December 31, 2010

Delhi sets the biggest stage for the biggest games



National Basketball Championships have been held in India before – 60 times before to be exact – but there is something special about the 61st. Something different. The cheers are louder. The lights are brighter. The passes are so crisp that you can hear them zoom by.

The best Indian players in the business are displaying their talents at the 61st IMG-Reliance National Basketball Championship in New Delhi with the biggest prize in Indian basketball at stake. There is no bigger stage for the biggest games in the country, and the national capital has stepped up to host this fierce competition. But what will make this championship truly memorable that it is the first year that the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) is receiving full sponsorship for its events by the IMG-Reliance partnership.

As BFI’s secretary-general Harish Sharma said to reporters to Monday, basketball is indeed ready to take the next step and conquer India.

An electric atmosphere is greeting players and fans every day at the Talkatora Stadium and the Modern School at Barakhamba, where the games are being held. On Friday afternoon, Andhra Pradesh face a challenge from Chandigarh in a relatively quieter affair, but not lacking in drama and intensity. A trumpeting sound from the crowd screamed over the applause – it was no vuvuzela, but a cheaper and equally effective knock-off! At the Talkatora Indoor Stadium, the players rushed and hustled their sneakers over the squeaky bright wooden floor, looking like one of the best basketball-playing surfaces in the country. An LED screen atop the stands show the live action as it unfolds, and then show highlights from basketball around the world during the breaks, including from the international games and the NBA. Hip-Hop and Punjabi music blares during time-outs and quarter-ends. The AP-Chandigarh game enters crunch time, and the small crowd gets on their feet for the last few minutes. AP hold on to their nerves in their end, stretch out their lead, and pull off an impressive 15 point victory.

The crowd gets larger and louder as the sun goes down. atmosphere reaches fever pitch by the evenings, when the marquee teams like Indian Railways, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Services, and of course, the hosts Delhi take centre-stage. Railways, who are the two time champions in both the men’s and women’s divisions, are once again the favourites to find their way to the Indian Basketball’s Promised Land!

But the best thing about this kind of competition in India is the showcase of India as a cultural phenomenon itself. No matter where in India the players hailed from, they shared a common enthusiasm for basketball. On Friday alone, the Talkatora stadium bore witnesses to players communicating in Telugu, Marathi, Hindi, Punjabi, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and English. It’s a snapshot of the complete picture of Indian on one basketball court, communicated through dribbles, jumpshots, and hustle plays.

The Talkatora stadium itself has become a temporary temple of sorts to Indian basketball’s finest. Fans walk cardboard cut-outs of their basketball idols, getting am impression of the ones who are making a name for themselves in the sport across the country: players like Shiba Maggon, Sambajhi Kadam, Riyazzudin, Akanskha Singh, Anitha P., and many others.

On the court itself the action hasn’t disappointed. With quick, on-point passing, awesome athletic ability, and some dead-eye sharp-shooting, the Nationals are serving as the perfect platform for Indian basketball fans to catch a glimpse of their country’s elite.

The tournament moves on to the Quarter-Final stage from the 2nd of January, and the Finals are scheduled to be held on the 4th. The stage for the biggest teams has been set; now all eyes will be on the biggest teams to step up and claim it!

December 29, 2010

“Basketball is set to conquer India,” – BFI Secretary-General Harish Sharma



As India’s biggest basketball competition tipped off in New Delhi, the question in the minds of Indian players and fans was simple: How soon before we take the step into the next level?

But as far as Harish Sharma, the Secretary-General of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) is concerned, that leap has already been achieved.

“Basketball as a sport is all set to conquer India,” Sharma says, “The sport has always been an integral part of the school life of Indian kids, but now, as the running of the federation becomes more and more professional, the sky is the limit for this sport.”

Winds of change arrived for the BFI this year as the federation signed a sponsorship contract with the IMG-Reliance group, who have since been sponsoring national tournaments, inner-city leagues, and providing scholarship to young Indian basketball players to hone their skills at the IMG Academy in Floriday, USA. The deal lasts a full 30 years, providing enough time for the federation to oversee the growth of the game in the country.

“Our priority is the players,” says Sharma, “We are now ready to provide India’s best players extra incentive in terms of bonus payment so that they remain motivated to keep trying harder for the country. We will be dividing the players in three groups, based on their skill level. We will focus equally on men and women – basketball in India is a gender-friendly sport!"

India has already started to see the results of this new focus on the national basketball teams. For the first time in 28 years, Indian men and women participated in the Asian Games basketball tournament, held at Guangzhou, China. The Indian men’s team made further history after winning their first ever Asian Games contest, against Afghanistan.

Another way to make sure that the teams are well led into such tournaments is to get the finest teachers of the sport in India. For the first time for the Asian Games, two American coaches, for the men’s and women’s teams respectively, led the squad. The Men’s team were led by former NCAA D3 coach Bill Harris and the women’s team by former WNBA player Tamika Raymond. Sharma reiterated that India will continue to look for coaching talent overseas and bring the best coaches from around the world to coach India.

“It has been a historic year for the BFI and basketball, “said Sharma, “Now, we are excited to bring the most talented Indian players and teams to Delhi so that they can perform at the biggest stage – the National Championships. Basketball is a sport that can easily become extremely popular in India, and we are hoping that this tournament will help encourage more youngsters to take part in the sport.”

December 28, 2010

Annamalai University (Chidambaram) wins All India Inter-University Basketball Title



Annamalai University in Chidambaran (Tamil Nadu) pulled off a close victory in the final against Chennai’s Sathyabama University to win the All India Inter-University Basketball Title, hosted by Annamalai. After falling to a big deficit in the first quarter, Annamalai made a good comeback to stay competitive in the game and finally pull off a 85-76 victory.

Annamalai were led by Vigneshwaran (29 points) and Anandha Krishnan (19) points in the final. Prasannavenkatesh had 24 points for Sathyabama in a loss.

Pune University came in third place after a close one-point win over Punjab 88-87.

December 24, 2010

The greatest sportsperson ever



I picked up today's copy of the the Times of India newspaper this morning, panned my eyes down to mid-way on the front page, and saw the words: "Is Sachin Tendulkar the greatest sportsperson ever?" The article was aiming to set off a debate and a poll to decide the best athletes amongst each sports best, the greatest of the greatest. The inclusion of God himself, aka, Sachin, was itself of certain debate, since many cricket purists believe he's second best to cricketing legend Don Bradman, but in my eyes, that debate had been put to rest decades ago. Sachin and Bradman are to cricket what Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain are to basketball: Bradman and Chamberlain hold the craziest records (Bradman's 99.94 test average, Chamberlain's unearthly averages of 50.4 ppg and 25.7 rpg in the '61-62 season). But both these greats played in a different era of the sport, and experts in both fields will agree that in terms of true talent, Sachin and Jordan are still the Greatest of All Times (G.O.A.T.) in their respective sports.

A few minutes after putting the newspaper down, I happened to pick up my gold edition copy of SLAM magazine's awesome Jordan Issue, a heady volume of all things MJ, from interviews, rare photographs, greatest dunks, his years at North Carolina, his championship stories from Chicago, his influence on the international game, and many, many Air Jordan shoes!

The Jordan reminders got me thinking deeper about this issue: this is an argument that I (and I'm sure, many of you), have had several times before, so kudos to TOI for making it sort of official. One player has been chosen from each major sport that is relevant to Indians (Sorry Baseball, Babe Ruth), and Tennis gets two sportsmen, male and female. Jordan is obviously basketball's representative, but I was a little disappointed that the article barely mentioned His Airness.

