January 31, 2013

Hoops Route: A journey across Asian Basketball

This feature was first published on Court Side News on January 26, 2013.

To understand Asian Basketball presents the daunting task to try and understand what binds Asia in itself. Separated by seas, mountains, Great Walls, culture, religion, and many, many languages, it is a continent like no other. And yet, despite its magnitude and its separations, the dozens of nations of the world’s largest continent remain tied together in the same cluster of brilliance and chaos. For thousands of years, the continent remained connected with trade routes like the Silk Road. Now, it is the rising economies, the populations, and its diversity that give the continent its unique identity.

And it’s sport, too. While Football and Cricket are two of the most popular sports in Asia, the popularity of basketball has been rising at an exponential rate. China, Japan, the Philippines, India, Indonesia, and several hoops-strong Middle Eastern nations are contributing to the growing population of basketball players across the world. Although they are not at the level of teams from the Americas or Europe, Asian nations have been steadily rising with their national teams and their professional leagues. And as these nations rise economically, there is bound to be a time – sooner rather than later – that the populated continent begins to make bigger splashes in world basketball.

Here is a brief overview of Asian hoops.

We start where the Silk Road starts (or ends, if you work in the other direction!) – China! The most populous nation in the world is also the continent’s strongest basketball representative. While the country’s own estimates of ‘300 million basketball players’ (the entire population of the United States) might be a tad too exaggerated, it is still one of the most hoops crazy nations on the planet.

China has dominated Asian champions for years and only seems to be getting better. They have made more appearances in the Olympics Basketball tournament (8) than any other Asian nation. In recent years, they only seem to be getting better. China has produced a handful of NBA players (more than any other Asian nation) in the past, led by Asia’s biggest ever superstar, Yao Ming. Players like Wang Zhi Zhi, Yi Jianlian, Mengte Bateer, and Sun Yue have flirted with the NBA in the past, too.

China also features one of the most powerful basketball leagues in Asia, the CBA. At 18, it’s still a relatively young league compared to the rest of the world, but it has grown in strength considerably since its inception and is now becoming a viable option for many of the world’s best talents outside the NBA. While the league still suffers from growing pains – like some lackadaisical quality, an uneven bridge of talent between foreign and local players, and refereeing scandals – it has improved every year and has a brighter horizon.

Challenging China’s dominance in Asia are a trio of Middle-Eastern nations who boast of athletically gifted players who regularly spring a surprise over the Chinese sides. Iran, Lebanon, and Jordan are the three strongest sides from the West Asian Basketball Association (WABA) region. Iran, who are two time champions of the FIBA Asia Championship, are a regular threat and even played in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. They feature Hamed Haddidi, a Center who has dominated Asian competition and is currently a fringe player on the Memphis Grizzlies. With Yi’s return to China, Haddidi is the only Asian still in the NBA. Outside of Haddidi, some of the best known players from this region include Samad Nikkah Bahrami (Iran), Fadi El Khatib (Lebanon), and Sam Daghlas (Jordan). Top clubs from the WABA nation take part in the annual WABA League, one of the most hotly contested club competitions in Asia.

Unfortunately, Women’s Basketball doesn’t get the same interest and attention in several WABA countries, and their teams lag behind other powerhouses in Asia.

On the Eastern end of China’s massive borders are three neighbours who are regular contenders, especially in the Women’s divisions: Korea, Japan, and Chinese Taipei. They have their faint NBA credentials: Japan’s Yuta Tabuse and Korea’s Ha Seung-Jin have both made NBA appearances in the past. All the countries have well-organised – if not necessarily competent – domestic leagues. Chinese Taipei hosts the popular William Jones Cup tournaments for Men and Women annually.

The Philippines have one of the most interesting legacies in Asian hoops. The basketball-crazed nation has been infected with the hoops bug for over a century thanks to their historical American influence. They have won 8 titles in the FIBA Asia Championship (second only to China) and have made several memorable Olympic appearances. Their best days might be behind them, but the national team has seen a recent resurgence. Their chances for future glory have been further boosted as they will play host to the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship. The Philippines also boast of a popular league – the PBA – and have perhaps the most culturally-inbred love of hoops out of all nations in Asia.

