September 29, 2015

2015-16 Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme aims to engage more than 1.5 million youth and coaches in India

The numbers for the 2015-16 season of Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme are staggering, and as burgeoning students of advanced NBA stats, that is where we shall start first. The programme, a comprehensive youth basketball initiative that applies the values of basketball to positively impact the lives of Indian boys and girls, expects to engage more than 1.5 million boys and girls and 2,700 physical education instructors and coaches in 2015-16. The programme will nearly double its number of participating cities, expanding from eight to 14. Already, since the programme's inception in 2013, more than 1 million youth in over 1,000 schools across nine cities have participated. In addition, more than 15,000 basketballs and 300 basketball rims have been distributed and installed through the program, and NBA International Basketball Operations staff has trained more than 2,000 physical education teachers across the country. All those numbers are set to get a lot bigger.

The new season of the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme tipped off at the Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium in Kochi, Kerala, on Tuesday, September 29, with a 'Train the Trainers' programme. After being hosted in eight cities last year, the programme will expand to a further 14 for 2015-16: Ludhiana, Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Chennai, Delhi, Kochi, Kottayam, Kolkata, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Jaipur, Lucknow and Hyderabad. It will run from now until March 2016.

"We are delighted that the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme is expanding to more cities and reaching more children," said a Reliance Foundation spokesperson, "This programme has used the sport of basketball to greatly impact the lives of Indian children. We are grateful to the NBA for sharing their world-class expertise and resources, and to the schools, coaches and physical education instructors who continue to support this initiative."

"The Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program continues our goal of providing Indian youth with a platform to stay active and learn the values of basketball, including leadership, teamwork, and healthy living," said NBA India Vice President & Managing Director Yannick Colaco. "On the heels of Sim Bhullar becoming the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA and Satnam Singh becoming the first Indian-born player to be drafted into the NBA, children in India are as excited as ever about trying the game, and the growth of our programme will ensure we get basketballs in the hands of even more boys and girls across the country."

The programme, which remains free for participants, will include a train the trainer initiative for local coaches, in-school basketball clinics, elite training camps and finals in each city featuring 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 competitions. NBA International Basketball Operations staff will be based in each of the cities for three months to oversee the program. Each participating school will receive essential equipment to encourage and facilitate participation among its students, including an India-specific coaching guide with curricula for in-school and after-school programmes, basketballs, cones, and a Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA poster. In addition, each participating city will host three youth oriented basketball festivals featuring mini hoops for kids aged 6-10.

NBA Legends Bruce Bowen and Muggsy Bogues, WNBA All-Stars Tamika Catchings and Swin Cash, and Sim Bhullar, the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA, have all traveled to India to support and participate in the programme.

Prospective participants, including children, parents, coaches and schools, can visit for program information, including training resources and tips on staying fit.

September 21, 2015

Rain disrupts 2015 Youth Nationals Finals; Tamil Nadu/Delhi (Boys) and Tamil Nadu/Chhattisgarh (Girls) declared joint winners

The 32nd Youth National Basketball Championship for Boys and Girls in Bhavnagar (Gujarat) began under the unkind threat of rain last week. And by the time the tournament - featuring India's finest under-16 basketball players - concluded on Monday, September 21, the rain remained the only thing undefeated.

Heavy rainfall washed out the boys and girls Finals the games at the MK Bhavnagar University on Monday, leaving the Basketball Federation of India's (BFI) Technical Commission with no choice but to cancel all the contests and declare all participants 'winners'. Tamil Nadu and Delhi shared the gold medal in the boys' category while Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh were declared champions in the girls' section.

It isn't a surprise that the tailend of the monsoon season provides heavy rainfall in various parts of the country, including Gujarat. But what is a shock is that the tournament's organizers did not have an indoor venue to conduct the games. In recent years, all of the national BFI tournaments have been conducted at indoor courts, with only a few games at an alternative outdoor venue. But the Youth Nationals - the first national conducted by the new BFI executive committee - was an exception, as all the games were held on outdoor courts, despite the threat of unfriendly weather.

The BFI split into two opposing committees earlier this year, with each questioning the legality of the other in an ongoing off-court battle. But Team Govindraj - the BFI faction behind the organization of the 32nd Youth Nationals - have held firm of their stand atop the federation and continued to hold events in India and abroad as normal.

Tamil Nadu did a double in both boys and girls category at the Youth Nationals last year and were looking to repeat the feat this time around. However, they have had to settle for sharing the title with Delhi and Chhattisgarh in the boys' and girls' section respectively.

P. Baladhaneshwar from Tamil Nadu was named as the boys’ MVP for the tournament. This is his second MVP trophy in two years at the Youth National Basketball Championship. For the girls, Chhattisgarh’s Gulabsha Ali was named MVP.

Maharashtra Girls defeated Punjab 51-42 behind 17 points by Rujata Pawar in the Bronze Medal game to finish third. The Boys' Bronze Medal game was also washed out due to rain and thus, both Haryana and Punjab were adjudged to finish at third place.

A day earlier, the Semi-Finals had given basketball fans a little more reason to cheer. In the Girls' section, Chhattisgarh's rising new talent Gulabsha Ali scored 24 points to help her side defeat Maharashtra to enter the Final. After a close first quarter, a 22-9 run by Chhattisgarh in the second quarter sealed the deal, and Chhattisgarh never looked back. The second girls' semi-final between TN and Punjab got off to a low-scoring start, with Punjab leading 16-15 at halftime. But scoring - chiefly from TN's end - got into a higher gear after the halftime break, and TN finished the final two quarters clinically to win 52-39. Punjab's Sakshi had 18 in a losing effort.

The boys' semi final between TN and Haryana saw several exceptional individual performances, including TN's duo of P. Baladhaneshwar (23) and GK Manikandan (20) and Haryana's Rinku (22). But it was TN who kept their command of the game most of the way, and were untroubled except a late run by Haryana. TN won 72-62. In the second boys' semi-final, Delhi started the first quarter against Punjab in ruthless fashion, putting forward a 24-4 to take away all hope from their opponents. The rest of the game was a cruise for Delhi en route to a 67-47 win. Manik (21), Hansraj (19), and Sourav (17) were the top scorers for Delhi, while Abhi Kumar scored 22 for Punjab in a losing effort.

Final Scores
  • Boys: Tamil Nadu vs. Delhi - washed out.
  • Girls: Tamil Nadu vs. Chhattisgarh - washed out.
Third/Fourth Place
  • Boys: Punjab vs. Haryana - washed out.
  • Girls: Maharashtra (Rutuja Pawar 17, Neha Vinod Shahu 14, Shruti Sherigar 13) bt. Punjab (Sakshi Sharma 14) 51-42 (11-9, 6-11, 15-10, 19-12).
Final Standings


1. Tamil Nadu and Delhi
3. Haryana and Punjab
5. Kerala


1. Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh
3. Maharashtra 
4. Punjab 
5. Madhya Pradesh

Hoopdarshan Episode 17: 2015 FIBA ABC preview with Enzo Flojo


In just a few days, 16 of the top teams in Asia will head to Changsha (China) to take part in the 2015 FIBA Asia Basketball Championship (ABC). In episode of 17 of the Indian basketball podcast Hoopdarshan, we bring abroad the Asian hoops expert Enzo Flojo to help preview the ABC. The Filipino Flojo joins Hoopdarshan co-hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok to break down all the teams, top contenders, and top players to keep our eye on in China. We give special mention to our respective homelands (India and Philippines), and allow Flojo to make a prediction for the champion.

