March 31, 2014

The Philadelphia 26ers

The Philadelphia 76ers lost 26 straight games to make dubious NBA history, tying the NBA's worst losing streak of All Time. After sealing away all of their present for the future, the results haven't been a surprise as the team chases a high draft pick to rebuild from next season. But will things change for them in the road ahead?

Click here to read full feature.

March 30, 2014

KSEB win 2014 Electricity Board Men's Basketball Tournament in Thiruvanathapuram

The Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) defended their home city of Thiruvanathapuram to lift the trophy at the 39th All India Electricity Sports Control Board Basketball Tournament for Men on Saturday, March 29th. The four day tournament was held at the Pattom, Vyduthi Bhavan Basketball court in Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala and brought together the best basketball teams from various electricity/power corporations around the country.

The Final was held between KSEB and the tournament's defending champions, the Punjab State Power Corporation. Albin Baby of KSEB erupted for a game high 37 points to ensure that his side maintained a commanding lead en route to their 93-76 victory. Ajeeth Sugunan chipped in with 20 points. Harprith Singh scored a team-high 19 points for the Punjabi squad.

KSEB employees who represented India at the national sports stage in the past year were honoured at halftime during the final, including basketball stars such as Jenna PS and Stephy Nixon.

Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Company won the bronze medal as Sivakumar scored 31 points to lead them for an easy 69-45 victory over the Haryana Power Sports Group. Sonu Malik scored 30 for the losing side.

March 29, 2014

India-born Sukhjot Bains has become one of the top High School prospects in Canada

It's a good time to start familiarizing yourself with the name Sukhjot 'Sukh' Bains. While he has been a rising basketball star for a while in recent years, Bains - who plays for Tamanawis Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia, in Canada - took his game to the next level over the past month. The 6-foot-6 High School senior blazed the way to lead his team to the Fraser Valley Championship with an MVP performance in the tournament. Not long after, he was ranked as the number one 12th grader in all of British Columbia basketball. He's been ranked the 24th best player in Canada's Class of 2014 and has earned an invite to tryout for Canada's Junior Men's National team.

And by the way, he was born in India.

Although he's a Canadian citizen, the 18-year-old Bains was actually born in the village of Ottal in Shahid Bhagat Singh Nagar district (formerly Nawanshahr) in Punjab. Less than two years later, Bains moved to Canada with his mother and older brother to join his father, who had immigrated a year earlier. Since then, the family has been back to India for two visits over the past eight years.

Sukhjot has been training at the Athelite Basketball Academy since he was 11 years old. Athelite is also co-run by their Indo-Canadian director and coach Surinder Grewal, who has helped oversee Bains become into one of the top young prospects in Canada. According to Grewal, Bains is currently exploring options of playing Division 1 basketball in the states as he has received a lot of interest.

Bains has been on a tear that last two years, and finished the 2013/14 season with averages of 28.5 ppg, 13 rpg, and 4.3 apg on an unreal 43 percent shooting from the three-point line - his specialty - and 61 percent from inside the arc. His team finished with a 35-5 record which brought them the city and Fraser Valley championships and a 27-game winning streak that only ended with a semi-final loss at the provincial tournament a few weeks ago.

Bains played in the two most crucial games of the year over the last month, both that ended with dramatically opposing results. He scored 43 points which included 17 in the fourth quarter and OT and a clutch game-tying three in his team's Fraser Valley Final win against Gleneagle. With aspirations to win the provincial championship, Bains and the Tamanawis Wildcats finally faced defeat in the Semi-Final to Vancouver’s Sir Winston Churchill after Bains fouled out of a close game. Either way, his High School career ended on a memorable note and has promise of great things ahead.

Here is a video of Bains' highlights from February this year. You'll find a whole wealth of other clips of him on Youtube.

Meanwhile, if you're searching for other successful Indo-Canadian talent, the best place to start would be with these two big guys.

March 28, 2014

Still Valuable: The greatest ever players without an MVP award

Here is an ode to the 10 greatest players in NBA history who never won an MVP award. While these greats have never collected the Maurice Podoloff trophy (named in honour of the NBA’s first commissioner), they have done enough to write their names among NBA legends and proven that they were still valuable to the league and their teams.

Click here to read the full feature.

March 25, 2014

'Vallinam', the Tamil movie on basketball, is here!

With the thriving basketball scenery in India's southernmost state, it's no surprise that the country's first mainstream feature film centered around the game has come courtesy of Tamil cinema. Barring a few laughable moments in Bollywood films, basketball and the Indian hoops sub-culture hadn't  made a major crossover into Indian cinema earlier. But now, thanks to director Arivazhagan Venkatachalam, we finally have that breakthrough.

Last month, the Tamil film 'Vallinam' directed by Venkatachalam and produced by Aascar Ravichandran opened to audiences after being delayed for almost a year. The film stars experienced Tamil actor Nakul (previously seen in 'Boys' and 'Baghban' - thanks IMDB) as 'Krishna', a basketball player from Trichy who quits the game after his friend's death and moves to Chennai. Quoting further from IMBD, "due to circumstances mainly due to the villainous cricket captain (Siddharth Jonnalagadda) [Krishna] starts a basketball team in college. How Krishna's determination and fierce dedication to triumph at all cost form the rest of the story. He even wins over the rich heroine (played by Mrudhula Basker) from the villainous cricket captain.

