February 4, 2016

FIBA Asia finalises 2016 calendar at central board meeting in New Delhi


FIBA Asia - the continent's governing body for basketball - held the second meeting of their 2014-19 Central Board in New Delhi, India, the past weekend. During the meeting, FIBA Asia finalised the basketball calendar of 2016 international events and took steps to prepare national federations for the region's flagship competition - the new FIBA Asia Cup - in 2017. The meeting was hosted by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI).

Until recently, the biggest Asian basketball tournament has been the biennial FIBA Asia Championship, a competition held separately for Men and Women to determine the best team in the continent and to alternatively choose the Asian representative for the Olympic Games' basketball tournament and the FIBA World Cup. But starting in 2017, the format and nomenclature is set to change. The 'FIBA Asia Championship' will now become the 'FIBA Asia Cup' and for the first time, incorporate FIBA Oceania as well to include teams like Australia and New Zealand in the same competition as China, Iran, Philippines, India, etc. The new FIBA Asia Cup will be held every four years. Meanwhile, the biennal tournament previously known as the 'FIBA Asia Cup' - which incorporates 10 best teams in Asia for a tournament - will be changed to the 'FIBA Asia Challenge' and held under it's new moniker for the first time later this year.

FIBA Asia Central Board announced the upcoming season of events, with their full schedule and host countries:
  • 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship: Iran - July 15-24, 2016 - The competition will qualify the top three teams to the 2017 FIBA U19 World Championship.
  • 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge: Iran - September 9-18, 2016 - This event is the first step in the process of identifying the qualifiers for the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup.
  • FIBA Asia Champions Cup: Iran/China - October 7-16, 2016 - Featuring the top club teams in Asia.
  • 2016 FIBA Asia Women's U18 Championship: China/Thailand - November 13-20, 2016 - The competition will qualify three teams to the 2017 FIBA U19 Women's World Championship.
The Central Board also decided to set a re-worked strategy for promoting FIBA 3x3 basketball competitions in Asia. It was also at this meeting that FIBA Asia discussed the current conflict between the BFI and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). With the 12th South Asian Games basketball tournament tipping off in Guwahati, India, next week, the IOA held trials to choose Indian national teams against the BFI's wishes. Due to this, FIBA sent a letter de-recognizing the tournament altogether and asked all South Asian teams to refrain from taking part.

February 3, 2016

BFI-IOA spat: FIBA de-recognizes basketball at South Asian Games, tells teams not to participate


Welcome to the latest chapter of the a Dante's Inferno, a descent through the nine circles into Hell, otherwise known as the harrowing drama plaguing the current state of Indian Basketball.

The newest step backward? After the ongoing spat between the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) regarding which Indian team (if any) will participate in the 2016 South Asian Games (SAG) starting this week, FIBA - the international basketball association - have decided to de-recognize the basketball tournament at the SAG altogether. On Tuesday, FIBA sent a letter to all South Asian countries to refrain from sending teams to the Games' basketball event.

The letter, signed by FIBA's Secretary-General Patrick Baumann and dated on February 2nd, was sent to all national federations whose nationals teams are due to participate in the basketball competitions (Men and Women) at the South Asian Games, which are slated to be held in India (Guwahati and Shillong) from February 5-16, 2016. The national federations are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and of course, India itself. It was titled URGENT - Non-recognition of South-Asian Games basketball tournament to be held from 5 to 16 February 2016. The basketball tournament at the Games is scheduled to be held from February 11-16.

In the letter, FIBA writes:

"Please be informed that due to unacceptable interference by the Indian Olympic Association in the affairs of the Basketball Federation of India, FIBA is unable to recognise and endorse the basketball competitions of the South-Asian Games scheduled to take place form 11 to 16 February 2016.
"The Indian Olympic Association as well as the State authorities in charge of sport in India continuously fail to recognise the Basketball Federation of India duly recognised by FIBA despite the several correspondences issued by FIBA to all relevant authorities in India. Accordingly, the Indian Olympic Association has granted to an Ad-hoc Committee the authority to select the Indian national teams due to participate in this event in complete violation of FIBA's decisions and directions.
"As a result, the matter was discussed at the last FIBA Asia Board meeting held on 30 January 2015. During this meeting, the decision was unanimously taken to condemn the actions undertaken by the Indian authorities in charge of sport which in essence deprive the national basketball federation of India duly recognised by FIBA the statutory right to select and manage its national teams.
In view of the seriousness of this matter, you are therefore requested to refrain from sending any of your national teams to this basketball event."

