December 10, 2016

Veteran Australian Coach Damian Cotter visited India's Men's Basketball Camp in Indore

Damian Cotter - veteran Australian coach at the national and professional stage - was in India last week to visit the Indian Men's Basketball Team's national camp in Indore (Madhya Pradesh). Team India has been in camp at Indore's National Basketball Academy in the run up to the 21st Super Kung Sheung Cup to be held in Hong Kong later this month. Cotter visited the camp from December 1-4 to work with Indian players and coaches through four training sessions, focusing on both offensive and defensive drills.

The visit was arranged by Pursuit India with the help of Danny Kordahi of No. 1 Draft Pick Basketball Academy, a leading Australia based training academy.

Currently a Basketball Consultant, Damian Cotter is a former Sydney Kings (National Basketball League - NBL Australia) coach and Australian National Women’s assistant coach. With more than 17 years of experience as a basketball coach, Cotter is highly regarded in the professional coaching arena and has a passion for teaching basketball to all ages.

"I was not only impressed with the players’ talent but more importantly their work ethic and capacity to learn," Cotter said after the training camp in Indore. "You can see that they have been well coached and I look forward to watching the team results from afar. I am very grateful to BFI [Basketball Federation of India] and Pursuit for the opportunity to work with quality players and coaches, as I see potential for India to achieve success internationally at a high level."

"Cotter’s visit was very useful," said S. Bhasker, who is currently the Head Coach for Team India, "Most teams today employ the ‘horns offence’ and Cotter ran the team through a series of ‘shell drills’ that emphasizes maintaining proper defensive positions in order to counter this offence."

“Basketball has evolved drastically in terms of the way it is played. So visits from foreign coaches help us a lot. The entire team benefits and it is also a chance for individual players to showcase their talents in the hope of landing playing opportunities abroad,” said centre Amritpal Singh.

Vishnu Ravi Shankar, the Business Head of Pursuit, who coordinated the visit added, “Being the first such initiative of its kind, we are excited that Coach Cotter’s sessions were well received by the players and coaches alike. We thank the Basketball Federation of India for their smooth approval process. Even the local organisers were very kind and provided us good accommodation close to the venue. We definitely hope to facilitate more such camps in the future for the benefit of India Basketball and its players."

It is interesting to note that, ever since the summer of 2015, India has not had a steady Head Coach. For several years in a row, the national team employed various foreign Head Coaches for short stints, culminating with the memorably successful run of Scott Flemming. But Flemming resigned from the Indian team in May 2015, and the team's head coaching duties have been shared between various local coaches over the past 18 months. The split between the BFI last summer is a major reason that the federation hasn't gone out and hired another (expensive) foreign coach; perhaps Cotter's visit will rekindle the mutual interest between foreign coaches and India, or at least continue the conversation of bringing in their experience to share with coaches and players of the national team.

December 7, 2016

Three Madhya Pradesh basketball officials booked by police for fraud

This is not the first time you're hearing news like this in Indian Basketball, and it certainly won't be the last.

If you are an astute follower of this blog and Indian basketball, you will recall that, in August 2014, the Madhya Pradesh Basketball Association (MSBA) began dealing with an internal power struggle, as two separate groups of the association elected two different presidents, one group led by Kailash Vijayvargiya and the other by Avinash Anand. One group refused to recognise the other, the second group accused the first of misuse of funds.

(This break-up will sound familiar, of course, because a similar division of associations happened at the national level with the Basketball Federation of India less than six months later.)

Now, a little more than two years later, Madhya Pradesh basketball is back in the news for the wrong reasons. Various sources reported that three members of the Vijayvargiya group - Secretary Kulwinder Singh Gill, president BJM Sharma and treasurer Ritu Sharma - have been booked by the police in Indore on Monday, December 5, for criminal breach of trust, fraud and forgery embezzlement in allegedly diverting association funds into private bank accounts. Police said cases have been registered under Sections 406, 417, 420, 467,468, 471 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code. The complaint of fraud was filed by the MPBA's other group - who go by the Corporation Basketball Trust - secretary Avinash Anand, and office-bearers Laxmikant Patel and Bhupendra Bandi late on Sunday night. According to Indore's Tukoganj police station in-charge Dilip Singh Choudhari (via The Times of India), the group accused the trio of diverting funds received by the association for personal use. Choudhari said the complainants had approached the crime branch twice before: once in 2012 and then again a couple of months ago, before the case was shifted to Tukoganj.