Once again, this is the list from TOI:

Cricket: Sachin Tendulkar
Basketball: Michael Jordan
F1: Michael Schumacher
Cycling: Lance Armstrong
Track & Field: Carl Lewis
Tennis Men: Roger Federer
Tennis Women: Martina Navrativola
Hockey: Dhyan Chand
Boxing: Mohammed Ali
Football: Pele
Gymnastics: Nadia Comaneci
Golf: Tiger Woods

Already, this list is controversial, to say the least. Is Roger Federer even the greatest tennis player of his era, now that Nadal has his number? Maradona (and some Zidane fans) may have a thing or two to say about Pele's selection. And forgive me, gymnastic fans, but I have no idea who the hell Nadia Comaneci is. I'm sure she was talented.

Anyways, despite my basketball addiction now, like every other Indian child, I grew up a Sachin Tendulkar fanatic. I liked him much more than I liked cricket, and I know that I will probably lose half my interest in the sport once God retires. After his 50th test century in South Africa a few days ago, his legend gets greater and greater. It was true poetic justice that Sachin was the first man to get to 200 in an ODI. And he owns more cricket records to his name than records that exist in other sports.

But despite everything, I don't think he's the greatest of this list. For Indians, yes, no doubt, but definitely not worldwide. This is why Michael Jordan is special. MJ has not only done the same record-wise for the NBA that Tendulkar did for cricket, but he has won the biggest prize over and over again with a more lethal precision and perfection than anyone else in any sport. In a competitive league of stars, Jordan shone brightest, winning 6 of 8 championships in the 90s, only losing the two years in the middle to pre-mature retirement.

But like Sachin, his influence on his sport, and the world of sports in general, actually extends BEYOND the sport. Jordan is bigger than basketball. You will still meet people around the world who haven't heard of basketball but know the name Michael Jordan. Jordan's coach Phil Jackson once famously said that he could be nowhere in the world, hiking up a mountain in Bhutan, and see a monk in a Chicago Bulls hat. This was much BEFORE NBA became famous internationally. Jordan made sneakers famous too - he made it possible for stars to have signature shoes, and shoes to be sold on brand name of the stars alone.

Sachin, too, has had that kind of effect on Indians. In a country separated by language, region, caste, economic status, religion and oh-so-many other things, Sachin is the one unifying factor, the strongest one to represent all India since Gandhi, and I don't believe that's an exaggeration at all. He is the only one in India beyond criticism, because for 21 years he has done more for the image of a successful Indian than any other.

Other athletes like Pele, Mohammed Ali and Tiger Woods have had similar 'beyond-sport' influences on the world. Ali, especially is a favourite to be revered as the best of the best in this list.

But call it my basketball bias. Call it the fact that I just respect sportsmen who dominate team-oriented sports more than others. And cricket, I'm sorry to say, is an individual's game masked behind a team concept.

This is why my vote for the G.O.A.T. will stay with Michael Jordan. Hail to His Airness!

December 23, 2010

Mahindra NBA Challenge crowns youth champions in Mumbai and Delhi



Six teams were crowned champions of the second season of the Mahindra NBA Challenge in Mumbai on Saturday at the Father Agnel School (Vashi). Eighty-two teams participated in the youth division of the second season of the league, up from 54 last season. In New Delhi, the finals were held at the Delhi Public School in Vasant Kunj on the same day.

The Mahindra NBA Challenge, conducted in collaboration with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), is the largest, multi-city community based basketball league in India and provides both basketball enthusiasts and newcomers the opportunity to learn basketball fundamentals and apply their skills in a fun, competitive environment.

In addition to the final games, the day featured All-Star games, shooting contests, and performances by local dance teams. Fans and spectators also had a chance to be winners at the finals in off-court contests run by Mahindra.

This season, games were held at five different locations, up from two last year, engaging more communities and encouraging wider participation and interest. In Mumbai, Along with Father Agnel School (Vashi), Mahindra NBA Challenge games were also played at Colaba YMCA, Don Bosco School (Matunga), Indian Gymkhana and Andheri YMCA. The adult division, for players 19 and over, will take place in Mumbai in January. In addition to games on the weekend, 15 clinics were held for players and coaches throughout the season.

It was the first year of the Mahindra Challenge in New Delhi, and almost 80 teams took part. Games were held at the Bal Bharti School in Karol Bagh and DPS in RK-Puram. In the last week of games, the All-Star Games, Semi-Finals, Finals, and Shooting Contests were all held in DPS Vasant Kunj.

The 2010-11 Mahindra NBA Challenge expanded to five cities, from three last year, to include first time leagues in Delhi and Chennai. The league in Delhi ran concurrently with Mumbai and also wrapped up this weekend. Across Mumbai and Delhi, there were over 1,500 participants and more than 140 coaches participating in the leagues. The Sub Junior division was a new addition to the league this year, providing more children with the opportunity to participate in the league.

Later this season, the inaugural league in Chennai will launch along with the leagues in Bangalore and Ludhiana. Additionally, the adult division, for players 19 and over, will take place in Mumbai and Delhi in January.

December 22, 2010

27 Men's teams and 23 Woman's teams grouped for the National Basketball Championship



With less than a week left before the most anticipated basketball event of the year in India tips off at the nation’s capital, New Delhi, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) has revealed the final pools separating the teams into different groups at the 61st IMG-Reliance National Basketball Championship for Men and Women. In addition, the flexes, graphics, and logos for the competition have also been revealed.

A total of 27 men’s teams and 23 women’s teams, from different states, services, and railways around India, have registered to take part in the tournament, which will be held at the Talkatora Stadium and Modern School (Barakhambha) in New Delhi from December 28, 2010 till January 4th, 2011. The games will be held from 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM daily.

Reigning men’s and women’s champions Indian Railways have been grouped in Pool A of the Upper Pool in both the Men’s and Women’s divisions.

Men

Upper Pool

Pool A: Indian Railways, Uttarakhand, Services, Karnataka, Kerala
Pool B: Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Chandigarh

Lower Pool

Pool C: Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Tripura, West Bengal
Pool D: Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan
Pool E: Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar, Maharashtra, Pondicherry
Pool F: Gujarat, Assam, Mizoram, Orissa

Women

Upper Pool

Pool A: Indian Railways, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh
Pool B: Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh

Lower Pool

Pool C: Haryana, Orissa, Pondicherry
Pool D: Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan
Pool E: Chandigarh, Jharkhand, Bihar
Pool F: Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, West Bengal

Time to gear up for the 'Eight days of Excitement'!

December 16, 2010

Vishesh Bhriguvanshi: Striving for success



In Varanasi, one of the oldest living cites in the world, they say that history of the world moves in a cyclical motion. Events repeat themselves one after the other every generation in the city, a cycle of good and evil and life and death, over and over and over for infinity in time. They say that even if the rest of the world stops, in Varanasi life will go on just as usual.

There is another kind of cyclical history being made at the famous UP College basketball court. Situated in the North-Western corner of the city, time and again, these courts have proven to be the nursery of some of Indian basketball’s finest talents. When taking a closer look, one can see how, every day, day after day, the basketballs continue bouncing without end, every morning and every evening, over and over again. With every year there is the development of a new batch of talented players and every generation gives birth to a select group of superstars.