The FIBA warning was forthcoming considering recent developments. As many of you who closely follow Indian basketball may already know, there is a major rift between two parties competing for the helm of the BFI. Due to the fact that they follow BFI constitution in forming their committee, FIBA recognized the side led by President K. Govindraj - Team Govindraj - and they have since been responsible for hosting India's recent national championships and sending teams abroad for international tournaments. But the IOA hasn't recognized Team Govindraj after appeals by the competing group led by President Poonam Mahajan: Team Mahajan. All this confusion has meant that several Indian players have been forced to choose their loyalties between one side or the other and robbed Indian basketball of its necessary cohesion.

The IOA, in consultation with the Government of India, are behind the organizing and executive committee for the planning and management of the 2016 South Asian Games. But because of the broken relationship between the IOA and the BFI, there was confusion about the trials and formation of the Indian basketball teams in the Men's or Women's divisions for the SAG. The IOA announced that they will be holding trials for the Indian teams on Saturday, January 30th, at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi. But the BFI's Team Govindraj 'shot off a warning' on SportStar at the IOA for interfering with the basketball selection trials, which are being held by the IOA outside of their legal jurisdiction. Govindraj claimed to SportStar that Team India trials have already been concluded and the team chosen, but there has been no word released (yet) of which players will actually be representing India at the SAG.

So here we are, with a drama full of characters worthy of Shakespearean or Premchandic dramas. The IOA is organizing the SAG and sending basketball teams not approved by the BFI. Meanwhile, FIBA is telling no basketball teams to go to the SAG. I would hate to be the talented Indian and South Asian basketball player - so worthy of respect and support, so thirsty for international exposure - stuck in the middle of these fighting factions.

India is the reigning runner-up of the SAG basketball trophy (we lost in 2010 in the Final to Afghanistan in Dhaka). On February 11, the 2016 SAG's basketball tournament is due to start. Will anyone show up?

Indian basketball's youngest at Puducherry for 2016 Sub-Junior Nationals


Star players aren't born ready-made; it takes years of practice, training, and importantly, experience. For hundreds of India's future star basketball players, the biggest step of that valuable experience began on Tuesday, February 2, as the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) tipped off the 42nd Sub-Junior (U14) National Basketball Championship for Boys and Girls in Puducherry. A total of 23 boys' teams and 27 girls' teams from around India will be in Puducherry from February 2nd - 8th, 2016 for the tournament.

The tournament's opening ceremony took place at 6 PM on Tuesday at the Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium at Puducherry. Arise Steel is the main (title) sponsor of the event.

Participating Teams

Boys
  • Group A: Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Haryana, Maharashtra.
  • Group B: Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chandigarh.
  • Group C: Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Group D: Kerala, Gujarat, Puducherry.
  • Group E: Tamil Nadu, Goa, Punjab, West Bengal.
  • Group F: Bihar, Delhi, Telangana, Tripura.
Girls
  • Group A: Kerala, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal.
  • Group B: Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi.
  • Group C: Chandigarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Odisha.
  • Group D: Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Puducherry.
  • Group E: Punjab, Goa, Rajasthan.
  • Group F: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Telangana.
The 41st Sub-Junior Nationals were conducted in Nashik, Maharashtra, where the Kerala girls and the Madhya Pradesh boys emerged victorious clinching the gold medals. Chhattisgarh girls and boys were the second placed teams.

Another matter of interest at the nationals is that the daughter of politician Priyanka Gandhi and Robert Vadra - Miraya Vadra - is playing for Team Haryana at the tournament. Her team lost to Tamil Nadu 80-58 on Tuesday.

The first day of the nationals didn't go as planned for hosts Puducherry. Puducherry's Girls teams were completely dismantled by Himachal Pradesh, who started off the first quarter with a 20-0 run and zoomed past to to a 47-15 victory. Meanwhile Kerala, the tournament's reigning champs, started their title defense in style, blowing past West Bengal with ease to a 48-17 victory behind 18 points by Krishna Priya SS.

Puducherry's boys team hardly fared better on opening day, going down to Gujarat 61-22. Boys' reigning champions Madhya Pradesh meanwhile played one of the most thrilling games of the day in a close win over Maharashtra. After holding to a comfortable 16 point lead after three quarters, MP allowed Maharashtra a dangerous late comeback, and were only saved by the buzzer as they held on to win 57-55 at the end of the game. MP's Pankaj Singh scored 26 for the winning side.

