November 15, 2017

How the G-League has become a stepping stone for India’s NBA dreams


This article was first published in my 'Hoopistani' column on The Times of India Sports on November 4, 2017. Read the original version here.

Amjyot Singh is used to being a centrepiece on the basketball court. For the past six years, the 25-year-old, 6-foot-8 power forward has never played for a basketball team where he hasn’t featured in a leading role. He has been India’s leading scorer for half a decade of international competitions, starred at the domestic level for IOB (Chennai), Punjab Police, and the UBA League’s Delhi Capitals, and even when playing professionally abroad, has been a game-changer for successful teams in the Summer and Development Leagues in Japan.

But on a Friday night in Oklahoma City, deep in the Great Plains of central United States, Amjyot was sidelined. He sat on the bench through the whole game as the Oklahoma City Blue—the NBA G-League team that had drafted him two weeks earlier—secured a tense comeback victory over the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. It was the first time since he was a wide-eyed teenager in Chandigarh that he wasn’t an important contributor to his squad.

And yet, he would count it as one of the greatest days of his life.

Just two days before the game, Amjyot had secured his place in the final roster of the Blue, ensuring a contract with the team and suiting up in the team’s blue-and-white jersey. The day before the game, Amjyot posed proudly in his new ‘Singh 13’ jersey.

On his nonguaranteed contract, his future is blurry. He could be cut in the chance of an injury, of another prospect, or a player sent down from the Blue’s NBA’s affiliate, the Oklahoma City Thunder. He is likely to be the last man off the bench on the Blue’s roster until he proves his worth. But even in these uncertain times, the G-League possibility has shown him a path forward to his dreams that international prospects like him couldn’t even have envisioned several years ago.

The NBA, the world’s finest basketball association, launched their official Development League in 2001 with just eight teams, but with the ambition for it to eventually become into a true minor league ‘farm’ system to develop talent. Over the past decade and a half, this minor league has grown rapidly. Now, the recently renamed ‘G-League’ has 26 teams, each with a one-to-one affiliation with an NBA franchise. Over the past four years, around 15 percent of G-League players have received “call-ups” to play in the NBA.

The NBA remains every basketball player’s ultimate destination, the finest level of the game with promise of legacy, competition, fame, and money. But only the rarest of the rare cases make it to this stage.

Most other hoop dreamers around the world have to settle for other options. Players in North America have had a competitive NCAA college basketball circuit and other minor leagues. Professional leagues around the world—from Europe to China to Australia—have been alternative tickets to basketball success for so many others while they kept their NBA ambitions alive.

But the expanded presence of the G-League has helped create the most direct secondary option for players who are on the cusp of an NBA roster, who need to refine and retool their games enough to make those dreams come true. Additionally, it has become an option for NBA teams to stack their assets, to oversee young, raw players develop into future potential contributors.

Two and a half years ago, Punjab-born seven-footer Satnam Singh made history when he became the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA. Satnam was picked by the Dallas Mavericks, who immediately placed him in their minor league affiliate squad Texas Legends. Satnam played for the Legends for two years, earning bit minutes off the bench and never impressing enough to warrant an NBA call-up. Last month, he announced that he would be leaving the G-League behind to continue his basketball journey back home in India.

Last year, Palpreet Singh, another Punjabi big man, was drafted into the G-League by the Long Island Nets, but he never made the team’s final roster after training camp.

When he was drafted with the 103rd pick of the 2017 draft (the 25th pick of the fourth and final round) by the Blue, Amjyot became the third Indian citizen in a space of three years to begin an affair with the G-League.

Amjyot is the eldest, most-experienced, and most talented of the three, but still no closer to playing in the NBA itself. No Indian has yet made an NBA debut. The rise of the G-League, however, has suddenly opened new doors for Indian prospects. Realistically, his path to the NBA is still highly improbable; but thanks to the G-League, players like him can begin to envision the path for the first time.

As the league’s profile continues to rise, watch for many more Indians to follow on Satnam, Palpreet, and Amjyot’s footsteps in the near future. One of those players will eventually become a centrepiece for their team, become a G-League star, and make the next big leap and become the first Indian in the NBA.

