March 27, 2018

India's youth boys' squad sets off for FIBA U16 Asian Championship in Foshan, China

The U16 level is the youngest official stage of international basketball competition. For teenage basketball stars in India that hope to become future leaders of the game, it's their first chance to wear the team's national jersey, to travel for a major event abroad, to give a preview of their potential.

Unfortunately, for many of India's next generation their dream FIBA champsionship debut was delayed. FIBA's official event for the continent's youth boys' squads - the 2017 FIBA U16 Asian Championship - was postponed from its original scheduled dates in Fall 2017.

Now, the long-delayed opportunity finally presents itself. The 2017 FIBA U16 Asian Championship is set to be held in Foshan, China, from April 2-8, 2018. India is among the 13 squads taking part in this tournament, a fray of teams that includes hosts China, reigning champions Korea, the 2015 silver-medallists Chinese Taipei, and competitive new additions from Oceania: Australia and New Zealand. The tournament will serve as Asia's qualifier for the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2018 in Argentina.

India will be hoping to overturn the disappointments of the 2015 U16 FIBA Asia tournament in Jakarta, where the squad finished with a 3-5 record and dropped to 13th place among the 15 participating teams.

This year's squad will be led by a couple of young players who have already started to make a name for themselves in Indian hoop circles, including the captain Harshwardhan Tomar and big man Prince Pal Singh. Both these players played a prominent role in helping India win the 2017 U16 South Asia Basketball Championship in Nepal. Prince Pal, who plays for the NBA Academy India, was named the MVP of that tournament and has also been part of the NBA/FIBA's Global Basketball Without Borders camp during this year's NBA All Star Weekend. Tomar was notably a young prospect at the Stellazzurra Academy for basketball in Italy. Another player to watch in Indian colours is Priyanshu, who showed some great potential at the championship in Nepal last year.

The squad will be led once again by head coach Vibhor Bhriguvanshi, who helped deliver the dominant 2017 South Asia Championship triumph.

2017 FIBA U16 Championship Groupings
  • Group A: China, New Zealand, Hong Kong.
  • Group B: Australia, Philippines, Malaysia.
  • Group A: Iran, Chinese Taipei, Macau.
  • Group A: Korea, Japan, Lebanon, India.

India's roster for 2017 FIBA U16 Championship
  • Prashant Tomar
  • Jerome Prince
  • Rajveer Singh Bhati
  • Nitish Beniwal
  • Vigneshwar Upadhyay
  • Manikanta Manuri
  • Divyaraj Singh Rathore
  • Harshwardhan Tomar
  • - Captain
  • Priyanshu
  • Prince Pal Singh
  • Ajmer
  • Head Coach: Vibhor Bhriguvanshi
  • Assistant Coach: Babu Davis
  • Manager: Ajeet Singh Rathore

India's preliminary round schedule - all timings IST
  • April 2 - India vs. Korea - 5:30 PM
  • April 3 - Japan vs. India - 3:30 PM
  • April 4 - India vs. Lebanon - 12:30 PM

FIBA will stream all the games in this championship LIVE across their social media channels.

"We are proud of your achievements so far and expect a lot more from you in the coming days," said K. Govindraj, the president of the Basketball Federation of India, to the young players. "It as an incredible achievement to represent the country at such a young age but we hope that all of you keep on learning and improving so that in future we can see you representing the Senior team as well. I wish you all the best and hope that you make the country proud."

India are in a difficult group, the only group of four, and will surely struggle in their first two matchups against the faster and more athletic Korea and Japan. India's best opportunity for a victory might be against Lebanon, and if they can pull it off, they will move on to the playoffs stage. Regardless of result, this tournament will provide a good chance for India's young players to show their standings against others of their age group in Asia, and hopefully can some experience and confidence for future events.

March 19, 2018

NBA Schedules Games To Be Broadcast in Primetime For India

This article was first published on on March 9, 2018. Click here for the original post.

For nearly two decades as a basketball fan in India, the NBA forced me to become a morning person. Live games from the US/Canada in the evenings would be broadcast 9.5-10.5 hours ahead in time (and even further ahead for games from the West Coast), early in the mornings. So, while fans in North America watched the biggest playoff moments in primetime, me—and thousands of other dedicated Indian fans—watched them at the crack of dawn, with our morning cups of chai/coffee and, if you shared my palette, with stuff aloo parathas.