Selected Day 1 Scores

Boys
  • Odisha (Sourav Kumar Sahoo 16, Brahmananda Behera 14) bt Haryana (Aryan 14) 61-59 (10-14, 14-24, 18-13, 19-8).
  • Madhya Pradesh (Pankaj Singh 26) bt Maharashtra (Sankalp Panda 14) 57-55 (13-10, 10-7, 24-14, 10-24).
  • Gujarat (Rushal 15) bt Puducherry 61-22 (25-10, 12-5, 13-2, 11-5).
Girls
  • Kerala (Krishna Priya SS 18) bt West Bengal 48-17 (11-4, 21-5, 7-6, 9-2).
  • Tamil Nadu (Pavithra Sree 36) bt Haryana (Maika 32) 80-58 (23-6, 8-9, 23-14, 22-19).
  • Himachal Pradesh (Ananya Sanoria 19) bt Puducherry 47-15 (20-0, 5-2, 9-7, 13-6).

February 1, 2016

Orlando Magic hosted 2016 India Day, featuring Bollywood superstar Madhuri Dixit


They called it 'Jai Ho Magic' as an ode to another recent Indian cliche, and, like other NBA franchises who have understood the importance of reaching out to the Indian diaspora, the Orlando Magic held 'India Day' in their win over the Boston Celtics at Orlando's Amway Center on Sunday, January 31. Bollywood superstar and international humanitarian Madhuri Dixit joined in the full day of cultural festivities for Magic fans.

The Indian American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) led Orlando’s official India Day Celebration in Downtown Orlando on January 31st. The IACC created a full line up of excitement showcasing the Indian culture and community including an Indian Street Festival in front of the Amway Center. Through their ongoing partnership with the Orlando Magic, the IACC featured in-game festivities and several private events at the game. This cultural tradition was officially recognized by the NBA as the “Best Heritage Night in the NBA” in both 2014 and 2015.

The IACC hosted Madhuri Dixit, an award-wining Bollywood actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, who was the guest speaker at the IACC Fireside Chat entitled “Powerful Indian Women.” Madhuri was interviewed center-court at the Amway Center by Beena Parikh earlier in the day. IACC announced a partnership with TV Asia, an information and entertainment channel for the South-Asian community in North America, to produce a segment on India Day as well as to broadcast the “Powerful Indian Women” Fireside Chat with Madhuri Dixit LIVE from the Amway Center to one million US viewers.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer gave his official proclamation as January 31, 2016 at India Day in Orlando. Recognizing the fourth annual India Day event as a celebration of Indian-American heritage, culture and music in Central Florida and in commemoration of India's Republic Day (January 26), which honors the date on which the Constitution of India came into force. The proclamation was delivered by Orlando District 5 Commissioner Regina Hill at the Amway during the India Day celebrations.

“We are proud to partner with the Indian American Chamber of Commerce for the fourth consecutive year to host India Day Presented by Chase,” said Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins. “Sports truly is a rallying point that can bring all people together and speak any language. India Day is just one way for the Magic to show its appreciation to this segment of our fan base for their support and dedication."

A Cultural Street Fest was held pregame in front of the Amway Center, showcasing Indian cultural dancing from various local Indian organizations. Guests enjoyed henna tattoos, sari wrapping, turban tying, free t-shirts and more. Halftime entertainment was provided by the Bollywood Dance Academy.

As for the game itself, the Indian blessings turned out to be fortunate for the home team, as Orlando snapped their eight-game losing streak with a 119-114 win over Boston. Aaron Gordon was the Magic's star of the night with 19 points and 14 rebounds, and a dunk that worth that cliched 'Jai Ho'.

January 31, 2016

The Zen Masters


Despite social and political turmoil, the Tibetan refugee community in India remains bonded together by the game of basketball.

by Karan Madhok. Photos by Angad Sodhi

This feature was originally published in the March 2016 edition of SLAM Magazine (SLAM No. 195). You can also find it on SLAMOnline.com

After a morning of meditation and philosophical exercises, Thakpa Kunga and his classmates—all Buddhist monks-in-training—decided to temporarily skip spinning prayer wheels and start spinning basketballs.

They snuck out of their monastery in McLeod Ganj—a mountain town in India, more than 6,500 feet above sea level in the Himalayan Mountains—and rolled down to their neighborhood court, wearing traditional monk robes: a decorated golden or yellow chogu (undershirt) with a red shawl covering their bodies. The niftier monks among them found sneakers, while the rest descended in flip-flops. To save time, Kunga and his friends played unchanged in their robes. A few hours later, they snuck back into the monastery for more lessons in spirituality.

Nearly a decade later, I meet Kunga on another court. He’s continued on his path to full monkhood, and the 27-year-old is now enrolled in Tibetan Higher Studies at the Sarah College in Dharamshala, which is a larger mountain town a short walk down from McLeod Ganj.