According to Anand, the trio - led by Gill - has been accused of siphoning off more than Rupees 40 lakh received as government grant to the association in 2010 towards hosting a national championship in the state.

Anand is quoted further by The Hindustan Times:

"Gill first illegally closed the association’s bank account with State Bank of India and opened a new account with Arihant Cooperative Bank. He then issued two cheques in favour of his mother, one for 5 lakh and the other for 3 lakh. A car insurance and LIC premium was also paid from this account, among other things. Later, this bank account was closed and a fresh account was opened with Bank of Baroda, again without due permission from the association."

A couple of months ago, Madhya Pradesh boys' team retained the Sub-Junior National Championship trophy in Hyderabad. But as it is often with Indian basketball, a big shot is followed by a turnover. Hopefully, the new administration keeps the same U14 sub-junior players in mind over themselves - the future of the state and the country - before repeating the mistakes of the past.

Satnam Singh documentary "One in a Billion" is now streaming on Netflix worldwide!

Here's a pitch for a movie: a poor farmer's son from rural India learns basketball and becomes the first of a country of 1.3 billion to be drafted into the NBA.

The summary, if this was a piece of fiction, sounds too improbable to be realistic. But the truth is often stranger than fiction, and over the last decade, that story actually took place: Satnam Singh, the son of a farmer from Ballo Ke village in Punjab, used both nature (his size) and nurture (hard work) to make history when the Dallas Mavericks picked him in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Released worldwide to stream on Netflix on December 6, 2016, "One in a Billion" tells Satnam's comprehensive story so far in great detail. The documentary was produced by OBB Pictures and directed by Roman Gackowski. For a year and a half of filming, Gackowski followed Satnam as he finished his time at the IMG Basketball Academy, got drafted to the NBA, and visited his village in Punjab. He also interviewed several close individuals connected with Satnam's story from this childhood, his education, and his professional career.

If you know Indian basketball, you know the ending of the story already. "One in a Billion" takes us back to the beginning. It brings to screen the surreal story behind Satnam's real life. Some of the strongest moments are when the documentary crew follows him into the hinterlands of Punjab as he visits his family, introduces his friends, and lays on the very farm he grew up in. These scenes are juxtaposed with scenes a few months later at the IMG Academy, one of the finest facility of youth sports development around the world. The documentary introduces viewers to Satnam's family, his coaches, teachers, and his agent. We see him direct the way deep into his Punjabi village. We see agent Travis King's pitch to Satnam, we see him visit draft combines and get suited up for the draft, perform at pre-draft workouts with various teams in the NBA.

One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when Satnam - who has struggled in IMG because of his weak English proficiency - realises that his English has now become good enough to converse freely. "I just wanted to keep talking," he says joyfully. Of course, the moment at the Barclay's Center in New York City when NBA Deputy Commissioner drafts Satnam into the NBA is Satnam and the film's crowning moment.

Also featured in the film are individuals who have played a role in the life of Satnam or in basketball at large over the years, including NBA India's former Director of Operations Troy Justice, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, IMG Academy Basketball coach Dan Barto, IMG Academy and former India national team coach Kenny Natt, basketball agent Travis King, Secretary-General of Punjab Basketball Association Teja Singh Dhaliwal, owner of the Sacramento Kings Vivek Ranadive, VP of Kings' basketball operations Vlade Divac, Satnam's family, including his father Balbir, and many more. As I have been tracking Satnam's story closely for several years and offer an international perspective on Indian basketball, I was featured in the documentary as well.

Satnam Singh, however, is the of course the star of the documentary. Through old photographs, stories, footage, and the lead-up to draft day, the documentary paints the picture of a young man who stood up to the responsibility of shouldering a moment in history. Satnam says early in the movie, citing the responsibilities his father told he has for his family and India, that "It's a lot!" The documentary shows a humble young man going out into the big world of NBA basketball where everyone except himself seemed to have a well-carved space. Satnam, instead, created his own space, breaking through the giant wall with his 7-foot frame and coming out on the other side as an ever-smiling, ever-vulnerable, gentle giant.

