February 26, 2017

Orlando Magic celebrate India Day 2017 with Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty

The most important thing for the home fans at the Amway Center on Saturday night was that they got the win. The Orlando Magic, the second-worst team in the Eastern Conference, played one of their best games of the season, running past the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks to a 105-86 victory. New addition Terrance Ross from Toronto led his squad with 24. High-flying dunker Aaron Gordon added 18. Point guard Elfrid Payton even nearly had a triple-double. On-court, it was as good a night that the suffering Magic fanbase could've hoped for.

The bonus on this Saturday night was how the Magic scored an off-court victory - desi-style.

The Indian-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) continued their annual tradition in Orlando by hosting one more edition of 'India Day' at the Amway Center on Saturday, February 25. This was their fifth consecutive celebration of Indian heritage and culture with the local basketball team and after their win over the Celtics last year, the desi blessings helped the Magic pull off some jadoo on the court this year, too.

The big highlight at India Day this year was the special guest, the Indian film actress, producer, and former model Shilpa Shetty. Shetty was introduced to the fans at the game and also presented with a custom Orlando Magic jersey.

The night featured an 'India Day' fan-fest in Downtown Orlando and entertainment by Bollywood Dance Mania and even the Orlando Magic Dancers performed a routine in traditional Bollywood style. Fans were also able to take part in fun events such as cultural dancing, saree draping, yoga and Indian cuisine tasting. (So basically, all the usual desi cultural stereotypes that we're supposedly proud of).

Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins said, "India Day is just one way for the Magic to show to show its appreciation to this segment of our fan base for their support and dedication."

Great job for Orlando and the IACC for continuing with this tradition: it's about time more franchises around the league recognise the growing clout (and basketball fandom) of the Indian diaspora.

February 25, 2017

Diary allegedly belonging to BFI president K Govindraj details payoffs of hundreds of crores

As we have learnt over and over again, there is no escaping the weight of politics in Indian sports. Occasionally, basketball has found some infamy in the Indian political conversation, too.

Earlier this week, several media houses reported news of the so-called "Donation Gate", a controversy that was spurred up from a secret diary allegedly found at the residence of Karnataka's Legislative Council MLC of the Congress Party, K. Govindraj. Govindraj's diary was seized during an Income Tax raid of several politicians a few months ago. It was only recently, however, that news leaked that this diary contained suspicious entries detailing payoffs of money passing hands in payoffs of hundreds of crores.

Govindraj is known as an important legislator in the state and a major fundraiser for Congress.

Why is this news important on a basketball blog? Well, because this is the same Govindraj who happens to the president of ruling executive committee of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), running much of its operations from Bengaluru. He is also the president of Karnataka Olympic Association.

Here are more details of this case, including the diary entries and Govindraj's response, as written by Navika Kumar on The Times of India:

The secret diary No. AKG03 speaks of a staggering Rs 600 crore routed to mysterious names like AICC, AP, M Vora, SG office, RG office and DGS. The diary also has an entry under steel bridge from where Rs 65 crore was marked as received. There is one entry which shows Rs 7 crore being paid to media for the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike elections. The income tax department had called in Govindraj for questioning about the entries on February 11, 2017.
Govindraj claimed the handwriting isn't his and the signatures were forged. The Congress, too, has claimed the diary is fake and an attempt to malign them, while the BJP has called for a detailed investigation into it.

Govindraj disowned the diary almost a year ago, reports The Hindu.

Congress leaders pointed out (quoting the statement recorded during the inquiry) that Mr. Govindaraj had told the I-T sleuths during questioning repeatedly that the diary did not belong to him. He had also filed a complaint with the Indiranagar police on March 21, 2016, suspecting that the “mysterious diary” was “planted” in his house by some unknown persons with “malicious intent”.
“Mr. Govindaraj had disowned the diary not now, but almost a year ago throughout the course of the inquiry. So the leakage by whatever source amounts to breach of trust by the Income Tax Department,” said Congress spokesperson and MLC V.S. Ugrappa.

Only future investigation will reveal the truth behind the diary and the consequences - if any - for Govindraj. As usual, the rest of us of the Indian Basketball fraternity will be hoping that the controversy doesn't spill over to mar the sport itself.