But Kunga hasn’t abandoned his love of hoops. Every year, he played for Sarah in the Martyr’s Memorial Basketball Tournament, a championship for the community of Tibetan refugees in Dharamshala and beyond who escaped Tibet’s Chinese rule. “Basketball is like meditation on court. Sometimes, I play just to clear tension. When you play basketball, there are no problems.”

For years, I held the mountain hamlets of Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj in great regard, partly because of my addiction to the Himalayas, and partly because of the organic love for basketball among the area’s refugees. So when I found out about the Martyr’s Memorial Tournament, I traveled back up the mountains. I met a myriad of people, including monks who had devoted their lives to achieving nirvana, refugees with stories of pain and danger, and young men and women with ambitions like every other young Indian in the country’s growing economy.

And I found that the game of basketball—in its own small way—bonded them all together.

Tibet—Xizang in Chinese—is China’s second-largest province. It sits on the world’s highest plateau and has long served as a buffer between the planet’s two largest and occasionally hostile populations: China and India. In 1950, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “liberated” Tibet and soon, China’s government won complete sovereignty over the region.

But many Tibetans have opposed China’s claim and have been fighting for Tibet’s freedom from Big Brother in Beijing for decades. There was much violence and bloodshed in the late ’50s, and in contemporary times, the largest uprising for Tibet’s cause was in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, when hundreds were shot by the Chinese and thousands arrested. In recent years, over 140 Tibetan monks have performed self-immolations in opposition to Chinese rule.

Back in 1959, Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, fled to exile in India, where he eventually settled in McLeod Ganj. Scores of refugees followed him.

Estimates have about 150,000 Tibetans living in exile around the world, with over 94,000 in India. As the birthplace of Buddhism (the Buddha received enlightenment and gave his sermons in North India) and current home of the Dalai Lama, India was an easy choice for refugees hoping for a new life. About 2,500 Tibetan refugees make the journey out of China annually. They cross glaciers, trek through mountain passes and walk in the blanket of night to avoid detection. In Dharamshala, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), a government for those in exile, has been set up.

Two schools of thought have developed among Tibetans for the political status of their homeland: the Dalai Lama-supported Middle Way that asks for autonomy for the Tibetan people as a part of China, and the Tibetan Independence Movement that demands complete freedom.

Despite protests and support of many world leaders, neither approach has worked. As far as China sees it, Tibet, unsettled and rich in resources, will always be a part of its country.

Directly below where the CTA is located in Dharamshala is the newly renovated Gangyi Court, which is playing host to the Martyr’s Tournament. On the day of the finals, the hillside is abuzz. Young hoopheads wearing NBA t-shirts mingle with monks in robes and enthusiastically cheering girls in traditional chupas. Tibetan flags and Buddhist prayer flags fly around the court.

Among the fans is Tsetan Tenzin, age 30: by day an assistant at a Tibetan herbal medicine clinic, by night a long-range threat for Example Team, which was ousted earlier in the tournament. Tenzin was born in Tibet but his parents hired a guide to help him escape to India when he was 7. He hasn’t seen them since.

Tenzin’s love grew when he was in school at a refugee orphanage in Mussoorie, in North India. He carried it with him when he moved to Dharamshala. “We play basketball so much in Dharamshala because, surrounded by mountains, there is no room for bigger games,” he says. “Tibetans love the NBA. My favorite player is Stephen Curry; I love to shoot from outside.”

The refugees’ love for the game is also an ode to their “motherland,” where basketball is one of the most popular sports, too. “In Tibet, people play a lot of basketball, too, especially in school,” Tenzin adds. “So it’s normal for refugees to come [to India] and continue playing.”

***

China, with more than 1.3 billion people, has the largest hoops fan base on Earth. The sport was always popular, but after Yao Ming was drafted No. 1 in 2002, it took center stage. China has a fast-growing league (CBA) and is one of Asia’s most powerful national teams. Their second-tier league, the National Basketball League (NBL), expanded to Tibet this year, where the region’s capital city of Lhasa will host rivals in what China Daily called “the world’s highest basketball court” at 3,658 meters above sea level.

China pushed swift development in infrastructure and economy in Tibet, but what they call development and modernization, Tibetans call environmental deterioration and cultural genocide. International human rights groups have exposed stories of violations and the unwelcome indoctrination of Chinese communist thought and philosophy among the Tibetan population, replacing centuries of lifestyle, language, spirituality and culture.

To raise awareness, the Dalai Lama has traveled the world speaking to leaders and humanitarian organizations. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Hours before the tourney’s finals, I met Wangden Krab, president of the Regional TYC office in McLeod Ganj, who organizes the event. “The purpose is to remember the Tibetan martyrs who have sacrificed for their country,” Krab says. “Most Tibetan youth are now born in India or come here very young. In this tournament, we want to remind them of their martyrs. We want to bring youngsters together and unite them.”