November 14, 2017

UBA India hands multi-year contracts to 30 top basketball players - including Satnam Singh


For the past few years, the UBA India has introduced an exciting new avenue for Indian basketball players, launching short competitive seasons of their growing UBA Basketball League, helping India's top players improve the level of their game, and even roping in NBA legend AC Green as their new director of sport. Now, with ambitions to secure the services of their top players for the long term - before the Indian basketball bubble expands - UBA has handed multi-year professional contracts to 30 of their top Indian basketball players. This is the first time that basketball players in India will get guaranteed contracts of this length.

Earlier this month, the UBA signed Satnam Singh, the first Indian drafted into the NBA, to a contract with the league. Satnam had spent the past two seasons playing with the Texas Legends of the NBA's G-League and is set to join his home state's Punjab Steelers with the UBA. Now, they have followed up the big news with the announcement that 29 more players will be signed to contracts into seven of the eight UBA teams.

"I still remember the day I signed my first professional contract in the NBA," said AC Green. "It left a huge impression on my life. Now these players get to experience that same feeling that I once had upon signing my first contract. We are excited about our upcoming season and the future of Indian basketball."

The contracts range from three to five years for a combined total of more than Rs 16 crore. In addition, the signed players will also receive basketball and fitness training from top experts in the USA, along with nutritional guidance to help them maximise their potential.

Apart from Satnam, the players signed to these contracts include several with past or present Indian national team experience, such as Palpreet Brar, Rikin Pethani, Anil Kumar Gowda, Muin Bek Hafeez, Yadwinder Singh, Jagdeep Singh Bains, Prasanna Venkatesh, and TJ Sahi. India's top three players - Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amritpal Singh, and Amjyot Singh - are absent from this list, even though all of them participated in the UBA's last season. Bhriguvanshi is recovering from an injury and has been signed by the NBL's Adelaide 36ers as a reserve. Amritpal has become the first Indian to play in the Australian NBL after he was signed by the Sydney Kings. Amjyot was drafted by the NBA G-League and is currently playing for the OKC Blue.

List of players signed with UBA to multi-year deals - via SportStar
  • Bengaluru Beast: Palpreet Brar, Loveneet Singh Atwal, Kaif Zia, Visu Palani, Khushmeet Singh Atwal.
  • Chennai Slam: Chukwunanu Agu, Cammy Carmel, Rikin Pethani.
  • Delhi Capitals: Anil Kumar Gowda, Muin Bek Hafeez, Vinay Kaushik.
  • Haryana Gold: Yadwinder Singh, Akashdeep Hazra, Himanshu Sharma.
  • Mumbai Challengers: Jagdeep Singh Bains, Prasanna Venkatesh, Prudhvi Reddy, Jeevanantham Pandi, Dildar Brar.
  • Pune Peshwas: Siddhant Shinde, Arshpreet Bhullar, Ajinkya Mane.
  • Punjab Steelers: Gurvinder Singh Gill, Sagar Joshi, Harmanpreet Singh, Taj Sandhu, Kaushal Ravi Kumar, Satnam Singh, TJ Sahi, Vikas Mor.

In India, where there is no full-time professional league and the top basketball players are semi-professionals that usually have other jobs, multi-year contracts are a major step forward in helping top talent get job security. Hopefully, this translates to better play on court and more competition in players aspiring to play and star for the UBA.

The Mumbai Challengers won Season 4 of the UBA League in March earlier this year, led by their foreign imports Alex Scales, Jimmy Scroggins, Inderbir Singh Gill, as well as experienced Indian veterans Bains and Venkatesh. The new guaranteed contracts, inclusion of Satnam in the fray and AC Green in the management side, plus the continuing improvement of the players, should help in another great season of basketball when UBA returns for Season 5.

November 10, 2017

Zoran Visic assigned as Coach of India's Men's basketball team for FIBA World Cup Qualifiers - Probables and Schedule


The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) announced on Thursday that Zoran Visic - the experienced Serbian basketball coach who has been at the helm of India's Women's basketball teams this year - will now be appointed to a new challenge. Visic has now been assigned Head Coach of India's Men's basketball team for the upcoming round of 2019 FIBA World Cup Qualifiers. The BFI has also released a list of 19 probables for Team India for the qualifying games against Lebanon and Syria later this month.