February 22, 2017

Patiala's Punjabi University crowned 2017 UBAU National University Champions in Chandigarh

India's largest collegiate level basketball tournament - the UBAU All India Inter-Zonal University Basketball Championship for Men 2017 - came to a conclusion in Chandigarh on Tuesday February 21 with Patiala's Punjabi University cruising to an easy victory in the final over Anna University (Chennai). This victory was especially significant to Punjabi University since they weren't even in the top sixteen of the inter-zonal championship last year.

This prestigious Association of Indian Universities (AIU) Championship was organised by Universal Basketball Alliance India Pvt Ltd. The top four teams from each zone - North, South, East, and West - qualify to the inter-zonal championship and are divided into four pools of four teams each. The top two teams from each pool after the league stages qualify to the knockout rounds: quarterfinals, semis, followed by the finals.

Anna had tasted defeat at the final stage of this tournament at the hands of last year's host team Mumbai University. With Punjabi University making the short distance from Patiala to Chandigarh for the tournament, Anna once again faced a team being treated as hosts in the final at the indoor stadium in Sector-42. Behind the efforts of Gurdit Singh (23) and Abhi Kumar (16), Punjabi took a comfortable 41-29 lead at halftime and turned the game into a blowout with a 23-point lead at the end of the third quarter. At the final buzzer, Punjabi University sealed the title victory with a 78-54 rout.

Earlier that evening, New Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia University were led by an explosive 47-point performance by Bhupender to defeat another Chennai team - the University of Madras - 90-62 and secure third-place at the tournament. Abhudaya scored 16 for Jamia, while Madras were led by Karthik's 18 points.

Tarlok Singh Sandhu, former Olympian and India captain, who represented India at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and 1982 Asian Games was the chief guest for the finale. Other dignitaries included Joseph Damsker, Managing Director, Merchandising – Elite Universal Sports Alliance India Pvt Ltd (EUSAI); Sunday Zeller, co-founder – Universal Basketball Alliance & Elite Sports India Inc.; Riyaz Mulla, Managing Director India operations – ESI; Dr. Raj Kumar, President – EUSAI; Dr. Gurdeep Kaur, Director of Sports – Punjabi University.

Final Four Standings
  • 1. Punjabi University
  • 2. Anna University
  • 3. Jamia Millia Islamia University
  • 4. University of Madras

The final 16 teams that participated in the UBAU All India Inter-Zonal University Basketball Championship this year were (several University sent 'A' and 'B' squads:
  • Pool A: Punjabi University (Patiala), University of Mumbai (Mumbai), University of Calcutta (Kolkata), University of Kerala (Thiruvananthapuram).
  • Pool B: Anna University (Chennai), Durg Vishvidyalya (Durg), Delhi University (New Delhi), Savitri Bai Phule University (Pune).
  • Pool C: University of Rajasthan (Jaipur), Panjab University (Chandigarh), SRM University (Chennai), University of Kerala (Thiruvananthapuram).
  • Pool D: Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith (Varanasi), University of Madras (Chennai), L.N.I.P.E (Gwalior), Jamia Millia Islamia University (New Delhi).

February 17, 2017

KD2Desi: Kevin Durant announces plans to visit India this summer

Seasons will change. Time will pass. An NBA champion will be crowned and an eager nation will open its doors to more basketball progress. And this summer, Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors will become the greatest basketball player to step foot on Indian soil.

A former MVP and one of the biggest global stars in basketball, Durant officially made the announcement on his social media accounts on Thursday night (Friday morning in India). NBA India released further details about his trip, which will centre around his plans to visit the soon-to-be-launched NBA Academy India in the Delhi-NCR region and Durant's own ambitions to see the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Durant is currently in New Orleans for the 2017 All-Star Weekend where he will make his eighth successive appearance at the 66th NBA All-Star Game on February 19.

“I will be the first NBA player going to the Academy," Durant said, "I’m super excited about it, to grow the game of basketball to a new level. I’m so excited about the grassroots programme. I’m looking forward to it. It should be a great time."

In November, the NBA announced its plans to launch the ambitious NBA Academy India to help nurture elite young basketball talents around the country. Recently, they named the prospects chosen for the first session of this Academy after a nationwide talent hunt.

Durant had encouraging words for the selected few in an interview on Firstpost: "I think it is just the fundamentals of dribbling, shooting, passing that you know and that crossovers no matter where you are as a basketball player. So when you get those fundamentals of the game right, that's where you start at."