The TYC is the largest Tibetan non-governmental organization of Tibetan exiles, mostly young Tibetans with hopes of Tibetan independence. They have around 80 chapters and over 20,000 members around the world.

“We are still fighting for complete independence,” Krab says. “We report to world governments, the UN and other human rights organizations about the critical situation in Tibet, including losing freedom of speech and fighting for human rights. Many refugees are not ready to settle in India; they always dream of Tibet.”

Krab has dissent in his blood. His grandfather fought in the war against China in the late ’50s before being imprisoned for 30 years by the Chinese. His father was arrested for protesting Chinese deforestation in Tibet’s Dzorge area. Krab himself escaped to India in ’99, at age 16.

But today, his main agenda is basketball. “In Tibetan schools here, all types of players—tall, short, good, bad—stop and try their hand at basketball and are eager to learn,” he says. “It is a more ‘freestyle’ sport, with less structure and has rules that people can understand. There are no limits to basketball. Everyone can come to the ground and play.”

***

McLeod Ganj is a vibrant community where Tibetan refugees, NGO workers, tourists, monks and locals live in relative harmony. Tibetan culture is still preserved strongly here. Most refugees can speak and read the Tibetan language, know folk songs, speak of Tibetan “freedom fighters” and dream of Lhasa as their Promised Land.

Around town, there is also talk of the tournament—among the youth, monks, working men and women. The girls’ final is won by Men-Tse-Khang (Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute), dressed in Miami Heat colors. The boys’ teams—both wearing practice jerseys that have slogans like “Free Tibet” or faces of the Dalai Lama—step out for their final. Before the game tips off, both teams greet each other with traditional Tibetan presents of white scarves.

The last two teams are “Dhasa,” comprised mainly of second-generation Tibetans born to refugee parents in India, and “Nomads,” who feature 20-somethings who escaped from China more recently. The action on court immediately speeds up. Each fall takes a little longer to recover from. Tough layups between crowds of defenders are the go-to approach. There are no dunks, but athletic lay-ups with the and-1 call prevail.

Eventually the Nomads break open the contest with a barrage of long-range shots. They win by 3 and the crowd rushes the court.Players are lifted on shoulders and drenched with water under a flurry of happy prayer flags.

Despite the differences between the Tibetans and the Chinese majority in politics, philosophy and the fight for freedom, basketball could close the gap. Nearly every refugee I spoke with had played basketball at some point. The Han Chinese love basketball, too; the sport is a common thread between two cultures that have such a wide cultural gap and often view each other in suspicion and distrust.

Days after I left Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj, I reflected on a sense of incompleteness among the refugees. They are exiled from China but not fully assimilated into mainstreem Indian society. Stuck in this purgatory, all they have is their community, their culture and their spirituality to accompany them. And basketball.

January 30, 2016

16 for 16: Here are 16 things to look forward to for Indian basketball in 2016


This feature published in my column for Ekalavyas.com on January 19, 2016. Click here for the original article.

India Men's captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi playing for Uttarakhand against
Delhi during the 2016 Senior National Basketball Championship. Photo Credit:
Ekalavyas.com

Thursday turned into Friday, and apart from that, January 1st, 2016, was hardly any different from December 31st, 2015 for some.

But for so many others, the New Year brings new promise. Like the calm after the storm. The beginning of a new chapter, a new twist to an old story. The new season of your favourite TV show. A clean new page in the notebook. Or the refresh button on your stalled mobile browser.

I fall into the category of optimists that believes the future can always be better than the past, and my brand of optimism spreads out to my outlook of Indian basketball, too. 2015 in Indian hoops was memorable for both the right and the wrong reasons: the big Punjabi Singhs – Satnam, Amjyot, Amrit Pal – took big strides to further their careers as professional players. Meanwhile, the NBA continued to expand its presence in India, while the UBA introduced themselves as new players in the puzzle. India’s international FIBA performances were a mixed bag, but even the positives abroad were overshadowed by drama at home, where the fighting factions of the BFI placed politics ahead of basketball.

1. 2016 Senior Nationals: The race to be India’s best team in Mysore. The Karnataka city hosted close to 50 combined teams in the men and women divisions from all over India at the 66th Senior National Basketball Championship from January 9-16. Chhattisgarh’s women team attempted to complete a three-peat of titles after breaking Indian Railways’ monopoly over the trophy two years ago. In the men’s section, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Services, and hosts Karnataka featured stacked rosters competing for the title. India’s best players were there competing for the nation’s most prestigious domestic title. Hope you made sure your attention was over at Mysore, too, where ultimately Services men (surprise!) and Indian Railways women (no surprises here) claimed the title.