Visic's open attitude to new challenges have helped him become a surprisingly ubiquitous presence in Indian basketball over the course of the past few months. He was originally hired to be the head coach of India’s women’s senior national team in June. In July's FIBA Asia Cup in Bengaluru, he helped India win the (secondary) Division B of the competition. To maintain continuity, the BFI appointed him Head Coach of India's U16 Women's squad, too, and he repeated his feat, helping the team secure the same success (Division B win) in the same city (Bengaluru) at the FIBA Asia U16 Women's Cup last month.

Visic's counterpart for India's Senior Men's team - at the FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon earlier this year - was experienced NBA coach Phil Weber. But Weber's appointment only lasted a few months in preparation and until the end of the Men's Asia Cup - there had been a void at the helm of the Men's team. With Visic available, the BFI turned inwards to find someone who had gained some understanding of the Indian system to lead the Men's squad forward for the next few games.

Visic is a FIBA World Instructor and has over 34 years of professional basketball coaching experience across Serbia, Romania, Russia, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, and Singapore. He was appointed coach of the Men's team earlier this month at the beginning of the Senior National Men's Coaching Camp for the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers that is currently going on in Bengaluru at Sree Kanteerava Stadium. Visic's assistant coaches for the national team are Paramdeep Singh, Shambhaji Kadam and Laldingsanga Hangsing.

The camp, which started on November 1, will be held until November 20, before India fly to Lebanon for their first qualifying game on the 23rd, and then return home for the second qualifier against Syria on November 26.

The 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup is scheduled to be held in China from August 31 - September 15, 2019. In the run-up to this biggest-ever event, FIBA is holding home-and-away style qualifiers over a space of 12-18 months to decide the tournament's final 32 qualifiers.

In the first round of the qualifiers, India has been grouped with Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. Teams in each group will play each other home and away between November 2017 to July 2018 in the First Round. Listed below is India's schedule - the home team in each case is mentioned first:

  • November 23, 2017: Lebanon vs. India.
  • November 26, 2017: India vs. Syria
  • February 23, 2018: India vs. Jordan
  • February 26, 2018: India vs. Lebanon
  • June 28, 2018: Syria vs. India
  • July 1, 2018: Jordan vs. India

To qualify for the Second Round, India have to finish within the top three of their group. As they currently stand in the FIBA rankings, India are the third-best team in Group C, behind Jordan and Lebanon. At the FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon in August, India lost in the group stage to Jordan, and more surprisingly, to Syria, The qualifiers will give India a chance for some redemption, beginning with the first two games later this month.

With the exception of Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, India's lead guard who has been struggling with injuries all year, the BFI has named a strongest-possible list of 19 probables for Team India at the qualifiers. This list includes Indian stars Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh who are currently in the NBA G-League and the NBL in Australia respectively.

Full List of India's probables
  • Amjyot Singh
  • Amritpal Singh
  • Aravind Annadurai
  • Yadwinder Singh
  • Satnam Singh Bhamara
  • Arshpreet Singh Bhullar
  • Arvind Kumar BK
  • Arvind Arumugam
  • Gurvinder Singh Gill
  • Muin Bek Hafeez
  • Akilan Pari
  • Prasanna Ventakesh
  • Rikin Pethani
  • Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi
  • Prudhvi Reddy
  • Palpreet Singh Brar
  • Vishal Kumar Gupta
  • Jagdeep Singh Bains
  • Arjun Singh

It is unlikely that Amjyot and Amritpal will return to the national team from their professional obligations to take part in the first round of these qualifiers. But the team does feature a number of other exciting players to keep an eye on. On top of the list is of course Satnam Singh, India's first NBA draft pick, who left his NBA G-League team a few months ago to focus on developing his game back home. Satnam got limited opportunities behind Amjyot and Amritpal in the FIBA Asia Cup, and these qualifiers could be his chance to prove that he could be a star for the national team. Palpreet Singh Brar, India's first NBA G-League draft pick, is among the probables, too. Experienced Punjabi bigs Yadwinder Singh and Jagdeep Singh Bains will be there to provide veteran leadership. India's issue, as before, will continue to be the imbalance between frontcourt and backcourt, as there is a shortage of star guards in Vishesh Bhriguvanshi's absence. A lot will depend on the development of rising young star Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi.

India will struggle without the Big Three of Bhriguvanshi, Amjyot, and Amritpal, but Visic has always focused on team success before highlighting individuals, and hopefully, he can help a new round of players carry the team forward.

