July 30, 2015

Hoopdarshan Episode 13: The Making of Indian basketball's finest, Amjyot Singh

One of India's most talented basketball players, 22-year-old Chandigarh boy Amjyot Singh's skills made him a regular starter for India's national team, gave him a pivotal role in India's historic win over China last year, and brought him a pro contract to play in Japan. In Episode 13 of Hoopdarshan - the first podcast on Indian Basketball - Amjyot joins hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok in a candid conversation about his starring role for Team India, his experiences playing in Japan, facing FIBA's 'No Headgear' policy as a Sikh player, and listening to romantic slow jams before big games.

First promoted to India's Senior Men's team in 2011, 6-foot-9 Amjyot has played a huge role for India at every major international tournament since, including the 2011 and 2013 FIBA Asia Championships, the 2012 Stankovic Cup (where he was captain), and the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup. Amjyot became one of two first Indian male players to play pro internationally, when he and Amrit Pal Singh joined Hyogo Impulse of Japan's BJ Summer League. Back home in India, he plays for IOB in Chennai. He was named one of the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship players to watch by FIBA, and he spoke to us on the podcast about his growing role for India, his ambitions to become one of the best in Asia, and going head-to-head with India's NBA draftee, Satnam Singh.

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...

    July 28, 2015

    Chennai schools win 1st Mamannan Raja Raja Cholan Cup All India Invitational School Basketball Tournament in Thanjavur

    The 1st-ever Mamannan Raja Raja Cholan Cup All India Invitational School Basketball Tournament concluded in Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu) on Sunday, July 26, with home-state Chennai teams lifting the trophies in both the boys and the girls divisions. The tournament, organized by the Manannan Raja Raja Cholan Rural Basketball Development Trust (MRRCRBT), was held from July 22-26 and featured school teams (under-19) from all over the country for five days of basketball action.

    Velammal Matric Higher Secondary School (Boys) and Santhome Higher Secondary School (Girls) - both from Chennai - won the 2015 Mamannan Raja Raja Cholan Cup. Minister for Housing and Urban Development of the Government of Tamil Nadu R. Vaithilingam was the chief guest at the tournament's closing ceremony.

    MRRCRBT is a volunteer based non-profit trust committed to provide and assist unprivileged students to build a strong foundation, personal character, self-confidence, and self-esteem to reach their potential through comprehensive high intensity practices, competitive league, and high caliber tournament games. They have been holding rural basketball events in Thanjavur since 2007.

    July 27, 2015

    USA wins 6th consecutive gold at 2015 FIBA U19 Women’s World Championship

    Different group of young stars, same result.

    While the home crowd at Chekhov provided hosts Russia the boost they needed to end the American’s dominance, the USA eventually pulled away in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter to capture their sixth consecutive gold medal at the 2015 FIBA U19 World Basketball Championship for Women. USA’s A’ja Wilson turned out to be the hero of the night, scoring 30 points along with eight rebounds to help her side stun the Russian home crowd.

    Click here to read my full article on SportsKeeda.

    Indian Basketball Players Association to organize 'Dribblathon' in New Delhi - UPDATE

    "Just imagine a shot in front of the India Gate," says Jayasankar Menon, an Indian basketball legend and president of the recently-formed Indian Basketball Players Association (IBPA), "The 'Dribblathon' will be flagged off at the National Stadium, go through the inner road of the India Gate, and come back to the National Stadium. Almost 600 players have confirmed to be out there dribbling."

    With a few words, Menon has painted a beautiful basketball picture; next week, the IBPA will be hoping that their imagination can evolve into a beautiful basketball reality in the nation's capital. Hundreds of basketballs, dribbling through one of the most iconic and recognizable symbols of India.

    The IBPA will be hosting the first-ever 'Dribblathon' from the Dhyan Chand National Stadium to the India Gate and back in New Delhi (UPDATE - Date/Time have been since suspended by IBPA). The IBPA will be hosting this event to promote basketball, project India's basketball legends, and also celebrate Satnam Singh's entry into the NBA. As Menon said, close to 600 players have already registered to take part in his historic event.

