December 31, 2016

UPDATE: Indian basketball powerhouse units Railways and Services WILL attend Senior National Championship

The Indian national political map, of all our states and union territories, looks a little different when looked through the lenses of domestic sport. In Indian basketball for example, the Senior National Championship - India's largest domestic basketball championship - features teams in both men and women's divisions from most of India's states. But in addition to the state/territories, players who represent government units like the Railways (a combination of all Railway units from around the nation) and Services (a combination of military units like Army, Air Force, etc.) also exist on the same platform as the state teams. These teams have historically employed most of India's finest players and have had an enviable success rate in the national tournaments.

But the rift within the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and the BFI's fissure with the Government's Ministry of Sports has caused yet another after-shock: in 2017, Railways and Services - both champions at the national level - may not participate in the 67th National Basketball Championship to be staged in Puducherry from next week.

An in-depth article on Sportstar by Kamesh Srinivasan published on Friday noted that Railways and Services had defaulted to pay their subscription fees to the BFI, which may lead the BFI to not include Indian Railways Men, Women, and Services Men teams in the 67th Senior Nationals. The BFI broke into two competing committees last summer, and the committee who has taken in-charge of the federation (as per their constitution), led by K. Govindraj as president, has not been recognised by the Government of India and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), who have political ties with the other committee, led by Poonam Mahajan as president. Unlike other states, Services and Railways refused to pay subscription to this unrecognised federation.

In addition, both Services and Railways allowed their players to take part in the UBA Basketball League this year. The BFI had warned players, coaches, referees, and officials from taking part in "unauthorised" competitions like the UBA, and at the end of UBA's Season 3, the BFI went on to ban 122 individuals from all official India Basketball competitions. With several of their players now banned, Services and Railways have found little reason to pay subscription to the BFI.

According to Srinivasan, both Railways and Services have contemplated holding back "no objection certificates" (NOCs) to their players from participating in other state teams.

Railways and Services are two of the strongest programmes in Indian basketball and dominate the Nationals nearly every year. Currently, Services (Men) and Railways (Women) are even the reigning champions of this tournament after winning the 66th Senior Nationals in Mysuru in January.

More from Srinivasan's Sportstar piece:

Even before the recent issues of subscription and UBA related matters, both the Railways and Services had not released their players to represent the country in the Asian Basketball Championship.
Quite interestingly, the Railways had relented in its stand and had given concession passes for teams to travel for national championships in recent months, organised by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). The Sports Authority of India (SAI) has also allowed its coaches to be part of the federation activities.
Unlike the vertical split in some of the national federations, in basketball it was a clear case of the federation being on one side with its president, secretary general and treasurer, and the other faction trying to dictate purely on the powers of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) without the constitutional support.

I may sound like a broken record now, but as always, whenever men in suits who sit in offices have disagreements, it is players in jerseys who compete on the court that suffer. The players will once again be the victims of this: Services and Railways' players may not be able to compete either through their original employers or get the NOC to play through another state. The quality of basketball at the Senior Nationals in Puducherry next week will eventually suffer without several top talents and teams taking part.

There is still time for one of the two sides to cave and come to an amicable solution that is good for Indian basketball. With just about a week to go before the Senior Nationals, will anyone be able to beat the buzzer?

UPDATE: Railways have officially pulled out of the 2017 Senior Nationals, SportStar reported on Monday. 

UPDATE: Good news! Railways and Services make a last-minute entrance to the Senior Nationals in Puducherry. The BFI was able to solve the differences between them and the two units on the eve of the national tournament. 

December 30, 2016

Calicut University repeat to win 2016 All India Inter University Women Basketball title in Bhubaneswar

In India's most-competitive women's university championship, the reigning champions from Calicut once again rose above the rest to retain their title. Calicut University from Malappuram (Kerala) defeated Chennai's Hindustan University to win back-to-back titles in the All India Inter University Basketball for Women at KIIT Bhubaneswar (Odisha) on Thursday, December 29.

