May 23, 2016

India's first NBA draftee Satnam Singh attends 'Sikh Kid 2 Kid' fundraiser in Maryland


Before he made history by becoming the first Indian player to be drafted into the NBA, before be began to play for the D-League's Texas Legends, and before he became a role model to South Asian basketball lovers around the world, Satnam Singh was just a Sikh child from a small village in Punjab, trying to realize his hoop dream at basketball camps in Ludhiana, and turn his humble opportunity into an unlikely success story.

Years later, Satnam did just that, and during his first professional offseason, the 20-year-old big man used his time to inspire the next generation of young Sikhs to make the most of their opportunities.

On Saturday, May 21st, Satnam Singh attended the first-ever fundraiser for Sikh Kid 2 Kid (SK2K), an organization made up of the Sikh youth in the DMV region, at the RockVille SportPlex in Maryland. The fundraiser featured basketball and football tournaments as well as carnival games, raffles and food. Maryland House Delegate Aruna Miller also attended the fundraiser to support SK2K's cause. Satnam played basketball with the youth, comprising of a group of kids of all backgrounds intermingling with the local Sikh community.

"In India, there are a lot of players who can make the NBA, but they don't have the chance," Satnam said, "They need the opportunity. If you have access to the opportunities and the facilities here, make sure to use it."

"I had always made it my goal to be the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA," he added. "Now, my goal is to play in an NBA game."

Miller, the first South Asian delegate from the city, also spoke to the kids and educated them about the democratic process. She later added that Satnam was a trail blazer in his field and was able to be a different type of role model for South Asians.

Sikh Kid 2 Kid’s wide variety of projects include students training teachers to create culturally accepting environments in their classrooms, facilitating workshops to help render positive body image among the youth, and educational camps for weekly online English classes to underprivileged children back in Punjab. In order to battle Punjab’s drug epidemic, SK2K is also designing and implementing a drug prevention programme for the region.

May 22, 2016

Hoopdarshan Episode 30: Dribble Academy helps rural children in Noida with Pradyut Voleti


Hoopdarshan has entered the 30s, and to celebrate, we're going to our roots. Our grassroots. Our guest for Episode 30 is Pradyut Voleti, founder and coach of the Dribble Academy who have begun a grassroots basketball programme in Gheja village near Noida. Voleti joins hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok to discuss bringing basketball and education hand in hand to underprivileged children, the growth and success stories of Dribble Academy, and sparking a revolution for other such programmes to improve basketball around India.

Based out of Noida, the Dribble Academy is an intensive basketball training academy, created to cater mostly to underprivileged children (aged five and above) and focused primarily on skill-based training. Its founder, Pradyut Voleti, has a Masters in Clinical Psychology and has trained with leading basketball skill developers including Ganon Baker.



Hoopdarshan aims to be the true 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!

Hoopdarshan can be found on...

May 19, 2016

Dribble Academy helps village girl earn scholarship in Noida's Shiv Nadar School through basketball


For the last two years, Noida's Dribble Academy has been a beacon for hoops in the grassroots for the Delhi-NCR region. It's an intensive basketball training academy in the Gheja village, created to cater mostly to underprivileged children (aged five and above) and focused primarily on skill-based training. Its founder Pradyut Voleti has a Masters in Clinical Psychology and has trained with leading basketball skill developers including Ganon Baker. Hundreds of young kids have already been part of the Academy and Voleti continues to build a road-map for the youngsters from the villages to find an outlet, and eventually, an alternative path to life success, through basketball.

Earlier this year, the Academy took their biggest step in helping one such youngster find that alternative path.

Shaily Upadhyay (12), the daughter of a household driver, found her solace in basketball. She took great leaps at improving her game with Voleti and the Dribble Academy over the past two years, and the fruits of her labour have now paid off. Upadhyay was awarded a five-year, hundred percent scholarship at one of the top educational institutions in Noida, the Shiv Nadar School. Her admission was based on a scholarship programme held by Shiv Nadar for exceptional young basketball players, and Upadhyay's performances stood head and shoulders above the competition. Over a hundred kids from Dribble Academy participated in Shiv Nadar's scholarship tryouts, while kids from other schools and areas in the region also took part.

Upadhyay was one of the first to join Dribble Academy's Gheja Village programme two years ago. Now, the Dribble Academy is working to train over 200 children in the village for free.