On a chilly December evening at the UP College, all is as it has always been: the balls are bouncing, the shots are falling, the sneakers are pacing up and down the court. Except that today, there seems to be a distraction: a familiar face has shown itself again, and the court’s regular players, from the young toddlers with palms barely large enough to control a dribble to the experienced older ones with graying hair, have all stopped to welcome back their hometown hero.

Fresh out of captaining India to its first appearance at the Asian Games basketball tournament in 28 years, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi returned home to Varanasi for a few days of rest before the next challenge – the Super Kung Sheung Cup in Hong Kong. Still only 19, Vishesh already has several years of senior international appearance under his belt. He was called upon to captain the Indian side at the South Asian Games (SAG) in Dhaka at the beginning of this year, and the young shooting guard hasn’t looked back since.

Now back at the court where he learned how to master the game, Vishesh goes back to what he does best: showing up every morning and evening to meet his old friends, divide himself and the rest of the participating players into fair teams, and set the ball rolling. In a few years since his national and international exposure, he has earned an aura of awe and respect amongst the youngsters at the court. Refreshingly though, he is still the same old Vishesh with his peers: challenging, taunting, laughing, and competing. A small crowd gathers to watch as he lazily bounces around the court, sometimes wowing the spectators with great plays but mostly just blending in.

The Asian Games in Guangzhou (China), was a tough competition for the Indian squad. Led by coach Bill Harris, the first ever American hired to coach the Indian basketball team, the Young Cagers defeated Afghanistan in their first game of the tournament, a pre-qualifier that allowed them to enter the main group stage of the competition. India were not only able to exact revenge on an Afghani squad that had beaten them twice at the SAG (including a heart-breaking win at the tournament’s final), but the team also made history by celebrating Indian basketball’s first ever win at the Asian Games.

India then proceeded to lose all five of their group games, but they did put up some memorable performance in defeat. Against Asian powerhouses Iran, India managed to stay neck-to-neck in the second half after succumbing to a big deficit in first. Against Philippines and Japan, India performed well in the first halves to keep the games competitive before losing focus in certain stretches of the game to lose out.

A natural wing player, Vishesh (6 foot 4 inches) was forced to play the point guard or ‘feeder’ position at the game due to the team missing several key players. He gracefully took over the role to run the floor, sacrificing some of his scoring numbers to be able to lead the team better.

“The Asian Games were a great experience,” said Vishesh, “We showed great improvement as a team. Coach Harris was able to instill a defensive philosophy in the team which made us competitive. Throughout the tournament, I think we played some good defense and were better prepared with set plays for our offense, too.”

Comparing the current feel of the squad to the one that lost to Afghanistan at the SAG, Vishesh said that the players have begun to feel more like a cohesive unit. “Earlier on, it felt like everyone distrusted each other and just wanted to do their one thing,” he said, “This time, we were able to beat Afghanistan even without some great players because of good team unity.”

Vishesh admits that the Indian team had some glaring faults that were exposed at the Games. “It was hard for us to stay at the top level for the full game,” he said, “We would play well for one half and then not be able to keep up. I think our lack of experience showed. We just have to keep working.”

For the team to improve, Vishesh believes that they have to keep working harder, especially on the defensive end. Coach Harris has left all of the players he worked with in Chennai and in Guangzhou with specific exercise and training regiments to work on to improve their individual games. “If we keep working hard, I feel that we can improve a lot,” says Vishesh, “I hope that the next time we can get up to the top 8 in the Asian games and at least be able to put up a good challenge against one of the greater teams in Asia.”

The Indian team that has now headed to Hong Kong has a very different look. For starters, Coach Harris has gone back, and the squad has been playing without some great performers such as Jagdeep Singh, Trideep Singh, Hareesh Koroth, and Eudrick Pereria. They lost their first two games at the Super Kung Sheung Cup to hosts Hong Kong and the Southern California Fukienese Association (SCFA).

Before heading to Hong Kong, Vishesh acknowledged that the Indian national teams suffered from a lack of consistency – the teams keep changing and the players hardly get an opportunity to gel well together. Players get separated to go and represent their home states or service teams, sometimes become a higher priority for them than the Indian national team. Before leaving, Coach Bill Harris had proposed the idea that the national squads should be chosen yearly only to live, train, and play together as a team all year round to help build better chemistry and understanding.

“It is a good idea to keep the team together, but we obviously need a good coach to make it work,” Vishesh said, “All of us really liked Coach Harris – he was straight-forward and honest with us.”

He continues: “Too often, you see good players coming together from different parts of the country, and when they play for India, their performance becomes much worse. You can check the statistics and see this is happening – as Indian players, we need to be together and improve together.”

Clearly, Vishesh has embraced the role of captain much beyond just the ceremonial position. He seems to understand that in India’s success lies his own success, and he is ambitious about his future with basketball in India.

His next challenge: the Sr. National Basketball Championship, set to be held at New Delhi on December 28th. Vishesh has been an integral part of the strong Indian Railways squad that has won back to back championships, and he is ready for another win. “We want to make it a three-peat at the Nationals,” says Vishesh, “We will have to show a good performance if we are to have a chance to win. Teams like Tamil Nadu, Uttranchal, Service, and Punjab will definitely put up a tough challenge.”

Whether it’s his UP College home court in Varanasi, the grand courts in Guangzhou and Hong Kong, or the Talkatora Stadium in Delhi, where the Nationals will be held, Vishesh continues to do what he loves most: the game of basketball. And as long as he the youngster keeps improving, it seems the future of Indian basketball is in good hands, and his own name will be added to the history of Varanasi basketball idols who have been making the city proud, over and over again.

Former NBDL VP Bobby Sharma joins IMG-Reliance in India



Press Release: IMG, the premier global sports and media company, announced today that Bobby Sharma has joined the company as Senior Vice President, Global Business Development, Basketball. Sharma joins IMG from the National Basketball Association (NBA) where he was Vice President & General Counsel of the NBA Development League (NBDL).

In his new role, Sharma will oversee the growth of IMG's basketball business around the world, including the emerging economies of India and Brazil. He will initially relocate to Mumbai, India to begin developing the company's exclusive commercial rights to basketball in that country, working as part of IMG Reliance (IMGR), a joint venture between IMG and Reliance Industries Ltd.

Earlier this year, IMGR acquired all commercial rights to basketball in India for a 30-year period. The pinnacle of IMGR's strategy for basketball in India will be the development of a professional basketball league in which players from around the globe will compete alongside Indian players at the highest level. Critical to the sustainable success of this project will be the development of the game at a grassroots level, the sourcing and development of local talent, and the re-organization and management of school and college leagues throughout the country to create a development platform for growing the talent pool of young Indian players, enhancing their opportunities to compete internationally and successfully represent India on the world stage.

Andrew Wildblood, Executive Vice President of IMG and Executive Director of IMGR said, "Bobby's appointment is a major step forward in IMG's commitment to developing the sport of basketball. In India, the IMG Reliance Scholarship program has already demonstrated that there are enormously talented young basketball players around the world with huge untapped potential. What is now required are highly efficient search and development processes to give that talent the chance it deserves to succeed, and high-caliber professional leagues in which for them to play. With successful talent pyramids in place, these leagues will thrive. With his experience developing the sport of basketball for almost a decade at the NBA, Bobby is the right person at the right time to help us achieve IMG's goals for the game around the world, both from a player and league development perspective."