Led by Aswathy S Thampy (22) and Nimmy George (16) in the final, Calicut got off to a confident start, leading 32-20 over Hindustan at halftime. Calicut kept a steady hold on their lead in the second half to secure the 70-59 victory. Varsha Nandhini (23) and Srivihya S. Sekhar (17) led the way for Hindustan in a losing effort.

MG University from Kottayam (Kerala) took the bronze medal with a 66-41 win over Kannur on Thursday.

December 26, 2016

Billion to One

I talked to Satnam Singh about his inspirational new documentary on Netflix, which chronicles his stranger-than-fiction journey from India to an NBA Draft pick.

This article was first published on on December 13, 2016. Read my original piece here.

Here are two worlds.

World No. 1 is the Ballo Ke village, district Barnala, in the heartland of the India’s north-western state of Punjab. Ballo Ke is not on the map. Its population of eight hundred people—mostly poor, disenfranchised farming families—live among paddy fields, separated from the rest of civilization by hours, which are traveled along a bumpy dirt path. Electricity came here late, and mobile phones rarely connect. Ask for a cup of chai and someone will milk a buffalo in front of you. It’s dusty all the time.

World No. 2 is the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, opened in 2012 as one of the swankiest multi-event facilities on the planet. It cost over a billion US dollars to construct. Its tenants include the Brooklyn Nets, an NBA franchise valued in the billions which plays under the electrical charge of flashing jumbotrons, on-court laser shows, and machine guns spewing T-shirts into the stands. Since 2013, it has hosted the NBA Draft in a room full of some of world’s richest CEOs, VPs, agents, and future basketball superstars.

These worlds are polar opposites of culture, economy, and lifestyle. And yet, through the course of one of the most inspiring stories in all of sports, one young man—Satnam Singh—lived through it all, marrying the dichotomy of the marginalized third-world with the highest stakes of the world’s richest basketball league, and journeying through it all while carrying the improbable hopes of a billion-strong country on his wide shoulders.

The summary, if this was a piece of fiction, sounds too improbable to be true. But truth is often stranger than fiction, and over the last decade, that story actually took place: Satnam, the son of a farmer from Ballo Ke village, used both nature (his size) and nurture (hard work) to make history when the Dallas Mavericks picked him in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Satnam’s entire life is the equivalent of Kevin Garnett screaming “Anything is Possible!” on infinite loop. Now, his journey’s been encapsulated in the feature-length documentary One in a Billion, directed by Roman Gackowski, and released worldwide on Netflix on December 6. OBB Pictures partnered with Media Weaver and RGTV to produce this project. For a year and a half of filming, Gackowski followed Satnam as he visited his tiny farming village in Punjab, India, finished his time at the IMG Basketball Academy, Florida, and got drafted into the NBA on that fateful night in New York City.

The film shows the wild extremes lives that Satnam leads, in his farm in the Ballo Ke, where he is gifted a goat upon his return and walks around paddy fields in basketball kicks, and later, in the IMG Basketball Academy, one of the world’s finest facilities for youth basketball development. We see him take jumpshots on basketball courts in Punjab and meet high-level NBA executives and coaches at draft combines in the US.

Also featured in the film are individuals who have played a role in the life of Satnam or in basketball at large over the years, including NBA India’s former Director of Operations Troy Justice, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, IMG Academy Basketball coach Dan Barto, former India national team coach and now-IMG Academy director of basketball Kenny Natt, basketball agent Travis King, Secretary General of Punjab Basketball Association Teja Singh Dhaliwal, Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, VP of Kings’ basketball operations Vlade Divac, Satnam’s family, including his father Balbir, and many more. SLAM senior editor Abe Schwadron’s pre-draft interview with Satnam also makes a cameo. (And after closely following Satnam’s journey over the past seven years, I sat down for an interview that’s featured in the documentary, too.)

Satnam Singh is the true star here, though. Through old photographs, stories, footage, and the lead-up to draft day, the documentary paints the picture of a young man who stood up to the responsibility of shouldering a moment in history.