We’ll finish our brief Asian hoops-de-joie with India. If China is Asian hoops promise fulfilled, India is the continent’s sleeping giant. Together, the two nations comprise of a third of the world’s population. For most of China, the sport of choice is basketball, but in India and its South Asian neighbours, it is Cricket that dominates proceedings. Despite the large numbers and improving economic status, India is still not a consistent sporting nation outside of Cricket, and basketball, amongst other sports, suffers from this. There is no league in India and the best players have to make do with semi-pro status. The national teams are still far away from challenging Asia’s best, and no individual yet has made a name on the global scale. India’s biggest success story is of Women’s star Geethu Anna Jose, who has dominated Asian competitions and came close to a WNBA contract.

Despite its current state, India represents the hoops potential for all of Asia. Long has the continent been a sleeping giant in basketball, hounded by disregard to the sport, mismanagement, and archaic training regimes compared to their North American or European counterparts. Just as the status of these nations has risen in recent decades in other fields, so will improvements eventually come in sports, and particularly for our interest, in basketball.

And hopefully, the continent’s powerhouses can turn potential into reality and consistently produce world class basketball talent.

January 30, 2013

27th Federation Cup tips off in Bangalore today!

The 27th annual edition of one India's biggest club basketball competitions - the Federation Cup All India Basketball Tournament - tips off this year in the city of Bangalore on Wednesday, January 30, 2013. A total of 17 top club sides from across India (Nine Men's teams and Eight Women's teams) have qualified for this tournament, which will be held at Bangalore's famous Sri Kantaveera Basketball Stadium.

The tournament is being organised by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and the Karnataka State Basketball Association (KSBBA). The finals of the tournament are slated to be held on February 3.

Defending their title this season will be Punjab Police, last year's surprise champions in the Men's division in Kochi. Women's champions from last year Southern Railway will not be at the tournament; instead, many of their players will be playing for their home states. Fans will be out cheering for the home teams, which will be Vijaya Bank for the Men's division and Karnataka Women.

There are special eligibility rules for the Federation Cup, which are based on the top eight Men’s and Women’s teams from the previous year’s National Basketball Championship, which ended in Chennai in December 2011. For the Men’s championship, the champion club/unit in each state’s internal basketball championship will be invited to play in the Federation Cup. For the Women’s championship, it is the state/unit teams themselves (usually) that take part.

KSBBA secretary K Govindaraj said “The indoor stadium is ready to host the best players from around the country, and all the players who featured in the National championships will be in attendance here.”

Via this article on SportsKeeda by Siddarth Sharma, here is the list of participating teams in their groups this year:


Group A: Punjab Police (Punjab), Customs & Central Excise (Kerala), Indian Air Force (Services), Captain's Club (Delhi), Vijaya Bank (Karnataka).

Group B: Indian Overseas Bank (Tamil Nadu), South Central Railway (Andhra Pradesh), Jind (Haryana), ONGC (Uttarakhand).


Group A: South Eastern Railways (Bilaspur), Delhi, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh.

Group B: Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra.

This is the first time in 24 years that Karnataka is hosting the Federation Cup. The winning teams will win Rs. 1 lakh, while the first and second runners-up will go home with Rs. 75,000 and Rs. 50,000 respectively.

Check out a more in-depth preview of the tournament by Siddarth Sharma here.

January 29, 2013

NBA returns with India's Most Valuable Fan Contest!

The thing about NBA fans in India - or international fans from any other part of the world - is that they continue being loyal to their favourite teams and players despite the geographical distance between them and the NBA action that they love. There are fans in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi, or Pune who have never even placed foot in Los Angeles, Boston, New York, or Miami, but they support these franchises as if these teams played in their own home court!

Well, now is the chance for one lucky hardcore NBA fan to finally have his or her wish fulfilled and see NBA action like it is supposed to be seen: live and in person in an NBA arena! For the second year in a row, the NBA is holding India's Most Valuable Fan Contest, a competition to determine the NBA's most knowledgeable fan in India. The reward for your efforts? You'll win the chance to be sent to New York to watch an NBA game in person!

This is how it works: NBA games are being shown live this season on Sony SIX. Starting from this week (we're late here on Hoopistani - it started on Sunday), a trivia question will be asked during a live broadcast of an NBA game on SIX. All you have to do is follow the instructions and answer the question. The premise might seem simple, but the rewards are great!

