March 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

2018 CommonWealth Games Basketball Groups

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

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

India's Basketball rosters for 2018 CommonWealth Games

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

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

India's Preliminary Round Schedule - all timings IST

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

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

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

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

March 9, 2018

Amjyot Singh and Jeena Scaria honoured at #TOISA2018 Basketball Awards

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

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

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

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

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

Over the past year, Amjyot Singh’s crowning achievement was to become the second Indian (after Satnam Singh) to make it to the NBA’s G-League with the Oklahoma City Blue in late October. The sharp-shooting 6-foot-8 forward has seen his role grow with the Blue over the past few months and has taken a step closer to the NBA than any Indian citizen before him. Back home, Amjyot continued to be a lynchpin for India’s national team. He was India’s captain at the FIBA Asia Cup, and finished the tournament leading the team in points (13.0) and assists (4.3). He was also India’s top player at other international trips to the William Jones Cup and the BRICS Games.

Jeena Scaria took centre-stage for her home state when she led Kerala to their first Senior Nationals gold medal since the mid-eighties. She was one of India’s top players in the squad that won Division B at the FIBA Asia Women’s Cup in Bengaluru in July. She was also part of India’s 3×3 team which made it to the semi-final of the FIBA 3×3 Asia Cup in Mongolia in late October.

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

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

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

March 3, 2018

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

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

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

Hoopdarshan is the truest voice of Indian basketball, and since we're such hopeless fans of the game, it will become the voice of everything basketball related we love, from the NBA to international hoops, too. On every episode of Hoopdarshan, we will be inviting a special guest to interview or chat to about a variety of topics. With expert insight from some of the brightest and most-involved people in the world of Indian basketball, we hope to bring this conversation to a many more interested fans, players, and followers of the game.

Make sure to follow Hoopdarshan on Soundcloud or search for 'Hoopdarshan' on the iTunes Store! Auto-sync Hoopdarshan to your preferred podcast app NOW!

Hoopdarshan can be found on...

March 1, 2018

Is India ready to host an NBA preseason game?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But is India ready for the league?

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 27, 2018

India, in turmoil, lose 2019 FIBA World Cup Qualifiers to Jordan and Lebanon at home

The odds were already stacked against India before the February window of 2019 FIBA World Cup Qualifiers. Despite having two games scheduled on home ground, India returned to the qualifiers after losing their previous two games in November and without the services of their lead guard - Vishesh Bhriguvanshi - due to injury. But a self-inflicted catastrophe, followed by an uninspiring performance, led the national men's team to more turmoil. The short-handed Indian side failed to deliver again and lost two more qualifying matches at home over the past week to Jordan and Lebanon to fall 0-4 in the qualifiers.

This is the first time that FIBA - the international basketball federation - is holding their new qualifying format for the World Cup. India was drawn in Group C for the First Round of the 2019 World Cup’s Asian Qualifiers, along with Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. To qualify for the Second Round, India have to finish within the top three of their group.

Last week, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) announced the roster for these two matches with some good news: two of India's finest players, Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh who play in the NBA G-League and NBL Australia respectively, were set to return home for the week to boost the team. Led by interim head coach Rajinder Singh, the squad also featured the likes of Aravind Annadurai, star for India at the Asian Games Test Event in Indonesia, and Satnam Singh, the first Indian to be drafted to the NBA. The competition would be tough, but there was some optimism in the Indian camp with both games scheduled to be held at the Sree Kantaveera Stadium in Bengaluru.

Alas, confusion and a technical tragedy played a cruel joke on India's plans. Due to a clerical error between the federation and the players, FIBA didn't receive Amjyot and Amritpal's names in the official team list for India's two games. Despite being fully prepared for these games, the two star Singhs were unable to suit up for India. The rest of the team were forced to make do without all of their "Big Three".

New heroes had to emerge for India, and in the first game against Jordan on Friday. February 23, those heroes were Annadurai (28 points, 11 rebounds) and Satnam (20 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists). While Jordan kept a steady lead, the two bigs did their best to keep India in the contest. India trailed only by five, 66-61, before the beginning of the final quarter, before a deeper Jordan team finally pulled away, exploding offensively to finish the game with a 102-88 victory. The trio of Mohammad Hussein (19), Mahmoud Abdeen (18), and Dar Tucker (18) led Jordan to the win. Apart from Annadurai and Satnam, India got a positive contribution from newcomer Justin Joseph (16) in the loss.

The loss and official mix-up deflated the squad before their second game, against Lebanon on Monday, February 26. Lebanon had already defeated India in November 107-72 in Zouk Mikael back in November. On Monday, it was more of the same. Now also missing point guard Akilan Pari due to personal reasons, India struggled mightily on offence, committing 20 turnovers and converting less than 29 percent of their field goal attempts. Led by Ater Majok (17), Bassel Bawji (16), and Amir Saoud (16), Lebanon cruised to a 90-50 victory.