"Through basketball we teach them life-skills such as teamwork, discipline, and sacrifice," said Dribble Academy's founder Pradyut Voleti. "We started with five kids and now have over 200 .These kids come from families where they have a lot of emotional problems and even domestic violence. I just want to channelise their energy in the right direction, and through basketball I'm making them understand the importance of education."

"There was something different about Shaily from the beginning," added Voleti. "She would outwork everybody at practice, always try to help other players, and has been a leader on and off the court. This is huge for us: a kid from Gheja village who would have never dreamed of a school like this gets a hundred percent scholarship. This is just the beginning for Shaily; we want her to improve in academics and become an all-rounder."

"There are many more such kids at Gheja who are extremely talented and we are hoping that more schools show their interest in these kids and help them achieve."

At Shiv Nadar, Upadhyay will have the opportunity to train under talented young coaches Brahmaditya Singh and India's national women's team player Raspreet Sidhu.

May 16, 2016

Satnam Singh had a cameo in the Punjabi film Bathinda Express


By 20, Satnam Singh has already achieved much more than most of us can dream of in our lifetimes. He made it all the way out of a tiny farming village in Punjab to the IMG Academy in Florida, became a star for India's national basketball team, became the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA, and even got his own basketball card with his NBDL team, the Texas Legends.

But after making history around the basketball world, Satnam returned home to Punjab to gain another feather on the cap above his very large head: a cameo in a Punjabi film.

Satnam returned to the court in Ludhiana when he first started playing basketball as a nine-year-old to shoot a scene for the film 'Bhatinda Express', a Punjabi movie directed by Deep Joshi and starring Deep Joshi and Jasmine Kaur. The film was released over a month ago (April 8), and if my brief Instagram research is correct, it fared well among its target audience.

The film is about Inder (Joshi), a guy who's supposed to be so charming (says the synopsis on its trailer on YouTube) that he turns even 'haters into admirers'. Cool, then. Inder is a runner who falls in love, jokes with friends, runs, has a downfall, and probably rises up again.

But I'm not here for Inder's story. I'm here for those two seconds in the trailer (1:17-1:19) when Joshi is on a basketball court attempting to impress his love interest (Kaur) and her friends before bumping into the 7-foot-2 frame of Satnam Singh. A longer cut of the scene from Satnam's instagram feed (appropriately named SINGH IS KING) shows Satnam handing Joshi a ball and encouraging him with a head motion that is a loose translation to casually go ahead and 'chak de phatte'.

Here's the trailer for Bhatinda Express. Look for Satnam (in his IMG Basketball jersey!) from the 1:17 mark:



I'm only hoping that there is more to Satnam in this film than this short scene. If I got an opportunity to star and direct in my own sequel, I would have a scene just chilling with the big guy at Ludhiana's Aman Chicken eating the best Butter Chicken on Planet Earth and discussing ways to move above Zaza Pachulia in the rotation for the Dallas Mavericks.

May 15, 2016

Playoff Mahabharat



A deeper look at the NBA armies competing for supremacy on the basketball battlefield.

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas.com on May 5, 2016. Click here to read the original feature.

Photo courtesy: Ekalavyas. Graphic art by Nitin Jerath

Sometime around three thousand years ago, the sage Ved Vyasa set out to right probably the longest poem ever written, an epic of mammoth proportions which eventually went out to become of the most important stories ever told: the Mahabharat. It was a tale of the Kurukshetra War between the Pandavs and the Kauravs, and of so much more. Since then, there have been numerous retellings of the story, including regional Tamil versions, an Indonesian version, a Kawi version, the memorable Amar Chitra Katha comic series, big screen adaptations like Kalyug and Rajneeti, and of course, the memorable TV series in the 80s’.

Allow me another modern take on one of India’s oldest stories, but with a slight remix. Allow to me replace the five Pandavs with five positions on the basketball court, the Kurukshetra battlefield with the hardwood court, Krishna’s sage advice with scholarly coaching from Popovich and Kerr, and Arjun’s blazing arrows with long-range three-point bombs.

Here is NBA Playoffs Mahabharat!