This is the second year of this contest; last year, the contest was held on Ten Sports (which broadcast most NBA games in India until last season).

So what are you waiting for? Start watching the games and look out for the trivia questions. If you're right (and extremely lucky), watching NBA on TV might actually lead you to watching the NBA in person!

January 26, 2013

Is Chris Paul already the greatest of all Buffalo/San Diego/Los Angeles Braves/Clippers ever?

Even in just a season and a half with the franchise, Paul could already be considered one of the greatest ever to wear the team’s red, white, and blue colours. McAdoo, Randy Smith, World B. Free, Elton Brand, and Blake Griffin have all done great things for the club, but Paul might trump them all. It’s debatable if he’s better than McAdoo yet, but he’s certainly on his way, and certainly the best ever since the team moved into Los Angeles in their new avatar.

Click here to read the full feature!

January 25, 2013

Rise & Fall: A midway review of the NBA season

This feature was first published on Court Side News on January 19, 2013.

Let’s clink our beverages together and declare ‘cheers!’ to an incredible first half of the 2012-13 NBA season, for by the time that you read this, most NBA teams would have played around 41 games each and the NBA calendar would be hovering right around it’s hallway point. Through November to January, we’ve seen great Basketball, fantastic individual accomplishments, surprising highs and some shocking lows.

If NBA teams and players were on the stock market, they would have seen some serious fluctuations in their value over the past three months. We take a look back at those rises and those falls in our mid-season review of the stories that shaped the first half of the season.

Rising: The Los Angeles Clippers. In a half-season to remember, the Clippers have already played the best Basketball in the cursed history of this franchise, even going back to the days of the Buffalo Braves or the San Diego Clippers.

Rising: Chris Paul. Until this year, Paul used to be a frontrunner in arguments of the league’s best point guard. There’s no one arguing anymore.

Falling: The Los Angeles Lakers. Recent turnaround notwithstanding, the Lakers have had a terrible three months. With what was assembled and dignified as one of the greatest starting fives of all time – Kobe, Howard, Nash, Gasol, World Peace – they have achieved little and find themselves outside the playoff picture. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, as a healthy return to their crucial pieces has produced positive results.

Rising: New York Knicks. For a team that hasn’t been past the first round of the playoffs for over a decade, a top two place in the Eastern Conference is looking assured this season. Thanks largely to the brilliant play of Carmelo Anthony, but also to the defence and leadership provided by Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, and the rest.

Falling: The stocks of a whole bunch of injured players, from Andrew Bynum and Derrick Rose to Kevin Love and Danny Granger. Many of them will return in the second half of the year, but their form will be questionable. And a few who have returned of late – Dirk Nowitzki, Eric Gordon, John Wall, and Amar’e Stoudemire – the pressure is on them to acclimatize themselves as soon as possible.

Rising: The Golden State Warriors. David Lee and Stephen Curry are playing like All Stars, and this team is winning. A lot. But the Warriors will need the return of Andrew Bogut to be their defensive stalwart in the middle if they have greater ambitions of playoffs success.

Falling: The job prospects of the Minnesota Timberwolves medical staff, who have lost Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, JJ Barea, Josh Howard, and Malcolm Lee to a various slew of injuries. Somehow, the team remains in the playoff hunt!

Rising: Damian Lillard who? The rookie point guard who took the now unheard-of path to the NBA with four years in college has exploded on the scene, leading all rookies in points, assists, steals, and minutes and has provided fresh hope for the Trailblazers.

Rising: James Harden. From sixth man of the year in Oklahoma City to sure fire All Star in Houston. Harden has developed into one of the best all round players in the league, and has improved his scoring average by nearly 10 points from the past season to rank fourth in the NBA this year (26.3 ppg). He’s only 23, so expect him in the ‘rising’ column a lot more.

Falling: The value of Harden’s Houston teammate Jeremy Lin, who was an unstoppable force of nature on and off the court for a few weeks last year, but now finds himself comfortably shelved playing average Basketball for an average team. Judging by his All Star votes, he’s still immensely popular; and judging by his salary and endorsements, he’s still going to be immensely rich.

Rising: Kevin Durant and the Thunder. No doubt that Durant – who is on pace to have one of the greatest shooting seasons of all time and has led the Thunder to the NBA’s top record – is my pick for the mid-season MVP. Durant has drastically added to his game and as a result, the Thunder sit pretty on top as the favourites to steal the NBA championship.

