  • 1. Punjab
  • 2. Delhi
  • 3. Madhya Pradesh

February 7, 2018

India's Men's basketball team to participate in 2018 Asian Games Test Event from tomorrow

It won't be until mid-August that Asia's biggest sports bonanza - the 2018 Asian Games - will begin in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang. India's basketball squads - both Men and Women - are already looking ahead to participate in the Games' basketball tournament.

But long before the main event, India's Men's squad will have a chance to test out the site for themselves. India is one of the four teams invited to participate in the 18th Asian Games Invitational Tournament 5x5 Basketball Test Event, to be held at the Istora Sanayan Hall, Gelora Bung Karno Sports Complex in South Jakarta. The other participating teams are hosts Indonesia, Thailand and Timor Leste.

This little tournament is perfectly-timed for the Indian national squad, who have spent the past week in camp in Bengaluru preparing for the next round of FIBA World Cup qualifying games later in the month. After losing the first two qualifying games in November, India will hope to bounce back as they host Jordan and Lebanon on February 23 and 26, respectively.

India will be without their "Big Three" of Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (injured), Amjyot Singh (NBA G-League), and Amritpal Singh (NBL Australia) for this tournament, but they will feature a mixed group of experienced and youth players in Indonesia, including former NBA draftee Satnam Singh, point guard Akilan Pari, and Yadwinder Singh. The squad will be coached by Rajinder Singh.

India roster for 2018 Asian Games Test Event
  • Akilan Pari
  • Kasi Rajan Maruthan
  • Arshpreet Singh Bhullar
  • Ravi Bhardwaj
  • Issac Thuruthel Thomas
  • Satnam Singh
  • Anil Kumar Gowda
  • Yadwinder Singh
  • Aravind Annadurai
  • Arvind Arumugam
  • Joginder Singh
  • Gurwinder Singh Gill
  • Head Coach: Rajinder Singh
  • Assistant Coach: GRL Prasad
  • Manager: Vikram Handa

India will play their first game against Thailand on Thursday, February 8.

The 2018 Asian Games are set to be held in Jakarta and Palembang in Indonesia from August 18 - September 2 this year. In the 2014 edition of the Games in Korea, the host squad won gold in both the Men and Women's divisions. India's Men finished the tournament at 12th place while the Women at 6th.

February 4, 2018

Chennai's Indian Overseas Bank win 4th Mulki Ram Sunder Ram Shetty basketball tournament in Bengaluru

Continuing the recent purple patch of performances for Tamil Nadu basketball after the state's victory at last month's Senior Nationals, the Indian Overseas Bank squad from Chennai won gold at India's first major club competition of 2018, the 4th Mulki Ram Sunder Ram Shetty All India Basketball Tournament. IOB won the tournament's finale at the Sri Kantaveera Stadium in Bengaluru on Sunday, February 4, with an impressive victory over another Chennai squad, the Integral Coach Factory (ICF).

The Mulki Ram tournament was organised by Vijaya Bank in Bengaluru from January 31 to February 4, featuring several of India's top men's club squads, featuring the hosts Vijaya Bank themselves (Bengaluru), IOB, ICF, Income Tax, Customs (all from Chennai), Rail Coach Factory (Kapurthala, Punjab), and the Karnataka State Team. Vijaya Bank defeated IOB to win the tournament last year.

In this year's final, IOB proved to be too big and too fast for ICF, and were led by Indian international Aravind Annadurai (23) en route to a comfortable 77-50 victory.

Vijaya Bank won the third-place playoff against Customs in a close contest, 81-76. S. Karthickeyan scored 21 to lead the hosts, while Chennai were led by Justin (27) and Hari Ram (23) in a losing effort.

IOB received ₹1,00,000, while ICF took home ₹50,000. RA Sankara Narayanan, Vijaya Bank CEO and Managing Director, gave away the prizes.

A number of individual awards were also given at the end of the tournament, including:
  • Player of the tournament: GA Anto Bethle (ICF)
  • Most popular player: Justin (Customs)
  • Most promising player: Navin Raj (Vijaya bank)
  • Best defender: Aravind Annadurai (IOB)