This is Earth-shattering news right here. With respect to all the NBA legends of the past and present who have visited India (I have a running list here!) Kevin Durant is most-likely the best-ever. That list has included Hall-of-famers like Dominique Wilkins, Robert Parish, Dikembe Mutombo, and George Gervin, and more recent stars like Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Chris Bosh, Isaiah Thomas, and Shawn Marion. Only Kevin Garnett, who made a trip to India with adidas ten years ago, is of equal status to Durant right now; but I believe that Durant in 2017 is even better than KG was in 2006.

Still in his prime at 28, Durant is the NBA's 2014 MVP, a six-time All NBA Player, eight-time All Star, and four-time scoring leader. Unless you were in an isolated vipassana for the past eight months, you probably know that Durant shocked the world by leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors, forming one of the NBA's most-fearsome units alongside two-time MVP Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. The shift in scenery hardly effected Durant's game: he's averaging 25.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this season while enjoying one of the most efficient shooting seasons ever. Plus, he has a couple Olympics gold medals to his name, too. With his Warriors currently holding the best record in the NBA, he is certain to be vying for an NBA Championship this June, which would add extra masala to his India trip later in the summer.

As ESPN reported, Durant is aware of Kobe Bryant's relationship with China and his popularity among the Chinese people. Durant wants to have a similar influence over fans in India.

"I think what people really appreciated about Kobe was that he really wanted to learn about different aspects of life and how people approach different things," Durant said in interview to ESPN India. "I feel the same way. I want to feel the culture when I go to India. I want to see what it's about. I want to get to touch the people and check the pulse -- not only the game, but life in general."

Finally, he also said that he has had the Taj Mahal on his "bucket list" for a long time.

Only trust the Government-approved guides, KD. Watch out where you leave your Nikes. And most importantly, Stay hydrated. Those North Indian summers are no joke.

Home-Court Advantage

As India readies to host two international tournaments this year, I look back at every major FIBA Asia event we’ve ever hosted.

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas.com on February 2, 2017. Read the original piece here.

India's Senior Women's Team 2015. Photo Courtesy: Ekalavyas.com

In 2016, Yao Ming would be elected into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, inducted the same night as basketball greats Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson. In 2011, he would retire from basketball as a five-time NBA All Teamer and one of the greatest international basketball players ever. In 2002, he would be selected first into the NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets.

But before he achieved any of that, before he became a lynchpin for the Chinese Basketball Team, for the Rockets, or even the Shanghai Sharks back in the CBA, he was an 18-year-old basketball phenom about to announce his breakthrough moment to the rest of the world.

And he did it, of all places, in Kolkata.

Back in 1998, the Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata hosted the 15th FIBA Asia U18 Basketball Championship. Top teams from all over the continent, including India, of course, took part. China, the reigning champions, went on to defend their title with a victory in the final against Qatar. A young seven-footer by the name of Yao Ming was named the tournament’s MVP.

Yao, the only Asian-born player to be in the Basketball Hall of Fame, is perhaps the greatest player to play competitive basketball in Indian soil. But there have been so many more. Over the years, the likes of Yuta Tabuse (Japan), Chen Nan (China), Jaber Rouzbahani (Iran), Bian Lan (China), Li Meng (China), and many more have played in major FIBA Asia tournaments in India. India’s opportunities to host such tournaments over the years – considering India’s past struggles with infrastructure and organisation – have been rare occurrences, but each major ABC or other international basketball event has ultimately boosted the game’s growth at home.

Fortunately, there’s good news for Indian basketball fanatics in the near-horizon. FIBA Asia – the game’s ruling body in the continent – announced India as hosts of two major continental tournaments in 2017: the 1st FIBA Asia Women’s Cup (a revamped version of the 27th FIBA Asia Championship for Women) and the 5th FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women. The FIBA Asia Women’s Cup will be held in Bengaluru from July 23 to 29, while the U16 FIBA Asia ABC will be from October 22-28 in a soon-to-be-decided host city (apparently a toss up between Chennai and Hyderabad).

This will be the first time in seven years that India will be a host to a full-scale international basketball tournament. While India has regularly hosted tournaments at the South Asian stage and limited events like the 2014 Lusofonia Games, the last time that we had a major FIBA Asia Championship on home soil was 2009, when Chennai and Pune hosted the FIBA Women’s ABC and FIBA U16 Women’s ABC respectively.