Go and watch "One in a Billion" now! If you already know the story, it will open your eyes to understand the man in the middle, the details of his struggles, and the joy of his triumph. And if you don't know it yet, well, get ready for an inspirational tale, against all the odds, of an Indian star's success.

December 5, 2016

Second season of basketball talent search programme ACG-NBA Jump gets launched in India

Well, that escalated quickly.

A year ago, NBA India teamed up with ACG Worldwide to launch a first-of-its-kind talent search programme, the ACG-NBA Jump. Since then, the following things have happened:
- The NBA saw hundreds of young players from around the country and picked 32 for the Finals in Delhi, attended by former NBA coach Brian Shaw.
- Palpreet Singh Brar won the contest.
- With help from NBA coaches and rigorous training, Palpreet attended the NBA D-League tryouts.
- Palpreet became the first Indian to be drafted directly into the D-League.
- The NBA launched a massive Academy for elite Indian talents to boost up top-level talent from the country.

It's been a year of rapid growth for NBA India, and young Indian talents can now have realistic dreams of seeing their potential recognized, honed, and improved to take the jump to the next level of the game. Earlier this week, the NBA announced the schedule of the second season of the ACG-NBA Jump programme, to continue its efforts in finding the top Indian players and boost up their talent pool for their upcoming Academy, set to open in Delhi-NCR by April.

The second season of ACG-NBA Jump was officially launched at the Kalina University indoor court in Mumbai in the presence of former NBA champion Shawn Marion, who was in India this week to promote the game of basketball. The programme that commenced this year would go on to provide the top 24 prospects with scholarships and training at the recently announced elite basketball training centre.

"The ACG NBA Jump programme, a feeder to NBA Academy India, has potential and a great opportunity for all the kids here in India," said Marion, "I wish we had a similar setup when we grew up. I wish I can be here for the entire programme and see through the talent that comes through. I wish the participants in India make the most of the opportunity created by ACG and NBA. India has a bright future of basketball players."

"The top 24 prospects from this year's programme will have the opportunity to receive full scholarships and NBA-level coaching at NBA Academy India when it is scheduled to open in April," said NBA India's Managing Director Yannick Colaco, "I encourage players between the ages of 13 and 17 to visit to learn more about India's largest national basketball talent search to date."

The NBA has invited individual players to participate in the ACG NBA Jump Official Tryouts. The entire tryout session in 2016 consists of six sessions, across the span of a couple of weeks. The first session, which took place in Mumbai on the 3rd of December has already been completed. The ACG NBA Jump officials invite players from every school/ district/ city and state to come and participate in the tryouts. NBA scouts will be present at the tryouts, too.

ACG-NBA Jump Tryouts Schedule:
  • December 3, 2016 – Mumbai - Mumbai University Indoor Stadium, Kalina, University Complex.
  • December 10, 2016 – Chennai - Santhome School Indoor Stadium.
  • December 15, 2016 – Delhi - Thyagaraj Stadium.
  • December 17, 2016 – Ludhiana - Guru Nanak Indoor Stadium.
  • January 6, 2027 – Kochi - RSC Kadavanthara Indoor Stadium.
  • January 14, 2017 – Kolkata - WBBA Grounds, Red Road, Kolkata.

Eligibility criteria
1. Applicants should be born between 1st Jan 2000 and 31st Dec 2004
2. Competition is only for male participants

Check the ACG-NBA Jump website to register first, find out all the eligibility and registration details, and specific timings for each tryout in each city.

The second phase of the programme, a three-day national training camp, would culminate with the selection of the 24 prospects who would receive scholarships and training at NBA Academy India.