    "The national stadium was the venue of first Asian Games inauguration," Menon added, "And we want IBPA first public event to be kicked off from same venue."

    You can email the IBPA at ibpaindia@gmail.com to register.

    UPDATE: IBPA President Jayasankar Menon has announced, in respect for the passing of India's former president APJ Abdul Kalam, the Dribblathon will be suspended. With Independence Day celebrations coming in mid-August, the IBPA will reschedule and announce the new date/time for the event soon.

    July 25, 2015

    Team India to participate at 2015 FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women: Roster, Schedule, and preview

    The future doesn't appear out of thin air; it is prepared, mastered, and perfected in the present. As Indian basketball hopes to take larger leaps in the future, the stars of tomorrow will have to start getting shaped with their performances today. India's senior women's team dreams of breaking the barrier of Asia's top four teams (China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Korea), but before our seniors can get there, our youth players have to display their basketball potential. Next week, they will get a chance to do just that.

    The top youth (under 16) players from all over the country have been chosen and prepared to start a new cycle of Indian basketball excellence. The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) has announced India's U16 girls' roster for the 2015 FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women, scheduled to be held in Medan (Indonesia) from August 2-9. The Indian team is led by Head Coach Abhay Chavan from Maharashtra, with assistance from former national captain Divya Singh.

    India, who finished fifth at the previous edition of this biennial tournament in Colombo in 2013, will return to 'Level I' of the championship again this year. This is the higher level of teams who can challenge for the title, and India will face up against holders China, Japan, South Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Thailand in the Preliminary Round.

    Participating Teams
    • Level I: China, Japan, South Korea, Chinese Taipei, India, Thailand. 
    • Level II: Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Uzbekistan.
    Team India at 2015 FIBA Asia Championship for Women
    • Neha Vinod Shahu (Maharashtra)
    • Rutuja Jaywant Pawar (Maharashtra)
    • Vaishnavi Yadav (Uttar Pradesh)
    • Ria Sharon (Tamil Nadu)
    • Snigddha Nair (Karnataka)
    • Sushantika Chakravortty (Delhi)
    • Ishwarya Janardhan (Tamil Nadu)
    • Nishanthi Masilamani (Tamil Nadu)
    • Shrishti Suren (Tamil Nadu)
    • Namrata Hooda (Haryana)
    • Shreyasi Vats (Uttar Pradesh)
    • Sandhya Chandahalli Raju (Karnataka)
    • Head Coach: Abhay Chavan
    • Coach: Divya Singh
    “We have been practicing at the Jaypee Greens Indoor facility since the 1st of July,” said Coach Chavan, who was the assistant coach of the side at the same event two years ago. “Last time we lost by heavy margins to the top teams. We expect to perform better this time around.” Speaking on the subject,

    Secretary General of the BFI, Mr. Chander Mukhi Sharma, stated, “We started with 80 girls from across India coming to Jaypee Greens for the selection trials, and these 12 girls proved, through hard work and dedication, that they were the best of the lot. We wish them and the support staff the best of luck in the upcoming Championship, they have the full support and encouragement of the Indian basketball family behind them.”

    BFI President, K. Govindraj, reiterated Mr. Sharma’s sentiment, “We are looking to build on the momentum started by the Senior Men’s National Team, which won the gold medal at the 4th SABA Championship earlier this month, and we’re excited for these young girls and the basketball community. The U-16 girls have been provided one of the top practice facilities in India to train and we look forward to their performance during the event. The new BFI leadership is and will remain committed to supporting the youth players of our country, as they will be the foundation of talent over the next 10-15 years.”

    India's Schedule - All timings IST
    • Aug 2: India vs. Korea (11:30 AM)
    • Aug 3: India vs. Japan (1:30 PM)
    • Aug 4: India vs. China (3:30 PM)
    • Aug 5: India vs. Thailand (11:30 AM)
    • Aug 6: India vs. Chinese Taipei (11:30 AM)
    The knockout rounds will be held on August 8-9. If India finish in the top four, they will move on to the tournament's semi-final stage. Else, they will face the top or second-place teams from Level II in a battle to ensure that they remain in Level I for the tournament's next iteration in 2017.