But only the smallest number of dedicated fans could brave the mornings, to watch games before school or work, to sacrifice their social lives the night before to ensure the early wake-up call.

Fortunately, in the run-up to this year’s playoffs, the NBA is looking to change some of that. With a little fix in their schedule, the NBA is hoping to bring itself closer to the Indian audiences than ever before.

On Thursday, the NBA announced the first-ever broadcasts of live NBA games in India during primetime for the Indian audience. From March 11-April 8, 2018, the NBA will schedule a weekly game for live primetime broadcast in India every Sunday at 10 p.m. India Standard Time (IST) on SONY SIX, SONY SIX HD, SONY TEN 3 and SONY TEN 3 HD.

This builds on the League’s NBA Sundays campaign, a weekly live primetime game on Sunday evenings in Europe and Africa.

Full schedule of the NBA Sundays games in India on SONY SIX, SONY SIX HD, SONY TEN 3, SONY TEN 3 HD:

– Sunday, March 11 10 p.m. Toronto Raptors @ New York Knicks

– Sunday, March 18 10 p.m. Oklahoma City Thunder @ Toronto Raptors

– Sunday, March 25 10 p.m. Cleveland Cavaliers @ Brooklyn Nets

– Sunday, April 1 10 p.m. Philadelphia 76ers @ Charlotte Hornets

– Sunday, April 8 10 p.m. Dallas Mavericks @ Philadelphia 76ers

“We are excited to bring primetime games to India for the first time to help meet the growing demand fans in India have for live NBA content,” said NBA India Managing Director Yannick Colaco. “The NBA Sundays campaign is part of our continued commitment to customize exciting NBA content for local audiences, and fans in India will have access to a tremendous schedule of live games during primetime featuring some of the league’s top players.”

“Providing primetime coverage of NBA games on Sony Pictures Sports Networks gives every basketball fan easy access to all the NBA action,” said Mr. Rajesh Kaul, President, Sports and Distribution Business, Sony Pictures Networks India. “Our collaborative efforts with the NBA continue to help us engage with existing fans and develop new fans. We will strive to grow the NBA’s presence in India and expand its reach in the coming years.”

The NBA’s partnership with Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN) began in the 2012-13 season and includes more than 500 English and Hindi games each season. This season the NBA and SPN began broadcasting a package of nearly 100 live NBA games with Hindi commentary every weekend on Sony TEN 3 and Sony TEN 3 HD.

March 12, 2018

India's Men and Women's basketball contingent departs for Australia early for 2018 CommonWealth Games preparation

It took twelve years for the CommonWealth Games (CWG) to bring back basketball. For India, the wait has been so long that our basketball contingent couldn't help but get to the sporting extravaganza a little early.

The 2018 CommonWealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia (GC2018) are set to be held from April 4-15, 2018, and will welcome more than 6,600 athletes and team officials from 70 Commonwealth nations, taking part in a total 18 sports and seven para-sports. In preparation for their participation in first CWG basketball tournament since Melbourne in 2006, India will be sending its entire basketball contingent - both Men and Women's squad - to Australia three weeks before the ahead of the start of the main event, on Monday, March 12.

The BFI announced India's final Men and Women rosters, India's groups and schedule for the 2018 CommonWealth Games on Sunday.

Indian players will be on a exposure and training trip at the Runaway Bay Super Sports Centre in Queensland. Yadwinder Singh was announced as captain for the Men’s Team, he is the only player for India who will be playing in his second CWG. Shireen Limaye was selected as the captain for the Women’s Team. At the tournament itself, the games will be held at the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre and the Cairns Convention Centre.

2018 CommonWealth Games Basketball Groups

  • Pool A: Australia, Nigeria, New Zealand, Canada.
  • Pool B: England, Cameroon, India, Scotland.

  • Pool A: Australia, Canada, England, Mozambique.
  • Pool B: New Zealand, Jamaica, India, Malaysia.