And finally… Stocks are Even for LeBron James and the Miami Heat. What can a three-time MVP, reigning champion, and Finals MVP do to get better? Just keep doing what he’s always done at a historic pace. The path to the title must still go through James and the Heat, and you can be sure that they’ll be standing in the way of any challengers. They haven’t been perfect this season, but Miami will surely up the ante defensively once the playoffs begin to rise again.

January 24, 2013

Vote Hoopistani in the SportsKeeda Blogger Awards!


Glad to announce that my blog - Hoopistani - has been nominated for the SportsKeeda Blogger Awards 2012 - presented by India's top sports blogging portal SportsKeeda.com - in the 'Other Sports' category (Cricket, Football, and others). If you've enjoyed my features and content over the past year, then please do hand me your votes!

Click on the badge below to vote for my blog!

Navigate to the 'Other Blogs' link on that page and you'll find Hoopistani under the 'Basketball' section. And done.

January 20, 2013

Swami Sri Dunkacharyas: A brief glimpse at NBA players practicing Yoga

Somehow, Yoga, this ancient Indian technique of breathing and body exercises that perhaps began as early as the mid 3rd millennium BC, and basketball, this sport of running and jumping with a rubber ball that began in North America in 1891, seem to be made for each other.

Here is a brief look at how basketball has embraced Yoga!

Click here to read the rest of the feature!

January 18, 2013

Hoopistani on Court-Side!

People! On this glorious January evening (or shivery cold hazy evening in Beijing as it is outside my window today) I'm happy to announce that I'm beginning my contribution to the world's largest basketball agency Court Side!. Starting this month, I will be writing features on various issues - including international basketball, Indian hoops, and the NBA - for Court Side's basketball news page.

Court Side has helped to represent hundreds of basketball players in various leagues around the world. Their basketball news section has stories concerning player movement and basketball news from a large numbers of countries worldwide.

January 17, 2013

2013 PBA Basketball Carnival set to tip off in Chennai

In what is set to be an intriguing assembly of basketball youth, basketball legends, and amateur players with a passion for the game, Chennai’s Professional Basketball Ace (PBA) Club will tip off the 2013 PBA Basketball Carnival at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Periamat, Chennai, from January 17-20, 2013.

A total of 19 School Boys’ teams, 10 School Girls’ teams, 10 College teams and 8 Corporate teams have been lined up to take part in different tournaments at this basketball extravaganza. In addition, there will be a return of the much-beloved ‘Celebrity Game’, which is set to feature some of the greatest Indian basketball players of the past and the present. Competition will be held in the Interschool (Boys) division, Interschool (Girls) division, Intercollege (Boys) division, and an inter-corporate tournament. Satyabhama University (College) St. Peters Royapuram (Boys) and Vidyodaya (Girls) are the regaining champions of the last edition of the Championship.

Corporate teams participating are CTS (Chennai), Infosys (Bangalore), TCS (Chennai), HCL (Chennai), HP (Bangalore), Infosys (Chennai), Wipro (Chennai), and Mahindra Satyam.

"It's the corporate participation that will highlight this year's PBA Carnival," said Jayasankar Menon, former Indian national team star, and the chief adviser of the PBA, "We are promoting the event to corporations to promote the game of basketball. It's an opportunity for them to recruit players from the college event. It is also an opportunity for colleges to draft players from schools."

A long list of legends who are slated to participate in the ‘Celebrity Game’ include Mathew Satya Babu, Kalyana Sundaram, Amarnath, Pratibha Suryasekhar, Prasanna Jayasankar, Jayasankar Menon, CV Sunny, Jenna Zachria, Suren, S. Robinson, Anitha Paul Durai, and Geethu Anna Jose. Various dignitaries from film, industry, and other sports will also be invited.

The Celebrity Game and the Finals of the various tournaments will be held on Sunday, January 20th.

January 15, 2013

Defensive, Valuable

It’s surprisingly rare in the NBA when the best overall player also puts in more effort than any other on the defensive end. Since 1982-83, when the DPOY award was first given, only four players have won both the DPOY and the MVP trophies: Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, and Kevin Garnett.

Click here to read full feature!