2. Satnam’s exploits in D-League, and possible NBA debut. So Satnam Singh made history in 2015 by becoming the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA. The moment caught the attention of the Indian basketball family and fans like never before. But being drafted into the NBA is not the same as actually ‘making’ the NBA. Satnam is currently on a D-League roster, playing for the Dallas Mavericks D-League affiliate Texas Legends. He has so far played bit minutes for the Legends as he slowly becomes accustomed to the pace of the D-League. Hopefully, the 20-year-old can get further comfortable in the professional basketball life both on and off the court in 2016 and can become a major contributor to the Legends over the next few months. If he can develop into his full potential, could 2016 be the year that an Indian citizen finally plays in the NBA?

3. Amjyot Singh and Amrit Pal Singh continue to dominate professional basketball in Japan. One of the bigger headlines in Indian basketball in 2015 was when the starting backcourt of India’s national team – Amjyot Singh and Amrit Pal Singh – together headed to Japan to play professionally in the BJ Summer League. Their dominance led them to be signed by Tokyo Excellence of the Japanese D-League, where they have continued their strong performances. The next step is the top BJ League, or perhaps attention from other top division leagues in the world. Amjyot and Amrit Pal certainly have the talent to be top frontcourt options in any team in Asia.

4. Will UBA’s basketball league earn more credibility? They called it the first-ever ‘professional’ basketball league in India, and the Universal Basketball Alliance – UBA India – defiantly continue on, and will return with the second season of the UBA Basketball League. Will they earn more credibility and fans this season? Will more big name players sign up to play?

5. Will we get closer to a BFI-backed, national professional league? The Basketball Federation of India has been mulling over a full-scale national professional league for years. After the success of the ISL (Indian Super League) and other upstart sport leagues around the country, will basketball finally get its big breakthrough? There are now national sports leagues in Cricket, Football, Badminton, Hockey, Wrestling, and Kabaddi… An all-compassing professional basketball league has the potential to truly revolutionize the sport in India.

6. India’s next Senior National Team coaches. In 2015, India basketball waved farewell to both the men’s and women’s Senior National team coaches, Scott Flemming and Francisco Garcia respectively. The two coaches both enjoyed flashes of major success: Flemming led India to a strong showing at the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup, including a victory over China. Garcia helped India to a best-ever fifth place finish at the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, but the team fell outside of Level 1 in 2015. While Sat Prakash Yadav coached India at the 2015 FIBA Asia Men’s Championship, there is still no confirmation if he will be Head Coach long term. Will India get foreign coaches for the senior national teams again? Instead of waiting for the summer of 2017 before the next round of FIBA ABCs, we should get the new coaches early and let them create a desired system with enough time to prepare. Who will these new coaches be?

7. Who will emerge as the chosen one from the ACG-NBA Jump? In 2015, NBA India partnered with ACG Worldwide to launch the ACG-NBA Jump programme. After finishing visits in six Indian cities, the programme will choose 32 Indian youngsters between 18-22 for an elite camp in New Delhi. One player will emerge from this camp in the summer of 2016 to win the first season of the ACG-NBA Jump: he will be trained by NBA-affiliated coaches and prepared for a shot at the NBA D-League tryout in mid-2016.

8. A million young players from around the country to take part in the new NBA Jam. A record 24 cities. A million young basketball players. The NBA Jam returned to the Indian basketball calendar in October 2015 and will continue at college campuses around the country into the spring of 2016. It will be interesting to see which NBA players visit India as special guests to promote the NBA Jam and its Finals over the next few months.

9. India need to bounce back from disappointing FIBA Asia U18 finish. Two years ago, at the last FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Men in Qatar, India were in shambles. The juniors failed to qualify out of the group stage and finished tied for last place – 13th – at the end of the tournament. The tournament will return once again likely in September 2016 and India’s new crop of young players will have a chance to atone for their fall. Keep an eye out on Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi, the Tamil Nadu forward who starred for India at the 2015 FIBA Asia U16 tournament, to make a jump into the U18 side.

10. Can India’s U18 Women get a big win? In the Women’s FIBA Asia U18 tournament, India have been steady at 6th place: good enough to be grouped with Level 1 teams, but not good enough to beat any of them. Two years ago, India lost all their Level 1 games but won their qualifier against Malaysia to stay in the tournament’s higher stage. It was an overall disappointing performance that didn’t bring India any closer to Asia’s big four: China, Japan, Korea, Chinese Taipei. Will a new set of young players finally get that big Level 1 victory?