India's Basketball rosters for 2018 CommonWealth Games

  • Ravi Bhardwaj
  • Arvind Arumugam
  • Satnam Singh
  • Arshpreet Singh Bhullar
  • Aravind Annadurai
  • Akilan Pari
  • Justin Joseph
  • Jeevanantham Pandi
  • Yadwinder Singh - Captain
  • Joginder Singh
  • Amritpal Singh
  • Amjyot Singh
  • Head Coach: Rajinder Singh
  • Coach: GRL Prasad
  • Manager: Shakti Singh Gohil

  • Shruti Menon
  • Madhu Kumari
  • Navaneetha Pattemane Udayakumar
  • Rajapriyadarshani Rajaganapathi
  • Raspreet Sidhu
  • Bhandavya Hemmige Mahesha
  • Grima Merlin Varghese
  • Anjana Prasannan Geetha
  • Jeena Scaria
  • Shireen Limaye - captain
  • Anmolpreet Kaur
  • Barkha Sonkar
  • Head Coach: Zoran Visic
  • Coach: Shiba Maggon
  • Manager: Ajay Sud

India's Preliminary Round Schedule - all timings IST

  • April 5: Cameroon vs. India - 3:30 PM
  • April 7: England vs. India - 2:00 PM
  • April 8: India vs. Scotland - 5:30 PM

  • April 5: Jamaica vs. India - 2:00 PM
  • April 7: Malaysia vs. India - 2:30 PM
  • April 5: India vs. New Zealand - 1:30 PM

The Indian Women's team enter this tournament after last playing at the FIBA Asia Women's Cup at home in Bengaluru, where a balanced squad won Division B in dramatic fashion. The likes of Scaria, Limaye, Raspreet Sidhu and rising star Varghese are likely play important roles for the squad.

The Men's team feature two players who controversially missed the FIBA World Cup qualifying window games a few weeks ago - Amjyot Singh, who is playing in the NBA G-League, and Amritpal Singh, who played in Australia's NBL. Alongside them, other big names returning for the national squad include India's first NBA draft pick Satnam Singh, Aravind Annadurai, and experienced captain Yadwinder Singh. All of the players named in the official team list will be heading to Australia tomorrow, except for Amjyot who is expected to see out the season with his G-League team OKC Blue before joining India.

March 9, 2018

Amjyot Singh and Jeena Scaria honoured at #TOISA2018 Basketball Awards

This article was first published in my 'Hoopistani' column for The Times of India Sports on February 27, 2018. Click here to read the original piece.

For 26-year-old Amjyot Singh, the cricketer-turned-basketball superstar from Chandigarh, the moment was at the NBA G-League Draft on October 21, when his name was selected by the Oklahoma City Blue. A week later, he donned the jersey and stepped on court for the Blue, officially joining the select club of Indians in the NBA’s minor league.

For 24-year-old Jeena Scaria, the former high-jumper from Kerala who now jumps high on the basketball court, the moment was Puducherry on January 14 last year, when time expired on Kerala’s 68-59 victory over Telangana and secured her state’s first Senior Nationals title in over thirty-years. Scaria, dominant throughout the tournament, was her team’s unofficial MVP in this triumph.

Singh and Scaria are two basketball maestros in their prime, arguable the best male and female basketball players in the country right now. It was only right, then, that on one of the biggest nights in India sports, the two were honoured for their memorable performances over the past year.

Basketball honours were handed out for the first time at the Times of India Sports Awards (TOISA-2018) on Monday. Singh was named the Basketball Player of the Year by the jury’s choice, and Scaria the Basketball Player of the Year by popular choice. Both players were in attendance at the gala event in Mumbai on Monday, among a number of India’s top athletes. Badminton star Kidambi Srikanth claimed the highest honour of the night as India’s 2018 Sportsman of the Year.

Over the past year, Amjyot Singh’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.

Jeena Scaria took centre-stage for her home state when she led Kerala to their first Senior Nationals gold medal since the mid-eighties. 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 3×3 team which made it to the semi-final of the FIBA 3×3 Asia Cup in Mongolia in late October.

Both players will now hope to script another memorable year in 2018. Singh continues to earn bit minutes for the Blue and is growing more comfortable in the league with each passing game.

Later this year, India will hope that he returns to the national team for a number of important tournaments, including the Common Wealth Games in Australia, FIBA World Cup Qualifiers in Syria and Jordan, and the Asian Games in Indonesia. Scaria will be counted on to be a leader for India’s Women’s team at the CommonWealth Games and the Asian Games, too.