November 7, 2017

BFI announces 2017-18 seasons of Indian School and College Basketball Leagues


After a brief hiatus, the Basketball Federation of India's (BFI) premier nationwide school basketball league returned to action last year. Now, cleared of some of the cobwebs blocking Indian basketball, the BFI is set to bring back with a blast both the Indian School Basketball League (ISBL) and the Indian College Basketball League (ICBL) for the 2017-18 season in 22 states and territories around the country.

ISBL will be held between December 25, 2017 to March 15, 2018 in each participating states. ICBL will be held between April 18, 2018 to July 31, 2018. The winners of the Boys and Girls categories in School Leagues and Men and Women categories in College Leagues from each state will qualify for the Indian School and College Basketball Leagues - National Championship later in 2018.

According to the BFI, the ISBL and ICBL will create a structured, self-sustaining system which will serve as the platform to increase organised basketball participation at grassroots level and subsequently serve as the talent development system for the Indian National Teams. These leagues are organized in such a way that it extends to a period of around 6-8 weeks where each team plays only one match every week. Also, the School Leagues have certain regulations which helps each and every player to get a good amount of playing time to showcase their talent.

List of states organizing ISBL and ICBL for the 2017-18 season
  • Indian School Basketball League: Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, Odisha, Chandigarh, Telangana, Gurajat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, West Bengal, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Indian College Basketball League: Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, Odisha, Chandigarh, Telangana, Gurajat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Rajasthan.

The previous editions of the School and College League have helped provide the Federation a wider talent pool out of which many of the top performers went on to represent India in different age groups. In 2014-15, Baladhaneshwar Poizamozhi from the ISBL and Muin Bek Hafeez from the ICBL both went on to make their Indian national debuts this year.

Rs. 25,000 will be awarded to the State Level Champions in both ISBL and ICBL, whereas the first and second runners-up will get Rs. 15,000 and 10,000 each, respectively. The details, including dates and locations, for the National Championships in both leagues will be announced soon.

Hopefully, the return of these comprehensive leagues can strengthen the backbone of grassroots Indian basketball and make it easier for talented players to get a platform to shine and improve.

November 2, 2017

NBA and Dream11 launch daily fantasy basketball game in India


Fans of Fantasy NBA, who have for years closely chronicled and competed on Yahoo!, ESPN, etc will be glad to know that there is now an officially-sanctioned option exclusively for Indian fans. The NBA in India has partnered with Dream11, a fantasy sports portal, to launch their official NBA Fantasy Game this season.

NBA and Dream11's official game will be a free daily fantasy game available on NBA.com in India, and can also be accessed via Dream11.com and the Dream11 app, which is available for download via the App Store and the Google Play Store. Users can create a team with 100 playing credits, join contests, and win a variety of prizes and rewards, including NBAStore.in gift cards, NBA merchandise, Dream11 game bonuses, and the opportunity to win a trip to the USA for the the 2018 NBA Finals.

More via IndianTelevision.com

"We are excited to partner with the NBA to add basketball to our growing set of fantasy sports offerings," said Dream11 CEO and Co-Founder Harsh Jain. "Fans of the official NBA fantasy game will enjoy a fast and responsive platform which delivers a rich user experience. We believe that avid and casual fans alike will enjoy this simple and easy to understand way of engaging with the NBA."
"The official NBA fantasy game with Dream11 will be a great platform for fans to engage with the league alongside millions of NBA fans," said NBA India Managing Director Yannick Colaco. "Fantasy basketball provides an engaging fan experience and can help drive tune in to our NBA game broadcasts on Sony SIX and Sony Ten 3."

Dream11 was originally launched as a Fantasy Cricket site before they expanded to Football, Kabaddi, and now, NBA.

Go here to start playing the NBA Fantasy Game!

November 1, 2017

Indian basketball star Amjyot Singh makes OKC Blue roster in the NBA G-League


Last week, Indian basketball fans received a new excuse for celebration, a continuing Diwali miracle: homegrown basketball star Amjyot Singh had beaten the final buzzer and drafted among the final picks of the NBA's G-League Draft by the Oklahoma City Blue. Amjyot's selection was the 103rd pick (the 25th pick of the fourth and final round) of the night, ensuring that the Blue would have the rights to bring him in for his medical, training camp, and a possibility of making the team's final 2017-18 roster.