So much to love and analyze here. I first caught whiff of this film in production three years ago, and had all but forgotten about it as the release was delayed to unknown reasons. I am not experienced at all in Tamil, but Wikipedia tells me that the word 'Vallinam' வல்லினம் means 'Hardness' in English (Tamil readers please provide a clearer translation to make it sound less weird). The film opened to positive reviews from both critics and audiences. Apparently, the lead star Nakul very seriously worked on his game to "ensure that he lived the role rather than act."

The 'cricket-as-a-villain' route isn't surprising, since there are indeed a lot of 'alternative' sportsmen and women in India unhappy with the extra attention that cricket receives compared to other sports. I wrote a few years ago that we shouldn't necessarily have to antagonize another sport to promote basketball the right way. 'Vallinam's review on the Times of India (3.5 stars out of 5) does clarify that the film makes "a commendable effort is that it doesn't resort to cricket-bashing to drive home its point". Hindustan Times says that "Vallinam never tries to convince us that basketball is a better game than cricket. It reminds us that cricket is not the only sport that deserves to be celebrated in a country where we have other equally popular sports as well."

One negative review that the film received was from Sify, which said that the film "goes all over trying to fit in mass commercial elements like fight, songs and unnecessary sentiments... The songs and the love angle sticks out like a sore thumb. The director should have concentrated only on the sports element it would have been a far better film". I'm not too well-versed for Tamil cinema, but I guess to reach a wider audience you have to give the people what they want, and that way, make the mainstream audience aware about basketball, too.

Here is the film's trailer:

Form your own judgement as you please.

(I wish I understood Tamil!)

I commend the director and producers for taking a risk of sorts in Indian cinema in making a movie about an alternative sport. Tamil Nadu has a rich basketball tradition and some of India's best players and teams hail from that state. About a week after the film was released, the Tamil Nadu state team returned to the top of country's basketball totem pole when they secured gold at the National Basketball Championship in New Delhi. So of course, the movie has the potential to find a captive audience among hoop fans in TN. Hopefully, if someone releases the film with sub-titles, it can reach audiences across the rest of the nation too, and inspire more interest in Indian basketball.

Bollywood, you're on the clock. Time to step up and kindly erase my memories of Kajol double-dribbling in a sari forever.

Have any of you seen 'Vallinam'? Please offer your reviews and thoughts below.

March 21, 2014

Indian Basketball needs role models to inspire the next generation

This article was first published in my column on Ekalavyas on March 10th, 2014. You can find the original post here.

TJ ‘Air India’ Sahi dunks over a taxi during a dunk contest as part of the 2011 Indian basketball All Star weekend at the Mastan YMCA Courts in Nagpada, Mumbai. 

I may call myself a die-hard basketball junkie now, but when I was a kid, I wanted to grow up and be Sachin Tendulkar.

I wasn’t good at cricket, but I played it a lot because everyone I knew played cricket. From the grassy fields of my school to the concrete gullie behind my house, we made everything our little pitch. Cricket was the sport, everything else was the alternative.

I had Sachin posters gracing the walls of my bedroom and Sachin’s face on my pencil-box for school. Like most casual fans of the sport in India, I only paid attention to cricket scores when Sachin was playing and turned off the moment he got out. Even as I grew older and lost interest in cricket, I could never switch off my fandom for the man we call ‘God’. I screamed with my friends when Sachin scored 200 against South Africa. I celebrated when his teammates hoisted him on their shoulders when they won the World Cup. I shed a tear watching his farewell speech.

It’s no secret that kids look up to athletes, and most of us – if we were sports fan growing up – were inspired by an athlete as a role model, whether it was Jordan or Ronaldo, Federer or Kobe. But if you were Indian, with a few exceptions it’s more than likely that the athlete was a cricketer. If not Sachin, it was Dhoni, or Ganguly, or Dravid, or one of the countless others.

Ever since cricket went from being a pastime to a religion in the early-to-mid-80s, India has rarely been able to produce idols in any other sport. Blame it on the lack of media attention, on the dysfunction of sporting bodies behind other athletes, or simply, a lack of success at the international level.

Although overshadowed by cricket, there have definitely been success stories to motivate and inspire across most other Indian sports. Over the last three decades, the likes of Leander Paes, Viswanathan Anand, Abhinav Bindra, Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt, Mahesh Bhupati, Dhanraj Pillai, Bhaichung Bhutia, PT Usha, Mary Kom, Anju Bobby George, Saina Nehwal, and many more have garnered national and international success and fame. While their respective sports might not make the Times of India front pages or spike TRPs on Indian sports channels as much as cricket, these sportsmen and women have at least charted a path to follow for aspiring young ‘alternative’ sportsmen and women.  

Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find the same type of role model in basketball. The mainstream public in the country won’t be paying attention until an Indian player makes a mark at the international stage, to stand among the best in the world and hold their own. Outside of the niche basketball circles, the names of most of India’s finest basketball talents are unknown. The closest a truly famous person came to dribbling a basketball in India was back when Shahrukh Khan was playing trap-defense on a sari-clad Kajol in ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’.

But if you ask among those niche basketball circles in India, you will hear several names. You will hear of past greats like Ajmer Singh or Ram Kumar. You will be schooled on dominant players like Jayasankar Menon or Sozhasingarayer Robinson. You will catch up with those headlining the scenes in the present day, like Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, the explosive TJ Sahi, the Singh Sisters from Varanasi, or Anitha Paul Durai.

But the name you’re likely to hear more than any other is of the great Geethu Anna Jose. Jose has been the most dominant player in India for the last decade and is perhaps one of the greatest players we’ve ever had. She was the first Indian to play professionally in Australia, enjoyed a professional stint in Thailand, and was even given a trial by three WNBA teams in 2011. Domestically, the Kerala-born superstar has dominated nearly every tournament she took part in. She has been the lynchpin of India’s national women’s team and the only Indian player to match the talent and output of Asia’s finest.