This honour should boost the confidence of both these talented players so they can elevate their game to an even higher level over the next few years.

March 3, 2018

Hoopdarshan Episode 58: India's FIBA World Cup Qualifiers and more with Yash Matange

Last week, India hosted two FIBA World Cup Qualifiers on home soil, at Bengaluru's Sree Kanteerava Stadium. A "clerical error" of epic proportions forced India to field undermanned squads, and eventually, lose both games to Jordan and Lebanon. In Episode 58 of Hoopdarshan, hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok welcome SportsKeeda writer Yash Matange to blast-off on this strange situation, break down where India went right and wrong in the two match-ups, and discuss the NBA's interest in hosting a preseason game in the country.

Additionally, we shout-out Amjyot Singh and Jeena Scaria winning The Times of India Sports' Basketball Awards, as well as give our reviews of the updated NBA All Star Game.

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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March 1, 2018

Is India ready to host an NBA preseason game?

This article was first published in my 'Hoopistani' column for The Times of India Sports on February 19, 2018. Click here for the original piece.

When Karnataka’s top basketball official K. Govindraj rose to the helm of presidency of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), most of the country’s national basketball operations were shifted down to the state’s capital, Bengaluru. India’s national teams began to hold all of their camps and practices in the city. While world-class indoor infrastructure is few and far between in India, the BFI found an ideal venue in Bengaluru’s famous Sree Kantaveera Stadium for domestic and international games.

The arena, in the heart of one of India’s most cosmopolitan cities, passed the International Basketball Association’s (FIBA) requirements and India was rewarded two major international events in 2017: the FIBA Asia Women’s Cup and the FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women. In July, the venue attracted Asia’s best women’s basketball teams, local fans, and even basketball Hall of Famer Yao Ming for the first of these championships. On the tournament’s final day, the 4,000-seater arena was filled to capacity as India’s senior women’s team won Division B in dramatic fashion. Fans erupted with joy as Shireen Limaye hit a game-winning shot. The tournament had been a success.

Three months later, however, before the U16 version of Asia’s top women’s tournament welcomed basketball contingents back to India, Bengaluru was hit with some of the worst rains in over a century. The rains flooded the city’s crumbling urban infrastructure and seeped out the drainage system. The Kantaveera Stadium, which was built on what was once the ‘Sampige Tank’ flooded after rainwater and sewage inflow in August and then after the rains in mid-October, too. When India’s own U16 women’s team came down to Bengaluru in anticipation of the FIBA Asia U16 Women’s Championship, the famous venue was damaged.

After practices were delayed the disrupted, the stadium was eventually cleaned up and prepared for the tournament. Team India won the U16 tournament’s Division B like their ‘senior’ predecessors, and all was smooth again. In November, the arena hosted an international FIBA World Cup qualifier against Syria. This week, it will host two more qualifiers against Lebanon and Jordan.

But the flooding—which affected what is India’s best public basketball arena—served as a warning sign. Even as the country marches ambitiously forward into the 21st century, many of our facilities still have remnants of the 20th. Most of India’s top players have grown up hooping on outdoor courts, braving laborious hot summers, freezing cold winters, wet monsoons, dangerous cracked cement surfaces, and cricketers setting up wickets on the court. There are some decent indoor facilities like the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai, the Thyagaraj Stadium in New Delhi, the Guru Nanak Stadium in Ludhiana, or Bengaluru’s Sree Kantaveera. But basketball is a low priority sport in the country and its overall infrastructure still lags far behind.

The world’s most lucrative basketball league, however—with intentions to increase their presence in the massive Indian market—feels slightly more ambitious about India’s prospects.

Over in Los Angeles, the world-famous National Basketball Association (NBA) hosted its All Star celebrations over the weekend, a showcase of the finest talent that the North American league has to offer. While no Indian player has ever played in the NBA, the league has been growing its presence in India for the past decade and have sent a number of superstar players to Indian shores to promote the game—including NBA champion and Finals MVP Kevin Durant last summer.

During a press conference on Saturday, the NBA’s commissioner Adam Silver surprised the international media by declaring that the league hopes to bring a preseason game to India.