"This is an enormous opportunity for me to make a lasting and meaningful contribution to the sport of basketball on a global level," Sharma said. "There is tremendous interest in the game in India and its dynamic market in particular, where more than half of the nation's population is under 25 years old, and just about every economic metric is headed in a positive direction. I'm excited to join the talented team of executives that IMG Chairman Ted Forstmann has put in place to help take the company to the next level."

During his tenure with the NBA, Sharma served as the Chief Legal Officer and a Senior Executive for the NBA Development League, the NBA's minor league, and its various operating entities. In this capacity, he oversaw various legal, business and basketball operational matters, and his responsibilities included management of all league and team agreements, and development and administration of all policies and procedures. Sharma was also responsible for related initiatives such as expansion and international league consulting. Areas of his focus included team ownership & operation, arenas, sponsorship, merchandise, marketing, intellectual property, broadcasting, product/digital content licensing, contests & sweepstakes, employment, anti-doping and security.

Prior to joining the NBA, Sharma practiced litigation in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and in New York City with Cravath, Swaine & Moore. He also served on the presidential campaign staff of former U.S. Senator, and Basketball Hall of Famer, Bill Bradley.

Sharma, who holds a B.A. in history and a J.D. degree from Duke University, was the recipient of the 2010 Corporate Counsel award from the South Asian Bar Association of New York. In 2009, Korn/Ferry International named him one of the 25 Most Influential South Asian Executives in the Media & Entertainment Industry. Sharma was also nominated by the Association of Media & Entertainment Counsel for the 2008 Sports Counsel of the Year award.

December 15, 2010

No luck for Indian Paraplegic Basketball Team at the Asian Para Games



Now that the Asian Games are over, Guangzhou (China) is now hosting the first ever 2010 Asian Para Games, which will be held from December 12-19. A sports event for Asian athletes with disability, 19 different sporting events will be held at these Games, including Wheelchair Basketball.

But unfortunately for the team hoping to represent India's Wheelchair Basketball team, there will be no opportunity for them to show their skills at this event. India has a seven-member basketball team from the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre which has been practicing for this event for the past six months, but have been told that the Union Sports Ministry has no funds to sponsor them to China.

This is from an enlightening article written by Pranav Kulkarni for Indian Express:

“We were hoping against hope that the government would sponsor us, but a week ago, the Ministry conveyed to us that it has no money to ensure our participation and that it was too late to do anything,” said team captain Anthony Pereira.

The rehabilitation centre officials had been writing to the Sports Ministry for months, but received no response. Director Dr (Lt Col) SP Jyoti said, “Till 2006, it was the Indian Army that was funding us, but this year the Union Government has funded all teams, except this team. I fail to understand why.”
The team members — Pereira, V Nadar, TR Kulkarni, Prem Singh, CY Reddy, KN Reddy, K Shyamal Raju — had all become paraplegics during their service with the Indian Army. They have represented the country at various national-level wheelchair basketball tournaments and over four FESPIC games, including Busan in 2002 and Malaysia in 2006


Go to indianexpress.com to check out the rest of this amazing story.

This is pretty depressing news. If you check out their quotes from the rest of the story, you will see that the Indian Wheelchair Basketball players are obviously very passionate about the sport and about competing. They have been playing together for a few years, and this was a big stage for them to showcase their skills.

December 14, 2010

Delhi showcases its hoops spirit at the Mahindra NBA Challenge



Next to a dusty yet busy basketball court at the Bal Bharti School (Karol Bagh) in New Delhi, a bunch of young adolescents warm up enthusiastically to the beats of rap music from the PA system nearby. The song playing is perhaps rapper Eminem’s most motivated moment on wax, the inspirational ‘Lose Yourself’ from his move 8 Mile.

“You only get one shot, do now miss a chance to blow, cuz opportunity comes once in a lifetime.”

The fact that hip-hop music and basketball have been forever brothers-in-arms isn’t exactly breaking news; where there is a strong basketball culture, there seems to be a strong musical culture. Earlier this year, when the Sub-Jr. Nationals were taking place in Kangra, even the little mountain town reverberated with hip-hop beats on the loud-speakers. Any student present at the IMG-Reliance School Basketball league in Delhi would swear that not one game passed without a rap-musical break during a timeout.

Basketball is one of most competitive sports in the world, and perhaps, it is this competitive culture, where you face off your opponent not just to participate but to dominate, which helps the synchronicity of aggressive hip-hop with the game.

With the first season of Mahindra’s NBA Challenge taking place in New Delhi this year, a competitive spark and will to perform has been found in the young hoopsters, spreading across the nation’s capital, and beyond, like wildfire.

The Mahindra NBA Challenge, a multi-city, community-based, basketball league, was held in India for its first season last year in Mumbai, Bangalore, and Ludhiana. New Delhi basketball players may have felt a little short-changed with the deal, unable to find a similar outlet for their passion for the game. So for its second season, the NBA gave the masses what it wanted, and in mid-November, the U-18 edition of the league tipped off in New Delhi.

“The response we have been getting in Delhi has been overwhelming,” says Troy Justice, NBA-India’s Director of Basketball Operations, “The players are really passionate, too. We set around an 80-team limit for the registration for this league, and even after all the slots became full, we kept on getting requests for nearly twice as many participants. It is so busy here that every weekend we are playing game after game all day in our various venues (Bal Bharti School and DPS-RK Puram). And people say that basketball isn’t popular in India!”

In the U-18 edition of the league, there have been further divisions into sections of Junior (U18), Youth (16), and for the first time, Sub-Junior (U14). Justice is most excited about the youngest participants, the sub-juniors, who are getting a taste of competitive basketball action early into their development.

“I have had a great experience when working with the sub-juniors,” Justice adds, “Those are some of my favourite games to watch, since these youngsters truly represent the future of Indian basketball.”

The sub-juniors participating have also been happy about this opportunity. “The tournament has been really good so far,” says 13-year-old Taksh Sharma from Mount Carmel School (Dwarka), “I have been playing basketball for one year, and I’m happy that this league has come to Delhi.”

Justice has been impressed by the talent he has been overseeing in Delhi. “I can tell that the players in Delhi have received good coaching,” he says, “There are many here with very high basketball IQ. Many of them, even at a young age, seem refined and experienced.”

One of Justice’s favourite squads is a team from Jammu, whose story is a true inspiration for hoop-heads: The Jammu squad, a group of close friends, travel 12 hours every weekend to New Delhi to take part in the league. And at the end of the day, they take another 12 hours to get back home in time for school on Monday!

As of now, Justice is dividing his time between Delhi and Mumbai every alternate weekend. The U-18 Mahindra NBA Challenge tipped off in Mumbai simultaneously with Delhi. In mid-January, both cities will host the senior, open version of the league.

The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) has also been actively involved in assisting the NBA with the implementation of these leagues. Justice has commended the professional attitude of the referees who have been assisting him, and especially for Indian basketball’s youth brigade, the trio of Shiba Maggon, Divya Singh, and Yuvika Sharma, who have assisted the NBA in various management issues.

A legendary Indian player, coach, and referee, Shiba has stated that being a part of this league has taught her a lot more about basketball “off the court.” “This has been a great learning experience for me,” she says, “The kids in Delhi are very enthusiastic about what has been happening, and I can see improvement in their game every week.”

Shiba has added that this improvement was especially visible amongst the sub-juniors, the youngest in action, as they are truly beginning to understand the spirit of basketball.