Jose’s successes over the past decades brought her and her sport some much-needed attention, but her popularity never reached out to the masses like it deserved to. Jose has been a role model to serious basketball players in India, but to the common man or woman, she’s just another woman who could pass by any Indian airport or shopping mall without anyone raising an eyebrow in recognition, unless the eyebrow is being raised to remark on her height.

Indian basketball needs celebrities. We need our best players to be recognized on the street. We need fans to request photos with them. We need their accomplishments to be celebrated nationwide.

But for that to happen, our best players need to have some accomplishments first. The never-ending cycle of bad results leading to less exposure leading to loss of interest from young players and lack of funding and then to more bad results has continued for decades. The only way out of this ruthless cycle is an anomaly, a tangent of talent that can ignite national interest in the sport.

Luckily, when a country has over 1.2 billion people, that tangent might not be too far away. The challenge is to find it and nurture it so it can blossom into its full potential.

Four years ago, India discovered one such ‘needle in a haystack’ in the form of a 7-footed 14-year-old phenom straight out of a non-descript village in Punjab. Satnam Singh Bhamara was discovered while dominating the Youth and Junior national tournaments for Punjab and immediately picked out by IMG Reliance to be sent for expert training at the IMG Academy in Florida. Bhamara has been there since, honing his skills, and occasionally returning to India to take part in the bigger national tournaments or represent the Senior National team. While he has developed into a solid big man with flashes of brilliance, many fear that even for him, the discovery of talent might’ve been too little too late.

There has also been a rising number of non-resident Indians from the US, Canada, or elsewhere who have started to rise within American college or High School ranks and have offered a ray of hope to Indians back home. While these players may not have Indian nationality, and thus, can’t contribute to the national teams in India, they have been able to instil the belief that basketball excellence has little to do with ones DNA or race and more to do with one’s opportunities, training regimes, and of course, dedication.

At the top of the totem pole of these Indian-origin talents right now is Canadian-Indian Sim Bhullar. A 21-year-old, 7-5 giant, Bhullar currently NCAA Division 1 college ball for New Mexico State, and even made some waves with his performances leading up to the NCAA national tournament last year. If Bhullar can continue to develop in the next few years, he could have an outside shot at the NBA.

In last month’s column, I spoke about how a professional basketball league in India – whenever it does get launched – could revolutionize the sport and propel its popularity into a much higher gear. The league would also be a platform to create basketball heroes and heroines, idols who fans can look up to and relate to at the same time. Of course, the dream of every hoop fan in the country is to see an Indian name don an NBA jersey or the captain of the Indian national team hoist up a FIBA international trophy. That day isn’t here yet, but we are indeed getting closer. And when that day becomes today, the vicious cycle of ineptitude might finally be broken, and Indian basketball players might enjoy the star status that they deserve.

Now here’s a story. Three years ago, Mumbai’s famous Mastan YMCA courts in the Nagpada area began to play host to what then became an annual tradition, the Indian Basketball All Star Weekend. In 2011, the event’s organizers first brought together the best men and women players in India to the outdoor court for the two-day event, which included a dunk contest, three-point shootouts, and All Star games.

If you don’t know, Nagpada is a mostly-Muslim minority neighbourhood in India’s financial capital, an overcrowded bustling area of slumdogs in the city of millionaires. This iconic basketball court is where some of the nation’s finest have honed their craft and where poor young children mingle with international-level players. Nagpada is known for its kebabs, its crowds, its chawls, and its basketball. The All Star Weekend events were free for anyone to attend, and hundreds of local fans – mostly kids – sat on the floor courtside cheering through the exciting two days.

I was there covering the event in its first year, and TJ Sahi, one of India’s most popular basketball players, was participating in the dunk contest and the All Star game. Sahi is an explosive point guard who earned the nickname ‘Air India’ for his incredible athleticism and successes for India and Punjab.

Some of the Indian stars were at the court early on the first night, and while they waited for the competitions to begin, Sahi sat in a far corner separated from the rest of the players but surrounded by a dozen local kids. He was signing autographs and giving dribbling tips to the kids, who looked up in awe with admiration and respect. About an hour later, Sahi’s celebrity status was etched in the kids’ memories forever: he channelled his inner Blake Griffin for a spectacular dunk over a kali-peeli Mumbai taxi to win the Dunk Contest.

What happened in Mumbai that night – like what happens in Indian basketball events around the country on most nights – was barely noticed by those who didn’t attend and barely reported to the outside world. But it made a mark on those who were there and convinced at least a few of those youngsters to grow up and become the next TJ Sahi.

It was just another small example of a basketball role model being born in India. The moment was an untamed and totally desi glimpse of the future. Hopefully we can have many more moments like it in the road ahead, and those Sachin and Dhoni posters are eventually replaced by Indian faces motivating the next generation on the basketball court.  

March 20, 2014

Bangalore edition of BFI-IMG Reliance College Basketball League started this week

From Monday, March 17th, the Bangalore edition of this season's BFI-IMG Reliance College Basketball League tipped off with a an opening ceremony at the New Horizon Engineering College, Sarjapur. The league - organized by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), IMG Reliance, and the Karnataka State Basketball Association (KSBA), will feature 10 teams each in the Men's and Women's divisions as they play in the home-and-away format. Bangalore has already hosted a similar school-level league which tipped off three months ago.