On the day of the film’s worldwide release on Netflix, I spoke to director/producer Roman Gackowski, producer Michael D. Ratner, President/CEO of OBB Pictures, and Satnam Singh himself to learn more about the story behind One in a Billion.

SLAM: What first attracted you to Satnam’s story and this project?

Gackowski: Michael and I had worked together in the past and were looking for a project to collaborate on. Michael wanted a different kind of storyline and this was the one that specially struck a chord. He brought it up to me; we both felt it was a deep human interest story, and it felt even greater once we started pursuing it. As a lifelong sports fan, it blew my mind that a country with the population of India had never produced an NBA player, especially when you look at the way the NBA has evolved over last 25-30 years with their international exposure. There was a curiosity as to why that was. The story was fascinating from the beginning and Satnam was an interesting character.

Ratner: I was working on an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary and I wanted more sports stories that are about character and are inspirational. I was talking to different agents, and Travis King, who had been following Satnam, mentioned him. I was fascinated by this potential underdog story. We knew the stakes were high, and we couldn’t predict the ending—if he would actually get drafted. There are 1.3 billion people in his country and nobody had made it before. The final moment when I wanted to do this was when I spoke to Troy Justice [formerly of NBA India] who knew Satnam personally and told me he was a special young man. Troy was absolutely right! There is a scene in the movie, before the draft, when Satnam says that he has only opened the lock to basketball in India, but the door is still closed. This story is still going on, the end of the story is not written yet.

SLAM: Satnam, how did you first react to the news that there are people interested in a documentary about you? Was it strange having a film crew follow you around as you went through some of the most important moments of your life?

Singh: The documentary crew came with me to India, I remember, and my Dad asked me, ‘Why are they doing this?’ I told my Dad that they wanna focus on where I’m from and let people know who I am. Then I told myself, ‘These people are spending a lot of money for you, if you don’t work hard and you don’t do anything, it won’t be good for you’. So, that’s why I knew I need to work hard. I needed to go open the lock. That became my goal, to not disappoint my family, the investment by IMG, by the film crew. I did everything that they needed. As I say in the film: right now, I’ve only opened the lock. I’m only in the D-League. I need to go further and open the door to the NBA.

SLAM: What were the most challenging aspects of filming this story?

Gackowski: Going to his village, for sure, it was a different environment. Thankfully, the producers had put us up with the right people for this project, so we had the support we needed. The thing that struck me most was to see the differences: Satnam was 14 when he left his home, his family, and went literally halfway around the world. When you see the world he grew up in, to see where he was then, and then to IMG Academy in Florida, it’s another world. That was a story that we tried to tell. There were difficulties working around language, but we had set ourselves up in a position to tell the story. Satnam is a really good, true human being, who was trying to do so much for not just himself but his family and his country. You kinda get invested in a guy like that. When we were going along with him, everybody on the crew felt so close to him and kept on asking about him. We were rooting for him and were so happy how it eventually turned out. I know Satnam felt so much stress and pressure before the draft. All of us felt the same way.

SLAM: Satnam, when you see your whole journey in this film, from your village to NBA, what does it make you think?

Singh: When I watched the movie, I realized how much nicer the court is now back in Punjab! It wasn’t so nice when I started playing basketball there! I came to the USA in 2010. When I came here I said ‘Damn! If only we had the same opportunity in India!’ I was lucky I got a great opportunity and had coaches to help me here. I know my body changed, I learned a new language, changed the way I talked to people. But I don’t like to change my attitude of where I’m from. My background is important to me. You should never forget where you come from. Even if I have a million, billion dollars: money and the new people you meet matter less. The most important thing in my life is to understand where my family is, to understand how much I had when I first came here, and why I came here. I came here to play ball, make a name for myself, make history for India. That’s why I have only one focus.

SLAM: What do you hope that viewers take from One in a Billion?