Enzo Flojo is the man behind, the most consistent source of all Asian basketball news and opinion. He's from Quezon City in the Philippines and has written for Rapplier, PBA Inquirer, and has an excellent column for FIBA Asia called Asia On My Mind.

Tune in to our episode to hear a group by group breakdown of the big tournament, our title predictions, and a lot of wholly essential thoughts on the Burger King Whoppers, San Miguel Beer, and Jollibee's takeover of the world.

Hoopdarshan aims to be the true voice of Indian basketball, and since we're such hopeless fans of the game, it will become the voice of everything basketball related we love, from the NBA to international hoops, too. On every episode of Hoopdarshan, we will be inviting a special guest to interview or chat to about a variety of topics. With expert insight from some of the brightest and most-involved people in the world of Indian basketball, we hope to bring this conversation to a many more interested fans, players, and followers of the game.

Make sure to follow Hoopdarshan on Soundcloud or search for 'Hoopdarshan' on the iTunes Store! Auto-sync Hoopdarshan to your preferred podcast app NOW!

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    September 20, 2015

    India at Changsha: Complete Team India roster, schedule, and preview for 2015 FIBA Asia Basketball Championship

    In less than three days, a referee on center-court will lob up a basketball, one of the two giant men contesting for it will win the lob and tab it back to his teammate, and the biggest basketball tournament in Asia will officially tip off. The continent's best teams, from 16 nations, will descend to the city of Changsha in China's Hunan province in hopes of being crowned Asia's best and qualifying for the basketball tournament at the Rio Olympics next year.

    The 2015 FIBA Asia Basketball Championship (2015 FIBA ABC) will be held at Changsha Social Work College's gymnasium and Central South University of Forestry and Technology's gymnasium from Wednesday September 23, with the final scheduled for October 3. The winner of the tournament qualifies for the basketball tournament on the 2016 Summer Olympics, while the next three best teams will participate at the 2016 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Men. India is among the 16 teams heading to Changsha for the tournament, and will begin their campaign in Group A, along with reigning champions Iran.

    Two years ago, at the 2013 FIBA ABC in Manila, Iran declared their supremacy over the continent by winning the gold medal, defeating the hosts Philippines in the final clash. Iran and the Philippines will once again be two of the favourites vying for the title in Changsha this year, while the big boys from China and the rising threats from Jordan or Chinese Taipei could give a few contenders the run for their money, too. India finished 11th at Manila under the tutelage of the then newly-appointment coach Scott Flemming. Two years later, facing domestic turmoil that has hampered their preparation, India is sending several new faces to the FIBA ABC - including a new coach - with hopes of bettering their standing in the continent.

    The current India team is led by head coach Sat Prakash, a former player and former coach of India's Women's national squad. Veteran guard Vishesh Bhriguvanshi will return to the squad after missing out on the qualifiers as captain. Amrit Pal Singh and Amjyot Singh, India's imposing front court who have been playing professionally in Japan's D-League, will form the primary fulcrum of India's attack and defense in the middle. The rest of the squad will feature a mix of veteran players (Yadwinder Singh) and young prospects (Gurvinder Singh Gill), and it will be coach Prakash's job to find the perfect blend for success. India will be missing a seven-foot-two hole in the middle in the form of 19-year-old Satnam Singh Bhamara, who earlier this year became the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA but has chosen to focus on developing his career in the NBDL and the NBA instead of playing in India for now.

    Team India roster for 2015 FIBA ABC
    • Vinay Kaushik
    • Rajesh Uppar
    • Siddhant Shinde
    • Vishesh Bhriguvanshi
    • Amrit Pal Singh
    • Vikas Kumar
    • Yadwinder Singh
    • Arvind Arumugam
    • Amjyot Singh
    • Akilan Pari
    • Akashdeep Hazra
    • Gurvinder Singh Gill
    • Head Coach: Sat Prakash
    • Assistant Coach: Sebastian PJ
    • Manager: Goutam Ganguly
    India have been drawn in Group A of the tournament, along with reigning champions and favourites Iran, the formidable Japan squad, and Malaysia, the only team in the group ranked lower than the Indians. Like with the women’s team earlier this year, popular budget airline Air Asia is sponsoring the men’s team’s participation at the event.

    2015 FIBA ABC Preliminary Round Groups
    • Group A: Iran, Japan, Malaysia, India.
    • Group B: Philippines, Palestine, Kuwait, Hong Kong.
    • Group C: Korea, Jordan, Singapore, China.
    • Group D: Chinese Taipei, Lebanon, Qatar, Kazakhstan.
    India's Preliminary Round Schedule for 2015 FIBA ABC - All timings IST
    • September 23 - 5 PM - Malaysia vs. India.
    • September 24 - 9:15 AM - Iran vs. India.
    • September 25 - 12 noon - Japan vs. India
    The top three teams from each of the four Preliminary Round groups (12 total teams) will move on to two further Second Round groups of six teams each, carrying forth their points from the Preliminary Round as well. The top four teams in the Second Round (eight total teams) will then move on to the knockout-out stage, starting with the Quarter-Finals.

    India has a real chance of moving into the second round if they can defeat Malaysia and finish third in the group. Iran, who are the favourites will be a juggernaut, especially as they feature superstars of the likes of reigning FIBA ABC MVP Hamed Haddadi and Mahdi Kamrani. Japan are missing star players Kosuke Takeuchi and Yuta Watanabe, but the small and speedy squad will feature great shooters like Kosuke Kanamaru, Keijuro Matsui, and Takatoshi Furukawa, and Joji Takeuchi as the big man in the middle.

    India haven't finished in the tournament's top 10 since 2003. It will take a herculean effort to break the spell and challenge for a Quarter-Final spot, but Prakash's squad should head into the championship with a positive attitude to perform well in the Preliminary Round and hope to spring an upset or two in the Second Round as well. "Most of our core team is intact, so we hope to perform very well," said India's captain Bhriguvanshi, "Our primary goal is to win our first game against Malaysia, and give tough fights to Iran and Japan. If we can manage that, we will progress to the second round."

    Last year, Indian basketball was at a high; the team had defeated China at the FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan for the first time in history and given a tough fight to two more of Asia's best - Iran and the Philippines - during the course of the tournament. Unfortunately, external turmoil halted India's progress and their ability to build on the potential shown in Wuhan. Infighting between two competing executive committees has left the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) in a disarray, and Coach Scott Flemming - the architect behind the miracles in Wuhan - left for another job back in the United States a few months ago.

    In the midst of this friction and instability at the top, can India's Men's basketball team deliver some good news to fans of the sport back in the country?

    September 16, 2015

    Three Indians attending FIBA Asia 3x3 Youth Camp in Qatar

    Two youth Indian basketball players and one coach have been invited to attend the inaugural FIBA Asia 3x3 Youth Camp in Doha (Qatar). The camp is being organized by the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) and supported by the Qatar Olympic Committee and Qatar Basketball Federation from September 5-18.

    According to a report by, Indian players Nimmy George (Kerala), Rahul Mehla (Punjab), and Srinivasa Murthy (Karnataka) are currently at the camp, which is being held at the Gharafa Training Hall in Doha.

    The FIBA Asia 3x3 Youth Camp is being held for players ages 15-17 and coaches as well. Players from several other Asian countries apart from India are attending the camp, including Turkmenistan, Laos, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Thailand, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Kuwait, Yemen, Nepal, Iran, Cambodia, Bhutan, Maldives, Indonesia and Qatar. A total of 139 particpants from 23 countries registered for the camp, reported the Qatar Tribune.