November 30, 2016

Former NBA champion Shawn Marion is matrixing it up in India this week


Back in 1999, in the good ol' days before the Y2K scare and smartphones, technology was a lot more mysterious and opaque for the average person with a Hotmail account. It was in these times that The Wachowski Brothers began to promote their upcoming, enigmatic film, 'The Matrix'. "What is the Matrix" asked the promos leading up to the movie; we didn't know anything about it, but we were told it was going to be something special, something futuristic, something intelligent, something difficult to understand. When it was released, it went on to become one of the most popular and influential movies ever, whilst still remaining special, intelligent, beyond easy comprehension.

What is the Matrix, indeed? In India, the film was released dubbed in Hindi as 'Mayajaal', the web of the Maya, or the illusionary world around us. It was a translation befitting the enigma and illusory shroud of the original. I saw the posters, but I regret never watching the dubbed version itself to hear whoever voiced Keanu Reeves's "I know Kung Fu" in Hindi.

Four months after the film's international release (so, probably right about the time we would've seen it in India!), the Phoenix Suns picked up a mercurial, hard-to-define, 6-foot-7 forward Shawn Marion with the 9th pick of the draft from UNLV. From his rookie season onwards, this forward showed that he could do a little bit of everything, score inside, outside, defend, dribble, attack, rebound, pass. In the time when the NBA was still strict about its positional definitions, he was a peak into the future, a player who excelled both at the physical and cerebral parts of the game, a do-it-all forward who has become the precursor to every small ball "big" that NBA lineups now thirst for (I'm looking at you, Draymond!).

Over the course of a successful - if a little underrated - sixteen year career, Marion became a multiple-time All Star and All NBA Third Teamer, played a crucial role for the mid-2000s Suns, one of the entertaining teams in history, and won an NBA title late into his career with the Dallas Mavericks. The 2005–06 NBA season in Phoenix was perhaps the best of Marion’s career. He was the only player in the NBA ranked in the top 20 in points, rebounds, steals, blocks, field goal percentage and minutes. He finished the season leading the Suns in points per game (21.8), rebounds per game (11.8), blocks per game (1.7), and steals per game (2.0). By the end of his career, he joined an exclusive four-man club in NBA history, which includes Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett and Hakeem Olajuwon, to record 17,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 1,700 steals.

Marion's game was something special, something futuristic, something intelligent, something difficult to understand. During pre-season of his rookie year, broadcaster Kenny Smith nicknamed him 'The Matrix', and it became his persona in the NBA forever.

Now, a year and a half after his retirement, Mr Matrix himself is in India to show us the Mayajaal side of that persona!

NBA India announced today that Shawn Marion will arrive in India on November 30 for a five-day visit of Mumbai. During his stay in Mumbai, Marion will be a part of the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme activities. On Thursday, December 1, he will chat with fans in India live on NBA India's Facebook page. He will visit New Delhi to conduct a Jr. NBA camp at the ITL Public School on December 2. Marion will be present at the inauguration of the 2016-17 ACG NBA Jump programme, which will take place on December 3, 2016 at Mumbai University Indoor Basketball Stadium, Kalina. He will feature on Sony Six’s Sunday show – NBA Around the Hoop – on December 4.

"I’m really looking forward to visiting India for the first time," said Marion. "It will be an incredible experience to interact and share my love and knowledge of the game with young Indian boys and girls."

By the time he retired in 2015, Marion had played for the Suns, the Miami Heat, the Toronto Raptors, the Mavericks, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. He will most be remembered for being the glue that kept together the mid-2000s Suns, which were led by Steve Nash and assisted - when healthy - by Amar'e Stoudemire. They were the original run-n-gun 'smallball' team, preceding the upcoming dominance of the Golden State Warriors, and Marion was the original 'tweener' forward capable of playing big or small (on both ends of the floor) as the lineup required. Although his numbers were down by 2011, he played an important role as a starter for the Mavericks squad that upset the Miami Heat 4-2 in the Finals to win the NBA championship.