Ratner: I hope that the viewer walks away feeling optimistic and engaged, and understand that they have watched a story that is still being written. This is a feel-good film. The climactic scene honestly tugged at my heart. When you watch it, you see the math the agents are doing for him to be drafted and you feel the pressure, too. Yes, the movie wouldn’t have been a failure if he hadn’t been drafted, but to be picked, it made it matter so much more. There’s something unbelievable there, the feat of him being drafted, shaking the deputy commissioner’s hand. This was a true Cinderella Story, a risk for this young man who worked hard, flew across the world away from his country, and made history. The commissioner [Adam Silver] said that Satnam could really open the door for NBA in India. Now the goal is for him to be on the NBA court. To play in his first NBA game.

SLAM: What did you learn about Satnam by getting to know him and interviewing the people close to him?

Gackowski: I come away with the understanding that he is an incredibly brave, dedicated, and pure individual. It was a big deal for him to come to the USA because there were people from his village, his family, his coaches, who had a lot of expectations. They didn’t quite understand what the journey would be for him. Satnam was still young when he first went out. There were a lot of expectations but he said to himself, ‘No matter what, I’ll take this on my shoulders. I’ll do this’.

He came to the USA and didn’t know the language. He was trapped and he fought through it. He took the risk. There’s some powerful moments in the films as he spent years learning the language, feeling lost, trapped, while he was working hard to be able to understand be productive on court and in the classroom. There was a scene when a coach talked to him and he understood, and it was a breakthrough moment! You could feel that it someone in his life had just turned the lights on!

He tells you to take a risk, to be brave. He did everything he could possibly could to get to this level. Troy Justice said in the documentary that Satnam is the kind of player who would run through the wall for you, and he literally will. If he hadn’t accomplished this, it wouldn’t have been for a lack of trying. That’s what we see in the film: he’ll do it and do it the right way. And he doesn’t just do it for himself. It’s for everyone involved, for his parents and coaches in India and the USA.

SLAM: Satnam, the movie is over, but your basketball career goes on. You’ve already made history. If there was a sequel to the story, and you could write it, what would you like to see.

Singh: Having them [the documentary crew] around motivated me more, it gave me more help to have a strong mind and work hard. Maybe I’ll have one more documentary again. The same movie or a different kind—about what I can achieve in my next step!

December 24, 2016

Indian Basketball's Singh Sisters honoured with Rani Lakshmi Bai Award in Lucknow

There are rarely any stories in sports more remarkable than that of the famous Singh Sisters of Varanasi. Four sisters - Divya, Prashanti, Akanksha, and Pratima - overcame great odds to all become important members of India's national basketball team and dominate the game at the domestic level. Through coaching and playing, the four sisters are still intimately involved with the growth of the game in India and continue to be some of the most popular figures in Indian basketball.

Now, the four sisters can add another feather to their well-stacked hats. On Monday, December 19, Divya (34), Prashanti (32), Akanksha (27), and Pratima (26) were all invited by the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Akhilesh Yadav to receive the prestigious Rani Lakshmi Bai Award, meant to signify bravery and outstanding achievement of women.

"This is good news for Varanasi as well as Indian basketball," said Prashanti Singh. "This award was only thing left for the Singh Sisters as we have already played so many big games together for India - CommonWealth Games, Asian Games, FIBA Asia Championship, National Championship, and more. Now being honoured with this award is a dream come true. This is historic for UP state and India, too."

The four sisters are part of an incredible basketball and sports extended family of India. Their eldest sister, Priyanka, also played at the state level. Their brother Vikrant Solanki is an U19 Delhi State footballer. Pratima Singh, the youngest of the sisters, got married earlier this year to Indian national cricketer Ishant Sharma.

December 23, 2016

Hoopdarshan Episode 40: Basketball and Butter Chicken with Inderbir Gill

Hoopdarshan, India's finest basketball podcast, celebrates its 40th episode with an interview with Indo-American point guard Inderbir Gill. Gill joins hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok to talk about becoming a college basketball star, coaching NBA in India, starring for a world-renowned 3x3 basketball team, and finding the greatest Butter Chicken in the world.