    September 15, 2015

    32nd Youth National Basketball Championship tipped off in Bhavnagar yesterday

    When rainfall hit the courts at Bhavnagar (Gujarat) on Monday afternoon, all the outdoor basketball action came to a halt. It took a couple of hours before the dark clouds cleared the skies and the Youth Nationals - India's best domestic exhibition of U16 basketball talent - continued.

    But the metaphorical dark clouds have remained hovering over all basketball activities in India all year. It is to the credit of this resilient, disputed faction of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) that the show has continued to go on, and Indian basketball - domestic and international - hasn't yet come to a complete halt despite the speed-bumps on the way.

    On Monday, September 14th, the 32nd Youth National Basketball Championship for Boys and Girls tipped off at the outdoor courts of Bhavnagar University. The week-long tournament is set to feature 22 boys' teams and 21 girls' teams in a showcase of the finest next-generation basketball players in India. The championship is being organized by the Gujarat State Basketball Association under the aegis of one of the two disputing factions of the BFI. The BFI split into two opposing committees earlier this year, with each questioning the legality of the other in an ongoing off-court battle. But Team Govindraj - the BFI faction behind the organization of the 32nd Youth Nationals - have held firm of their stand atop the federation and continued to hold events in India and abroad as normal.

    On-court, the action promises to be much more palatable for fans of the game itself. Tamil Nadu have entered the tournament as reigning champions in both boys and girls divisions from last year's Youth Nationals in Chandigarh. Kerala - the runners-up in both divisions - will look to finish one better this time, while the squads from Karnataka and Maharashtra (Girls) and Haryana and Chhattisgarh (Boys) will have their eyes on the prize, too. The finals of the tournament will be held on September 20.

    The first morning of the tournament saw Tamil Nadu Girls cruise to an easy victory over southern neighbours Andhra Pradesh 49-12. In the other Level 1 game in the girls’ category, Haryana pulled off an unlikely 61-49 victory against last year’s runners up Kerala, on the back of Meena’s 22 points. In the boys' division, Karnataka notched a win over Jammu and Kashmir Chandigarh scraped past West Bengal.

    32nd Youth Nationals Participating Teams and Groupings

    • Level 1, Group A: Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh.
    • Level 1, Group B: Kerala, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Maharashtra.
    • Level 2, Group C: Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Puducherry.
    • Level 2, Group D: Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana.
    • Level 2, Group E: Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand.
    • Level 2, Group F: Bihar, Chandigarh, West Bengal.
    • Level 1, Group A: Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab.
    • Level 1, Group B: Kerala, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Delhi.
    • Level 2, Group C: Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir.
    • Level 2, Group D: West Bengal, Gujarat, Puducherry.
    • Level 2, Group E: Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Telangana.
    • Level 2, Group F: Goa, Bihar.
    At the tournament's opening ceremony on Monday, all the invited teams participated in a march-past led by a trained marching band. Chief Guest for the ceremony was Nanubhai Vanani, the Sports Minister of Gujarat. Other dignitaries present included Mansukhbhai Mandaviya (M.P., Rajya Sabha) and Jitubhai Vaghani (M.L.A., Bhavnagar West). From the BFI, Secretary General Chander Mukhi Sharma was present and addressed the crowd. He requested all coaches to ensure maximum output from their team players as the selection committee was watching all games and all teams. Dr. Shailesh Zala, Vice Chancellor, Bhavnagar University, declared the event open. Karp Impex Group, involved in the business of diamond polishing, crafting and sale and based out of Surat, Gujarat, is the main sponsor for the event.

    And yes, although rainfall interrupted the day's basketball events a little bit, the skies cleared and games eventually went on as scheduled. Hopefully, the skies over the BFI infighting can clear soon, too, and Indian basketball can continue uninterrupted in the future.

    Selected Opening Day Results

    • Tamil Nadu bt Andhra Pradesh 49-12 (19-3, 15-0, 13-4, 2-5).
    • Haryana (Meena 22) bt Kerala 61-49 (18-14, 10-9, 19-10, 14-16).

    September 12, 2015

    IOA creates ad-hoc committee to oversee Indian Basketball; BFI's Team Govindraj calls it 'illegal'

    Although India's Men and Women's basketball teams are spending the fall travelling to China to take part in separate FIBA Asia Championships, the bigger games in Indian basketball have been taking place off the court. 2015 has been the year of a division within the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), the body in charge of all domestic and international basketball activities in the country. Earlier this year, two separate executive committees were formed in two different meetings giving the BFI two different, competing presidents: K Govindraj and Poonam Mahajan. Ever since then, the two committees have fought tooth and nail for the 'official' top seat in a bitter battle that has overshadowed the good of the game.

    The latest update in this struggle is that, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), after failing to bring Team Govindraj in the same meeting as Team Mahajan to settle the scores, has sent out an order announcing the creation of an Ad-Hoc Committee to oversee the workings of the BFI and hold fresh elections within a few months. Just a few days after the IOA order, Team Govindraj has responded with a message supporting their own claim to the BFI and deeming the order 'illegal'.

    To cut the long tale of litigation and accusations to a short story, the two claims to the BFI 'throne' are thus: the elections held by Team Govindraj were overseen by BFI's former president, RS Gill, which is a mandatory requirement as per the BFI constitution. Because of this, they were given the support and official recognition from the world' governing body of basketball - FIBA - and have been able to oversee India's participation at the FIBA-affiliated events. But Team Mahajan claim their support from the IOA, who have attempted to reconcile the two competing parties over the last few months. Due to the political connections of president (Poonam Mahajan) and general-secretary (Roopam Sharma), Team Mahajan have been able to persuade favours from the IOA and the Government's Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (Sports Ministry). A few weeks ago, Team Govindraj had sent a previous letter to all units staking their claim over the BFI.

    On September 9 2015, the IOA's Secretary General Rajeev Mehta and President N. Ramachandran signed an office order announcing the creation of an Ad-Hoc committee led by Volleyball Federation of India's CEO K. Murugan (Chairman), Anandeshwar Pandey, and Kuldip Vats to find "a permanent solution to the issue which has arisen in the Basketball Federation of India and also in order to avoid further litigation". The IOA claims that FIBA issued a letter to the Sports Ministry to "look into the dispute in the Basketball Federation of India". In the order, the IOA adds that both factions of the BFI were called for a meeting to put forth their stands and claims in regards to the management of the BFI a few months ago. Despite four opportunities given, only one faction showed up (Team Mahajan), leading thus to the creation of this Ad-Hoc committee. The committee also plans to hold fresh elections for the Executive Board of the BFI within a period of two months of giving notice to all affiliated members (state federations/associations, etc) "in accordance with the constitution of the Basketball Federation of India so that the disputes which has arisen in the Basketball of India may be put to rest".

    "I welcome this decision," Mahajan told the Times of India, "Resolving the matter is very much required so that the game and young players won't suffer. I am thankful to the sports ministry that they hve taken this matter seriously. Thankfully, there will be some conclusion now and the sufferings of the players will come to an end. We all will abide by the Government of India's decision."

    Two days later - on September 11 - Team Govindraj sent a response to IOA's office order, signed by their general-secretary Chander Mukhi Sharma. In the response titled "Illegal IOA order" and sent to the presidents and secretaries of all affiliated units of the BFI, Team Govindraj claims to put straight the facts, claiming, among other matters that the constitution of the IOA does not have provision form making an Ad-Hoc commitee for any National Sports Federation (NSF) that is recognized by an international federation. In this case, the NSF is the BFI, and the international federation is FIBA. Team Govindraj alleges that no such letter was sent by FIBA to look into the BFI dispute, and that they - Team Govindraj elected in Bengaluru on March 27 2015 - already have FIBA affiliation. The letter ends with the announcement that the 32nd Youth National Championship for Boys and Girls will be starting as scheduled on September 14 in Bhavnagar (Gujarat) and reminded affiliated units of the participation of their teams. The letter was CC'd to top secretaries of the Sports Ministry.

