For the Chinese, Wuhan is the capital of the Hubei province and the most populous city in central China. For the Indians, especially those sprinkled with flavours of hoops, the city has stood for some positive fortune in recent years. In 2011, Wuhan hosted the FIBA Asia Baksetball Championship, where 15-year-old Satnam Singh made his Senior ABC debut, four years before becoming the first Indian drafted to the NBA. Last year, in the FIBA Asia Cup at Wuhan, India's men's team gained their biggest victory ever, defeating hosts China in a game that I have since dubbed the 'Wonder of Wuhan'.
|Photo Courtesy: Ekalavyas / BFI|
India's Senior Women's Basketball team has departed for China to take part in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship for Women (FIBA Women's ABC), set to be held in Wuhan from September 29 to August 5. Japan will return as the tournament's reigning champions and look to defend their trophy. A total of 12 teams will take part in the competition, divided into two 'Levels' of six teams each.
Two years ago, at the 2013 FIBA Women's ABC, India made history under Spanish Coach Francisco Garcia, by winning their first-ever Level 1 game and finishing at a best-ever fifth place. Garcia has returned as the Women's team coach with a younger squad this year for Wuhan with hopes to retain their position in the top level, where they will play against Asia's Big Four (Japan, Korea, China, Chinese Taipei) and Thailand. Teams that finish in the top four of Level 1 advance to the semi-final stage while 5th and 6th place teams compete in playoff games against the top two teams of Level II to fight for their top level placement for the tournament's next iteration in two years.
Garcia told the Hoopdarshan podcast, "Doesn't matter if it's the fifth or sixth position. I would be really really happy with number five, but the main goal is to keep the spot in Level 1. Right now, we know the situation with Indian Basketball. Here, the situation is not very clear yet, and it effects everything. It effects players, it effects coaches, the work, everything. And then, of course, the preparation was not the best. Four and a half weeks, compared to teams who are already working since three or four months ago. But anyways, we are going to go over there and I'm pretty sure that we will have a good result. We are working well. My only fear right now is the conditioning - not the basketball. The girls know my system more or less very well."
The participating teams in the tournament are:
- Level I: Japan, Korea, China, Chinese Taipei, India, Thailand.
- Level II: Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Philippines, North Korea, Sri Lanka.
- Anjana PG
- Stephy Nixon
- Poojamol KS
- Smruthi Radhakrishnan
- Kavita Akula
- Jenna PS
- Shireen Limaye
- Bhandavya HM
- Apporva Muralinath
- Rajapriyadarshani Rajaganapathi
- Anitha Paul Durai
- Sitamani Tudu
- Head Coach: Francisco Garcia
- Assistan Coach: Aparna Ghosh
- Aug 29 - 12:30 PM - Chinese Taipei vs. India.
- Aug 30 - 3 PM - Japan vs. India.
- Aug 31 - 5 PM - China vs. India.
- Sep 1 - 12:30 PM - India vs. Thailand.
- Sep 2 - 12:30 PM - India vs. Korea.
"We want to promote sports the right way," said Chandilya, "Basketball in India is at the time when it needs help and is full of opportunity, especially now that there is an Indian in the NBA. The sponsorship is not just for the women’s team but for all teams."
Other familiar names include Kerala forwards Jeena PS, Poojamol KS, Smruthi Radhakrishnan (who plays for Railways) and Stephy Nixon. Young Maharashtra forward Shireen Limaye marks her comeback from injury and will be expected, along with Paul Durai, to provide much-needed play-making abilities to the side.
"Since some of the senior players such as Prashanti Singh, Geethu Anna Jose and Raspreet Sidhu are missing there is definitely more pressure on me," said Limaye. "Last time around I was the sixth player. Now I will be playing from the start, so it will be harder but I enjoy the additional responsibility."
While the team is confident of their abilities, the Head Coach has been cautious and realistic to temper expectations after a short build-up to the tournament and the relative inexperience of the team. Still, Indian fans will be hoping that at the very least India can remain in Level I, ideally finish at fifth place, and if another wonder can be possible in Wuhan, perhaps sneak into the semi-final for the first time ever!