Vyasa may not have realized it when he wrote or narrated the Mahabharat (probably sometime around 400 BC) but in the heroic winning squad of the Pandav princes, he also created the perfect basketball starting five, adopted about 2300 years later by Dr James Naismith. Six years ago, Siddarth Sharma wrote an entertaining piece on SportsKeeda about his fantasy Mahabharat team. But here are how the five Pandavs would’ve lined up for me:

  • Yudhistir, the eldest of the brothers, was the most mature and virtuous leader, the point guard of this powerful squad. Without Yudhistir at the helm, this team could potentially have turned out to be a bunch of “me-first” gunners. Like Jason Kidd in his prime, you could’ve counted on Yudhistir to be the pass-first leader and an extension of Coach Dronacharya on the court.
  • Arjun, the most talented brother, perhaps the greatest archer of All Time, was obviously the unstoppable shooting guard on the team, capable of hitting the long threes but also talented with skill to beat his man off the dribble. He was ambidextrous too, a skill that can definitely help on the basketball court – just ask James Harden or Manu Ginobili.
  • Twins Nakul and Sahadev were the youngest brothers and known to be great swordsmen. Their ability to play their role (not everyone can demand the ball on a court, right?) made them a great small forward-power forward punch who play defence and contribute offensively when required.
  • The man in the middle, the team’s center, was obviously Bheem, the giant among the brothers, the mightiest and strongest of the brothers. From everything we know about him, it’s clear that he was the Shaq of this team: just throw the big man the ball inside and he would either slam it in or help create for his teammates. I cannot comment, however, if he would survive a Hack-A-Bheem and nail free-throws at a high-enough percentage.
  • The former teammate: Karan. Oh, you didn’t think I was going to forget my namesake, did you? Karan’s story is perhaps the most fascinating in the Mahabharat, as he was the eldest Pandav who ended up being raised by the Kauravs and ultimately, fought for them. Karan was the Pandav who got traded to a rival squad; when the two teams met in the post-season, you could be sure that the five brothers brought their A-game against this complicated rival.
If the NBA season is entire war, the playoffs become the most intense, crucial part of the battle, sort of like the basketball answer to the Kauravs’ Chakravyuh that foiled Abhimanyu. Each level of the Chakruvyuh gets more intricate, deeper, more difficult, just like each round in the NBA playoffs. Only 16 teams survived the regular season to step into the Chakravyuh.

Now, just eight remain.

Golden State Warriors: The Warriors have played all season perfected to The Art of War, winning with both dominance and virtuosity, as if Lord Krishna himself was on their chariot reciting the Bhagwad Gita en route to the 73-9 record. In the Mahabharat, Krishna urges Arjun to strike down Karan when Karan’s chariot wheel gets stuck in the mud. But for the Warriors, the opposite seems to have happened in the First Round of the playoffs: after a season of dominance, their ‘Arjun’ – Stephen Curry – hurt his ankle and his knee, and it seemed that the wheels had been removed off of their title chase. But a meek First Round opponent (Houston) and injuries elsewhere (Clippers) have kept the Warriors optimistic. For now, the likes of Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and co. are good enough to carry Golden State to the Conference Finals. But they’ll need Curry and his expert marksmanship to return if they hope to survive the Chakravyuh again and repeat as champs.

San Antonio Spurs: If the NBA has a Dronacharya, a teacher-par-excellence, it’s the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich. Drona was teacher to both Kauravs and Pandavs and a master of advanced military arts. Popovich is an ex-army guy and his coaching tree extends all over the NBA. The famous test of Dronacharya challenged young warriors to maintain focus amidst distractions. Only the best of the best pass this test, and in San Antonio, Popovich fosters only the most disciplined, focused group of players. After Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili, Pop’s new favourite pupil is Kawhi Leonard, who probably only speaks in vedic chants. This team won 67 games this season and have a defence as impenetrable as the armour that Lord Indra gave Karan. But they face a mammoth task in trying to stop the double-headed monster thundering towards them from Oklahoma City in Round 2.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Imagine if Arjun and Karan, instead of being on different sides, actually joined forces (like Shah Rukh and Salman eventually did in Karan-Arjun). Now imagine the growth of a double-headed force so strong that nobody – including Krishna or the other Pandavs/Kauravs – could contain it. Then you have the Thunder. Like the barrage of magical arrows on the battle-field from the Mahabharat TV series, the Thunder have the ability to rain offense and destroy opponents with the unstoppable skills of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They look like a team of destiny, but alas, like Yudhistir and his love for the game of dice, they too have some weaknesses: namely, defence and crunch-time offense. The Thunder have at times looked incapable of stopping opponents, and the Durant-Westbrook duo becomes uncreative with their offensive plays in close moments in the fourth quarter. The next round will test their intellect and patience: they have enough talent to win on the battlefield, but do they have the wits to defeat the Spurs’ intellect at shatranj?