    Govindraj, in an interview with the Times of India, reiterated his committee's claim. "First of all, we are recognized by the FIBA. Till date, FIBA has not written any letter to the sports minister. The office order issued by the IOA is a bogus letter. They can do anything and because of the political pressure, they have done this. To stop the youth national championship in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, they have issued such a letter. We will anyhow conduct the national championship."

    For now, Team Govindraj is continuing to be in charge of official basketball events in India and abroad, events that Team Mahajan and their supporters consider illegal. Expect another response from the IOA or Team Mahajan soon.

    The battle will continue to rage on, especially since the IOA's Ad-Hoc Committee is now planning re-elections of the executive committee in a few months. The likely scenario is that Team Govindraj and their supporters will continue to run the BFI as they see fit, while Team Mahajan and their supporters will elect another separate Executive Committee. And as things stand now, it is likely that each committee will refuse to recognize the legality of the other. With the states and units divided in India, the participation of the players and their opportunities will be divided, too.

    And at the end of the day, it is the basketball players in India who - as usual - become the innocent pawns in this power struggle.

    September 11, 2015

    "We can't play in the FIBA Asia tournament with this little practice" India Women's Head Coach Francisco Garcia interview

    A year after bringing success and joy to India's Men's national basketball team, the Chinese city of Wuhan failed to carry on the same stroke of luck for the Indian Women. Earlier this week, Team India returned from the 2015 FIBA Asia Basketball Championship for Women in Wuhan after taking two step backwards. India finished the tournament with six losses in six games, finished at 6th place, and worst of all, lost their place in the Level 1 group at the championship for its next iteration. There were 100 point losses, quarters with only four points for the offensive side, and close losses that could've turned tragedy into triumph.

    Two years ago, at the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, India had a new Head Coach, the Spaniard Francisco Garcia. Garcia helped lead the team to history, helping India win its first-ever Level 1 game and finished at 5th place. Two years later, Garcia couldn't end his India tenure with the same flourish that he started it. With his contract expiring after the tournament in Wuhan, Garcia returns to Spain disappointed. The project that he began with India couldn't improve on its earlier highs; instead, India's position in Asian Women Basketball - falling to Level 2 - is the worst it has been in a decade.

    Starting in Level 1 this year, India faced Asia's four toughest teams - Chinese Taipei, Japan (the eventual champions), hosts China, and Korea - and predictably, lost without much of a fight to each one. Their most realistic chances of victory were against the fifth Level 1 team (Thailand) and their Level 1 playoff game against Philippines, but India lost both of those games as well.

    I spoke to Garcia on the morning of his last day in India to review the team's performances in Wuhan and give an honest assessment of the external and internal problems that have plagued the results.

    "The tournament was not good at all," Garcia said, "There were many factors that made us not perform well."

    The biggest factor, as Garcia has always stressed, is India's practice time and exposure - or lack thereof - before such major tournaments.

    "We can't play in the FIBA Asia tournament with this little practice," Garcia said, after the team got only about six weeks of practice time in Bengaluru in preparation for the tournament, "Even Thailand and Philippines started practicing 5 months ago and got international exposure. We lost close games against them because we had so little preparation."

    "We cannot go into the championships with the situation in Indian Basketball," he added, referring to the power struggle between two competing executive committees for the Basketball Federation of India, "The girls were totally unfit. Some were overweight. They went 7 months without touching a basketball. In the past we had many camps, but this time, unluckily we didn't get that opportunity. It's not the fault of the Federation, it's just the situation of Indian Basketball right now."

    Another problem for India was that, two days before the tournament, they lost their likely starting point guard Kavita Akula. Akula had been applying for a US visa for college, and with the visa process not done in time, she couldn't leave India for China to be the main driving force of the team. Without Akula, veteran captain Anitha Paul Durai - a natural wing player returning the team after a year of maternity leave - had to play point most of the time and share the position with talented-but-inexperienced Bhandavya HM. Neither were able to handle the court's most responsible position against top level talent from across the continent.

    "When we had Kavita Akula here at practice, we were playing the most dynamic and fastest I've ever seen them play in India," Garcia said, "We practiced with her as the point guard in whole camp, but two days before leaving to Wuhan, we found out that she could not come. I had no time to adjust the team after her. Anitha played as a PG, but she would get really tired. We put 17-year-old Bhandavya at the spot. She was good but inexperienced. We made general mistakes due to this lack of experience."

    This was also India's first FIBA Asia tournament in a decade without Geethu Anna Jose, the Arjuna-Awardee who has been India's greatest-ever player and dominated for India in the center position for many years. "Our inside game was not very good without her," Garcia admitted, "We need somebody over there that is big. We were soft. Our offense was alright, but in defense we were very soft. Our game against the Philippines: we lost it mostly because of our defense."

    Sometimes, the difference between making history and returning home as failures can depend on a few late game moments of heroism or mistakes. India's two losses to Thailand and the Philippines could've easily been wins had the team held their composure in certain moments or had the favour or luck.

    "The game in Thailand was in our hands in the end," Garcia said of the game India lost 65-63, "We didn't play smart. Anitha missed two free-throws with one second left in the game, and if she had made those, we would've gone to overtime. When we played at the FIBA Asia Women two years ago, we played smart. We knew where to put the ball to hurt the other team. Now, since we didn't have a real PG, I think that turned out to be our main problem. We made stupid turnovers. For me, to have a PG is very important. It's like having a coach on the court. Not having one mattered a lot, especially at the end of games. Of course, in tight games, you must be a little bit lucky also. Two years ago, we were, but this time, luck was not on our side."

    "We showed our lack of practice and regularity against the Philippines," Garcia continued, "We would play well for five or six minutes, and then badly for the next five minutes. We started very well against the Philippines, and then, we dissapeared on the defensive end in the second quarter. They had two tall girls [Afril Bernardino and Allena Lim] who were killing us. They kept driving in from the three-point line and our post players could not handle them. Our help defense was late. In the third quarter, I tried to change the pace of the game and tried to control those two girls, but we couldn't stop them. We went back to man-to-man defense, but by then, we were already 15 down. We made a good comeback and played well on both wells to finish this game. Jeena PS played really well for us. Again, with 1:24 left in the game, we were one point down and had possession. But we made silly turnover and lost our chance for a win."

    Jeena PS turned out to be India's best offensive threat, eventually leading the team in scoring (14.3 ppg) and ending the tournament as the fifth-best scorer in Asia.

    "We know that she was to be one of our main threats," Garcia said of the talented forward from Kerala, whose combination of size and speed eludes opponents, "She has a nice shot and is usually guarded by tall players who aren't as fast. In games against Thailand and the Philippines, we were clearly looking for her. She performed really well. She has taken one step ahead in this tournament. The day she starts to play some defense, she can be an international star. She is one of the best prospects we have here, but she must continue working hard."

    "There is talent in some of the girls too. Shireen Limaye didn't play well at all but is recovering well from a knee injury and has potential. Poojamol KS was playing ok. When she starts to play defense she's going to be a good player. There are three for four girls - including Kavita Akula and Bhandavya who can have a good future."

    For India and for Garcia, there is always a balance in such international tournaments to their approach against Asia's Big Four. The best teams, as Garcia admits, are leaps and bounds ahead of India, and those games are mostly used as practice or tune-up matches for the 'important' - or winnable - games.