Just years into becoming an independent nation, India was introduced to basketball. The country’s own basketball federation – the BFI – was formed in 1950, and less than a year later, at New Delhi’s National Stadium, independent India’s first national team strolled out as hosts to our first major tournament. India was hosting the first Asian Games in 1951 and five teams – Philippines, Japan, Iran, Burma, and India – participated in the event’s basketball competition. Led by captain Ranbir Chopra, India took just one victory from the tournament – a 50-47 triumph over Burma – and finished at fifth place; Philippines took the gold medal.

Unfortunately, we would have to wait three more decades to feature a major international basketball tournament in India. A year after a series of unexpected events landed India into their first (and only) Olympics basketball slot at Moscow 1980, FIBA Asia rewarded India by allowing the country to host the 11th FIBA ABC in 1981 in Kolkata. India’s men’s squad were near the peak of their basketball prowess in those days, having finished 4th in Asia in 1975 and 5th in 1979. Back in Kolkata, India made it to the championship round (top six) and finished at fifth place. Some of our greatest-ever players like Ajmer Singh, Paramjit Singh, Shyam Radhey, and more were a part of this talented era of Indian basketball.

A year later, India’s continued ‘Golden Generation’ would have another chance to defend their home court. After thirty years, the Asian Games returned to India, to New Delhi, where India took part in the thirteen-team basketball fray at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. In a championship rematch from 1978, South Korea defeated China in the final to win their 2nd Asian Games basketball title. India qualified from the Preliminary Round but lost all seven of their Championship Round games to finish at 8th place.

Since the early 80s, India is yet to host a major international tournament featuring Senior Men’s teams, either in the form of a FIBA ABC or the Asian Games. In 1998, however, India did get a glimpse of Asia’s dominant future at the U18 ABC: this was the tournament where Yao Ming won the MVP award and carried China to another title. This is the tournament that also featured Japan’s legendary point guard Yuta Tabuse, who went on to become the first Japanese player to play in the NBA.

Boosted by the success of the Men’s U18 ABC, FIBA awarded India the Women’s edition of the same tournament two years later. The 15th FIBA U18 Women’s ABC was held in New Delhi in December 2000. India won one game against Sri Lanka in the Preliminary Round and one more in the classification stage against Hong Kong to finish at 9th place. China, led by a young Chen Nan on her way to greater glories, won the tournament, their eighth title in this competition.

In 2004, the Men’s U18 ABC was held in India again, and this time, Bengaluru was chosen as the host city. Held at the Rajiv Gandhi Sports Complex, this tournament proved crucial in a shift in the balance of power of Asian basketball. After decades of East Asian dominance over the title, Iran enjoyed their coming out party with their own golden generation, featuring tournament’s MVP Jaber Rouzbahani. This was Iran’s first title in this tournament, which they secured with a close win over South Korea in the final and finished a perfect 8-0. This Iran team went on to dominate many senior men’s ABCs and are still among the top teams in Asia. India did well in the Preliminary Round in front of their home fans but finished at the bottom of the Second Round group. Nevertheless, they ended the tournament at 7th place, which still stands as their best finish since 1972.

In 2009, for the first time, FIBA’s flagship tournament for Senior Women – the Women’s ABC – was held in India, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai. Representing her home team Southern Railways, India’s superstar Geethu Anna Jose led the entire tournament in scoring (22 ppg) and was fifth in rebounds (8.7 rpg). Once again, however, it was China who shone brightest, going perfect to win their tenth title in this event, led by MVP Bian Lan.

Later that same year, FIBA Asia launched its youngest event, the U16 FIBA ABC, and rewarded India the honour of being the host nation. At the Shree Shiv Chhatrapatri Sports Complex in Pune, India fielded a young squad of talented players, including Sneha Rajguru, Kavita Akula, Jeena Scaria, Navaneetha PS, and local girl Shireen Limaye. India finished third in Group A and had to finally settle for 5th place in the tournament. China debuted at this tournament by winning the gold, defeating Japan in the final.

New Delhi brought the Commonwealth Games to India for the first time in 2010. Basketball was introduced to this tournament in 2006 in Australia, but because of scheduling difficulties with other major international events, the Games’ basketball tournament was scrapped in 2010.