    As it usually is for India in FIBA Asia tournaments, the easiest way to a win is always the other 'outsider' team (outside the Big Four) in Level I. This time, that team is Thailand. India have finished 5th the last two times at this tournament, and a win over Thailand will be essential to match our previous efforts again. But the real challenge is to shock one of the Big Four and hope to sneak into to the tournament's semi-final stage. India has yet to do better than their fifth-place finish at this tournament, but if this group of girls are able to achieve the improbable, they could set the ball rolling for a bright future for Indian Women's basketball.

    July 23, 2015

    Hoopdarshan Episode 12: Bryan Gamroth on coaching Jr. NBA in India‏

    On Episode 12 of Hoopdarshan - the Indian basketball podcast - hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok catch up with Bryan Gamroth, former coach at NBA India's Jr. NBA programme. Gamroth discusses his most memorable and amusing moments while teaching basketball to the Mumbai youth, speaks of India's potential as a growing basketball nation, and suffers our jabs after a depressing few weeks as a Portland Trail Blazers fan.

    Gamroth is a basketball coach out of Portland, Oregan. He was worked with the NBA and independently to coach in the USA, Ghana, India, and China. He has coached High School basketball in New York City, and at the AAU level in New York and Boston. He has run multiple adult basketball leagues in Boston and New York City. Gamroth spent several months in Mumbai working on the Jr. NBA coaching programme, where he taught Indian school-kids the game and led them to city-wide tournaments.

    Apart from hearing from Gamroth about working with the NBA in India, expect a hearty conversation in our latest episode on the big NBA Free Agency moves and more news from Indian basketball.

    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...

      July 22, 2015

      Big Dreams: The day that Indian Basketball, the NBA, and Satnam Singh Bhamara changed forever

      This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas on May 2, 2015. Click here to read the original post.

      Satnam Singh at the 65th Senior National Basketball
      Basketball Championship 2014, in Bhilwara. Photo
      Courtesy: Ekalavyas - Vishnu Ravi Shankar

      The Present.

      Dressed in a dapper, dark blue single-breasted suit, Satnam Singh Bhamara sat anxiously on the crowded floor of the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York. A single Thursday evening in late June had the potential to change the 19-year-old’s life forever, and forever make history for Indian Basketball and the NBA.

      But nothing was certain. The previous few weeks had turned Satnam from an unknown 7-footer out of High School into a possible late Second-Round pick. His name had made its way on to the draft boards, but being a potential late Second-Round pick is too close to being undrafted, too close to a dream deferred. The NBA Draft has only 60 picks, which means only 60 dreams are guaranteed to come true on that night. And as the picks went on, and the teams who had worked out Satnam with chose other players, that number edged closer and closer to 60.

      And then, after pick number 52 was announced, nothing was the same again.


      The Past.

      Dressed in a plain, striped white shirt and blue jeans, Satnam Singh Bhamara sat anxiously at the former office of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) near Paharganj in New Delhi. A single basketball workout a few weeks ago had changed the 14-year-old’s life forever, and set into motion a new era for Indian Basketball.

      But still, there was uncertainty. That day in the BFI office – in the summer of 2010 – was the first time I got to meet and get to know Satnam. Just a month before that meeting, Satnam was one among 50 boys and girls – all under 14 from every corner of India – who were invited to New Delhi by the BFI for trials hosted for IMG Reliance for a potential IMG Academy scholarship programme. The youngsters were chosen based on their performances at the recent Sub-Junior National Basketball championship.

      Satnam was the centrepiece – literally and figuratively – of those trials. While the rest of the players were 13 or younger, a special exception was made for the 14-year-old 7-footer who was played for Punjab’s Youth (U16) team already and had recently led them to a national championship in Trichy, Tamil Nadu. A year earlier, at just 13, he had already played for India at the FIBA Asia U16 Championship in Malaysia.