January 14, 2013

ONGC Men, Central Railway Women win 4th JCI All India Basketball Tournament

In a repeat of last year's final, ONGC's Men's team once again came victorious in the final of the 4th JCI All India Basketball Tournament against IOB (Chennai) at at the St. Aloysius in Athirampuzha of Kottayam district, Kerala, on Sunday, January 13, 2013. It was a clash of two Railways' teams in the Women's final, where Central Railway defeated South Western Railway to win the title.

Click here to read full recap.

January 13, 2013

Kerala High School girl scores all 47 of her team's points

Remember Kobe Bryant's 2005-06 season? How could you forget: the year he averaged 35 points per game and carried a ragtag bunch of Laker teammates to the playoffs. The year where he once averaged over 43 points per game for a whole month, scored 62 points in three quarters versus the Mavericks, and had the legendary 81 point game against the Raptors.

Well, far away from Los Angeles, a 14-year-old High School girl in the city of Kozhikode (otherwise known as Calicut) in Kerala in India has been on a 'similar' scoring tear of her own (this is the most loosely-defined definition of the word 'similar'). Aswathi Jayasankar, who plays for the Kendriya Vidyalaya team, has been carrying her squad with massive scoring nights in a very 2006 Kobe fashion. In the All India Kendriya Vidyalaya tournament last month, she scored 51 of her team's 58 points to lead her team to the championship. Earlier in the same tournament, she had games where she logged 61 of her team's 75 points, and 44 of her team's 50 points.

The 9th grader carried this form into this week's St. Michael's Tournament, where she had 30 of the 37 points and 40 of 44 in separate games.

The inevitable was looming, and then it finally happened on Friday in the Semi-Final of the tournament against against city rivals Providence GHSS. Jayasankar scored all 47 of her team's points, but it still wasn't enough as her squad lost the game 55-47. Yes, she scored ALL the points. Every single jumpshot, every lay-up, every free-throw, every three.

It was a historic moment, even for the 'small-time' world of high school girls' basketball in South India. The Hindu newspaper today had the full coverage of this remarkable feat by writer PK Ajith Kumar:

“In my three decades of following basketball closely, I have never heard of anything like this before,” says K.O. Ommen, a veteran referee and administrator who has probably watched or followed more basketball tournaments than most Keralites. “It’s an amazing feat, no doubt.”

Aswathi says she has been scoring heavily of late because she has been getting to play more tournaments. “Though my teammates don’t score many points, I get excellent support from them,” she says. “I feel my game has improved a lot now.” She has already represented Kerala at the National mini championship and is aiming high. “I want to take up basketball as a career,” she says. Her coach, S. Sreejith says she is one of the best players he has ever come across. “She is an exceptionally talented shooter,” he says. “She has remarkable speed and aggression and will be an even better player when she improves her defence.”

Of course, the youngsters unique Kobe-esque feat also comes with a Kobe-esque asterisk point. Her teammates have been doing their best Smush Parker/Kwame Brown impressions while Jayasankar herself jacks up the shots.

For Indian Girls' high-school competitions, the final scores of these games - between the 40s and the 50s - are actually considered to be high-scoring, which makes Jayasankar's achievement of obviously playing all 40 minutes of all games (although some high school girls' tournaments play 36-minute games) a pretty big deal.

Jayasankar's dominance isn't exactly a novel thing in Indian basketball, particularly at the High School level. It's also not surprising when the star player plays the full game - this happens even when the star player's team is winning or losing in a blowout. That's just the way it is junior level Indian basketball. I've witnessed several games where one player has scored 75 percent or more of their team's entire points. But this is definitely the first time that I've heard of a player scoring all the points. The fact that her team lost shows that the opponents did the right thing in freezing out her teammates just enough. But it seems that in the past this 'strategy' has worked for the Kendriya Vidyalaya side, so it's hard to blame their coach or the player for running with the one-woman show.

I wish all the best to Jayasankar for her future: it sounds like she's a talented young player with a lot of potential. Playing in Kerala, she is also in one of the best environments for basketball in India. Kerala's Girls have been dominating the Junior and Youth basketball divisions in India and have won the majority of the national-level U18 and U16 tournaments that they have participated in. They boast of India's brightest basketball star - Geethu Anna Jose - as well as other strong young players like Jeena PS and Poojamol KS.

Jayasankar has some fine footsteps to follow. Hopefully she can start picking up those assists numbers, too.