Cleveland Cavaliers: After losing in a game of dice to the Kauravs, the Pandavs are sent on exile for 13 years. During this time, they experience many adventures, learn lessons, hone their craft, become better warriors physically and mentally, and finally, return to their kingdom. Cleveland’s King – LeBron James – also left his kingdom and took his talents in exile to South Beach. With a couple other ‘brothers’ in exile in Miami, he went to four consecutive Finals, won two championships, and returned a stronger warrior mentally than ever before. A year ago, the prodigal son of Cleveland returned to the Cavaliers and was ready for the inevitable war. With no other challengers ready to match their firepower of LeBron, Irving, and Love, Cleveland is set to be the likely Kurukshetra battle-ground for the NBA Finals again. But will LeBron finally bring glory to his kingdom?

Atlanta Hawks: If the talents of all five Pandavs were equal, with no superstars (Arjun, Bheem) and no role-players (Nakul, Sahadev), they would come close to achieving the selfless equality of the Hawks. Remember, this is the team that, a year ago, found all five of their starters be named Players of the Month in the East. This year, after a slow start, the Hawks revved up their defence to elite level and rose past Boston in the First Round. Will they be able to stop LeBron’s yearly march to the NBA Finals in the East?

Portland Trail Blazers: In the Mahabharat’s Sauptik Parv (Book of the Sleeping), there is a mass slaughter of the Pandav army, most of whom are killed in their sleep. The battle comes down to just seven warriors on the Pandav side and three for the Kauravs. The Trail Blazers know a thing or two about suddenly losing all of their army; this past offseason, they lost four of their five starters to free agency or trade, leaving behind just Damian Lillard. But they didn’t stop fighting: Lillard continued to develop into stardom and CJ McCollum became the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Now in the Second Round, it will be Portland’s chance to ensure that they can fight strength in their surviving members against Golden State.

Miami Heat: Who remembers the Lakshagrah chapter in the Mahabharat? Shakuni, Duryodhan and Dusasan plotted a sneak attack on the Pandvas. They built a palace out of like lac and ghee and then arranged for the Pandavs and the Queen Mother Kunti to stay there, with the intention of setting it alight. However, the Pandavs received a forewarning from Uncle Vidur, and with a miner’s help, were able to dig a tunnel and escape to safety. The Miami Heat have been set alight multiple times the last few years, too, with the departure of LeBron James, the illness of Chris Bosh, and the effort to incorporate a new set of players for a sudden restart. But they have a wise uncle too – Pat Riley – who was able to rebuild a strong squad around his strongest Pandav, Dwyane Wade. Despite the near destructions, this team is still alive and contending in the 2016 playoffs.

Toronto Raptors: When the war is over, the Pandavs travel up north to the Himalayas, aiming to club Mount Sumeru before their descent to heaven. Out of all the teams in the NBA, it seems like the Raptors – the team up North in Canada – have taken the longest time to take their first steps to ascent towards the NBA peaks. Toronto won their first playoff series in 15 years against the Pacers in Round 1. But can DeRozan and Lowry help them ascent even higher?

May 10, 2016

Tamil Nadu (Boys) and Karnataka (Girls) become 2016 Junior Nationals champions in Puducherry



The finest young basketball talent in India came under the same umbrella to Puducherry for the 2016 Junior National Basketball Championship for Boys and Girls, and the tournament concluded with victories for Tamil Nadu (Boys) and Karnataka (Girls), who both pulled off impressive finals victories at the Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium on Sunday. TN's Girls lost in the finals to Karnataka, while TN Boys beat Kerala.

The tournament was organized by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and the Puducherry Basketball Association. TN Boys were winners in last year's Junior Nationals in Ludhiana, while Chhattisgarh Girls beat Karnataka in the Final.

In the Girls' final, both the teams came to the occasion prepared and were neck and neck at the end of the first quarter. Both the teams were playing zone defense and their respective shooters maximized on the opportunities and were able to score from behind the arc. Tamil Nadu led, 16-14, after the first ten minutes. The intensity changed in the second quarter as Karnataka shifted to man to man defense and were able to stop the three pointers of Tamil Nadu. In the third quarter, Karnataka took a huge lead as their pressure defense forced the Tamil Nadu players into many turnovers. The turnover led to easy transition baskets, many of which were converted by its senior international star Bhandavya (28). In the fourth quarter, Karnataka maintained its double digit lead despite Tamil Nadu switching to a full court press in desperation. Karnataka overcome their loss in last year's final to win 64-44.