    "There is a big difference between those four teams and the rest," admitted Garcia, "For some of those games, I rested some of my top players or played them lesser to keep them healthier. The main thing is to not take risks. The goal was to get the girls healthy and less tired for the 'important' matches; I already knew that those teams were not in our league."

    "Still, the team I put out on the floor was trying their best. I didn't put the best players to play 35 minutes against them - for me, that's nonsense. I was gonna lose anyways, so it's wasting energy against them, i think. The physical bodies of those girls makes them look like adults and us like kids. Physically, we cannot compete against them."

    Before he left India and handed the keys of the Head Coaching job to his yet-unnamed successor, Garcia mapped out his ideas for what the future of India Basketball.

    "First of all, the priority is to try and come back to Level 1," he said, "That is the main goal. We should have normal camps. Get back more players that we missed, like Raspreet Sidhu, and some players with more inside presence on the court. And of course, we need a Point Guard. I don't think that the situation we faced this year will happen again. We learnt a lesson this time."

    "The team has a bright future. But I'll say the same thing if we are winning or losing: we need exposure. Girls need to compete internationally more. We could not practice more than one camp this time. They need to play more together. India needs to try and create a professional basketball league so these girls are continuously practicing throughout the year. That way, when they come for the national camps, they will be fit and in shape."

    Garcia departure from India is on Friday, September 11. By Sunday, he said that he will already begin his new job: the head coach of Spain's Women's Division 2 side Basket Mar Gijon, in his hometown of Gijon.

    It has been a topsy-turvy two years for Garcia in India, starting in jubilance at the FIBA Women's ABC, rising and falling and faced with drama (internal and external), and ending at the same tournament with a setback.

    But his overall tenure in India will be remembered as a success, both on and off the court. Garcia helped lead the team to memorable performances at the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship and the 2014 Lusofonia Games. Off the court, he took great interest at coaching coaches and players at the grassroots level. The end of his era was disturbed by the Indian federation's infighting and turmoil, but they haven't been able to tarnish the positive relationships that he built here over time. Hopefully, he can find more success in his new venture and can make another comeback to Indian basketball sometime in the future!

    September 9, 2015

    After Geethu


    India’s Women’s basketball team faces a daunting future without their greatest-ever star, Geethu Anna Jose

    This feature was first published in my column for Ekalavyas on August 29, 2015. Click here to read the original article.

    At 19, by the time she first donned the India jersey for the senior national team, Geethu Anna Jose – born and (mostly) bred in Kerala – was already a rising star. Standing 6-foot-2, Geethu would automatically become the center of attention anytime she took the floor. Teammates looked to her in awe and opponents in fear. She was shy and soft-spoken off the court, but on it, she turned into a fierce competitor whose game spoke much louder than words.

    When Geethu was first selected to represent Team India at the 2004 FIBA Asia Basketball Championship (ABC) for Women – the highest level of competition that India’s teams participate in – the country was facing a continued lull in their international performances. India hadn’t finished in the top six (Level 1) stage of the biennial championship since 1992. They were in desperate need of inspiration and leadership.

    In Geethu – and the generation of young players who joined the game around the same time as her – they found the perfect anchor to build around. Little would she know that, a decade later, her tall frame would overshadow and dominate Indian basketball like none before.

    Over the next ten years, Geethu achieved as much as any player – male or female – in Indian basketball history, and then some. She became a regular for India at the FIBA ABCs, playing a major role for India every time they set off to face the continent’s best. At the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Australia, she finished as the basketball tournament’s MVP, leading scorer, leading rebounder, and leading shot-blocker. In 2009, Chennai hosted the FIBA ABC, and Geethu was named India’s captain. Making the most of the home court inspiration, she helped India return to Level 1 with a sixth-place finish and ended as the tournament’s top scorer. She has played for India at the Asian Games, the Stankovic Cup, and helped the country achieve excellent results in the 3×3 version of the game, even winning the gold medal at the FIBA Asia 3×3 Basketball Championship in Qatar.

    Back home, at every domestic tournament, there was Geethu and then there was everyone else. From 2004-05 onwards, Geethu helped make the Indian Railways team into an unstoppable machine, winning the Senior National championship for nine consecutive years until 2013.

    Eventually, she gained international success unlike any Indian player, too. Geethu became the first Indian player to play professionally in Australia, representing the Ringwood Hawks for a few years, where she won MVP of the Big V division and was selected by the WNBL. In 2011, she made history by receiving invitations to tryout for three WNBA teams: the Chicago Sky, Los Angeles Sparks, and San Antonio Silver Stars. She and her Indian Railways teammate Anitha Paul Durai also played a season professionally in Thailand.

    Last year, Geethu received one of the highest honours given to Indian sports-persons – the Arjuna Award – for her services and contribution to Indian basketball. It was the culmination of a career of hard work and excellence.

    But to many, it seemed like the concluding exclamation to the career itself. After being part of India’s 2013 FIBA ABC team – the squad who finished at a best-ever fifth-place in Thailand – Geethu took some time off the game to focus on her personal life. Since then, the 30-year-old has been married and become a mother. While basketball hasn’t completely disappeared from her periphery, it does seem to be fading further and further into the horizon.

    Now, for the first time in over a decade, the post-Geethu era begins for Team India. Coached by the Spaniard Francisco Garcia, the new 12-member squad heads to the 2015 FIBA ABC. The tournament is set to be held in Wuhan (China) from August 29 to September 5 and Garcia faces the unenviable task of leading a team with limited practice, limited international exposure, and without Geethu, who was the pillar keeping the Indian flag waving high for years.

    When I contacted her about watching the team set out to this big challenge in her absence, Geethu seemed to be sceptical – but eventually optimistic – of the girls’ chances.

    “We need to wait and watch,” Geethu said, “But personally, I want them to do well. I always believe and tell my teammates that dependency on any one player is not the right thing for the game.”

    “There are many players who have the capability to rise to that level,” she said on the question of who can be the next star for India after her, “But what I have seen recently is that many players aren’t pursuing their dreams, and instead are fading away into personal commitments. They are leaving their game at sea. It takes tremendous sacrifices with perseverance, commitment and hard-work to mould yourself to be the best of the best players.”

    Geethu’s absence will create two major voids for India: in leadership and in size. But every crisis presents an opportunity. Coach Garcia will be hoping that the baton is smoothly passed on to Anitha Paul Durai as India’s new leader on the court, and a rush of other younger talents can develop their own games to rise without Jose’s presence inside.

    The Coach: Francisco Garcia

    Photo Courtesy: Ekalavyas
    “We have to substitute [Geethu] especially in defence by trying to front the post players and playing as physically as we can,” Garcia said, “Obviously, we cannot play the same way; in Bangkok, we were playing with a lot of options for her in the inside game, but right now, we don’t have that option. So, we have to play many pick-and-roll options, penetrations, and kicking to the outside players.”

    “I think she was, together with Anitha, the main players in India. She was dominating in India and FIBA Asia Championships. If you ask teams outside of India who are the most popular players, they will say Geethu. For us it’s a big loss. We don’t have a substitute for her right now. But, we have to try to substitute her loss with other things.”

    “Right now, one the most important players that we have is Kavita Akula. Of course Anitha is bringing experience for the team, but she was out of the game for a year. You can feel on the court that she is not in the best shape. And Jeena PS and Shireen Limaye are probably the next one who are on the ‘good’ level.”

    I spoke to a trio of players expected to be India’s flag-bearers in Wuhan – Anitha Paul Durai, Shireen Limaye, and Jeena PS – on their expectations for the FIBA Women’s ABC.

