July 7, 2015

India win 2015 South Asian Basketball Championship, qualify for FIBA Asia Championship

After several months of disarray and disappointments, Indian basketball has been saved by the very thing that it was failing to save: basketball itself. As the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) divided house and caused the Ministry of Sports to stop basketball events in India altogether, a temporary respite gave the country a chance to host the 4th South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) Championship last week. India's Senior Men's squad responded in style, dominating all five of their South Asian opponents to finish with a perfect 5-0 record to retain the SABA Championship title. More importantly, by winning this title for the second consecutive time, India have qualified for the bigger, better challenge ahead: the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship later this year.

The SABA Championship was held in Bengaluru, India, at the Sri Kantaveera Stadium, from July 3-5, 2015. In the round-robin tournament, India defeated Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, and Sri Lanka to finish the tournament with a perfect 5-0 record.

India was short of some of the top available talent for this championship, including Satnam Singh (who has been drafted into the NBA), Amjyot Singh, Amrit Pal Singh (both are playing professionally in Japan), Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, and Yadwinder Singh (both injured). Additionally, Head Coach Scott Flemming departed from the team and his successor, S. Bhaskar, didn't receive his leave from the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in time to join the squad in Bengaluru. India instead fielded a younger, less experienced team - featuring five players making their senior debuts - and were coached by trainer GLR Prasad. Big man Rikin Pethani took on the captain's mantle for this tournament.

But no amount of hindrances could stop India, and the opponents from our neighbouring countries proved to be perfect fodder for India to improve morale, prepare for the FIBA Asia Championship, and distract media attention to real basketball instead of the ongoing political mess.

India started off the tournament against Nepal on Friday morning, and just like they have in the past, our opponents struggled against India's dominant size inside. Led by Narender Grewal's game-high 17 points, India showed no mercy defeating Nepal 90-37, outscoring them by at least double digits in every quarter for their best defensive performance at the tournament.

On Friday evening, India was back on the court to face Bangladesh, and this time, it was their offense that shone bright. Rising young star A. Arvind led all scorers with 19 as India unleashed hell from the very first tip, outscoring Bangladesh by 25, 22, and 28 in the first three quarters. When the dust settled, India sat easy with a 122-39 win, their biggest margin of victory at the championship (83 points!).

India played just one game on Saturday, against Bhutan. Once again, it was India's start that undid any hope for the opponents, as they got off to a 39-6 advantage, leading by 33 by the very first quarter. Bhutan shaped things up to match India 20-20 in the second quarter, but India kept their foot on the gas pedal after halftime and won the game 119-52. Point guard Joginder Singh returned to the lineup with a triple double (12 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists), Gurvinder Gill dropped 20 points, while Arvind notched 19 points to go with 10 rebounds.

In the last day of games, Sunday, India first played the Maldives, in what turned out to be their best offensive performance. Led by Prasanna Venkatesh (26), Rikin Pethani (21) and Akashdeep Hazra (17), India was dominant from start to finish en route to a 128-48 win.

The final game of the tournament pitted the two undefeated teams, India and Sri Lanka, against each other, with a title and a place at the FIBA ABC on the line. India didn't want to leave anything to chance after a 22-13 start, taking a 20 point lead at halftime and then blowing the gates open with a dominant third quarter. Aravind Annadurai scored 22 points and Pratham Singh added 17 for India in the 93-44 victory.

In total, India defeated each opponent by an average of over 66 points each. It was a balanced effort from beginning to end for India, who got to give a chance to a lot of young players, but it was A. Arvind who perhaps stood out with his consistent performances the most. The big question for India is how many of these young players will remain in the team's core with the FIBA ABC's come around. If our three best players in recent years - Bhrigvanshi, Amrit Pal, and Amjyot - return, they are sure to snatch back their starting spots and eventually kick some of the younger players out of the rotation. But that will be a good problem to have for the coach, who will need his veteran stars if India hope to make the same waves at the FIBA ABC as they did at the FIBA Asia Cup last year.

The winning team was given a cash prize of Rs 35,000 by the BFI. Trophies and medals were handed out to the top three teams of India (gold), Sri Lanka (silver) and Nepal (bronze).

Final Standings
  • 1. India
  • 2. Sri Lanka
  • 3. Nepal

The 2015 FIBA Asia Championship will be held in Changsha, China from September 23 to October 3. The group draw for the tournament has already been made, and India will slot into Group A with Iran, Japan, and Malaysia.