The college league is part of BFI-IMG Reliance's nation-wide attempt to increase high-level competition in major Indian markets. This season, they have set out to organize both college and school league's in a record eight cities (Bangalore, New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Ludhiana, Indore, and Kolkata), each featuring the same format and the same number of teams (10 Men, 10 Women).

The college winners from all the states will participate in the National Champions Cup to be held in April/May, 2014 in New Delhi.

In the matches this week, Surana College Men beat Presidency College 44-22 after Surana was leading 23-12 in half time. St Joseph Commerce College downed Sindhi College 51-16, SBM Jain College defeated BMSCE 37-10 and New Horizon Engineering College overcame RV College of Engg 53-35.

In the Women’s section, Mount Carmel College beat BMSCE 44-33. Roshini scored 16 points for Mount Carmel College and Aanchal finished with 18 for BMSCE. Aishwarya scored 13 points; Prithika 12 and St Joseph Commerce College beat SBM Jain College 54-48. Simonelle finished with 30 for SBM Jain College.

Follow more results via the BFI here.

March 18, 2014

Garbage Time

For some NBA teams, the last month of the season can’t end soon enough

This feature was first published in the 125th edition (2014 - No. 4) of SLAM China magazine. Here is original English version of the story.

By halftime, the Lakers were already down 33 to their neighbouring Clippers, and the second half of the blowout game in early March essentially turned into ‘garbage time’. With the result of the game all but decided, nothing that happened in garbage time had any real significance anymore. The starters turned into bench warmers, Reggie Bullock hit some threes, and Clippers’ newcomers Glen Davis and Danny Granger hit double figures in scoring for the first time in their new jerseys.

But in the big scheme of things, it didn’t matter and both teams were ready for the game to end long before the final buzzer. Most of the fans in the Staples Center got up and left, and most of the fans watching at home changed the channel.

Blowouts are a part of the game for almost all teams from time to time, but what happens when an entire month turns into garbage time?

For the worst teams in the NBA who have no chance at a playoff spot, the present is already the past. By the last month of the regular season, most of these teams are already looking ahead at the next season and their last 15-20 games become nearly inconsequential. They throw in the towel a little early, ease their foot off the gas pedal, let the younger players gain more experience, and rest their best players to avoid injuries.

Meanwhile, team owners don’t really mind if their struggling team struggles even more: the worse they do, the higher their chances to rise up the upcoming draft lottery. So they trade their best players, clear out cap space, and horde up on future draft picks. The owners call it rebuilding and the fans call it tanking.

This season, the temptation to ‘tank’ may be greater than ever before. With a draft class for the ages looming ahead, any team to snag a top seven pick will be happy, and even other lottery picks could turn into valuable rotation players.

This season, injuries or ineptitude effected several franchises early, and by the time March rolled along, their fate had already been sealed. Their playoffs would be the draft lottery and their championship would be that number one pick. The Bucks, Magic, Celtics, Jazz, Lakers, and the Kings all showed flashes of energy, but as the season reached its conclusion, they decided to save that energy for the future. And then there were the 76ers, who turned tanking – or rebuilding – into an art form by trading away their best players and clearing cap space like never before.

After Derrick Rose’s injury and Luol Deng’s trade for virtually nothing, the Bulls attempted to get worse before getting better, too. Except that Coach Thibodeau and his squad of warriors – led by Joakim Noah – didn’t let it happen, and the team actually started playing better since Deng’s departure to stay in contention.

On the other side of the spectrum are the title contenders. Well, there are two kinds of title contenders: the young teams who haven’t regularly contended and are looking to make a statement, and the experienced teams who are now around almost every year and don’t take the regular season too seriously anymore. The Pacers, the Thunder, the Rockets, and the Clippers all feature star players who haven’t yet tasted championship success, and are young outsiders hungry to make a statement. And then, there are the Spurs and the Heat, last year’s reigning finalists, who use the regular season more as an experiment than a result.

For both the Heat and the Spurs – two contenders featuring star players who have all won multiple titles over the past decade – the real test begins in the playoffs. Regular season wins and losses don’t matter as much to these teams. The last, ‘garbage time’ month of the season is particularly cautionary. Coaches are sure to rest their star players or use them sparingly in this stretch to keep them healthy and rejuvenated for the post-season run.

Of course, there is one group to whom the regular season’s last month will be the most important period of all, who will treat it every game from now like Game 7 of the NBA Finals. These are the teams on either conference battling for the final playoff spots. The East is wide open, and multiple teams including the Nets, Bobcats, Hawks, Pistons, and Cavaliers will consider themselves to be in the running for the postseason. Out West, the real battle will between the last two spots, coveted by the Suns, Mavericks, Grizzlies, and perhaps even the Timberwolves.

So don’t be let down by the blowouts and the “rebuilding”, as long as there are playoff spots to fight for, you can be sure that there will be more than enough exciting, crunch-time play as end of the regular season approaches.

Tanking as an art form: the Philadelphia 76ers

In early March, after losing 14 games in a row, 76ers coach Brett Brown finally began to wonder if his team, suffering on defense and offense with equal horrendousness, could actually win again. This came after the 76ers had already plummeted to the second-worst record in the league in a losing streak that notably saw that drop back-to-back blowouts to the Clippers and the Warriors by a combined 93 points.

The 76ers are chasing infamy, and chasing it in style. While the players on the floor undoubtedly hope to go out and play as hard as possible every night, it can’t be argued that the squad that is representing the 76ers in their ‘garbage time’ has been assembled only with the future draft in mind.