Both the Delhi and Mumbai leagues are now entering their final stages. On Thursday, December 16, DPS Vasant Kunj will host the All-Star games for all the different divisions (boys and girls for sub-juniors, youth, and juniors). The best of North Delhi and South Delhi will battle it out on the basketball court. The league will move to the Semi-Finals at DPS Vasant Kunj on Friday, and finally, the Finals, starting on 3 PM at the same venue on Saturday afternoon. A shooting contest will also be held between the games to top off the hoop festivities.

The All-Star Games and Finals for Mumbai will be held over this week, too.

With the success of this first-time event in Delhi, Justice is already looking ahead, hoping to smooth out all the creases for the future. “Right now, our biggest problem was a good problem – that there was too much interest!” he says, “As the NBA grows in India, this programme will grow bigger, too. Although the current infrastructure that we have cannot accommodate any more teams, we are looking to expand in the future and allow more and more players to play basketball.

For now, the participants in the Delhi league will be focused on their last few games: the All Star game, the semis, and the Final. This is their opportunity, their shot at basketball success, the time when the rap music blares and motivates them to dominate.

But more than anything, this is their one shot to just go out and play ball. Delhi and Mumbai have gotten their taste of the NBA Challenge, and the leagues in Bangalore, Ludhiana, and first-timers Chennai won’t be too far behind over this year.

December 13, 2010

After joining the Warriors' ownership, Vivek Ranadivé is looking to bring NBA to India



Remember Vivek Ranadivé? The Mumbai-native who headed to Silicon Valley, become a super-rich software mogul as founder and of software company TIBCO, and recently became vice-chairman of GSW Sports LLC Executive Board, the group that has bought ownership of NBA team Golden State Warriors? Ranadivé became the first Indian owner of an NBA team, and you go here to get a recap of Ranadivé and his new stint with the Warriors.

Well, anyways, now that he is in the NBA-ownership business too now, Ranadivé has expressed his desire to 'bring the NBA to India'. The NBA, however, is already here, well, and bumping, but Ranadivé's efforts and influence can only help the cause.

From The Economic Times:

"We will work closely with the NBA to help make it a global sport and bring it to India," Ranadivé says.

Ranadivé, author of best-selling books such as The Power of Now and The Power to Predict expects "NBA India" to succeed because he sees the basketball-viewing and playing culture sinking in easily in the country. He notes that "in a country that doesn't have much space thanks to high density of population, this is a game which can be played in smaller courts", unlike cricket, the most popular game in the country, and soccer. "Look at how popular the league is in China (the NBA was launched in China only two years ago). Similarly, it will be a huge hit in India."
The NBA has successfully promoted the game in the world's most populous nation by drafting players, notably icons such as Yao Ming, holding exhibition matches as well as through media tie-ups and other partnerships.
Ranadivé, who has vowed to make the Warriors the best "21st century" basketball team, plans to hire the best talent from across the world.
Currently, the NBA has a presence in India, but not in the form of a professional league. The Mahindra group has partnered the Association for a grassroots-level basketball league to promote the game and train the youth in the country.
On the other hand, Ranadivé will galvanise efforts to bring the NBA professional league to the country. That would involve forming a domestic unit, hiring local players, holding exhibition matches of professional teams and entering into partnerships with corporates and others to promote the game.


Although Ranadivé isn't necessarily saying anything that hasn't already been said about the potential for growth of NBA and basketball in India, I'm glad that he is showing interest. An Indian NBA owner can only be good for India.

Here's hoping that Ranadivé can have greater success with his NBA in India plan than he is currently having with the Warriors. Starting the season at an impressive 7-4 up till the day of the new company's takeover (November 15), the Warriors have since been sliding, and have only won one game since. Their current record is a dismal 8-15.

Ranadivé's company TIBCO, of which he is chairman, CEO, and founder, has its India unit in Pune. The article quoted above also mentions that TIBCO is looking up to set up a facility very soon in Hyderabad, too.

December 12, 2010

St. Peter's Boys and Vidyodaya Girls win Chennai's inaugural IMG-Reliance School Basketball League



The finals of the IMG-Reliance School League in Chennai were held on Saturday, December 11th, as both the boys’ and girls’ games were won handedly by St. Peter’s Hr. Sec. School (Perambur) and Vidyodaya Hr. Sec. School respectively. Both teams remained undefeated throughout the tournament en route to this victory.

For the first time in India, IMG-Reliance, along with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), have been organising a home-and-away Inter-School basketball league system for Indian youngsters. It was first conducted in New Delhi from August 16-October 20th. Featuring a total of 20 school teams in the Girls’ and Boys’ divisions, the Chennai league had tipped off on the 22nd of November.

In the Boys’ final, Gopal from St. Peter’s scored a team high 23 points to lead his team towards an easy victory over Sherwood Hall, 88-66. Sam Sunder of Sherwood pitched in 29 points in a losing effort.

In the Girls’ final, a balanced effort by Vidyodaya saw them blowing out Lady Sivaswami by 26 points, 70-44. Niranjana scored 24 points for the losing team.

Earlier on Saturday, the 3/4th place match-ups were also held for teams both in the boys and girls divisions. In the Boys game, MCTM won 20-0 in a walkover by their opponents PSBB (KK Nagar). In the Girls’ game St. Joseph’s defeated St. Raphael’s 62-49 to clinch third place.

IMG-Reliance awarded a cash amount rupees 75000, 50000, 30000 was given to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place teams for both boys and girls respectively. This amount was designated to be used for the development of basketball in their schools. Additionally, a cash amount of Rs 2000, Rs 1500, Rs 1000 was given to each individual player of the winning teams (boys and girls), runners-up, and third-place team respectively.

The tournament’s top scorers in both boys’ and girls’ division were also awarded with Rs. 2500 each. Arjun of PSBB (175 points) and Deepika SM of Chettinad Vidhyashram (128) points walked home with this prize.

Scores

Third/Fourth Place Matches

Boys: MCTM 20 bt. PSBB KK Nagar 0 walkover.
Girls: St. Joseph’s 62 (Rachel 13, Devi 12) bt. St. Raphael’s 49 (Divya 15, Sowmiya 14).

Finals

Boys: St. Peter’s 88 (Gopal 23) bt. Sherwood Hall 66 (Sam Sunder 29).
Girls: Vidyodaya 70 (Kiruthiga 15) bt. Lady Sivaswami 44 (Niranjana 24).

Final Standing

Boys

1. St. Peter’s Hr. Sec. School
2. Sherwood Hall Hr. Sec. School
3. MCTM Hr. Sec. School

Girls

1. Vidydodaya Hr. Sec. School
2. Lady Sivaswami Hr. Sec. School
3. St. Joseph’s Hr. Sec. School

December 11, 2010

Winning and Grinning



It doesn't take much time in getting to know me to know that I'm a New York Knicks fan. I tweet about them all the time, I relentlessly read about on Knick box scores, recaps, news, scouting reports, rumours, everything, even ex-Knicks stuff (shout-out to Starbury), most of the basketball gear I own is in Knicks orange-white-blue (Marbury jersey, Knicks T-Shirt, cap, hoodie, even shoes), and the very first NBA game I watched in person was Knicks vs. the Warriors, in the mecca of basketball, the Madison Square Garden, the Knicks' home-court.