    The Veteran: Anitha Paul Durai

    Photo Courtesy: Ekalavyas
    If Geethu is the Alpha, Anitha is Omega. The Chennai-born wing player has played by Geethu’s side for Indian Railways, professionally in Thailand, and for the Indian national team for a decade. Like Geethu, Anitha also took a short exile from the game for family reasons. A little over a year after giving birth to her first child, she returns to action for India as the current team’s most-experienced and accomplished player.

    “Geethu and I played together from 2004 to 2013,” Anitha said, “We have had good understanding between each other. She is so strong in the center; in past ABCs, when our team would be down, she would look at me and I would gain confidence from her eyes!”

    “Going into this tournament, we’ve only had 40 days of camp, and it’s not enough. But still, we are working hard to maintain our fifth position in Asia. I am the only senior and more experienced player, so I have to be very much responsible for my team, so they can give a better performance and keep working hard.”

    “This is going to be our first ABC in many years without Geethu. I am really proud of myself that I was able to return to Team India after my delivery and play at the ABC. The team is good. Our junior players are strong, the only thing lacking is the experience, which Geethu had. For now, I am very happy that my juniors are hearing my words and cooperating with me on court.”

    The All Rounder: Shireen Limaye

    Photo Courtesy: Ekalavyas
    Still only 20, Pune’s Shireen Limaye has already been an integral part of Team India for about five years, peaking as a young prodigy and eventually making a steady place for herself in the senior team. Limaye is an all-round talent capable of dominating on all ends of the floor. She is attempting a comeback to the team at the ABC after a major knee injury.

    “Geethu of course has probably meant the most to this team,” Limaye said, “Geethu and Anitha have played a very pivotal role for India’s Women’s team over the years. A post player like Geethu will be missed in this tournament by us.”

    “My responsibilities right now are to help the team with rebounding and assists, and score important points in the big moments. I need to bridge the gap between our young team and Geethu.”

    “I’m confident about the team and that we will perform as per expectations. The team is playing well together. We had a good preparatory camp but it was of very short duration. We will be giving our best shot to retain our position. I am sure Coach Garcia will help us to perform at our 100 percent and deliver positive results.”

    The Heir: Jeena PS

    Photo Courtesy: Ekalavyas
    Hailing from Geethu Anna Jose’s home-state of Kerala, Jeena Scaria PS is in many ways the heir to the throne and one of the future stars of Indian basketball. With experience in several major international tournaments, the 21-year-old has already turned future potential into present dominance. Without Geethu in the lineup, there will be greater pressure on Jeena to take a bigger role in the team.

    “Everyone knows that Geethu is a superb player. She was the pillar of the Indian team for the last few years. She was awesome in defence as well as in offense, and she used to help the other four players on both ends. Whenever she was on court, everyone would feel confident. She led the team in rebounds, scoring, and helped the most on defence. She used to teach me too about my awareness and movement on both ends. I am sure that we will miss her on the court.”

    “This time we have a young team, but we have Anitha who is well experienced and has represented India many times. Our other forwards like Shireen, Poojamol KS, Anjana PG, and Sitamani Tudu are also good: both in their outside shooting range and in penetrating inside, too. Our post players: Rajapriyadarshini, Stephy Nixon, Smruthi Radhakrishnan, and Apporva Muralinath will be trying their best to compensate Geethu’s absence. Ball handlers Kavita Akula and Bhandavya HM are leading the team perfectly. Our coaches are doing a good job guiding our team. I’m not gonna say that we will win the title, but still, I am sure that we will work hard and play tough. We hope we can stay in the upper pool.”

    The Legend: Geethu Anna Jose

    While the rest of the women take the court bravely this week to prove that they are capable of carrying India without Geethu, the legend herself hasn’t yet completely shut the door on a comeback to the game.

    “Basketball is a passion to me, closely knitted to my heart,” Geethu said, “For any woman it takes good effort to come back to active sport after giving birth. But in recent times many players such as my good friend and colleague Anitha Paul Durai proved that with a set goal in mind, you can indeed return to active sport within few months of delivery.”

    “I do believe that I have some more years which I can offer to my country and the game.”

    For 10 years, Geethu helped Team India aim higher and stand with their heads up high against every competition. In the long term, she may yet return to boost the team again; but for now, India’s biggest question will be how they can rise even higher without her.
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    September 7, 2015

    King Singh

    The first Indian-born player to be drafted into the NBA, Mavericks rookie Satnam Singh returned home this summer as a hero.

    This feature was originally published for SLAM Online on August 26, 2015. You can find the original version here.

    For five years, Satnam Singh lived his life between two environmental and cultural extremities of home and school. Home, for Satnam, was the tiny village of Ballo Ke in Punjab’s farming hinterlands, a nondescript Indian village of less than a thousand people, where his family lived and farmed. School was the state-of-the-art facilities of the IMG Basketball Academy in Bradenton, Florida—thousands of miles away, in the United States.

    In aesthetic, development, comfort, culture, and language, Ballo Ke and Bradenton couldn’t be further apart. And yet, somehow, India’s biggest basketball hope—a 7-2 giant with the expectations of turning the world’s second-largest population into the sport’s next lucrative market—handled the extremes with surprising aplomb. He was recruited by IMG at 14, whisked away from Punjab to Florida, honed and perfected his game in a completely new environment, and returned home regularly to pay homage to the land that birthed him.

    Each trip back from the US, Satnam traveled through India’s capital, stopping by in New Delhi for a short stay before taking a challenging trip back to his village. Despite his rising status among India’s small (and mostly ignored) basketball fraternity, he was mostly anonymous in India off the court. Or, as anonymous as a 7-footer could possibly be in a land where he stands a foot-and-some taller than the average male.

    But a couple of weeks ago, in his most recent trip home, everything was different for the now 19-year-old. Satnam was greeted by dozens with banners, marigold garlands, flashing cameras, friendly handshakes, and celebration to rival the scenes of a Punjabi wedding. For the next two weeks, he was welcomed by an entourage of fans and well-wishers everywhere he went. He dominated the sports pages of India’s mainstream newspapers—the same papers which have largely ignored basketball for decades—every day. He filmed news-channel documentaries, made coaching and speaking appearances, and was shadowed closely by cameras even when he prayed. No Indian citizen whose primary profession as to dribble a basketball had ever experienced celebrity like this before.

    Satnam had broken a barrier that none of his countrymen—in India’s long basketball history—had ever penetrated. He’d become the first Indian citizen to be drafted into the NBA.

    The NBA Draft is the culmination of years of toil and dreams, and the birth of a whole new era, for dozens of young and talented basketball players. For the average basketball fan, though, most players picked outside the lottery or the later stages of the first round are just names to fill out blank spaces. Only a small percentage of those names ever make an NBA appearance, and an even smaller percentage leave enough of a mark to be truly remembered.

    As usual, the big names in the top 10, and the “steals” and role players were picked up later in the first round. Hours after the Minnesota Timberwolves made Karl-Anthony Towns the number-one pick of the night, the Dallas Mavericks selected Satnam Singh with the No. 52 pick of the 2015 Draft, sandwiched between Tyler Harvey of the Magic at 51 and Sir’Dominic Pointer to the Cavaliers at 53. After a soft cheer from what was left of the crowd gathered at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the 2015 Draft concluded without further notable interruption. In reality, most fans had checked out by the time the first round concluded.

    But No. 52 (like the jersey number he donned during Summer League) was more than just a name to fill up a blank space. Just like they had done with Wang Zhi Zhi and China 16 years earlier, the Mavericks made history for a billion-strong population with their second round pick.