“We have an excellent relationship with the Reliance Foundation and with other corporate partners in India,” said Silver, “We have an office in Mumbai, and one of the things we're looking at, which we hope to do relatively soon, is bring a preseason game to India. A little is dependent on the arena infrastructure, but we've heard some good news from the market in terms of Delhi and Mumbai about plans of new arenas. So that's something we're hopeful to do.”

Over the years, NBA preseason and regular season games have been held at several other Asian destinations, such as Greater China regions (an annual occurrence for a dozen years), the Philippines, and Japan. It’s not a surprise that, India, which doesn’t have the basketball culture or history of these other countries, was never seriously considered in the past.

But in 2013, Mumbai-born Vivek Ranadive became the first majority Indian-origin owner of an NBA franchise when he purchased the Sacramento Kings, and within a matter of months, began to hold talks with the NBA about bringing a preseason game to India. These plans have been shelved since, but the NBA has been growing its presence in the Indian grassroots and with local corporate partners. On Saturday, Silver further credited Ranadive’s insistence of India as a potential host of a future NBA exhibition game.

“…[Ranadive] was born in Mumbai,” said Silver. “In addition to constantly reminding me about getting an All-Star Game in Sacramento, he says, we really want to play in India. So it’s something that I have a feeling we'll get done in the next few years.”

For NBA fanatics in India, this is incredible news. Growing up as an NBA fan from the 90s, I could have never imagined superstars ever coming to our shores—let alone entire teams taking part in an official NBA (exhibition) game. If the league can pull this off, it would boost the popularity of the sport immensely. Yes, India has the experience of star-power and glitz with Cricket’s IPL; but the NBA—with its extravagant production value and otherworldly talent on the floor—would be an entertainment event on a whole different stratosphere.

Over the past few years, the NBA’s relationship with the Reliance Foundation has created a robust Jr. NBA foundation programme for millions of young players in the grassroots. At the other end of the spectrum, the league launched the NBA India Academy in Greater Noida last year, providing a training ground for two dozen of the nation’s best hopes. The league is ready for the next major step in India.

But is India ready for the league?

Silver’s concerns about arenas in India are real. As much as it might sound like a simplification to compare India to China because of our similar populations, India still lags far behind China in terms of sporting infrastructure. Basketball is perhaps China’s most popular sport, and the country has several international-quality basketball arenas, many are used by the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) teams. A more accurate comparison to India might be the Philippines, but they feature at least one major destination—the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila—that satisfied the NBA’s needs. Plus, the Philippines is the world’s most hoops-obsessed nation, and any “risks” for the NBA in hosting a game there in October 2013 was far overshadows by its rewards.

The Philippines is a developing nation, and basketball—at its rawest, most stripped-down level—is an inexpensive sport. Just like neighbourhood gullie cricket, basketball can be a simple game, only needing a hoop, a bouncy ball, and some willing competitors. This is why, even in India, so many school-kids grow up with close access to the game.

The NBA, however, is not an inexpensive league. It stands as one of the richest leagues in the world with each the average value of each of its thirty teams at a record $1.65 billion. With stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and James Harden, the NBA employs of the world’s richest athletes in its ranks, too.

For a brand of this stature, coming to India is a calculated risk. Viewership for NBA games has skyrocketed over the past few years thanks to the broadcast on Sony SIX, but basketball still hasn’t attracted the country’s mainstream audience. As for live events, basketball is still something that fans are reluctant to pay for. India has no full-time professional basketball league. The UBA has held short leagues in cities like Hyderabad, Goa, and Chennai with free entry for fans. The same is true for the BFI’s national championships.

If the NBA wants to focus on star-power or political clout, they may consider venues in Mumbai or New Delhi, respectively. But the Sree Kantaveera has become India’s “hone court” of sorts in the last few years after being seasoned by numerous FIBA competitions. When the NBA eventually brings that preseason game to India, Bengaluru might have a good chance of becoming the first choice of venue.

It will take a little bit of effort from both sides to make this dream come true, a well-run ‘pick-and-roll’ play where India provides an improved platform for the NBA, and the NBA sets India up for an easy path forward. With time, the rewards in India should outweigh the risk, and if all the forces align in the right direction, that pick-and-roll could turn into a game-winner.