What’s interesting is that the 76ers actually started off the season with some positive momentum, winning their first three games and actually giving their fans hope of a decent season. The starting five of surprising rookie talent Michael Carter-Williams, James Anderson, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes shocked Miami in their first game and Carter-Williams went on to become the first player to win the NBA’s player of the week in his first week in the league since Shaquille O’Neal in 1992. Meanwhile, injured rookie center Nerlens Noel waited, recovering from his torn ACL.

But the optimism faded, fast. The 76ers had already stressed their intentions to rebuild when they traded away All Star point guard Jrue Holiday before the season began in exchange for Noel. And one by one, the rest of the team’s remaining talents were shipped out, too. Hawes was traded to the Cavaliers for Earl Clark, Henry Sims and draft picks. Turner and Lavoy Allen were sent to Indiana for Danny Granger and a second round pick. Days later, the 76ers cut ties with both Granger and Clark to be left with little return for their best players.

The 76ers lineup now symbolizes garbage time basketball at its best… or worst. By March, their rotation featured the likes of Carter-Williams, Sims, Anderson, Young, and Hollis Thompson, Tony Wroten, Byron Mullens, and Jarvis Varnado. There was still no sign of Noel, who isn’t likely to make his NBA debut till next season.

In terms of cap space, the 76ers could go down as the cheapest NBA team ever, giving them more flexibility than ever before. The only thing left to play for is Carter-Williams’ rookie of the year bid.

If the 76ers get lucky in the draft and fill their cap space wisely, would all this losing be worth it?

Cruising to the end: All that matters for Duncan is the postseason

Over a year ago, in a nationally-televised game against the Heat, Spurs’ Coach Gregg Popovich decided to rest four of his best players Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard, which probably cost his squad an early season loss in Miami. While a subsequent fine brought nationwide attention to Popovich’s decision, the Coach was probably not too concerned; he was able to play Duncan and the rest of his aging core players big minutes in a deep playoff run that ended, ironically, in Miami in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

Now, as Duncan and the Spurs prepare for another shot at the title, Popovich continues to closely monitor the minutes of his legendary big man. Duncan has played less than 30 minutes a game for three of the last four regular seasons, and as he approaches 38, he is primed to have the bounce in his step again for a playoff boost.

The Spurs – and now the Heat – begin to play their best basketball every season after the All Star break, revving up into top form right in time for the playoffs. But as the last few weeks of the season near, don’t be surprised to see star players like Duncan or Dwyane Wade skip games or play limited minutes, even if it costs their team a win or two.

Regardless of what their final regular season standing ends up being, both the Spurs and the Heat are guaranteed to be top contenders again. And after so many runs to the Finals they can be forgiven for looking ahead at the playoffs a little early.

In many cases, the end of the regular season might be an elongated garbage time for these squads. But don’t be fooled by the rare lackadaisical play or an off night; once the post-season begins, both the Spurs and the Heat will be motivated once again to make each possession of each game count like a Game 7.

March 17, 2014

Second Round Superstars

As year after year of surprise success stories have proven, there are always several talents that go unnoticed or underestimated by the scouts, and are picked up in the Second Round to find themselves in just the right situation to succeed.

Although there have been a lot of great Second Round picks in the past, here are the 10 of the best ACTIVE players to have been picked in the Second Round, presented to you in the draft order they were picked. They are the league’s diamonds in the rough, the ones who proved that it doesn’t matter where you start in the league, it’s about where you finish.

Click here for the full feature

March 13, 2014

Poonam Chaturvedi - India's national champion with Chhattisgarh - has brain tumour

Three months ago, an 18-year-old Indian girl was diagnosed with a brain tumour. The misfortune by itself is a shocking revelation for any individual and their family, particularly considering the young age, but this case is of special interest to us.

That's because this 18-year-old is Poonam Chaturvedi, India's tallest female basketball player, a rising star in India's Women's national squad, and most-recently, the winner of India's national basketball championship with Chhattisgarh. According to The Indian Express, the 6-foot-8 Chaturvedi was diagnosed with a 'mild form of' brain tumour three months ago, but she has continued to play through it.

Born in Kanpur, UP, but adopted by Coach Rajesh Patel's excellent Chhattisgarh basketball programme, Chaturvedi first shot into national consciousness almost four years ago at the Youth National Championship in Nagpur. She was still struggling with the pace and tactics of basketball back then, but in the next few years, she improved dramatically to become a mainstay in India's junior teams and Chhattisgarh.

Chaturvedi was the star of India's U18 girls' squad last year which won silver at the FIBA Asia U18 3x3 championship. She was utterly dominant at the Junior National Championship in September in Cuttack, averaging a scintillating 46 points per contest through the course of the tournament including 43 points and 19 rebounds in the Final to help Chhattisgarh win the tournament. A few months ago, Chaturvedi led Chhattisgarh to victory at the Federation Cup in Ahmedabad with 30 points in the Final against Maharashtra.

Chhattisgarh's biggest moment came last week, as they shocked the Indian basketball world by defeating Indian Railways to win the National Championship in New Delhi. Chaturvedi played a crucial role in the tournament to defend the post against the likes of Geethu Anna Jose and more of India's best players through the course of the tournament.

But the championship, as Shivani Naik of Indian Express wrote in her recent interview with Chaturvedi, has been the only high point for the player over the last few months. Chaturvedi complained of suffering long spells of excruciating headaches during the tournament, but still continued to train and play with her team. She would've also suffered from more fatigue than usual, which is a common complaint among people diagnosed with brain tumour.