In the new episode, Kaushik and Karan also discuss the new documentary on Indian basketball star Satnam Singh, India's performances at the Super Kung Sheung Cup, and the launch of the ACG-NBA Jump talent search programme, leading up to the new elite NBA Academy in India.

Hoopdarshan is the truest 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...

December 19, 2016

21st Super Kung Sheung Cup: Southern California Fukienese Association win gold again, India finish at best-ever third place!

Hong Kong's invitational basketball tournament - which featured both international and club teams - concluded on Sunday December 18, 2016 with yet another gold medal win for the Southern California Fukienese Association (SCFA) from the USA at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium. Team India played at a high level through the course of the week-long tournament and finished with a bronze medal, their best-ever finish.

The final of the tournament was held on Monday, as SCFA defeated Hong Kong's local club SCAA 88-82 and finished as repeat champions.

India, who sent out a star-studded squad to Hong Kong for this tournament, defeated Hong Kong's Eastern Long Lions on Sunday 90-60 to finish at third place. Four Indian players finished in double digits, led by Amrit Pal Singh (24), Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (23), and Rikin Pethani (16). After India led just 33-30 at halftime, a 32-19 run in the third period turned out to be the decisive period as India eventually raced to a blowout victory. Captain Bhriguvanshi was named the Best Shooter in the tournament.

Head Coached by Bhaskar Sappaniambalam, the Indian team saw the return of established stars Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (captain), Amrit Pal Singh, Pratham Singh, Yadwinder Singh, Rikin Pethani, Arvind Arumugam, Aravind Annadurai, Akilan Pari and Prasanna Venkatesh. Chandigarh’s 24-year-old centre Ravi Bhardwaj who made his international debut earlier this year, retained his place in the side. Junior India captain Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi and Karnataka’s Anil Kumar Gowda, made their senior India debuts.

India were placed in a group with Hong Kong's club Winling and Thailand's national team to start the tournament, and both games turned out to be relatively comfortable victories. Trailing 58-56 after three quarters in their first game against Winling, India closed the game in style, outscoring their opponents 30-20 in the final period to win 86-78. India's trio of Amrit Pal (28), Aravind Annadurai (21), and Bhriguvanshi (19) led the scoring assault in the victory. Kepkay Alexander and Hosford Daniel of Winling scored 26 and 21 points respectively.

The next night, India were once again locked in a close combat against Thailand, leading 33-32 at halftime. But a massive 27-7 run in the third created a separation necessary to help India cruise to a 86-65 win. Bhriguvanshi (29) and Amrit Pal (19) were once again India's primary options on offense. Nakorn Jaisanuk scored 17 for Thailand.

India qualified for the Semi-Final, but their ambitions for the gold were cut short in a close loss in their semi against eventual winners SCFA. It was one of the best games of the tournament, as both teams battled back and forth and featured a rich armory on talents on each side of the floor. India enjoyed a six point lead at the end of the first quarter before SCFA came fighting back to trail 45-46 at halftime. The third quarter saw India move ahead again, but a clutch 25-16 run by SCFA in the fourth handed India a loss, 93-89. The loss overshadowed a huge performance by Bhriguvanshi (35) and crucial supporting roles played by Rikin Pethani (21) and Amrit Pal (17). Taylor Statham (26) and Donald Lee (21) did most of the damage for the American side.

A total of nine teams took part in this tournament, which was in its 21st edition.

December 15, 2016

Paathshala on the Court

For students, basketball and academics can't be mutually exclusive

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas on December 5, 2016. Click here to read the original feature.

Image credit: Hannah Bitzer for Crossover India

I want to apologise to my primary school teachers at St. John’s DLW in Varanasi. It’s been over twenty years, and I finally have a confession: for years, when my friends and I said that we needed to skip class to practice our ‘Teacher’s Day’ Talent Show break-dance routine, we were lying. We didn’t do much dancing at all.

We spent those after-lunch periods bunking class, playing football with a piece of a stone, “Catch-Catch” with a tennis ball, some cricket out in the field even without our PT shoes, and yes, throwing up a basketball on the cement court at the far end of the campus.