India will have a break from FIBA Qualifiers and turn their attentions to another major international tournament, the 2018 CommonWealth Games scheduled in Australia in April. Hopefully, the BFI can mend their differences with the star players and field a full-strength squad - otherwise, the entire exercise will be a waste of time, effort, and resources again. The next round of FIBA World Cup qualifiers are scheduled in late June and early July, both away games to Syria and Jordan respectively. At the bottom of their group, it is now virtually impossible for India to qualify for the Second Round of qualifiers.

The 2019 FIBA World Cup will be held in China in August/September 2019.

February 18, 2018

India announce squad for next window of FIBA World Cup qualifiers against Jordan and Lebanon in Bengaluru

India began the campaign for the 2019 FIBA World Cup with disappointments in the first window of their First Round games. In two games in November, India played uninspiring basketball, losing to Lebanon on the road, and then to Syria back home. The losses have put the team at the bottom of Group C and complicating any chances for India to qualify for the next stage.

If that course has to be corrected, however, the hard work has to start now. FIBA Asia's second window of 2019 World Cup qualifiers will begin next week. India will play two home games - against Jordan and Lebanon - at the Sri Kantaveera Stadium in Bengaluru. India will face Jordan on Friday, February 23rd, and Lebanon on Monday, February 26th.

This is the first time that FIBA - the international basketball federation - is holding their new qualifying format for the World Cup. India was drawn in Group C for the First Round of the 2019 World Cup’s Asian Qualifiers, along with Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. To qualify for the Second Round, India have to finish within the top three of their group.

A short-handed Indian squad lost to Lebanon 107-22 in Zouk Mikael in November, and came home for a more disappointing loss against a weaker Syrian team, 74-57. Jordan has won both while Lebanon and Syria have lost one and won one match each.

To prepare for the upcoming important games, India played in the 2018 Asian Games Test Event's basketball tournament in Indonesia last week, finishing with a silver medal.

The good news for India going ahead for the next two home games is that two of the country's top players - Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh - will return from professional obligations for the Oklahoma City Blue (NBA G-League) and Sydney Kings (NBL Australia) respectively to rejoin Team India next week. Also playing for the team will be Aravind Annadurai, star for India at the Asian Games Test Event in Indonesia, and Satnam Singh, the first Indian to be drafted to the NBA. Rajinder Singh will serve as India's coach for these match-ups. The Basketball Federation of India's (BFI) President K. Govindraj and Secretary-General Chander Mukhi Sharma announced India's roster in Bengaluru on Saturday,

Team India
  • Ravi Bhardwaj
  • Arvind Arumugam
  • Satnam Singh
  • Arshpreet Singh Bhullar
  • Aravind Annadurai
  • Akilan Pari
  • Justin Gnanaraj
  • Jeevanantham Pandi
  • Yadwinder Singh
  • Joginder Singh
  • Amritpal Singh
  • Amjyot Singh
  • Loveneet Singh Atwal *injury replacement
  • Head Coach: Rajinder Singh
  • Assistant Coach: GRL Prasad
  • Assistant Coach: RH Lalding Sanga

The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) has announced free entry to all fans hoping to attend the games in Bengaluru. The city hosted three major FIBA events last year: the 2017 FIBA Asia Championship for Women, the 2017 FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women, and India's FIBA World Cup Qualifier against Syria.

"After looking at the enthusiasm of the fans in the previous events we have decided to open up the gates for all the basketball fans," said Govindraj. "Providing free entry will be a great opportunity for all the school children in Bangalore to witness basketball played on the highest level."

February 14, 2018

Follow my Fantasy NBA column for 'India Fantasy'

It's not news that Fantasy NBA has been a big deal worldwide for decades. In India, however, even as Fantasy Sports have become more popular, basketball has trailed behind to Cricket (international and IPL) and Football (generally English Premier League, but other leagues around the world, too). India, of course, doesn't have its own full-time pro basketball league, and there are few statistical records from Indian domestic tournaments.

Fortunately for Indian hoop fans, there is always the NBA, with competitive fantasy leagues on CBS Sports, ESPN, Rotoworld, Yahoo! Sports, and the NBA's own daily fantasy game, launched with Dream11 for the Indian audience.

For those of you looking for predictions, advice, or just some good reads, check out my new Fantasy NBA column for India Fantasy. India Fantasy, who have been a comprehensive source for Fantasy Cricket and Football news and contests, will now expand to Basketball, too. For my first piece, I wrote about the underrated Denver Nuggets foursome of Nikola Jokic, Jamaal Murray, Gary Harris, and Will Barton, and made some more picks from top games for the rest of the week.