Although it's surprising at first that Chaturvedi was participating in high-level basketball competition despite her diagnosis, it is said that some form of exercise - from mild to intense depending on advice of the physical therapist - is actually helpful. In her paper, ‘Brain Tumors and Fatigue’, Nancy Conn-Levin wrote that inactivity actually increases levels of fatigue for brain tumour patients. But she also wrote about the importance of energy conservation and stress management, both of which are difficult while playing national-level basketball. In another presentation by Alyssa Tennenbaum, the author suggested that exercise actually helps to keep the immune system strong, but should be stopped at warning signs like shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, lightheadedness, or intense fatigue. Of course, if she continues to play through this in the future, Chaturvedi has to manage her nutrition and rest, too.

As for her treatment, Chaturvedi's family is considering treatment centers in either Delhi or Bangalore for the 18-year-old. The Indian Express reported that the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) has promised to bear her medical expenses while the Bhilai Steel Plant in Chhattisgarh where she works will also chip in.

"When I’m not in pain, basketball is my life. Otherwise it’s very bad," Chaturvedi told the Indian Express reporter, "I wish it would get over and I could return to playing without fear."

We wish nothing but good health to the young star. If she recovers in time, she will surely play a major role in India's U18 squad at the U18 FIBA Asia Championship in October this year. Her country and team needs her talents, but more than that, her family and friends need her to be healthy and fully cured, and we wish them all the best in the treatment ahead.

March 12, 2014

Former India basketball player K Suryanarayana Raja passes away

Former India international basketball player from the 1960s K Suryanarayana Raja - fondly known as Suri - passed away in Chennai at the age of 73 on Monday, March 10, 2014, reported The New Indian Express. Suri had a major role in Tamil Nadu's state teams in the 60s and also served as the vice president Tamil Nadu Basketball Association (TNBA).

Suri hailed from Rajapalayam, where he represented the Rajapalayam Union Basketball Club in local tournaments. He was a key player for the State Bank of India and the Tamil Nadu team for a decade. He made his debut for India's national squad at the Asian quadrangular in Colombo in 1965.

MS Venkataraman - a former teammate of Suri and secretary of the TNBA, told The New Indian Express, "He was a dashing and debonair player. His biggest contribution to Tamil Nadu basketball was aggression. At a time when basketball was slow, he was very fast on the court and captured the imagination of the crowd."

March 6, 2014

2014 National Basketball Championship: Chhattisgarh win historic title; Tamil Nadu score Men's Gold

In one of the biggest surprises of Indian hoops in the last decade, the dominating Indian Railways Women's side were defeated in a heroic comeback win by Chhattisgarh in the final of the 64th National Basketball Championship for Men and Women in New Delhi on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Chhattisgarh won the Senior Nationals for the first time ever. Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu's Men's side played some brilliant basketball through the course of the tournament and defeated Punjab to secure gold in the Men's section. The tournament was held from February 26 - March 5 at the Thyagaraj Stadium in Delhi.

Also known as the Senior Nationals, the championship is India's most prestigious annual domestic basketball tournament and features India's finest Men and Women players representing their states or units. The championship, organized by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and IMG Reliance in conjunction with the Delhi Basketball Association (DBA) this year, also served as a scouting ground to select India's national basketball squads. A total of 51 teams combined in the Men's and Women's divisions from all across India participated in the nationals.

Chhattisgarh finally put an end to the 10-year domination by Indian Railways over Women's basketball in the country, notching a comeback in the fourth quarter of the final to defeat their opponents 81-77 and winning gold. It would've been the shock of the decade... if it didn't already seem a little predestined. For the past decade, there seemed to be no answers for the Indian Railways team that always managed to pick up India's brightest talents and, of late, surround them around the prodigious talents of Geethu Anna Jose. But Chhattisgarh, under visionary coach Rajesh Patel, had been giving a scare to the established order at various levels of the game in recent years, and were finally able to convert their potential into success at the highest stage.

Chhattisgarh's Kavita Kumari, who had 25 points and 13 rebounds in the final, was the star of the show, dominating inside and out to help her team bounce back after trailing in all three quarters. Chhattisgarh were down 65-60 at the start of the final period, but they were able to pace past Railways in the final period and hold on for the victory. For the first time in 10 years, there was an answer for Geethu Anna Jose, who was held to 17 points in the final. For Chhattisgarh, another rising star Sharanjeet Kaur added 20 points while Bharti Netam had 16.

The Men's final evoked a comeback of sorts too, a promise of a comeback of a late 90s/early 00s dynasty of Tamil Nadu that won five consecutive nationals. After a decade without the gold, TN finally charted their way to the top again by playing smart defense against the physical Punjab side. TN trailed by four points in the first quarter, but took the advantage in a commanding second period and held on for a 74-57 victory. Rikin Pethani and Pratham Singh, who had been TN's strongest players all tournament, led their squad with 22 and 18 points respectively in the final.

It was the third consecutive finals appearance for Punjab, but for the second straight year, they had to settle for a silver medal. Punjab's young big man Palpreet Singh, who had enjoyed a breakout tournament so far, scored 19 points in the finals loss.

Tamil Nadu's Rikin Pethani and Chhattisgarh's Kavita Kumari were given the Harish Sharma Most Valuable Player trophies at the end of the tournament, an award named in honour of the BFI's former CEO who passed away two years ago.

Earlier on Wednesday, the battles for the bronze medal for Men and Women were also held. Gopal Ram scored 16 points to lead Services to a rout over last year's champs Uttarakhand in the Men's game.