July 4, 2015

Satnam Singh already in Punjab Olympic Association Hall of Fame and nominated for Arjuna Award

At 19, Satnam Singh Bhamara is just starting to get his feet wet (or his hands sweaty) in the big bouncy world of basketball. The youngster out of the Ballo Ke village is Punjab has played only a handful of senior national team games for India, but has been pretty dominant at the domestic and the junior/youth international levels. Outside of India, he has only played up to the High School level at the IMG Academy in Florida. Despite his behemoth 7-foot-2 size, exceptional basketball skills, and tantalizing potential, his best days are clearly still ahead of him.

So why is this young man already hearing his name mentioned among the highest honours given to Indian athletes? Oh, nothing major really, except for the fact that last week, Satnam did what no one in India's basketball history has ever done: he became the first Indian player to be drafted into the NBA. While his predecessors in the sport spent entire careers in carving out a place for themselves in the game's history, Bhamara took giant leaps to knock history out of the park even before he left his teens.

While the NBA lauds Satnam for breaking a major national barrier in the league, back home in India, there is a proud and expectant fraternity joining in fervently with the applause, too. Just a day after he was drafted, the Punjab Olympic Association (POA) announced that Satnam would be added to their Hall of Fame Bhawan in Mohali, and the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) informed yesterday that they have already recommended Satnam for the Arjuna Award, one of India's highest sporting honours.

According to a report on The Economic Times, the POA's president and Member of Parliament Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa announced that the state's newest basketball star - Satnam - would be honoured for being drafted into the NBA with a special event. The General Secretary of POA, K Raja Sidhu said that a photograph of Satnam with his achievements would be put up at the POA Hall of Fame in Mohali.

Meanwhile, the BFI, who have been embroiled with internal strife in recent months, have used Satnam's success to bring a more positive story out of Indian Basketball into focus. "We have recommended Satnam Singh for the Arjuna Award," said BFI's President K. Govindraj at a press conference, "I hope the Sports Ministry strongly considers this nomination." If Satnam is able to receive this award, he would only be the 19th Indian basketball player in history to do so, following Geethu Anna Jose last year.

In another press release from the BFI concerning Satnam, the federation was quoted lauding the young big's achievement and hope for his return to contribute to Indian basketball, too. "In the future, the BFI will look towards building similar programs for players to have the same opportunity as Satnam," said BFI's Senior VP, Teja Singh Dhaliwal, "It is BFI’s duty to ensure that players are provided every opportunity to develop and showcase their talents across the world, and to fully support our talented youngsters." Govindraj added, “Satnam has already been an inspiration to many of the youth across India, and with his continued success his impact on Indian basketball will be Yao Ming-like. Indian basketball was already on a strong upswing in progress and development and now with the first ever Indian being drafted, it will expedite the growth tremendously. We look forward to Satnam and the other Indians playing professionally abroad to joining the Indian National Team in the future so we continue to show the world the rise of Indian basketball."

It is great to see that India is recognizing Satnam for his huge achievement, but a more cynical eye will comment that these accolades are more to bring prestige to the organizations (POA, BFI) than the player himself. Either way, the more positive attention Satnam receives, the better for Indian Basketball as a whole, and that should ultimately be our sole mission.

July 3, 2015

India hosts 4th South Asian Basketball Championship in Bengaluru from Friday: Participants, Roster, & Schedule

Over the last few months, there has been a lot of talk about why basketball is not working in India and how one singular Indian is making basketball work for himself, abroad. Finally, it's time for the talk to end, and for India to start playing some meaningful basketball again.

India's Senior Men's national team will get a chance to bury recent distractions played by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) in the past and refocus their attention on the sport this week. From Friday, July 3 to Sunday, July 5, India will host the 4th South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) Championship at the Sri Kanteevara Basketball Courts in Bengaluru. The tournament will pit six top teams from the South Asia Zone against each other and the winner will qualify for the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, set to be held in Hunan, China, from September 23 to October 3.

The three-day tournament will be played in a round-robin format. India's Senior Men have been in camp in preparation for the tournament in Bengaluru for the past few weeks. After the Ministry of Sports had decided to disallow the BFI to hold any basketball events in India until they dealt with the federation's internal power struggle, the Karnataka High Court granted interim relief to the BFI just in time to let the games be played. GLR Prasad will be the team's head coach, taking over after the American Scott Flemming left a few months ago.