January 11, 2013

Lee, Curry, and the Rising Warriors

Playing like All Stars, David Lee and Stephen Curry have led the surprising Warriors to fifth place in the West. Coach Mark Jackson has helped change the culture of the team and has them aiming for their best finish in the Western Conference in 20 years. Here's what this team is doing right, and with the eventual return of Andrew Bogut, what more this team needs to do to continue their positive start.

Click here to read the full feature!

January 10, 2013

JCI All India Basketball Tournament tipped off in Athirampuzha, Kerala

ONGC (Men) will be looking to defend their title as the 4th JCI All-India Basketball Tournament tipped off at the St. Aloysius in Athirampuzha of Kottayam district, Kerala, on Wednesday, January 9, 2013. A total of six Men’s teams and four Women’s teams will be competing for the crown in this annual club tournament.

ONGC – from Dehradun – feature many of the stars from the Uttarakhand Men’s side that won the recently concluded Senior National Basketball Championship in Ludhiana. Last year’s women’s champions in the JCI Tournament – Southern Railway – are surprisingly absent from this year’s tournament. Southern Railway feature many of the stars who were part of the Indian Railways Women’s side that also won the Ludhiana Senior Nationals.

The participating teams are:

  • Men: ONGC (Dehradun), IOB (Chennai), Vijaya Bank (Bangalore), Customs & Central Excise (Kochi), KSEB (Thiruvanathapuram) and Kerala Police (Thiruvanathapuram).
  • Women: Central Railway (Mumbai), South Central Railway (Hubli), KSEB (Thiruvanathapuram), Kerala Police (Thiruvanathapuram).

    The competition will run till January 13.

  • January 8, 2013

    India up 1 spot to 46th in 2012 Combined FIBA World Rankings

    At the end of the 2012 Calendar year, India’s combined FIBA ranking (Men, Women, Boys, Girls) has improved one spot to 46th place. The big difference-making competitions for India in 2012 were the U18 FIBA Asia Championships for Boys and Girls, held in Mongolia and Malaysia respectively.

    Click here for full feature on all of India's rankings.

    January 7, 2013

    Power to the Forwards

    This feature was first published in the 2013 - No.1 edition of SLAM China Magazine. Here is my original English version of the story.

    It all began in London.

    As Team USA – America’s Men’s Basketball team – swept their way through to their second consecutive Gold Medal at the Olympics, fans in London, England, got to see a fine collections of superstars fitting in together to make an indestructible squad. There was Kobe Bryant, one of the living legends of basketball and, as an elder statesman, the leader of the collective. There was Chris Paul, the finest point guard in the NBA, and a superstar talent who left a mark at the Olympics. There were more talented guards like Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams, and there were big men like Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love who made sure that USA dominated the inside, too.

    But three individuals separated themselves from the rest. Three of them who played at such a high level that, at various points in the competitions, all three could compete for the nomination of the tournament’s most valuable player. In a team spoilt with talent, these three stood head and shoulders above the rest.

    And all three, technically, played the same position.

    Between LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony, Team USA was loaded at the Small Forward position. They decided to include all three, and all three made sure that their inclusion was more than justified. Anthony made history against Nigeria by scoring the highest point total by an American at the Olympics – 37 – in just 14 minutes! James was the team’s motor, leading the squad from start to finish and taking over in the clutch moments of the gold medal game against Spain for the win. Durant was the tournament’s leading scorer and consistently put up big numbers in each game.

    In the fluidly changing definitions of basketball positions, all three players found themselves in new roles from time to time in London. Gone are the days when the biggest players in a basketball team were the most dominant. The best players for the American side were their forwards, and, facing a shortage of big men in the middle, Anthony, James, and Durant all took turns playing at the power forward or even Center position in the ‘small-ball’ lineup for USA.

    The momentum of London has carried on back home in the NBA. James, Durant, and Anthony all find themselves playing high-level basketball two months into the new season, and have been the three best individual players in the NBA so far. And curiously, all three are following a similar blueprint to their success.

    With the start of the 2012 NBA season, the ‘small-ball’ effect spread like wildfire ravaging throughout the league. Following the triumph of the Miami Heat playing 6-foot-8 LeBron James at the power forward position at crucial moments in their championship run back in June, other teams began to field smaller lineups as well. This was partly to keep up with the quickening pace of the game and partly to make up for the scarcity of high-scoring back to the basket players around the league.