I don’t know if the teachers actually believed our creative excuses to bunk and go out and play. Were they apathetic? Or perhaps, it was just simpler to let the ‘naughty’ boys of the Blue House run wild outdoors instead of disrupt the classroom. Either way, year after year from Class I to Class V, our group kept up the ‘break dance practice’ charade in the month leading up to September 5, Teacher’s Day. Finally, in Class V – my last full year at St. John’s – two of my friends eventually made it to the Talent Show stage and gyrated their bodies without coordination to “Main Khiladi Tu Anari”.

It was the end of an era. We all had to grow up. In senior school, academic and social pressures would rob us of those idle afternoons to play sports around campus. Sports, even for the most talented spin bowlers among us, was to remain a hobby. We had to choose one or the other – the classroom or the basketball court – and everyone chose the classroom.

Our story isn’t unique; young Indian kids with energy and zest for outdoor activity learn early in their lives that sports are only a pastime. In developing India, where every struggling student is in competition with millions of others for few percentage points on the Board Examinations, a few seats in the best colleges, a few employers for their skillsets, it is understandable that parents and teachers prepare their children in this mould.

One of the major reasons why India – despite a population of 1.3 billion – continues to struggle on the global stage in most sporting competitions is that there are countless young players who make the choice of classroom over the court every year. We are taught to choose one or the other; we can’t have both.

Sports in India are a risk; and this why some of our best athletes, certainly many of India’s best basketball players, come from backgrounds where the sport was all they had to secure a profession. Many of these talented players didn’t choose to play basketball for the fame or the money (there is hardly any of either), they chose it because the game is all they had.

Times are changing, though. India is waking up to a new era where an entire generation of young families are beginning to have a little more disposable income. Sports are still a “risk”, but with more opportunities in the sporting sphere than ever before, more families are willing to take that risk. Cricket is of course the ‘Holy Grail’ of financial success in Indian sports, and any top cricket player in India will be able to find professional stability. But leagues and high-level Olympics performances in other fields – Hockey, Football, Boxing, Wrestling, Kabaddi, Tennis, etc. – are making young people think of sports as a real alternative.

But, as the example of other countries can teach us, sports vs. academics doesn’t need to be a choice. In the USA, for example, the system is created so that even the best basketball players – future NBA talents – have the option to be successful academically in High School and College (while playing in the NCAA) as well. Having a variety of paths and options should be the ultimate goal in India: only a miniscule percentage of all young players bunking class with hoop dreams will be able to make basketball a professional option; for the rest, the classroom will prepare them for other options if the sporting careers end or don’t work out.

Shaun Jayachandran, a teacher and basketball coach in Boston, combined his two passions for hoops and education to give back to the youth in Chennai, where his parents are originally from. He created the Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy, a non-profit programme that has been active in India for several years now in using basketball as a vehicle for academic change. For Jayachandran, the union of sports and academics is indeed the ideal solution.

“99.9 percent of people will never play professional sports, but sports can teach in other ways,” said Jayachandran. “It is an opportunity to learn in small doses how to win and how to lose, and how to recover from a loss. It is an opportunity to be a leader and learn how to follow. Basketball is about problem solving small processes, and it’s a great teacher to help make practical decision in your job, community, and family life. Every study has shown that students who play sports get better marks and have a higher graduation rate. In a country like India, where education is a pinnacle of value, sports should be an obvious fit.”

Sports has often been a way into better academics, and in India, parents and students need to be encouraged to make the most of the opportunity both ways: if an athletically-gifted child can win a scholarship through sports, he or she should make the most of the academic provision in their school or college. And if a school or college has a strong athletics programme, there should be no separation between “those who study” and “those who play”; there is no reason for students not find the balance between being “nerds” and “jocks”.

Most recently, the NBA in India announced a massive news that could touch this very nerve; within a few months, they will launch the NBA Academy India, an elite basketball training centre for the top male and female prospects from India, in Delhi National Capital Region (NCR). The Academy, which is the first of its kind in the country, will be fully funded by the NBA. It will start with a pool of 24 elite young prospects who will receive scholarships and training at the Academy and provide education to the chosen prospects through a local school partnership.