11. Can the FIBA Asia Cup produce wonders again? Asia’s best senior Men’s nations play in the continent’s biggest tournament – the FIBA Asia Championship – in odd years. But in even years, many of those same nations send their (sometimes depleted) squads to the FIBA Asia Cup, formerly known as the Stankovic Cup. In 2014, this tournament became India’s crowning glory, when the team coached by Scott Flemming defeated hosts China in Wuhan and gave India their greatest win in basketball history. India will have a new coach for the senior Men’s NT this year, and it’s unlikely that the same results can be produced again. But hey – the magic of basketball is that anything is possible in those 40 minutes on the hardwood. Is there another wonder up India’s sleeves?

12. Can India continue stellar 3×3 record at Asian Beach Games? While India hasn’t been able to challenge Asia’s best in the full-length version of the game, they are more than adept at the half-court, 3-on-3 edition. India have won gold medals at the Asian 3×3 level in both Men and Women’s divisions over the past few years, and will have a real shot at silverware at the 3×3 basketball tournament at the 5th Asian Beach Games, scheduled in Da Nang (Vietnam) in September-October, 2016. India’s Men’s team will look to get their hands on the gold after a silver medal in 2014, while the Women’s side will hope to bounce back from a dip in their performance two years ago.

13. Will Vivek Ranadive finally bring the Kings to India? Two and a half years ago, Mumbai-born Vivek Ranadive became the first Indian majority-owner of an NBA team, the Sacramento Kings. While the Kings have been a model of dysfunction on court, Ranadive has talked a big game about promoting the team and its stars to Indian-origin and Indian-national fans. Back in 2013, Ranadive even talked about bringing the Kings to an exhibition game in India, but India’s infrastructure has been far from being ready to host an NBA game. Will this be the year that Ranadive’s business and political influence finally push that dream closer and bring India its first-ever NBA (exhibition or otherwise) game? Ranadive has the connections and the free reign as an owner to push for it. His plans to make India the next big basketball market in the world and Kings as India’s ‘favourite team’ will only reach closer to realization if the team itself makes a visit here. I for one will be rooting to see DeMarcus Cousins show his bhangra skills.

14. Time for more mainstream media attention to basketball. In a country where mainstream news means entertainment and entertainment means Bollywood and Cricket, there is little space for coverage of ‘alternative’ stories, like basketball. But over the last two years, two major events – India’s win over China at the FIBA Asia Cup in 2014 and Satnam Singh become the first Indian drafted to the NBA in 2015 – went viral online and captured the imagination of the nation, even among non-fans. Now that the foundation stones have been laid, hopefully the same mainstream media houses that chased the big stories will continue to follow up in the developments in Indian basketball – and not necessarily just the sansani news.

15. A big NBA star to visit India in 2016? Over the last few years, dozens of current and former NBA players have made official or unofficial visits to promote basketball in India, including first Indian-origin player Sim Bhullar, Isaiah Thomas, Chris Bosh, Brandon Jennings, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, and more. The NBA in India has created a trend of bringing players as special guests for the NBA Jam or Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programmes. Who will be the next star to visit Indian shores? Will Vivek Ranadive bring DeMarcus Cousins and/or Rajon Rondo? Will Satnam Singh come with his potential Dallas Mavericks teammate Dirk Nowitzki? Will we get one of the big hitters to drive India wild: Kobe, LeBron, Durant, Westbrook, Anthony Davis, etc.? Or will reigning MVP Steph Curry drop in and live up to his name to try India’s finest curries for himself?

16. Team Govindraj vs. Team Mahajan: A new chapter to the saga rotting Indian basketball? Last year, the biggest story in Indian basketball didn’t take place on court. It was a backroom battle between two fighting factions, each staking its claim as the rightful executive committee to run the BFI, Indian basketball’s governing body. On one side stands K Govindraj, leader of the faction that has FIBA approval and is currently running Indian basketball’s events domestically and abroad. On the other side is Poonam Mahajan and Roopam Sharma, the team which is fighting back with the Indian Olympic Committee’s (IOA) support and organizing their own domestic parallel domestic events. In the middle of this conflict are the players and all the others who only want to develop with the sport in the country. The saga took many ugly turns last year and a legal battle beckons ahead. Will things get better before they get worse? Will one inarguable leader or committee rise from the fog? For the sake of the development of Indian basketball, we all certainly hope so.

Does India have basketball teams for the South Asian Games next week or not?


The 2016 South Asian Games (SAG) will tip off in Guwahati and Shillong next week. The multi-sport festival will feature eight countries - the hosts India and all our South Asian neighbours - competing in 23 different sports. The Nabin Ch. Bordoloi AC Indoor Stadium, Sarusajai in Guwahati, host to the tournament's basketball tournament, is ready. Tikhor the baby Rhino, the SAG's official mascot, is ready. Hell, even our eternal rivals in all things Pakistan - a team with barely any international basketball exposure - is ready to 'conquer' us.