In the first quarter of the boys' final between TN and Kerala, TN's first quarter performance set the tone for the game. TN opened the game with a 23-16 advantage, as their stars Hari Ram (29) and P. Baladhaneshwar (19) leading the way. TN kept a composed lead to take a 43-35 advantage by halftime, and continued to match every spurt by Kerala with one of their own. Despite strong performances by the Kerala duo of Md Shiras (23) and Prem (22), TN moved on to win 88-77.

BFI President K Govindaraj was the chief guest for the prize distribution ceremony. Aadhav Arjuna, Chairman of the Organizing Committee & Managing Director of Arise Industries & Agency Pvt. Ltd. was the guest of honour. Dr T Sundararajan, the principal of Pondicherry Engineering College presided over the ceremony, with V Rajasekar, Managing Director, Raman Roadways felicitating the guests. Other dignitaries overseeing the ceremony included Rev Fr MS John Bosco, President-PBA and Dr V Ragothaman, Honorary Secretary-PBA.

Earlier in the day, Delhi Boys secured third place with a hard-fought win over Haryana, 77-72. Vishal scored 17 for Delhi. The Girls' bronze medal game was a classic encounter, too, as Shruti scored 27 points to help Maharashtra edge away for a 60-58 win against Chhattisgarh.

A day earlier, Chhattisgarh, last year's Girls' champions, were beaten in overtime in the semi-final by an incredible late comeback by Tamil Nadu, 63-57. Avanti scored 18 for TN, edging ahead of Chattisgarh's Riya Verma's 17. In the second girls' semi-final, Karnataka's Bhandavya HM led the way with 24 to help her team beat Maharashtra 73-63. Shreema had 16 for the losing side.

Both the boys' semi-finals were neck-to-neck clashes that were only decided in the final moments of the games. Prem scored 28 for Kerala as his team outscored Delhi 35-15 in the final quarter and pull off a shock 72-68 victory. Rachit (18) and Vishal (17) led thew way for Delhi. In the other boys' semi-final, TN's trio of Hari Ram (32), Daniel (20), and Baladhaneshwar (17) helped their team beat Haryana 83-79. Haryana's top scorers were Sonu (18) and Deepak (17).

Finals
  • Boys: Tamil Nadu (Hari Ram 29, P. Baladhaneshwar 19) bt Kerala (Shiras 23, Prem 22) 88-77 [23-16, 20-19, 18-17, 27-25].
  • Girls: Karnataka (Bhandavya HM 29) bt Tamil Nadu 64-44 [14-16, 19-9, 19-3, 12-16].

Bronze Medal Games
  • Boys: Delhi (Vishal 17, Hasraj 14) bt Haryana (Sonu Kumar 14) 77-72 [11-12, 20-17, 20-20, 26-23].
  • Girls: Maharashtra (Shruti 27, Neha 15) bt Chhattisgarh (Vaniana 15, Gulabsha 14) 60-58 [10-13, 16-15, 11-9, 23-21].

Final Standings

Boys
  • 1. Tamil Nadu
  • 2. Kerala
  • 3. Delhi
  • 4. Haryana
  • 5. Punjab

Boys
  • 1. Karnataka
  • 2. Tamil Nadu
  • 3. Maharashtra
  • 4. Chhattisgarh
  • 5. Kerala

May 4, 2016

Hoopdarshan Episode 29: 10 Big NBA Playoffs Questions with Zyman Marzuki


As the NBA Playoffs move into the Second Round, Hoopdarshan moves onwards too, keeping a keen eye on the final eight teams competing for the 2016 NBA Championship. On Episode 29 of India's finest basketball podcast, hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok are joined by NBA superfan and Karan's friend Zyman Marzuki to break down TEN BIG QUESTIONS for the NBA Playoffs.

Is Tim Duncan truly a Robot? Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook? Can anyone in the East stop the Cavs? And yes, our thoughts on which team will go all the way to the title... Listen for our predictions, hypotheticals, and bad jokes.



Hoopdarshan aims to be the true 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!

Hoopdarshan can be found on...