      IMG-Reliance had recently signed a sponsorship deal with the BFI to sponsor the federation events and provide this rare scholarship programme. After the tryouts, IMG’s coach Dan Barto chose four boys and four girls for the scholarship at his basketball academy back in Florida, USA. Unsurprisingly, Satnam was the biggest name among the eight.

      So there he was at the BFI office in New Delhi, a few months before his semester of school was due to begin in Bradenton with the IMG Academy. He sat nervously in the office – barely being able to stretch his large legs on a bench in the tiny space – and waited for his paperwork to get cleared. He spoke only in thick Punjabi and needed by help to fill out his English visa form for the United States.

      He had been handed a scholarship at one of the top youth sport academies in the world, but back then, he didn’t really know what it meant. In my earlier conversations, he talked with uncertainty about the future. Uncertainty about how he, a boy who grew up in a farming village with less than 700 people and trained at the squalor of the Ludhiana Basketball Academy in Punjab, a boy who was barely familiar with urban India, would now be exposed to a First World nation, exposed to some of the world’s best training facilities, and a culture at a polar opposite to his own. He didn’t know that the way he was educated and coached would change forever.

      He had heard whispers – said wistfully rather than confidently – that he had the potential of becoming the first NBA player out of India. He told me that his dream was indeed to play in the NBA one day. His potential had been co-signed early by Troy Justice, the NBA’s Director of Basketball Operations in India back then. Here he was, a boy who played for Punjab’s youth teams and was being forced to pay his dues as a backup over less-talented seniors in the national team being told that he could do what no Indian had done in 60 or 70 years of history of both the NBA and Indian Basketball.

      He was anxious about his visa process, sure, as every Indian applying for US visa ever is. But he was calmly confident about his chances with the NBA ‘one day’. No one knew when, of if, that ‘one day’ would ever come. Maybe the confidence was a virtue of his ignorance, of him not yet being aware of the low odds of making the world’s best basketball league, of the combination of hard work, opportunity, and luck that goes into making that dream a reality.

      He got that visa, and along with seven other Indian basketball-playing kids, headed off to Florida. And nothing was the same again.


      Aside from providing basketball fans with the greatest basketball players, teams, and moments in history, the NBA has also been at the forefront of social change and bringing the world closer through the sport. They featured the league’s first black player (Earl Lloyd) in 1950, drafted the first European players (Fernando Martin and Georgi Glouchkov) in 1985, brought in first Chinese player (Wang Zhi Zhi) in 1999, their first openly gay player (Jason Collins) in 2014, and of course, the first Indian-descent player (Sim Bhullar) earlier this year.

      The seven-footed center Wang Zhi Zhi – the first Chinese player in the NBA – was drafted 36th by the Dallas Mavericks in 1999. 16 years later, it was these same Mavericks who were on the clock at the 2015 NBA draft with their second round pick – number 52 – and an Indian seven-footer waiting in the wings to become a part of history.

      China always had a long history with basketball and success with the sport in Asia, but the game only became the nation’s favourite as the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) was launched in the mid-90s and Wang’s drafting was followed by Yao Ming going number one to the Houston Rockets in 2002. Yao’s short but successful career thrust the spotlight on China’s billion-plus as they became the largest basketball market on Earth.

      The NBA have been wishing for India – another billion-strong nation – to mirror that success, too. Of course, our nation has different complications. Over here, most other sports including basketball exist under cricket’s ever-dominating shadow. The NBA put in their efforts over the last half decade to have a bigger grassroots presence in India, bring NBA superstars closer to fans in the country, and accelerate the availability and broadcast of NBA content to Indians. The NBA had come to India, all that was left was for an Indian to go to the NBA.


      Satnam Singh Bhamara – at 14 – came to America a complete stranger to the country’s culture, language, and educational system. He struggled in class and missed his family back in Punjab. But it helped to have the other prospects from India – his friends Sanjeev Kumar, Dinesh Mishra, and Ashiv Jain – with face the early cultural experiences together.

      It also helped to have basketball. Satnam improved his game with the coaches at IMG, specifically Coach Barto who had scouted him in India and eventually, Coach Kenny Natt – the former coach of the Sacramento Kings – who had also been the former coach of India’s national squad and had given Satnam his first senior international appearance for India. In 2012, Natt joined the IMG Academy staff as well, and his familiarity with the big Punjabi kid added another positive dimension to the training process.