Many of the young talents from India’s 2009 U16 team have now become a part of our national team rotation, and as FIBA chooses India as the host for the Senior ABC again in 2017, it will be a chance for fans at home to see how they have developed into team leaders over the years. India’s national women’s squad has a promising mix of youth and leadership, featuring Scaria, Poojamol Subhashmon, Bhandavya Mahesha, Anitha Pauldurai, Limaye, and more. Two years ago, India had a disappointing outing at the FIBA Women’s ABC, losing all their Level 1 games and getting relegated to the lower Level II. Playing at home, this will be India’s chance to bounce back up to the higher stage.

This year, for the first time, the senior-level FIBA Asia Championships are transforming into the FIBA Asia Cup, a tournament that will feature the top teams from Oceania like Australia and New Zealand. The 2017 FIBA Asia Women’s Cup will be the qualifying tournament for FIBA Asia at the 2018 FIBA World Championship for Women in Spain. International stars like Ramu Tokashiki and Asami Yoshida (Japan), Danbi Kim (Korea), Shao Ting and Sun Mengran (China), Liz Cambage (Australia) and more could feature on court in Bengaluru this year.

India’s top performers from the domestic youth (U16) and sub-junior (U14) tournaments will comprise of our national U16 women’s team at the FIBA U16 ABC. Two years ago, India failed to win any games at the 2015 FIBA U16 ABC in Medan (Indonesia), while China secured the title with a win over Japan in the final.

It is rumoured that the tournament will be held either in Chennai or Hyderabad. It will be the qualifying tournament for FIBA Asia at the 2018 FIBA Under-17 World Championship for Women.

Hosting these two major tournaments will give our domestic players and fans a closer look at some of the best in the continent. Hopefully, the preparation leading up to the two tournaments in Bengaluru and the second city will force authorities to upgrade our facilities at home to handle events of this stature. Most importantly, fans will be hoping that the home-court advantage will lift up India’s own performances and help us bounce back to a better finish.

February 13, 2017

GMC Club of former Indian basketball stars to play exhibition games in Dubai

Several of India's former basketball stars, including retired big names like CV Sunny and Unwin Antony, will be heading to Dubai next week for exhibition games in an effort to promote the game in the UAE. GulfNews.com reported on Thursday that the team Good Morning Club (GMC) comprising of players who formerly represented India, all-India government organisations and state teams, is scheduled to play vs. teams in Dubai on February 15 and 16.

More reporting by Alaric Gomes via GulfNews.com

“These players have all played basketball at quite a level and our aim now is to have them pass on their invaluable knowledge to youngsters here in the UAE,” Ali T., one of the organisers told Gulf News.
“In recent years, basketball has shown a lot of promise especially in India and we want to cash in on this and further help in the development of the game,” he added.

The tour is being coordinated by the pioneer coaches of grassroot development in the sport in the UAE for the past two decades IBS-UAE, the only registered expat non-profit sports organisation with the Indian Business Council at the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce.

The veteran GMC side takes part in senior state and national age group competitions and in motivational programmes for upcoming talent in India. Their players in this exhibition tour will include former India captain Unwin Antony, former India captain CV Sunny, and former India players Thomas Varghese and George Zachariah. Experienced former state players KM George, Jose Kurian, Jose Joseph, Philip Zachariah, and more will be part of the squad.

GMC will play against All Stars Dubai at the NIMS Dubai Indoor Stadium on February 15 and Beatrice Dubai at DPS Dubai Indoor Hall on February 16.

February 12, 2017

Hoopdarshan Episode 42: All Star Everything with Indian NBA expert Akshay Manwani

With the 2017 NBA All Star Weekend around the corner, the Hoopdarshan podcast takes a deep (and often ridiculous) dive into the festivities. NBA India expert and best-selling author Akshay Manwani joins co-hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok to talk about the biggest stars at the Weekend like Westbrook, Curry, Durant, Harden, and Kawhi, Warriors/Cavaliers title contentions, Carmelo Anthony trade chatter, and Abhishek Bachchan's on-court skills.

Manwani is a best-selling author of two Cinema-themed books - Sahir Ludhianvi: The People's Poet, and Music, Masti, Modernity: The Cinema of Nasir Husain. He's one of the top NBA experts in India, has written and edited for NBA India, and appeared on TV on the Around the Hoop show.

In Episode 42, Kaushik and Karan also discuss recent Indian basketball headlines, including the news of India hosting two FIBA Asia events this year, the start of the new UBA Basketball League season, and the BFI's cryptic note about starting a professional basketball league in India later this year.

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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