Through the good years and the bad years (mostly bad years), I have stuck with them for the past decade, ever since the Allan Houston-Latrell Sprewell-Marcus Camby squad battled their way to the NBA final in 1999. And ever since then, life as a Knick fan has been mostly depressing. After winning 50 and 48 games respectively in the 2000 and 2001 seasons, the Knicks have been a below .500 team, winning 30, 37, 39, 33, 23, 33, 23, 32, 29.

Worse than those dismal win numbers was the dismal management of the team. Knicks became the laughingstock of the league, thanks to failed owners (Scott Layden, Isiah Thomas), under performing coaches (Lenny Wilkens, Herb Williams, Larry Brown, and yes, Isiah Thomas again), a lot of players who were overpaid, underperformed, bad draft picks, bad trades, or plain and simple, sucked - Shandon Anderson, Howard Eisley, Stephon Marbury, Keith Van Horn, Tim Thomas, Jerome James, Michael Sweetney, Jalen Rose, Steve Francis, Penny Hardaway, Renaldo Balkman, Zach Randolph, Larry Hughes, Darko Milicic, and Eddy Curry.

No wonder, despite being a team with passionate fans in a major city, no one could take the Knickerbockers too seriously.

But things have changed this season - I was skeptical of the 2010-11 Knicks roster when I first saw it, something looked incomplete about it. Knicks missed out on the LeBron, Wade, Bosh sweepstakes, and managed to rope in Amar'e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton. They missed out on trading for Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, but traded away their only recent all star (David Lee) for three players who are either injured (Kelenna Azubuike), barely getting any minutes (Anthony Randolph) and didn't impress me, at first (Ronny Turiaf).

But oh, have they made proved me wrong! For the first time in nearly a decade, the Knicks stand 6 games over .500, with a 15-9 record after yesterday's win over the Wizards. They are amongst the hottest teams in the league right now, after having won 12 of their last 13 and currently, on a seven game winning streak. Like 'Clyde' Frazier, Knicks legend and announcer said in one of his famous linguistic alliterations, "The Knicks are winning and grinning"!

Felton is looking like the bargain of the summer, Stoudemire is getting MVP consideration, and rookie Landry Fields, the 39th pick has been the team's surprise glue-guy, and was rewarded for his efforts by being named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in November.

So what went right? Well, a host of things. To start off with the top, Stoudemire has been an absolute beast this season, capitalising on the opportunity to play with old Suns' coach Mike D'Antoni again. He has become the most dominant Knick since Patrick Ewing, and has had a stretch of seven straight games of 30 or more points. Currently averaging 26.1 ppg and 9.1 rpg, Amar'e has become the star that he always wanted to be, the star that the Knicks needed, and an attractive piece for the Knicks to have when other stars consider joining the squad. He is also a true a bonafide MVP candidate in the NBA so far.

There was a lot of talk about the Knicks needing serious point guard help, but Raymond Felton, an off-season free-agent acquisition from the Bobcats, has put that talk to rest. Felton has perfected the pick-and-roll with Stoudemire and has been putting up a career high in scoring (18.3) and assists (8.4). Plus, he has been a steady hand at times of trouble, and shot this clutch, super clutch 3-pointer to win the game against the Raptors a few days ago.

He was supposed to be a piece for the Carmelo trade, but for now, it seems that Danilo Gallinari will remain and Knick and remain shooting the lights out. To be honest, despite averaging a career-high 'Gallo' hasn't been wholly consistent or convincing this season, but there are few better shooters of the 3-ball in the league, and as the youngster gains confidence, he is sure to find his stroke again.

Whether he's starting or coming off the bench, Wilson Chandler remains an enigma and an x-factor for the Knicks team. He is not brilliant in any one thing, but does a host of things well enough to clock big minutes in each game. Chandler has been the team's third-highest scorer and a force on D. No matter what trade comes calling, it is unlikely that the Knicks will let him go.

The surprise addition to the starting lineup has been rookie Landry Fields. Barely known in the draft, Fields, a shooting guard, has become a rock for the Knicks this season. He's averaging an impressive 10.3 ppg and 7.5 rpg, while shooting at a blistering 51.4 % from the field.

Off the bench, the Knicks feature Ronny Turiaf, who I now admit is an important defensive piece to the puzzle, energizer bunny Toney Douglas, Russian giant Timofey Mozgov, who has been underwhelming so far, but carries a lot of potential, Shawne Williams and Bill Walker. With the return of do-it-all shooting guard Azubuike, the Knicks will have another important weapon in their arsenal.

Now, I admit that the Knicks haven't really been challenged by the league's best in the 12 out of 13 run. The 12 wins have come against the Kings, Warriors, Clippers, Bobcats (twice), Pistons, Nets, Hornets, Raptors (twice), Timberwolves, and Wizards. That is one hell of an easy schedule: the only team above .500 in that group were the Hornets, who themselves have been an overachieving surprise so far this season.

But this is when the real test starts. From now until the end of December, the Knicks will face the Nuggets, Celtics, Heat (twice), Thunder, Bulls, and Magic, and their only 'easy' game will come against the Cavaliers. The next week will be especially testing, as the Knicks will host Nuggets, Celtics, and Heat at the MSG.

The Knicks will only be considered a good team if they can get some decent results against these squads. For Amar's push to remain in the MVP race, and maybe for D'Antoni's push to put himself in the Coach of the Year talk, the Knicks have to perform well against the quality teams.

For now though, one thing is for certain, like the Knicks' teams from previous years, this one, if not a great team, has finally pulled away and separated itself from the bad ones. For too many years have I seen my team battle for decency amongst the worst teams in the league. The Knicks will make the playoffs this year, and probably not do much else, but hey, it's all about baby steps, right?

After all, a certain Denver Nugget can't be too far away, can he?

December 10, 2010

Indian Men's team at the Super Kung Sheung Cup in Hong Kong



The Indian Sr. National Men’s team will be amongst seven countries and clubs invited to participate in the 18th 3-D Gold Super Kung Sheung Cup Basketball Tournament for Men, set to be held in Hong Kong from 14th-19th December. A 10-member India squad, accompanied with a coach and a manager, will be heading to Hong Kong on December 11th to compete for this cup.

The Men’s team selected for this tournament is:

Dinesh Coimbatore Venugopal
Dishant Vipul Shah
Prakash Mishra
Kiran Pal Singh
Vishesh Bhriguvanshi
Sunil Kumar Rathee
Bobby Singh
Jairam Jat
Yadivinder Singh
Ajay Pratap Singh
Kunal Maria
Coach: Keshav Kumar Chansoria
Manager: PJ Sunny

The participating teams have been divided into two groups. India has been grouped alongside the hosts Hong Kong and the Southern California Fukienese Association (SCFA) from the USA. The teams in the second group are: Xin Cheng Holdings (XCH), GCC Group, Thailand, and Philippines. The matches will be held at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong.

India’s tentative schedule for the group stage of the tournament is:

India vs. Hong Kong on December 14th @ 8:45 PM
India vs. SCFA on December 15th @ 8:45 PM

The top two teams from each group will move on to the Semi-Final round, which will be held on December 18th. The third place teams in each group will play on the 18th in a 5th-6th place classification match. The final will be held on December 19th.

In the previous (17th) edition of the Super Kung Sheung Cup was won by the hosts Hong Kong, who beat Philippines 100-61 in the Final. India finished at 4th place.

The Men's team has recently returned from an unsuccessful but improved performance at the 2010 Asian Games, where they were led by American coach Bill Harris. At Harris' departure, experienced national coach KK Chansoria has taken charge of the squad.