The Academy is the successor to the NBA’s grassroots school initiative in India, the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme, which reached more than 3.5 million youth and trained more than 3,000 physical education instructors nationwide since its launch in 2013. The programme worked with schools in several Indian cities to make NBA-assisted basketball instruction a part of the physical education programme. The NBA was holding a paathshala – their classroom – on the court!

Now, the NBA Academy will sway even further towards the athletic sphere – choosing only the best of the best – but with a commitment to not forget about educational growth as well.

“As a young athlete, it’s difficult enough to become an elite player through the training and the stress of managing basketball and education,” said Brook Meek, the Vice President of NBA’s International Basketball Operations. “Our philosophy was having an NBA Academy India where we can prepare them in that 360-degree way that when they do make that transition, they’ll be more prepared for success.”

Meek added, “All these skills that they are going to be learning at the academy in addition to how to shoot and dribble are skills that they are going to take with them when they are done playing basketball and they are interviewing for a job or they are starting their career after basketball.”

The NBA’s aim in India is, eventually, to produce players who could stand competitively against the best talents in the world. No Indian player has yet played in the NBA, but last summer, Satnam Singh made history by becoming the first Indian to be drafted by the league.

Satnam's is a true success story, of a young man who beat the odds to achieve more than his wildest dreams. But, along with the story of Satnam's success, there is a story of some regret, too, on almost every step, of missed chances. Due to his poor English upon arrival to America, he struggled in the classroom, fell behind a year, and couldn't make the most of his High School experience. Eventually, his grades were too poor to get him a necessary college scholarship in the US, leading him to forego the option of college altogether to declare for the NBA.

It isn’t enough just to replicate the success of Satnam; India needs to think of preparing young people to dominate both on the court and in the classroom. Hopefully, local schools and programmes can give priority to this duality

Jayachandran reiterated that sports can be used to find passion and opportunities in other careers, too, even if they are not directly related to sport itself. “The ball for every athlete stops bouncing one day,” he said, “And you have to have another career to go to afterwards. You could stay with sports but you could go on to become an educator, a doctor, an engineer, a scientist. You can translate those qualities of being an athlete into the rest of the world.”

A whole new generation of young people are surely bunking class right now, but for all the temptations and dangers available to an idle young person, sports is the best-case scenario. I’m hoping that they don’t need to come up with lame excuses and ‘dance practices’ like we did. There are classrooms everywhere: indoors, on the cricket field, on the basketball court, in science labs, on mountain cliffs. And instead of a one-way path, education should be a seamless combination of them all.

December 11, 2016

For second year, UBA holds camp for elite Indian players in the USA

For the second consecutive year, several top players and coaches from India's UBA Basketball League have been taken to Phoenix, Arizona, in the USA for an intense camp. Fifteen players and two coaches will be in intense training from December 10-21, and take part in various basketball-related activities like attending local NBA and NCAA games.

This is the second year that the UBA League - which completed its third season in India earlier this year - have taken its top players to get exposure abroad and improve their games.

The players attending the UBA camp in Phoenix this year are:
  • Gurvinder Singh Gill (Punjab Steelers)
  • Sartaj Singh (Punjab Steelers)
  • Narender Grewal (Pune Peshwas)
  • Siddhanth Shinde (Pune Peshwas)
  • Ajinkya Mane (Pune Peshwas)
  • Gaurav Ohlan (Pune Peshwas)
  • Mahesh Padmanabhan (Hyderabad Sky)
  • Manu Thomas (Hyderabad Sky)
  • Dildar Singh (Mumbai Challengers)
  • Prudhvi Reddy (Mumbai Challengers)
  • Nikhil (Mumbai Challengers)
  • Jairam Jat (Chennai Slam)
  • Vikas Mor (Haryana Gold)
  • Himanshu Sharma (Haryana Gold)
  • Akashdeep Hazra (Haryana Gold)
  • Coach: Puneeth Suresh (Bengaluru Beast)
  • Coach: Ram Kumar (Pune Peshwas)

The players are taking part in two practices per day and will take part in two scrimmages with a local All Star team. Nine American players will be working each day with the Indian players at practice and conditioning, headlined by former San Antonio Spurs and University of Oregon player Alex Scales. There will also be several fun events like seeing a Phoenix Suns game amd an Arizona State game.