November 26, 2016

Tamil Nadu Girls and Kerala Boys are 2016 Youth Nationals Champions in Hassan

It is a rare occurrence when both the boys' and girls' teams of the same state in India peak at the same time, but that was exactly the case with three states - Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Uttar Pradesh - over the past week in Hassan (Karnataka). All three states finished in the top three in both divisions at India's largest under-16 hoops meet, the 33rd Youth National Basketball Championship for Boys and Girls. The tournament concluded with the finals on Saturday, November 26th, as Tamil Nadu (Girls) and Kerala (Boys) won the last games of the week and emerged as champions at the city's Hasanamba Indoor Stadium

Organised by the Karnataka State Basketball Association (KSBBA) under the auspices of the BFI, the 2016 Youth Nationals featured 24 boys teams and 22 girls teams in the eight day tournament. Last year's washout had led the BFI to declare all the finalists as champions, so both the boys' and girls' divisions had two reigning champions each: Tamil Nadu and Delhi (Boys) and Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh (Girls).

This year, Tamil Nadu's Girls had an opportunity for sole ownership of the winner's trophy when they faced Kerala in the final. The only two undefeated teams thus far, Kerala and TN went toe to toe for the first two quarters of the game, and Kerala held on to a slim, 37-35 lead at halftime. TN turned things around drastically after the break, and took over the game: dominant efforts by Avanthi Vardhan (17) and S Pushpa (17) helped TN take a lead and stretch it to double digits, eventually to an impressive 82-66 victory. Shreekala R scored a game-high 27 to pace Kerala's efforts.

Kerala had better luck in the boys' final against Uttar Pradesh, where they turned a slow start into a dominant, blowout win. UP led 18-16 at the end of the first quarter, but it was all Kerala after that. Amal Reghu exploded for 33 points while Chacko C Simon (19) and Sejin Mathew (16) made valuable contributions to help Kerala win 85-51. UP's duo of Priyanshu and Bhagyansh Gulati scored 21 each, but they lot little offensive contribution from the rest of their squad in the loss.

Uttar Pradesh will go home happy, however, because in addition to securing silver in the boys' tournament, they won a bronze medal earlier on Saturday when their girls' team - led by the unstoppable Vaishnavi Yadav - blew out Madhya Pradesh 71-39. Yadav, a rising basketball star from the state, scored 39, matching MP's entire box score! Divyani Gangwal had 22 for MP. The boys' bronze medal game also was not a particularly close affair. After a high-scoring, tight first quarter (26-26), Tamil Nadu revved up their engines with the help of their duo M Arvind Kumar (30) and K Surya (23) to win 99-69. The Tomar brothers - Pratyanshu (22) and Prashant (16) - led the way for the hosts Karnataka.

The top three teams in both sections awarded cash prizes of Rs 75,000/-, Rs 50,000/- and Rs 25,000/- respectively. Numerous Karnataka State Ministers and Kannada actor/former MP Ramya (Divya Spandana) were present in the final. Karnataka's U18 girls' team - winners of the 2016 Junior Nationals in Puducherry - were felicitated.

Final Scores
  • Girls: Tamil Nadu (Avanthi Vardhan 17, S Pushpa 17, T Dharshini 13) bt Kerala (Shreekala R 27, Olivia Shaibu 13) 82-66 [16-18, 19-19, 21-11, 26-18].
  • Boys: Kerala (Amal Reghu 33, Chacko C Simon 19, Sejin Mathew 16) bt Uttar Pradesh (Priyanshu 21, Bhagyansh Gulati 21) 85-51 [16-18, 26-15, 26-10, 17-8].

Third/Fourth Place
  • Girls: Uttar Pradesh (Vaishnavi Yadav 39) bt Madhya Pradesh (Divyani Gangwal 22) 71-39 [10-8, 21-10, 26-13, 14-8].
  • Boys: Tamil Nadu (M Arvind Kumar 30, K Surya 23, T Prathap 15) bt Karnataka (Pratyanshu Tomar 22, Prashant Tomar 16, Srujan BK 13) 99-69 [26-26, 28-14, 22-20, 23-9].

Final Standings

  • 1. Tamil Nadu
  • 2. Kerala
  • 3. Uttar Pradesh
  • 4. Madhya Pradesh
  • 5. Maharashtra

  • 1. Kerala
  • 2. Uttar Pradesh
  • 3. Tamil Nadu
  • 4. Karnataka
  • 5. Rajasthan

November 25, 2016

Review: Greg Pearson's "Maybe Next Year" is for the sports optimist in all of us

At first, it seemed like an arbitrary decision. I liked the colours on Patrick Ewing's jersey on his old basketball card. I became enamoured with Allan Houston's baseline fadeway, Latrell Sprewell's cornrows, and Marcus Camby's tattoos. I saw a team carry out a series of upsets in 1999 to become the first eighth seed to ever make the NBA Finals. And, sitting in India thousands of kilometers away from New York, I decided to myself, "Okay, this is my team. Now, I like the New York Knicks."