Amongst the players, leading scorer Jagdeep Singh and Trideep Singh are two of the most glaring stars who haven't been able to make this squad due to injury. Hareesh Koroth, and Eudrick Pereria are also missing in this squad. Bobby Singh and Ajay Pratap Singh have been recalled to the Indian squad for this cup.

December 8, 2010

FIBA 33: A boon or a curse for hoops?



When the first ever Youth Olympic Games (YOG) took place in Singapore earlier this year, there was no sign of a proper basketball tournament. I use "proper basketball" deliberately, because the tournament showcased the large scale debut of FIBA's latest brainchild, the FIBA 33.

Maybe I used correct the "latest brainchild" statement - after all, every ball player alive (no really, EVERY ball player alive) has played a less formalised version of FIBA 33. If you don't know, FIBA 33 is half-court basketball, played 3-on-3, first one to 33 in regulation time wins. Regulation time is just 10 minutes (with five minute halves), and if no team reaches 33, the one leading when time expires wins. Each team has three players plus one substitute. There is just a 10 second shot-clock, and like the international unspoken rules of basketball half-court play, if the defensive team gains possession of the ball, they have to first pass it outside the three-point arc before starting their offense.

It sounds suspiciously like every pick-up game ever played, except with referees and timers - plus I'm not sure if FIBA would be too hot on the Shirts vs. Skins idea.

Anyways, due to the fast-paced and exciting nature of the game, it was a roaring success at the YOG, capturing the largest (and loudest) crowds. Even India had a four-member squad present at the games - they failed to win any of their group games, but beat a couple of teams in the 17-20 classification to end at 18th spot.

The success prompted FIBA to discuss the format at the FIBA World Conference in Istanbul during the World Championships. Now, FIBA are hoping to take the 3-on-3 format to a bigger stage.

“We are all very excited about FIBA33, and in view of its popularity after just one day, it isn’t too far fetched to imagine it one day making it into the Olympics in its own right,” said FIBA Secretary-General Patrick Baumann.

Baumann has even said: "The US will always be able to have 12 players of the same quality which India would not be able to have. But India can have three, four or five players who can play three-on-three and they will be at the same level as the US"

FIBA president Bob Elphinston has added: "We want to use FIBA 33 to encourage more young girls and boys to play the game, to get started in basketball. We also want to create FIBA 33 as a separate discipline, not dissimilar to what we see at the Olympic Games with volleyball, in that we have beach volleyball and we have volleyball."

Is there anyone else here who thinks this new concept sounds a bit too familiar? Let's see, what is that one sport in India that involves a lot of players and goes on for five days? There is a one-day version of that sport, too, but it goes on for hours and hours. People love this sport in our country but the organisers and some fans (but mainly, the advertisers) felt the show was too long and too slow to be enjoy / capitalised on fully. So they introduced a much shorter version of the game, inspired by the version played on the grass-root level, and gave it a nifty name with a two-digit number and soon, this version became so big and popular that those who fell in love with the original version of the sport said that the new version was killing it.

I'm talking of course of cricket - After the Test format and ODI format was deemed 'too slow' for some fans, in came Twenty-20 cricket, with just 20 over games to satisfy all our cricketing needs in under three hours. T-20 has become a phenomenon since, and its league in India, the IPL, has become almost as lucrative as football's EPL and basketball's NBA.

But T-20 critics are aplenty - many have complained that it has killed the soul of the game, or that it encourages pinch-hitting cricket without the classic technical skills, that it has become more of a spectacle than a sport.

Whatever side you take on this argument, it is clear that T-20 is here to stay. Now, FIBA 33 is a similar story in many ways. Of course, basketball's long format is about the same length as cricket's short one, but the intention in both cases is to serve the needs of the our collectively shortening attention spans (I'd be surprised if many readers have actually attentively made it this far down in this article!). Just like T-20, FIBA goes back to the grass-roots of the game, thus perhaps encouraging more participation.

But this is where we feel that FIBA needs to be careful. The 3-on-3 format encourages the one thing that many basketball purists detest - the 'I' not in 'Team'. Shanmugam Sridhar, the coach of India's 3-on-3 team that played in Singapore, said: "The 3-on-3 format made for very quick games. It especially helped in showcasing the talents of individual players."

Just like cricket purists have complained that T-20 has "dumbed-down" the game, FIBA 33 critics too may claim that the new format might be a too simplistic version to feature on the big stage.

On the positive note though, T-20 has been good for other formats of cricket in one way - by changing the player's attitude towards greater aggression, and of course, serving as a good platform for youngsters to prove their mettle for the "more respected" versions of the games.

FIBA 33 scores big in the fact that it will be able to involve more countries, since they will be required to field lesser players. India's involvement in the tournament in Singapore proved just that. Also, quicker games would mean greater participation. And both T-20 and FIBA 33 have been great crowd-pullers, so why not just give the people what they want?

Which side of the fence do you sit on with this issue? And while you mull over it, here is a video of the Indian three-on-three team at the Youth Olympics in their 27-11 win over South Africa.

December 6, 2010

A look ahead: Harrison Barnes



I like to keep a roving eye on the future, especially when the current state of NBA teams will directly reflect on number one draft pick in the 2011 draft. Obviously, we are going to pretend to have a stony silence on that which shall not be mentioned (hint: seven letters, starts with an L, ends with a T, and could be goddamn annoying). So when David Stern climbs the podium to announce next year's top pick, the player I'm most expecting to be called up first is North Carolina small forward Harrison Barnes.

Barnes has been rated as the top prospect in the draft via several sources, including the one I respect the most, DraftExpress.com. The 6"8 forward is long, with a great wingspan, and is actually listed as a SG/SF on draft express. But what immediately attracted my attention towards him was Barnes' NBA comparison offered by NBADraft.net: Grant Hill.

Now, before the 38-year-old Hill became a model for geriatric basketball in the league, he was one of the most explosive all-round players in the league, way back in the 90s. In his prime, he was a poor man's, less explosive LeBron James, and was supposed to be the next Jordan before any of the other next Jordans.

Here's more information from NBADraft.net on Barnes:

Strengths: Athletic wing with long arms (7-foot wingspan), good muscle tone and excellent body balance ... Kid with a great attitude, work ethic and willingness to improve … Has a disciplined approach. Shows a good understanding of the game making positive decisions with the ball ... Has excellent form on his shot, and developing range … Can pull up off the dribble and hit shots … Does a good job of attacking the basket and creating contact and free throw shooting opportunities … Knocks down shots from the line at a good rate … Gives good effort on the defensive end getting low and using a proper defensive stance … Still shows a good deal of potential left in his game …
Weaknesses: Needs to work on improving his left hand and become equally adept at driving using either hand … Should look to improve his mid-range game and become a more consistent shooter from the perimeter …


As of now, the worst teams in the NBA are already on the 'Harrison Barnes' watch, because their position in the league will depend on their likelihood to get the first pick. The Clippers, Kings, Timberwolves, Nets, and 76ers are currently the league's five worst teams - all of them, except perhaps the 76ers, have a gaping hole in the small forward position and could use Barnes' services.

So while we pay attention to how this exciting season pans out, lets keep an eye on the future stars too... Barnes isn't the only one - players such as Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, and Perry Jones are also gathering respect from NBA scouts. Let's just hope we see them in action next season and avoid the dreaded L-word.