    Hugs. A draft hat. A handshake with the deputy commissioner. A life transformed.

    Despite the pick, few around the league and in the Mavericks camp were truly expecting the big kid to be NBA-ready anytime in the near future. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made it clear early that Satnam would be heading to the Mavs’ D-League affiliate Texas Legends (now coached by former NBA guard Nick Van Exel) and would be, in NBA terms, a “project.”

    As the only draft pick without college, overseas professional, or prior D-League appearances, Satnam showed his inexperience in the Summer League, stumbling, stuttering, and taking some baby steps forward for the Mavericks. But he did just enough to leave his coaches and his owner impressed.

    “The Summer League was pretty good because I had never before played that level,” Satnam told SLAM over the phone soon after Summer League ended. “It was my first time there, and it was a good experience. I learned about the speed of the game, how much faster it is, and about my own speed and movement in the time I got to play. I think my coaches were happy with my progress, especially since I was coming straight from school to there, without college. IMG Academy is [high] school level and this was much different. This felt more professional, like being at a job.”

    Back home, however, even those baby steps were being celebrated as giant leaps.

    In early August, Satnam returned to India for the first time after being drafted. His fortnight back in the homeland was jam-packed with events and media appearances. Satnam toured the Golden Temple in Amritsar with his family and former coaches, taking a moment to pray at the Sikh holy shrine. He spent time in his village, briefly turning the quiet little hamlet abuzz with national media interest and attention. He returned to the Guru Nanak Stadium in Ludhiana, the court where he first honed his game as a pre-adolescent. He reconnected with his boyhood idol in Indian basketball (Jagdeep Singh Bains) and paid respect to the family of the late Dr. Subramanian, one of India’s most respected basketball coaches who taught the game to Satnam and dozens of other national team players. Satnam trained young players in Ludhiana, travelled to the state of Rajasthan to interact with students in Jaipur, and received felicitations and accolades everywhere he went.

    Like a good Punjabi is supposed to, he danced the bhangra with friends and fans. And he did it all wearing a Mavericks hat.

    “People in India can learn from my example if I do better for myself and go further in my career,” Satnam said. “I want to show young players that I got this far by focusing on nothing but the game. I’ve been drafted in the NBA and I want to play in the NBA. I hope that more Indian players can follow me here. But if you want to become like me, follow the hard work I did. Hard work, every day. Even if there is a move you’re good at, keep trying it multiple times. Make it perfect. Keep working on your game. Don’t focus on anyone or anything else.”

    Soon before his triumphant return to India, Satnam reflected at how much life had changed for him between the ages of 14 and 19, when he went from being a scholarship student at IMG to India’s first NBA draftee.

    “Back then, I had only thought that I will play hard and see where it goes,” he said. “Now, I’m feeling good to have come this far. It’s good, but it’s not great—because I won’t rest until I play my first NBA game. I won’t be happy until my first game. When I see a full stadium of fans, and feel the support of Indian fans, that is when I’ll feel truly happy.”

    In 2011, months before his 16th birthday, Satnam already made his senior team debut for India and played bit minutes in the FIBA Asia Championship that year in China. For the next two years, while most of his classmates in school enjoyed family and downtime during the holiday seasons, Satnam returned to India to play for the national team and in domestic championships.

    Now, while he tries to chase his NBA dream, Satnam has made it clear that he won’t be donning India’s national basketball team colors anytime soon, specifically at the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship set to tip off back in China the last week of September.

    “This year, I will not play for India at the FIBA Asia Championship,” he told SLAM. “When the FIBA tournament happens, I will have to be back here, in the US, for practice and for training camps. Hopefully, I will get a chance to play for India when there is no clash in the schedule between the international tournaments and my engagements in the US. I have no plans to go to play for India until I’m established professionally.”

    For now, his focus is completely on using the D-League stage to take the next leap higher, where he hopes to follow in the footsteps of 7-5 Canadian giant Sim Bhullar. Last season, Bhullar slowly gained his footing for the Reno Bighorns of the NBDL to eventually get a call-up by the Sacramento Kings and become the first player of Indian-origin to play an NBA game.

    “What I’ve been told by my coaches is simple,” Satnam said. “The better I get, the more opportunities I will get to play. They have said that I could win a 10-day contract by the Mavericks if I play well enough in the D-League, and then 10 more days if I get better and so on and so on. I was informed by the other coaches there about the D-League and my future after the D-League. The better I play there, the higher up I’ll go.

    “I can definitely be ready to make the jump the NBA soon,” he added. “I know I can do better, at least improve my game by 50 percent when I’m in the D-League. Many of the players in the D-League are en route to the NBA or have already played there—playing and practicing among them will improve me a lot. This is a big chance for me. I will feel good when I go up against other seven-footers in the D-League.”

    However his journey proceeds, Satnam has already achieved the impossible. The boy from a non-descript Punjabi village has come further than the distance between Ballo Ke and Dallas and jumped higher than his own gargantuan height. On Draft night, he may have been a relatively unknown giant in a sharp suit; but once he was drafted, his name rung out across fans in India, and eventually, fans around the world, too.

    “My hope is to play basketball for long, and play in the NBA a long time,” he said, “I want to help improve things in India, too. When I’m done with playing basketball, I want to go back to India and find other players and help them, too. I want to go help and teach everyone in India.”

    Hoopdarshan Episode 16: How Vasu Kulkarni's Krossover is transforming basketball analytics

    #MoreWins is the theme of Episode 16 of Hoopdarshan, the finest podcast on Indian Basketball. Hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok are joined by Bengaluru-raised tech entrepreneur Vasu Kulkarni, who has turned his start-up 'Krossover' into a must-have service for NBA, College, and High-School coaches in North America and beyond. In a candid chat, Kulkarni spoke to us about how growing up and learning hoops in Bengaluru shaped his ambitions, how Krossover is furthering advanced analytics in basketball, and meeting God... er, Michael Jordan.

    Born in the USA, raised and honed in Bengaluru, and making his way back Stateside via the University of Pennsylvania, Vasu Kulkarni has turned his passion for basketball into a profession and a business that is, in turn, helping the development of the sport itself. Kulkarni is the founder and CEO of Krossover and can be currently found perfectly balancing the scales between tech entrepreneurship and basketball addiction. You can learn more about him from an interview on Hoopistani last year.

    Hoopdarshan aims to be the true voice of Indian basketball, and since we're such hopeless fans of the game, it will become the voice of everything basketball related we love, from the NBA to international hoops, too. On every episode of Hoopdarshan, we will be inviting a special guest to interview or chat to about a variety of topics. With expert insight from some of the brightest and most-involved people in the world of Indian basketball, we hope to bring this conversation to a many more interested fans, players, and followers of the game.

    Make sure to follow Hoopdarshan on Soundcloud or search for 'Hoopdarshan' on the iTunes Store! Auto-sync Hoopdarshan to your preferred podcast app NOW!

    Hoopdarshan can be found on...

      September 6, 2015

      Japan win 2015 FIBA Asia Women's Championship again; winless India fall to Level 2

      Two years after rising above all challengers to rise as the finest women's basketball team in the continent, Japan have done it again. Japan retained their title at the 2015 FIBA Asia Basketball Championship for Women on Saturday, September 5th, finishing the eight-day long tournament with a convincing win over hosts and rivals China 85-50 in the final at Wuhan. It was Japan's third gold medal at the tournament, which held its overall 26th iteration over the past week.

      While the Japanese celebrated their triumph, the Indian contingent - a young, rebuilding squad - returned home disappointed, taking several steps back after their historic performance at this same tournament two years ago. Playing in the higher Level 1, India lost all five of their Preliminary Stage game to end the tournament at sixth place. They then lost a Level 1 playoff as well and fell to Level 2 for the 2017 FIBA Women's ABC.