In the Women's matchup, hosts Delhi took away a consolation prize as they outlasted Maharashtra for a 79-66 victory. Delhi's Prashanti Singh had a team-high 22 points, while Shireen Limaye (22) and Krittika Divadkar (18) led the way for the losing side.

For each division, the winner took home 1 lakh rupees, while the first and second runners-up received Rs 75,000 and Rs 50,000 respectively.

A day earlier, Delhi's Women's side had been defeated by eternal rivals Indian Railways in the first semi-final, as Geethu Anna Jose scored 27 points in the 100-65 blowout. After a high-scoring first half, Railways held Delhi to just 23 points in the third and fourth periods combined. Anju Lakra and M. Pushpa had 19 points each for Indian Railways. Prashanti Singh had 17 for Delhi. In the second game, MVP Kavita Kumari scored 20 points and Deepa added 16 as Chhattisgarh defeated Maharashtra 75-65. Shireen Limaye had 20 for Maharashtra.

The first Men's semi-final was a rematch of the 2013 Finals as Punjab got their revenge over Uttarakhand with a 80-68 win. Palpreet Singh and Ranbir Singh each had 27 for Punjab, who bounced back from a five-point third quarter deficit to shut down Uttarkhand in the final quarter. Yadwinder Singh led Uttarakhand with 24 as the past holders were denied a chance to repeat this year. For Uttarakhand, star talent Vishesh Bhriguvanshi missed the tournament. Pratham Singh scored 28 and SP Venkatesh added 22 to help TN beat Services 92-85 in the second Men's semi-final. Joginder Singh and veteran Jairam scored 18 each for Services.

Earlier in the tournament, former NBA Coach of the Year Del Harris held a 'Train the Trainers' clinic for attending and local coaches and players.

Final Scores
  • Women: Chhattisgarh (Kavita 25, Saranjeet Kaur 20, Bharti Netam 16) bt Indian Railways (Anju Lakra 23, Geethu Anna Jose 17) 81-77 (12-23, 26-23, 22-19, 21-13).
  • Men: Tamil Nadu (Rikin Pethani 22, Pratham Singh 18, S Prasanna 15) bt Punjab (Palpreet Singh 19) 74-57 (18-22, 19-8, 22-14, 15-13).
Third/Fourth Place
  • Women: Delhi (Prashanti Singh 22, Akansha Singh 15, Raspreet Sidhu 13, Pratima Singh 13) bt Maharashtra (Shireen Limaye 22, Krittika Divadkar 18) 79-66 (24-16, 17-20, 14-10, 24-20).
  • Men: Services (Gopal Ram 16, Narender Singh 13) bt Uttarakhand (Yadwinder Singh 15, Amritpal Singh 13) 82-54 (17-9, 25-16, 21-15, 19-14).
Final Standings


1. Chhattisgarh
2. Indian Railways
3. Delhi
4. Maharashtra
5. Kerala
6. Tamil Nadu
7. Punjab
8. Karnataka
9. Andhra Pradesh
10. Uttar Pradesh


1. Tamil Nadu
2. Punjab
3. Services
4. Uttarakhand
5. Indian Railways
6. Kerala
7. Karnataka
8. Haryana
9. Chhattisgarh
10. Rajasthan

Most Valuable Players
  • Men: Rikin Pethani (Tamil Nadu)
  • Women: Kavita Kumari (Chhattisgarh)

March 2, 2014

How a professional basketball league could revolutionize hoops in India

This article was first published in my column on Ekalavyas on February 18th, 2014. You can find the original post here.

A scene from the Kerala Senior State Championship 2013 held at the Sree Kerala Verma College, Thrissur. In the absence of a national league, this is just one of India’s many autonomous tournaments. Copyright: Ekalavyas

Sure, there’s some power to positive thinking. If you say something enough times, it can come true, or at least, you’d start to believe that it’s true. But until the day scientists refine our genes to give all of us psychokinetic powers, no amount of thinking or talking will equate to any physical results, till something is actually, physically, done.

For years now, I’ve closely followed the developments and talk behind the launch of India’s first professional basketball league. When the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and IMG Reliance signed a 30-year partnership agreement in 2010, one of the highlights of their agreement was the development of this pro league as a long-term plan. A couple of years later, it was reported that the NBA’s commissioner David Stern had held talks with IMG executives about establishing such a league. In May 2012, BFI’s CEO Roopam Sharma updated that the Federation was definitely ‘planning a league’.

But nearly two more years have passed since without any clear further development. Every year, we seem to be nearly there, only to discover that there is at least another year to go. The best-case scenario as we stand is that the league has taken some theoretic steps into existence behind closed-door meetings between IMG Reliance, BFI, and with the NBA chiming in. But without any official work of the progress, we still might as well be stuck on square one.

Those invested in the progress of basketball in India have many dreams. They dream of seeing an Indian play in the NBA. They dream of watching the Indian national team rise up the ranks in international competitions. They hope that the sport can catch the imagination of the nation’s mainstream which otherwise sleeps, eats, and dreams cricket. And they envision a day when a profession in basketball in India – as a player, a coach, a referee, a technician, consultant, scout, physiotherapist, journalist, and countless more – will reap real rewards.

All of these dreams are connected, and none of them can be possible without the professional league. For years, India’s best players, from Geethu Anna Jose to Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, have stressed the importance of such a league, of how it could change their lives and the lives of future players around the country. But as their careers cross their peak and new names replace them, there is still no sign of their vision coming to reality.