So it's time for India's basketball teams - the hosts and reigning silver medalists of SAG Basketball - to be fired up for this massive tournament, right?

Not exactly.

As many of you who closely follow Indian basketball may already know, there is a major rift between two parties competing for the helm of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). The side supported by FIBA and led by President K. Govindraj - Team Govindraj - has been responsible for hosting India's recent national championships and sending teams abroad for international tournaments. But the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) hasn't recognized Team Govindraj after appeals by the competing group led by President Poonam Mahajan: Team Mahajan. All this confusion has meant that several Indian players have been forced to choose their loyalties between one side or the other and robbed Indian basketball of its necessary cohesion.

And this is where the past drama meets the present challenge. The IOA, in consultation with the Government of India, are behind the organizing and executive committee for the planning and management of the 2016 South Asian Games. But because of the broken relationship between the IOA and the BFI, there is still confusion about the trials and formation of the Indian basketball teams (at the time of writing) in the Men's or Women's divisions for the SAG. The Games flag off in Guwahati on February 5 and the basketball tournament will be held from February 11-16th. While other teams prepare, India continues its habit of cutting it too close.

The IOA announced that they will be holding trials for the Indian teams on Saturday, January 30th, at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi. But the BFI's Team Govindraj have 'shot off a warning' at the IOA for interfering with the basketball selection trials, which are being held by the IOA outside of their legal jurisdiction.

Yesterday, SportStar published a damning article about how some of India's top players like Kerala's Jeena PS and Varanasi's Vishesh Bhriguvanshi continued to be confused about selection trials for the upcoming tournament just a week before it's set to begin.

“We had the tickets but we were in two minds for a few hours, whether to go or not,” said [Jeena PS], the 22-year-old power forward from Thiruvananthapuram. “Anyway, we will decide whether or not to take part in the trials once we reach New Delhi.”
Hundreds of miles away, Indian men’s captain Vishesh Bhiruguvanshi has similar worries about the ‘trials’.
“I’m on the train to Varanasi, my home. Tomorrow, we will get to know whether we have to go for the trials or not,” said the Indian skipper over phone.
The South Asian Games begin in Guwahati and Shillong on February 5 but while teams such as Pakistan and Maldives are getting ready for the basketball event in Guwahati, shockingly, India has not even selected their men’s and women’s squads yet!
With faction fighting virtually breaking up the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), relations between the hoop game’s national body and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) have soured to dismal levels.

“The IOA is not eligible to conduct any basketball event as per the Karnataka High Court Stay Order dated October 14, 2015. Any unit which sends its players will be sending them at their own risk,” K. Govindaraj, the President of the BFI, has said in a letter sent to the association’s affiliated units.

“If you go by logic and rules, the federation has to conduct the event. The IOA does not have any right to interfere in the federation’s activities. The IOA comes under the IOC Charter, if they follow the IOC Charter, when an international federation recognises any national federation, it is the duty of the IOA to recognise and follow the procedures,” he said.
“But now, I don’t know… the Government and the IOA are handling it. The (world body) FIBA will interfere at the appropriate time.”
“We have already selected our teams, and if it (basketball at the Games) happens, we will field our players. If it doesn’t happen, it is up to the Government. We just concluded our National Championship (ended in Mysuru on Jan. 16), the team was finalised yesterday and the camp will start in Mangalore on Monday,” he said.

Players from units like ONGC and Railways are being coerced by their employers to attend the trials in Delhi, but they also have conflicting information from the BFI. Govindraj claimed to SportStar that Team India trials have already been concluded and the team chosen, but there has been no word released (yet) of which players will actually be representing India at the SAG next week.

So what is actually happening here? Will Team India be the one that met at camp by the BFI in Mangalore? Or will it be the team chosen after the trials in New Delhi?

Does India have basketball teams for the South Asian Games next week or not? Whenever there are two answers to a question like this, it is likely that there are probably no answers at all.

Six years ago, India were disappointed when they lost in the finals of the 2010 SAG in Dhaka to Afghanistan and had to settle for the silver medals. The chance for redemption for India has come a little late (the 2016 SAG were postponed after IOA suspension last year!), but now, it's finally here. But it seems like, rather than fielding a team to defeat Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and others, we are busier finding ways to defeat each other. Time is running out: hopefully the likes of Jeena, Bhriguvanshi, and the rest find clarity in their plans. If the organizers and bureaucrats can't make India proud, at least allow our athletes to do so. Or the only Indian playing basketball in Guwahati will be Tikhor the rhino.