      On court at the academy, Satnam spent the next five years with focus on improving his strength and conditioning as a priority, and eventually making his mark for IMG’s senior team. Back home in India, he continued to return for some domestic championships, playing well for Punjab whenever he got a chance. After Natt gave him the senior debut at the FIBA Asia Championship in 2011, he played for India’s senior national team for a couple of more Asian tournaments. At the FIBA Asia Under-16 tournaments in Vietnam, he made waves by emerging as one of the top youth talents in the continent.

      Off court, he improved his English and eventually, began to see a realistic roadmap for his future. As he reached college eligibility, several mid and high level NCAA colleges showed him interest, but his English wasn’t good enough to get him the grades required. So he took a bold risk and declared for the NBA draft. Over the next few weeks, he impressed scouts in pre-draft workouts around the league, and, with confidence in his abilities, he waited for Draft Day. 


      Karl Anthony-Towns went first to Minnesota, D’Angelo Russell went second to the Lakers. Several hours later, NBA Commissioner announced the last pick of the First Round – Kevin Looney – going 30th to the champion Golden State Warriors.

      A few minutes later, deputy commissioner Mark Tatum took over to welcome in the picks for the Second Round. Turkey’s Cedi Osman was at 31. Josh Richardson went 40th. And as more time passed and the night got older, the numbers inched closer to the end. The Orlando Magic picked Tyler Harvey at 51. With less than 10 more picks to be drafted, it was going to be now or never for Satnam.

      Then, Tatum walked out to the stage again. “With the 52nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, the Dallas Mavericks select… Satnam Singh…” a section of the crowd erupted, “… From Chawke, India. He last played for IMG Academy.”

      Hugs. A draft hat. A handshake with the deputy commissioner. A life transformed.

      On draft night, Satnam went from being an unknown international prospect to a player drafted into the NBA within a matter of minutes. But those few minutes were only the crowning glory of the culmination of years of hard work, fortunate opportunities, support from friends, family, and coaches, and many anxious waits.

      Those few minutes signified a dream realized, the end of a journey that few in Indian basketball ever saw possible. 


      Or, they signify the beginning of another journey.

      Getting drafted into the NBA and playing in the NBA are two vastly and widely different achievements. Once he signs his first NBA contract, Satnam will be hoping to be named in the Mavericks’ Summer League and earn some minutes in Las Vegas. It is highly likely that he’ll start the regular season in Frisco instead of Dallas, playing for the Mavericks’ affiliate D-League team Texas Legends. Here, he’ll have the opportunity to learn the pace of the professional game, become more confident against better opponents, and further develop physically and technically as a player.

      Blessed with his gargantuan 7-foot-2 frame, Satnam has age and size on his side. In the long-term, the best-case scenario for him – if the Mavericks are able to get the most of his potential – would be to eventually secure a steady backup NBA job for several years. Those invested in Indian basketball will be desperately wishing for Satnam to make the leap into earning NBA playing time. Even his smallest steps will leave giant footprints. For a country so anxious for basketball role models, any success for Satnam – no matter how miniscule – will be a positive and influential step forward. 

      However his journey proceeds, Satnam has already achieved the impossible. The boy from a non-descript Punjabi village has come further than the distance between Ballo Ke and Dallas and jumped higher than his own gargantuan height. On Draft Night, he may have been a relatively unknown giant in a sharp suit; but once he was drafted, his name rung viral across fans in India, and eventually, fans around the world, too.


      The future?

      Dressed in a Royal Blue Mavericks jersey with the name ‘Satnam’ in silver on the back, Satnam Singh Bhamara waits on the bench for his number to be called. With a couple of minutes left in the first quarter, Coach Rick Carlisle looks to the end of the bench and nods at him. Satnam jumps up on his feet, checks in at the scorer’s table, and exchanges dabs with the exiting player on court.

      He steps on an NBA court and nothing is ever the same again.