For the past week, the 25-year-old Amjyot has been in Oklahoma City, competing with other young dreamers for the final available spots. On Tuesday, the Blue waived two players from training camp and announced their final roster for the season - which included Amjyot! The 6-foot-8 forward will play stack up among Blue players such as PJ Dozier and Daniel Hamilton for a team led by Head Coach Mark Daigneault.

G-League contracts are non-guaranteed, which means that Amjyot can be dropped at any point in case of injury, better options, players being sent down from the Blue's NBA affiliate Oklahoma City Thunder, etc. Still, this is big news for Amjyot. He has become the third Indian citizen to flirt with the G-League, after India's first NBA draft pick Satnam Singh played for the Texas Legends for two years and Palpreet Singh was became the first Indian to be drafted in the G-League - by the Long Island Nets - last year. Palpreet, however, never made the Nets' final roster.

Amjyot is one of India's most talented basketball players, one of the national team's "Big Three" along with Amritpal Singh and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi. For the past five years, he has been India's most consistent scorer on the international stage and helped India to many high-profile victories. Amjyot played professionally in Japan's Summer League and Development League a few years ago and is an accomplished international 3x3 basketball star. Originally from Chandigarh, the 6-foot-8, 25-year-old forward was India's captain and leading scorer at the recently-completed FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon. Amjyot was trained at the Ludhiana Basketball Academy in Punjab and played domestically for IOB (Chennai), Punjab Police, and the Delhi Capitals of the UBA League.

October 29, 2017

Mongolia (Men), Australia (Women) win 2017 FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup; India women finish 4th, Men 9th


Basketball's new, short version took another successful step towards its exponential growth this week. In Mongolia, the top 3x3 basketball teams from Asia and Oceania took part in the 2nd FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup in Ulaanbaatar from October 27-29. A total of 27 men and women's teams participated in this quickfire tournament, including teams from India. By the end of Sunday, hosts Mongolia took home the Men's gold in front of their home fans, while Australian women finished atop their division.

In the tournament's previous iteration in Qatar, India's women won the gold medal. This time around, however, they were ousted in the semi-final stage and had to settle for fourth place. India's men's team failed to make it out of the group stage and finished at ninth.

Mongolia met New Zealand in the Men's final and pulled away in the final minutes for a 19-14, thanks to the play-making of MVP Dulguun Enkhbat and the scoring of Tsenguunbayar Gotov.

Australia, in their debut in this tournament, were led by MVP Isabell Bourne en route to a 21-15 victory in the women's final.

China defeated India's women 21-16 to secure third place. Australia won third-place in the men's division, defeating Kazakhstan 21-18.

India's women, a team that featured Shireen Limaye, Jeena Scaria, Raspreet Sidhu, and Grima Merlin Varghese came into the tournament with aspirations to defend their gold medal from Qatar. In the group stage's Pool D, India beat Kyrgyzstan in their first game 20-12, but lost to New Zealand in nail-biter 16-15. India defeated Mongolia in the Quarter-Final 16-14, but their entry to the finale was blocked by Malaysia who defeated them 19-13. India's final game was a third-place matchup against China, which they lost 21-16 and finished fourth.

India's men's team featured Ravi Bhardwaj, Anil Kumar Gowda, Gurvinder Singh Gill, and Jeevanantham Pandi. They had to begin the tournament in the qualifying round. After losing to Chinese Taipei 21-15 in the first game, they defeated Lebanon 21-19 to sneak into the group stage. Here, they lost both of their matchups, first to China 22-15 and then to Kyrgyzstan 21-19, and their hopes of making the knockout rounds were dashed. India finished at 9th place.

India's Women had two scorers in the tournament's top ten, Raspreet Sidhu and Shireen Limaye.

Men's Team of the Tournament: Dulguun Enkhbat (MVP - Mongolia), Alonzo Burton (New Zealand), Lucas Barker (Australia).

Women's Team of the Tournament: Isabella Bourne (MVP - Australia), Fook Ye Yap (Malaysia), Jinxian Wang (China).

Shoot-Out Contest winner: Fook Ye Yap (Malaysia).

Final Standings

Men
  • 1. Mongolia
  • 2. New Zealand
  • 3. Australia
  • 4. Kazakhstan
  • 5. China

Women
  • 1. Australia
  • 2. Malaysia
  • 3. China
  • 4. India
  • 5. Mongolia