      Tipping off on August 29, the tournament in Wuhan turned out to be an all out showcase of Japan's strength and dominance over the rest of Asia, including the formidable Chinese. The clash in the final saw Japan attempt to silence a home crowd in their quest for a repeat victory at the championship. They did just that, and in style. Determined to close out the game early, Japan outscored the hosts by double digits in each of the first three quarters of the game, essentially turning the contest into a blowout victory before the start of the final period. Japan's star of the night was Sanae Motokawa, who led the way with a game-high 24 points in the win. Ramu Tokashiki added 18 points and 7 rebounds to Japan's cause. None of China's players were able to crack double digits in scoring.

      Tokashiki was named MVP of the tournament.

      Earlier in the day, Korea defeated Chinese Taipei 52-45 in a more competitive game for third place. It was a close, defensive affair. Korea led 27-21 at halftime, and held on to their lead in the end for the win. Both teams only combined for 15 points in the final period.

      Japan were given a tougher challenge a day earlier, in the Semi-Final stage, by Chinese Taipei. A 12-point first quarter Japan lead was cut down to 1 by halftime, and Chinese Taipei then proceeded to outplay Japan in the third to set up a crucial, deciding final period. It was here that Japan showed their strength again to bounce back and notch a 65-58 win. Taipei's Hsi-Le Bao put up a valiant effort in the losing cause with 18 points and nine rebounds. Later that day, China also stamped their place in the final by defeating Korea with ease. China's fast start had them up by 13 by the end of the first period, and they kept the pressure on until the final period, when finally, Korea notched a mini-comeback to make the final score - 60-45 - a little more respectable.

      By winning the championship, Japan automatically qualified for the basketball tournament at the Rio Olympics in 2016. China (second) and Korea (third) booked their place in the Olympic qualification tournament.

      As usual, it was Asia's Big Four of Japan, China, Korea, and Chinese Taipei that finished with the four best records in Level 1. India and Thailand were the other two teams filling up the six spots

      Team India - coached by Francisco Garcia and captained by Anitha Paul Durai - were looking to build on their historic momentum at this tournament in Bangkok two years ago, when they won their first-ever Level 1 game and finished at a best-ever fifth place. Unfortunately, the team lacked experience and ample time to prepare for this big tournament before setting out for Wuhan. Back home, the political drama plaguing the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) would have been unsettling several of the coaches and players, too. Of course, the team was also heading out to battle Asia's best without their talisman superstar and Arjuna Awardee Geethu Anna Jose, who had been Indian basketball's finest player for the past decade.

      Playing against Level 1 teams was always going to be challenging for India, but they started off fearlessly against Chinese Taipei. Although India trailed at halftime of the first game by 12, there were some signs of confidence. Unfortunately, India's wary defense gave way for a scoring barrage for Taipei in the second half led by Yu-Chun Wei (20), and the Taiwanese squad eventually went on to win 92-61. India's best performer was youngster Poojamol KS, who led the way for her side with 17.

      Things got ugly for India against eventual champs Japan in Game 2, one of the worst losses for the Senior Women's team in recent memory. Japan raced out to a 32-9 lead in the first quarter and had outclassed India on both sides of the floor to sit at a 63-21 advantage by halftime. India were outscored 25-6 in the third quarter, and in an especially devastating fourth period, India scored just four points while gave up 43 to the rampant Japanese. The final score read 131-31 in Japan's favour. Japan's trip of Mio Shinozaki (25), Mika Kurihara (19), and Al Mitani (16) rained in from all angles to aid Japan's win.

      India played hosts China in Game 3, and faced similar humiliation, losing in their third consecutive blowout in three days. Led by 18 points and 12 rebounds by Song Gao, China's unstoppable attack deflated India's hopes early in the game and kept their command till the end. China outscored India 29-4 in the first quarter and led by 32 at halftime. India didn't manage to put up much of a fight after the halftime break and lost the game 102-39.

      India's lone chance of Level 1 redemption was against Thailand, a game that Coach Garcia had earlier said would be what all the other games had been in preparation for. Unfortunately, India's slow start undid their game-plan early. Thailand took a 21-14 lead in the first quarter, and India were left playing catch-up thereafter. India did a good job of closing the deficit to four by halftime and tying scores before the final period, however. The game headed to an exciting conclusion, but it was Thailand who struck last, scoring a go-ahead layup with 16 seconds left in the game and surviving to win 65-63. Naphat Kruatiwa scored 21 for Thailand and Thidaporn Maihom added 19. India's best player of the night was Jeena PS, who led her team's attack with 21.

      India were back to blowout losing ways in their final Preliminary Round game against Korea. The defense failed India again, as they led in 38 points while only scoring 13 in return in the first period. Korea led 67-20 by halftime and reached the 100-point early in the fourth quarter. On the backs of Danbi Kim (20) and Ji Su Park (19), Korea won the contest 121-44.

      Confirmed to finish sixth in the tournament, India's final game in Wuhan was a Level 1 playoff against Level 2 winners, Philippines. In a fight to keep their higher group spot, India bucked the trend and started off the game much better the opponents, leading 22-16 at the end of the first quarter. But India couldn't keep up the pressure, eventually handing Philippines a two point lead before halftime, which stretched out to 12 before the start of the final period. India woke up to mount a comeback in the fourth quarter, but Philippines held on to close the game well and win 82-76. Afril Bernardino's 32 points sealed the deal for the Filipinos, while Allana Lim added 20. Jeena PS scored a personal tournament-high 28 points to go with six rebounds for India, while captain Anitha Paul Durai added 19. The loss for India meant that the Philippines will now replace India in Level 1 for the 2017 iteration of the tournament.

      India finished the 2015 FIBA Women's ABC with a 0-6 record in sixth place and fell to Level 2 of the championship.

      Before the tournament, Coach Garcia had bemoaned India's unfortunate lack of time in camp in preparation, and the team's faults showed clearly on both sides of the court in the big losses to the higher-seeded Level 1 teams. The loss of Geethu Anna Jose as the leader in the middle also didn't help India; her presence alone would have been enough to cause tactical headaches to Thailand and the Philippines. Against the latter two teams, India's played well but their fate was decided by the smallest of margins. The right bounce here or there, or the right attitude in clutch moments for India, would've seen the women return home much happier. Instead, they have taken a couple of steps back after taking one step forward in 2013.

      One of the positives for India was the performance of Jeena PS, the Keralalite seen as the heir to her state's greatest product, Jose. Jeena led India with 14.3 points per game, which was fifth-best of all players in the tournament. She was also India's leader in rebounds (5.8).

      The conclusion of the tournament leaves India with many more questions for the future. Coach Garcia's contract comes to an end now and he will return to Spain. There is still no confirmation whether or not he will return to India to coach again. Jose's future return for the team is in doubt, and current captain Paul Durai isn't getting any younger. One of the player's who was supposed to be India's future leaders - Shireen Limaye - had a disappointing tournament after return from her knee injury. The trio of Jeena PS, Poojamol KS, and Bhandavya HM will have to carry the mantle forward for the Indian Women's team in the future.

      Final Standings
      • 1. Japan
      • 2. China
      • 3. Korea
      • 4. Chinese Taipei
      • 5. Thailand
      All Tournament Team
      • Ramu Tokashiki (Japan) - MVP
      • Asami Yoshida (Japan)
      • Danbi Kim (Korea)
      • Shao Ting (China)
      • Sun Mengran (China)