    In the Finals, LeBron matched up on most occasions against Durant, who also played bigger than his position to keep up with the Finals MVP. By the time the new season began, the Thunder too began to play Durant as a power forward on numerous occasions with Serge Ibaka as their centerpiece instead of Kendrick Perkins to force a smaller, quicker game.

    In New York, with Amar’e Stoudemire ailing, Coach Mike Woodson began to follow the same pattern with the Knicks. A natural small forward, Carmelo Anthony was shifted to the power forward position and the Knicks began to start with Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, and Ronnie Brewer – three guards – in their backcourt.

    The experiments so far have paid huge dividends for all three players and their teams. James has been able to demonstrate his versatility by shifting positions on both ends of the floor to defend both perimeter and post players and attack from the outside or the inside. After having a magical 2012, LeBron and the Heat are continuing their run as one of the NBA’s most feared teams and leading contenders to defend their crown. Teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh may have been a step slower so far, but LeBron has been able to diversify his skill-set to get the most out of the Heat roster.

    Over in Oklahoma City, Durant and the Thunder have come out the gates on fire this season. Perhaps hungry for success after coming so close to a championship last season, Durant seems to be on a mission this year to get back on top. Despite losing teammate James Harden, the Thunder seem to have become even better with the inclusion of Kevin Martin and improved play by both Durant and Westbrook. Durant in particular has evolved as a better well-rounded player, rebounding, creating, defending at the elite level, and still remaining one of the best scorers that the NBA has ever seen. Durant has the size of most NBA power forwards but the ability to stretch the floor and shoot the ball like a perimeter player. The Thunder have been able to plug him in as a big player when needed this year to beat slower teams on their speed and athleticism.

    Even until earlier this year, Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks mirrored each other in a non-flattering way. Both the player and the team carried high expectations but were never able to quite carry them off in past years. Anthony had undisputable talent – especially on the offensive end – as a deadly scorer who can find a way to put the ball in the basket in a multitude of ways. But his shortcomings as a leader, a passer, and a defender left him in the shadows of other stars like LeBron or Durant. But this season, playing most of his time as a power forward, everything has changed. Anthony has become more comfortable with having other guards in the lineup to spread the floor and hit the open jump-shot or to help create high-scoring situations for him. In return, he has answered with his most efficient season yet, scoring at a high level but also defending and leading his team better. As the calendar year ends, the surprising Knicks find themselves near the top of the Eastern Conference while Anthony blooms as a fresh new contender for the early MVP award.

    Meanwhile, other teams have tried out their versions of ‘Small Power Forwards’ as well. The Nets moved Kris Humphries to the bench and moved 6-foot-7 Gerald Wallace to play power forward to improve their team’s offensive moment. Atlanta has been playing their two best players – Josh Smith and Al Horford – out of position for years to moderate success. A natural PF, Horford starts games as a Center with Smith, who may not have the back to the basket game of an average post player, to play at the power forward position. In the absence of Kevin Love, the Timberwolves played major chunks of their early season with Andrei Kirilenko as a power forward. Shaun Marion regularly dons the ‘dual forward’ role for the Mavericks, too.

    All in all, it seems like a good year to be for the natural small forward. The position is top heavy with the talents of Durant, LeBron, and Anthony, but strong showings by the likes of Rudy Gay, Luol Deng, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, and Josh Smith make this position as loaded as it has ever been. They are all multi-talented players now who in many teams have become the center of the system, the players around whom the offense and defense revolves, and the players who are counted on to help make the big plays at the game’s biggest moments.

    Of course, not everyone is buying into the trend. When the Lakers teamed up Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, they made it clear that they still believe that bigger is better. With point guard Steve Nash out in the early half of the season, LA struggled. But they seemed to have put together a decent run of late and make a dash up the Western Conference standings. Teams like the Clippers, Spurs, Grizzlies, Pacers, Jazz, and the surprising Golden State Warriors continue to field a more traditional ‘one-to-five’ lineup with good players in the middle as well as sharp-shooters on the perimeter.

    But the standout individual talents in the season have been the three superstars who are also early top candidates for the MVP trophy: James, Durant, and Anthony. All three are guaranteed to be starters in the mid-season All Star Game – both for their immense popularity and for their actual production this season – but their work will truly count when the playoffs begin.