And by the way... These won't be the only rookies coming to the league. A certain Spanish point guard phenom will finally be making his way to the States. Ricky Rubio was drafted fifth by the Timberwolves last year but is yet to make an appearance in the league. Rubio is currently with FCB Barcelona in Spain, where he has been dominating. Whether or not he joins the T-Wolves next season is another question...

Here is my near-fiendish ode to Rubio.

December 4, 2010

Bhullar Brothers transfer from Kiski School



Seven-footed giant brothers, Sim (age 16, height 7 foot 4) and Tanveer(age 14, height 7 foot 2) Bhullar, the Indian-origin basketball players from Toronto, Canada, have recently withdrawn from the Kiski School in Pennslyvania (USA). Sim and Tanveer, who have been gathering a lot of attention from American colleges over their dominant play and potential, seem to be heading into different schools.

Sim and Tanveer Bhullar's parents, Avtar and Varinder, are immigrants to Canada originally from Amritsar, Punjab.

The Bhullars' Canadian teammate Stefan Jankovic is also transferring from Kiski. According to NBE Basketball Sim and Stefan are reportedly planning to join Huntington Prep in West Virginia, whereas Tanveer may be going to Montrose Christian in Maryland.

The American Chronicle reports:

Sim Bhullar, a 7-foot-4 junior, Tanveer Bhullar, a 7-2 sophomore and Sim's brother, and 6-10 junior Stefan Jankovic all plan to transfer to schools outside the state, said Kiski School coach Daryn Freedman. All three players are from Toronto and enrolled at Kiski for the 2009-10 school year.

Freedman, in his second year as coach, said the players' departures were a shock. The players already had been playing in games this season for Kiski, which is not part of the WPIAL. Freedman claimed AAU basketball and the influence of other people associated with AAU basketball outside Western Pennsylvania were the reasons for the players' departure.
"Basically, this had to do with AAU stuff," Freedman said. "It's one of those bad, dirty parts of basketball. It's sad, but they've moved on."

"The Bhullar brothers are going to split up," Freedman said. "There are rumors that Sim and Stefan are looking at Huntington [W.Va.] Prep. Tanveer may be going to a school in Maryland."


The two giant brothers carry a lot of expectations on their shoulders, not just because of their freakish potential but also because there happens to be a country of 1.1. billion people that look kinda like them who will have very large hopes for their success. Hopefully this decision helps them in the long run.

Go here for some recent videos of the brother's dominating all competition.

December 3, 2010

NBA is (finally) back on Indian TV... With a BANG!



I admit that I was starting to get the jitters. My forehead was sweating, my feet were feeling the pins-and-needles, my throat felt dry. It wasn't any kind of fever - well, not the explainable physical kind anyway - it was withdrawal.

Life was all hunky dory in June: the NBA Finals were on TV every other day, and I had spent many (many) early mornings sleepily drudging around my home with a cup of hot coffee and a warm blanket, watching live basketball games. Any self-respecting hoops fan in India would have done exactly the same, ignore the 9 and a half hour (on the east coast) to 12 and a half hour (on the West-Side) time difference to watch the games live. That's just what we do. Damn those who wait for the prime-time repeats in the evening, because by then, most of us have already read the recaps, analysed the box scores, and watch the top ten plays of the day online.

The season finished in mid-June, and the NBA went on the full offensive in India in the off-season. We welcomed superstars Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to our shores. We participated in the Mahindra-NBA Challenges in Mumbai, Bangalore, Ludhiana, and Delhi, taking NBA team monikers. We read NBA articles by Indian writers, for Indian readers, in the NBA's India website (including a weekly column by yours truly!). We bought the jerseys and wore the shoes.

It was indeed, an epic off-season for the NBA in India, and the 2010-11 season was supposed to be one of the greatest ever. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh were together in Miami. The Celtics brought in Shaq and got stronger. The Knicks got Amar'e and became relevant again, and the Bulls improved with the Boozer signing. Thunder, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbook, were promising to become everyone's second favourite team. Dwight Howard left with a good impression in India, making fans crave to watch him and his Magic team a little more. And of course, the champions Lakers were back, bigger and badder, looking to make it a three-peat.

Until of course, a silent tragedy struck. There were no more promos for the upcoming season on ESPN and Star Sports. No recap shows, no games at those ungodly hours in the morning.

This is when the jitters and the pins-and-needles started. We waited a whole month, cursed and complained, but nothing came our way.

And then, with one epic announcement, it all changed. The NBA announced on Thursday evening that it has signed two TV deals in India, with Taj Television (Ten Sports) and Multi Screen Media (MSM) Private Ltd (PIX). The best part of this deal? There will now be FOUR live NBA games shown in India every week. In addition, there will be the return of a lot of NBA's special programming, as well as special events such as All Star Game, Playoffs, and Finals, of course.

It seems that the NBA's long marriage with ESPN/Star Sports (ESS) in India is finally over. The affair with Taj Television and MSM has just begun!

So here's a rundown of all that will be coming our way on the two channels for the rest of the season. Please refrain from salivating on your keyboard.

Ten Sports

- Two live games every week, on Thursday morning and Saturday morning.
- Replays of the live games on both days at primetime hours.
- Live coverage of the All Star Game.
- Live coverage of the NBA Playoffs.
- Live coverage of one Conference's Finals.
- Live coverage of the NBA Finals.
- NBA highlight recaps and NBA grassroots events in India, locally produced by Taj Television, for Ten Sports and select Zee Network Channels.
- 36 episodes of Real NBA, a half hour weekly reality programme that provides viewers with a behind-the-scenes look at the biggest stories from around the league. It will air at primetime on Ten Sports and in some of Zee's regional channels in LOCAL DIALECTS!

PIX

- Two live games every week, on Wednesday morning and Friday morning.
- Live coverage of the NBA Playoffs.
- Live coverage of one Eastern Conference Finals in 2011 and Western Conference Finals in 2012.
- 36 episodes of NBA Action a renowned highlights show that captures the latest game action and league news, giving fans an inside look at the best players in the NBA.
- A new weekly original program, NBA in 30. Each episode of NBA in 30 will showcase a condensed game in thirty minutes.

“The NBA has a growing audience in India and Ten Sports will enhance the viewing experience by providing additional insight, localized content, and interviews apart from the traditional telecast,” said CEO of Sports Business ZEEL Atul Pande. “I am sure we will enjoy a long relationship with the NBA as we are committed to being a leader in acquiring, producing and televising the most important sports programming.”

“The NBA is one of the world's top sports properties, and is comprised of some of the greatest athletes on the planet,” said MSM India CEO Man Jit Singh. “This historic agreement allows PIX to deliver all of the action and excitement of the NBA to Indian sports fans, while launching a partnership between MSM and the NBA which we expect to widen and grow through the years.”

I must say, I am very, very impressed by all this. Four games a week! That means, Wednesday to Saturday morning I'm going to be busy, back inside my blanket and with my cup of coffee. I especially like the idea of the NBA in 30 show that will be on PIX: it will be a great way to introduce the game to a whole new audience, who, in half an hour, will get a good experience of how exciting NBA basketball is.

Ah, the sickness is gone. I can relax again. The first game, according to NBA Global Programming list, is tomorrow, Saturday morning, at 9 AM: Dallas Mavericks @ Utah Jazz on PIX. The schedule for the Ten Sports games hasn't been put up there at the time of writing, soon I'm sure all will be revealed.