That reality – when it finally comes – will change everything. No, the pro league won’t become the new IPL and have millions of fans investing their lives around it. No, India won’t suddenly become a basketball-first country with every hoop star getting celebrity status like our cricketers do. We won’t be finding NBA talent or shooting up FIBA Asia rankings overnight.

But what we will see is a goal, a bulls-eye, for every young ball player around the country, to realistically aim at.

At this point, India’s most talented players are still semi-professionals, working in banks, railways, or state government, and taking part in small basketball tournaments either organized by the BFI itself or by local sponsors around the country. Their basketball ‘income’ is usually the measly sum they earn and divide after participation or a first, second, and third place result at any of these tournaments. The travelling basketball circus goes from Chennai to Mumbai to Delhi to Punjab with the same teams playing the same opponents. Without the professional incentive or discipline, many players cruise on their talent instead of striving to get better.

The best amongst them are invited to national camps, receive decent training from high-profile coaches, and are selected for the Indian national teams before major FIBA tournaments. The results at the international level have been more or less the same for the past few decades. India dominates against South Asian opponents (Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, etc.) to qualify for FIBA Asia’s top competitions, but are rarely able to compete with super-powers are China, Iran, Japan, Korea, etc. Even the international circuit and expectations become ‘routine’ until things become static, unchanging.

Every once in a while, a player breaks cycle and aims higher. Geethu Anna Jose – the finest Indian player (of any gender) of this generation – has played professionally in Australia and Thailand (her Southern Railway teammate Anitha Paul Durai joined her in Thailand, too) and was even invited for trials with three WNBA teams. But Jose’s successes have only been an anomaly to that static energy around basketball in India.

Our top players need that extra push, that incentive to break out of their cruising altitudes and aim higher. This is where a league would revolutionize things.

Let’s say that the theoretical professional basketball follows the format of the IPL: held for around two months annually between 8-12 teams. For several years already, the BFI and IMG Reliance has been holding school and college leagues in various cities which have laid the groundwork amongst the youth. The same eight cities – Mumbai, Delhi, Ludhiana, Chennai, Bangalore, Indore, Hyderabad, and Kolkata – can serve as the flagship franchises of the basketball league, too. Each team can feature top local talent with a ‘draft’ (or IPL-like auction) for the top players. It would be difficult to attract foreign players to this league in the beginning, but if the money is decent, there are more than enough basketball vagabonds around the world looking for a two-month gig.

With the motivation to play in a league that offers a steady, assured contract, India’s top players can start thinking about becoming full-time professionals with focus on basketball alone. There will be greater competition once foreign talents start trickling in, raising the overall skill-level. And most importantly, young Indians seriously considering basketball as a career will have a goal to shoot at. Thousands (if not more) quality players are lost every year because they quit basketball for (what the typical Indian parent would call) “real life”. With a league, basketball can become the “real life”.

The league will eventually give rise to more jobs to coaches, referees, scouts, trainers, broadcast personnel, and more. Once things are privatized and taken out of the government’s hands, the competitiveness between teams and competition for jobs will raise everyone’s aptitude. More importantly, now with real repercussions for success and failure, everyone from the players to the trainers to the scouts will work harder in the training rooms. Young players will be groomed from an earlier age. The right training and right diet will start becoming a factor.

In the US, the biggest professional league (the NBA) wouldn’t be where it is if it wasn’t for the most-organized High School and College athletics programme in the world. That is why it is important to continue developing the structure at those levels in India, too. The BFI-IMG Reliance leagues have been a positive start.

Infrastructure in India is a big stumbling block and will need major upgrades. In recent years, new stadia have been built or upgraded in various major cities in the country. We are not looking for NBA-quality arenas; just something to start things off. At this point, every basketball event in India is free, and it will be a challenge to fill the seats in the arenas for a lesser-known game. But if the product is packaged and promoted right, I’m sure people will eventually start to pay a small fee to cheer on their hometown squads.

None of this would be possible without the right broadcast partnership. The league would be meaningless without decent Television viewership, which will also require at least half-decent productive value (unlike the basketball tournaments shown on DD Sports in the past). Neo Prime took an important step forward last year when they became the first to broadcast Indian basketball on cable TV in India. Sony SIX already broadcast tonnes of hoops – from NBA to Europe and NBA India events – and could be interested too. Counting all the channels associated with Star Sports, Ten Sports, Neo, and Sony, there are a lot of potential partners for such a league in the future.

Let’s be honest here: Indian sports fans are generally an impatient bunch. That is why T-20 cricket catches all the eyeballs while Test and (increasingly) One-Day Cricket falls behind. Basketball is a fast-paced, all action, and energetic game. It’s simple to understand for the newcomer and is relatively-short, perfectly suiting the modern viewership mentalities. Vivek Ranadive, the Indian-born owner of the Sacramento Kings, has often stated that he believes basketball can be sold to India easily because it is fast, simple, and accessible. Apart from creating better opportunities and organization in the basketball world, a pro league would give birth to a whole new set of fans looking for an exciting new sport to follow.

India is a complicated country, and nothing that works elsewhere can work here the same way. Sports are a dark alley beyond cricket. But in recent years, the development of other pro leagues has been a positive sign. Joining the popular IPL, India now has leagues in Football, Hockey, Badminton, and even in American Football.

Creating a basketball league would obviously not just be a quick fix that makes Indians into NBA stars and Asia champions. But it would be the most important project yet to improving the game in India, and could open doors to many other projects in the future. Basketball is one of the biggest sports in the world which Indians are familiar with; a pro league here should be the next logical step.