Participating Teams: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka

Team India Roster
  • Joginder Singh
  • Narender Grewal
  • Akilan Pari
  • Vikash Kumar
  • Pratham Singh
  • Arvind A.
  • Vinay Kaushik
  • Akashdeep Hazra
  • Gurvinder Singh Gill
  • A. Aravind
  • Prasanna Venkatesh
  • Rikin Pethani - (captain)
  • Coach: GLR Prasad
  • Manager: Goutan Ganguly
India, who are usually the favourites against the South Asian opponents, will be fielding a relatively weaker and younger roster than usual. Satnam Singh Bhamara is busy after getting drafted to the NBA. Amjyot Singh and Amrit Pal Singh have taken their talents to the BJ Summer League in Japan. Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Yadwinder Singh are both injured.

In their place, the remaining veterans in the squad: Rikin Pethani, Pratham Singh, Narender Grewal, and Joginder Singh will be counted upon to fly the Indian flag and help see the team through to the FIBA Asia Championship later this year. Pethani has been named captain but the leadership duties will likely be shared by all four named above. Look for the likes of Gurvinder Singh 'Gary' Gill to step up and make a case for himself for a more constant role in the national side. If India are able to qualify, it is likely that the team that flies to China looks starkly different from this one, especially if our best players Amjyot, Amrit Pal, and Vishesh are able to make a comeback.

India's Schedule
  • July 3 - 9:30 AM - Nepal vs. India.
  • July 3 - 5 PM - India vs. Bangladesh.
  • July 4 - 11 AM - Bhutan vs. India.
  • July 5 - 9:30 AM - India vs. Maldives.
  • July 5 - TBC - Sri Lanka vs. India.

With our national team a little weakened, our opponents will probably be spelling blood, and these tournament should be closer than the past South Asian championships usually have been (except for our battles against Afghanistan). The organizers have smartly scheduled India vs. Sri Lanka as the last game of the tournament; there is no 'final' in the round-robin style, but these two teams are the early-tournament favourites, and unless there is a major upset, this game will likely be the decider of which team goes to Hunan in September.

If you are in or around Bengaluru, try your best to make it to the stadium and cheer for India!

June 30, 2015

Hoopdarshan Episode 10: Satnam in the NBA! Our chat with ESPN contributor Mark Winegardner

Satnam Singh Bhamara made history by becoming the first Indian player to be drafted into the NBA. That was Step 1. What happens now? On Episode 10 of the Indian basketball podcast Hoopdarshan, hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok catch up with ESPN contributor and accomplished novelist Mark Winegardner, who has closely followed Satnam's journey from Ballo Ke Village to the IMG Academy to the NBA Draft for the past four years. Mark recalls his experiences visiting Satnam in his village in Punjab, helps us predict Satnam's future in the NBA, and we discuss what this achievement means for India and the NBA.

Listen in to also hear about our draft night reactions and Satnam's incredible journey to becoming an NBA draftee. Karan and Kaushik also discuss the rest of the NBA Draft as well as the upcoming SABA Qualifiers for India's national men's team in Bengaluru.

Winegardner is an American journalist and novelist based in Florida. He is a contributing writer for ESPN The Mag, a professor at Florida State University, and the author of books like Crooked River Burning, The Godfather Returns, The Godfather's revenge, etc. He visited India and the village of Ballo Ke to write a 2012 story on Satnam Singh Bhamara's roots and his hopes to become the first India in the NBA for ESPN: NEXT magazine.

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...

June 29, 2015

No Strings Attached: Who are the top NBA free agents available this summer?

The season of basketball is over, but the season of business is just about to begin. July 1 will mark the beginning of free agency, when a number of contracts of top NBA players will expire and there will be a several restricted or unrestricted free agents on the market. How many of these players will be wearing different NBA jerseys in a few months? Here is my look at the top free agents this summer, where I also predict the chances of them changing teams this offseason.

Check out my full feature on SportsKeeda.

June 28, 2015

4th South Asian Basketball Championship is back on in Bengaluru after Karnataka High Court grants interim relief

Good news ahead! The Karnataka High Court has granted interim relief to the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to host the 4th South Asian Basketball Championship in Bengaluru from July 3-5!