Over the next few years, the surprise and elation of 1999 would turn into suffering and embarrassment, but, in a perverse fashion of strange self-misery, my liking of this team turned into love. I loved the Knicks even during the Tim Thomas - Keith Van Horn era, loved them when they traded for Stephon Marbury (my first NBA jersey!) and tried to make the Eddy Curry - Zach Randolph duo work. I cringed, but continued to love them even as Isaiah Thomas committed errors and sins, as the team sunk to bottom-status depths, and found small pleasures in the David Lee 'era'. I was boosted when the team signed Amar'e, elated when they got Carmelo Anthony, and downright ecstatic with Linstanity happened. I raised a sceptical eyebrow when Phil Jackson made Kristaps Porzingis the fourth pick and turned into a unicorn worshippers soon after the greatness of Lord Zingis Khan was understood. And throughout a 17-year period of playoff disappointments and ugly records, I continued to rock the blue-orange-white. The pain, I believed - that I still believe - makes the pleasure all the more worth it.

What seemed like an arbitrary decision has become a defining characteristic. My personality as an adult is permanently dyed with that blue, orange, and white. I've visited New York only a few times in my life, watched just one game at the Mecca of the Madison Square Garden, and yet, I feel worthy to celebrate the Knicks' history, cheer with every big win, and throw my hands up in frustration at every moment of sorrow. There is a sense of optimism in this type of irrational fandom, a hope that, if the present is bad, maybe the future will be better. Knicks have only won two NBA titles, both in the early 1970s, a decade or more before I was even born. And after every wasted season, I think to myself, well, hell, at least there's next years!

I divide sports fans into two distinct brackets, and the bracket they fall in go on to define their higher philosophy in life: the pursuit of success versus the pursuit of loyalty. There are sports fans who are promiscuous with their fandom, following success wherever it may lead them. And then there are those who stay faithful to one life, through its bitter pains and occasional joys, following one team no matter where it leads them.

In the newly-published book Maybe Next Year (McFarland, 2016), newspaper writer and editor Greg Pearson profiles the fans of the latter category in various North American sports, both professional and collegiate, to discover a thread of optimism that somehow keeps them going and keeps their spirits high, even during the worst of times. The book features more than 100 loyal followers of 23 teams, who explain their reasons for never giving up. One of those followers featured, in a New York State of Mind, is me!

Pearson's guidelines for choosing his fans was simple: he focused on teams that hadn't won a championship for forty or more years, covering a couple of generations of shared grief, often passed down from parents to children. Some of the memorable fanbases featured include the Detroit Lions, the New York Jets, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Cleveland Browns. In the basketball world, fanbases of the Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, and New York Knicks talked about their years of pain and optimism. Pearson also included the Sacramento Kings, who moved to the city 31 years ago but were saved from relocation through fan efforts and a purchase by Indian-born owner Vivek Ranadive in 2013.

The most pertinent chapter in the book is the first, which features on the Chicago Cubs, who hadn't won an MLB World Series since 1908. The Cubs serve as the book's opening, and perhaps, also its happy conclusion. The night before Maybe Next Year arrived at my doorstep, they defeated the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series and broke a 108-year title drought!

Reading through Maybe Next Year was therapeutic in a way. It made me realise that I am not alone: us loyal fans keep going through the ups and downs (mostly downs), no matter what the result. So the next time you jump on the bandwagon of the 73-9, Curry-Durant Warriors, tip a hat to those hardcore Warriors fans who lived through 40-years of near-misses, of Run-TMC, Chris Webber, Jason Richardson, the "We Believe" team, and Baron Davis. After decades of irrelevance, they found their year in 2015. The Cubs waited over a century for 2016. Perhaps, one day, our favourite teams will have their year, too.