    James and Durant, as well as their teams, have proven themselves with deep playoff runs and an epic matchup in last season’s Final. Anthony and the Knicks have had a fantastic start to the season, but their playoff credentials will be in doubt until they can prove themselves in the post-season. All three are now backed up with decent teams and systems to back them up, but ultimately, it will be the brilliance of the superstars in the middle that will be the difference between a good team and a great one.

    And just like the previous summer in London, the next summer in the NBA postseason could also come down to the performances of these three forwards. The USA Olympics teammates played together and earned each other’s respect in London, but now, they will stand in each other’s way en route to the 2013 NBA Championship.

    January 6, 2013

    BFI to launch national 3x3 basketball championships this year

    With 3x3 basketball becoming more organised and official across the world, it was only a matter of time before this quickfire format of the game was properly introduced in India’s domestic circuit, too. The announcement came from the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) – India’s governing body of basketball – at the National Basketball Championship in Ludhiana (Punjab). The BFI held their Annual General Meeting (AGM) during the largest domestic hoops event in the country, in which CEO Roopam Sharma announced that national level 3x3 basketball championships will be added to the BFI calendar starting this year both for the seniors and U18 levels in both Men’s and Women’s divisions.

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    January 5, 2013

    Uttarakhand & Indian Railways become 2013 National Basketball Champions in Ludhiana

    The stage was the Guru Nanak Stadium Basketball Court in Ludhiana, Punjab. The audience comprised of the large numbers of loud and excited hoop fans from across the state and beyond cheering for their favourite teams. The actors were the cream of crop of basketball talent from across the country. And the show was the biggest day in domestic Indian basketball. On Friday, January 4, 2013, the Finals of the 63rd Senior National Basketball Championship for Men & Women were held in Ludhiana. After a week of breathtaking action, the Indian Railways Women’s team and the Uttarakhand Men’s squad emerged as champions in their respective divisions, as both teams went undefeated through the course of the tournament.

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    January 3, 2013

    'Vallinam': New Tamil Movie, based on Basketball, to be released soon

    Let's be honest here: there are a number of things plaguing basketball in India, and of course, the players and us fans pass the blame game to everything from inept organisation to inept coaching. But one of our favourite punching bags is a competing sport - Cricket - the sport that overshadows over everything and anything else in India, and the sport that dominates headlines and government attention over any other. As far as a fraternity of basketball fans are considered, Cricket is the 'villain'.

    It seems that there's one Indian movie-maker that has decided to take the game's 'villainous' role a little too literally.

    Tamil sport-drama film 'Vallinam' is set to be released early in this year, and - as early reports are any indication - the movie is set to pit basketball (the hero) vs. cricket (the villain). Directed by Arivazhaghan Venkatachalam, the film stars Tamil actor Nakul (the star basketball player, who plays for India) and newcomer Mrudhula Basker in the lead roles. Telugu actor Siddarth Jonnalagadda plays the villainous cricket player.

    Tamil Nadu has a rich basketball tradition and some of India's best players and teams hail from that state. So of course, the movie has the potential to find a captive audience amongst hoop fans in TN. Apparently, the final scene of the movie is a basketball game between the Indian team and a foreign team at an expensive set in Thiyagaraya Nagar in Chennai.

    So let's hope that the movie does what it intends to do, and promote the game of hoops the right way. But we don't neccessarily need to antagonise another game, do we? No, there is no chance that basketball - or any other sport - is going to eclipse cricket in this country. But if we are able to thrive in our own little niche, that would be fine.

    Memo to Bollywood: Those random scenes in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Dhoom aren't enough. Let's give Indian basketball its proper due soon!

    January 1, 2013

    13 things to look forward to for ‘13 in Indian Basketball

    Happy New Year Indian Basketball Fans! If you’ve recovered from the revelries from the last day of 2012, I recommend you ring in the new year the best way possible: find the nearest basketball court, lace up your sneaks and get back to working on that jumpshot.

    Or you can celebrate it in (probably) the second best way possible: read about how hoops in India can be taken to the next level by the time December 31st rolls around again! With every passing year, hoops in India is taking another step to becoming a bigger game with better results, better organisation, and more popularity amongst the common fans. So here are the top 13 things that we can look forward to for 2013.

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