Satnam Singh Bhamara was one of the 24 names announced by the BFI to take part in a senior men's national coaching camp in Bengaluru this month, being held in preparation for the South Asian Basketball Championship in the same city. The only problem was that Satnam was never going to be there. The 7-foot-2 19-year-old phenom had other priorities, like making history for Indian basketball in other ways. On Friday, Satnam became the first Indian citizen to be drafted into the NBA when he was selected 52nd by the Dallas Mavericks at the 2015 NBA Draft. All of India - including other star basketball players in the country - erupted with joy.

While Satnam prepared for the big draft day, the other Indian star players who actually attended this camp in Bengaluru were stuck in a limbo. Where Satnam had succeeded as an individual, the government and the federation in India had failed the rest of the Indian basketball team. Despite winning the right to host the 4th South Asian Basketball Championship, organized by the South Asian Basketball Association (SABA), the political infighting between various BFI factions in India led the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to bar all official basketball events in the country. The SABA Championship - which would pit India against other South Asian nations and act as qualifiers for the upcoming FIBA Asia Championship - were scheduled to be held from July 3-5 at the Sri Kantaveera Stadium in Bengaluru, Karnataka.

It was the worst news possible for basketball fans in the country. From our side, we put up a brave face to show that - even if the government stopped the BFI - they couldn't stop Indian basketball, with the #CantStopIndiaBasketball social media campaign. Fortunately, the pressure from those within the legally-acknowledged faction of the BFI - Team Govindraj - were able to score a small victory for themselves just a week before the big tournament.

On the same day (India time) that Satnam was drafted into the NBA, Team Govindraj and the BFI received some good news of their own. The Karnataka High Court has allowed the faction of BFI presided by Karnataka's own K. Govindraj to host the SABA Championship. Indian players who have been at the camp were practicing and preparing under great uncertainty. With the tournament/qualifiers inching closer, this would be a great weight off their shoulders and a chance to focus on basketball instead of the bickering and the politics.

Let Gopalakrishanan R of Ekalavyas tell you more:

BFI Secretary General from the Southern Camp, Mr Chander Mukhi Sharma, hailed the High Court verdict, saying that it proved that the “Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs exceeded its jurisdiction.” He goes on to accuse the Sports Ministry of “damaging the prospect of the game in the country by unnecessarily, illegally and arbitrarily asking BFI not to hold the event.”
This immediately clears visiting team contingents to submit Visa applications online. However, going by the letter, it is next to impossible for Afghanistan to participate at this event, as they need to apply at least 60 days in advance... India will be without its key forwards and centres from Punjab: Satnam Singh... Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh are playing in Japan. It is also probable that veteran starters Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Yadwinder Singh will not be part of the line up, as both these ONGC are yet to join the camp.

India has other problems, too. The team currently doesn't have a head coach, since Scott Flemming left the country last month. While the rest of the country celebrates the potential for growth of Indian basketball following Satnam's achievement, the ground reality at camp in Bengaluru was that there was still a state of disorder and mess. Apart from being without a coach, the team continued to lack match practice without much international exposure and continued to practice and play on less-than-ideal basketball surfaces.

As it was earlier reported, the participating teams at the 4th South Asian Basketball Championship will likely be India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. With a depleted, distracted team, this may be the best opportunity for one of our rivals to spring a surprise and qualify ahead of us for the FIBA Asia Championship. India are still likely to be favourites, but they will need to be careful and remain focused if they want to avoid an upset.

For now, let's celebrate the Karnataka High Court's decision. The qualifiers are back on, and if India win, we will punch in our ticket for the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, set to be held in Hunan, China, from September 23 to October 3. Let's hope that the Sports Ministry can do the right thing and lift the ban on Indian basketball events nationwide soon.

June 27, 2015

Bigs are back! Karl-Anthony Towns goes 1st, Satnam Singh goes 52nd, & #IndiaBasketball history is made

The NBA got a whole lot bigger yesterday.

With the first pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Karl-Anthony Towns from Kentucky, a talented 6-foot-11 big man with promises to finally take the team back to the playoffs after 11 years. With the 52nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, the Dallas Mavericks selected Satnam Singh Bhamara from India, a 7-foot-2 project who made history as he became the first Indian citizen to be drafted into the NBA.

And in between the two bigs, there were a whole lot of other interesting, infuriating, exciting, and disappointing selections – many of them surrounding other big men entering into the NBA. These bigs came in many forms: from post-beasts to stretch shooters, including Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzignis, Willie Cauley-Stein, Frank Kaminsky, Myles Turner, and Trey Lyles in the lottery.

Click here for my quick analysis of the top 14 lottery picks at the 2015 NBA Draft on SportsKeeda.