Indian basketball team heads to Hong Kong for 21st Super Kung Sheung Cup

India's senior men’s basketball team is all set to participate in the 21st Best Mart 360° Super Kung Sheung Cup International Basketball Invitation Championship, which will take place in Hong Kong, at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium from December 13-18. Nine teams, including national teams and local clubs from Hong Kong, will be taking part in this tournament.

In the lead up to this Championship, the Indian men’s team has been training in Indore for almost three weeks. Head Coached by Bhaskar Sappaniambalam, the Indian team sees the return of established stars Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (captain), Amrit Pal Singh, Pratham Singh, Yadwinder Singh, Rikin Pethani, Arvind Arumugam, Aravind Annadurai, Akilan Pari and Prasanna Venkatesh. Chandigarh’s 24-year-old centre Ravi Bhardwaj who made his international debut earlier this year, retains his place in the side. Junior India captain P Baladhaneshwar and Karnataka’s Anil Kumar Gowda, will be making their senior India debuts.

Veteran Australian Coach Damian Cotter visited India's Men's Basketball Camp in Indore last week.

Southern California Fukienese Association won the 20th Super Kung Sheung Cup 2015. India last participated in the 17th iteration of the Championship in 2010, where the reached the semi-finals and finished at fourth place.

Participating Teams

  • Group 1: Malaysia, Guangxi Wei Zhuang Basketball Club (China), Eastern Long Lions (Hong Kong).
  • Group 2: SCAA (Hong Kong), Singapore, Southern California Fukienese Association (USA).
  • Group 3: Thailand, India, Winling (Hong Kong).

Team India Roster
  • Ravi Bhardwaj
  • Anil Kumar Gowda
  • Pratham Singh
  • Vishesh Bhriguvanshi - captain
  • Amrit Pal Singh
  • Yadwinder Singh
  • Rikin Pethani
  • Aravind Annadurai
  • Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi
  • Arvind Arumugam
  • Prasanna Sivakumar
  • Akilan Pari
  • Head Coach: Bhaskar Sappaniambalam
  • Assistant Coach: Srinivasa Murthy
  • Team Manager: Ashok Kumar Sahu

India’s League Round Schedule (all timings IST)
  • 13th December: India vs Winling - 6:15 PM.
  • 15th December: India vs Thailand - 1:30 PM.

December 10, 2016

Veteran Australian Coach Damian Cotter visited India's Men's Basketball Camp in Indore

Damian Cotter - veteran Australian coach at the national and professional stage - was in India last week to visit the Indian Men's Basketball Team's national camp in Indore (Madhya Pradesh). Team India has been in camp at Indore's National Basketball Academy in the run up to the 21st Super Kung Sheung Cup to be held in Hong Kong later this month. Cotter visited the camp from December 1-4 to work with Indian players and coaches through four training sessions, focusing on both offensive and defensive drills.

The visit was arranged by Pursuit India with the help of Danny Kordahi of No. 1 Draft Pick Basketball Academy, a leading Australia based training academy.

Currently a Basketball Consultant, Damian Cotter is a former Sydney Kings (National Basketball League - NBL Australia) coach and Australian National Women’s assistant coach. With more than 17 years of experience as a basketball coach, Cotter is highly regarded in the professional coaching arena and has a passion for teaching basketball to all ages.

"I was not only impressed with the players’ talent but more importantly their work ethic and capacity to learn," Cotter said after the training camp in Indore. "You can see that they have been well coached and I look forward to watching the team results from afar. I am very grateful to BFI [Basketball Federation of India] and Pursuit for the opportunity to work with quality players and coaches, as I see potential for India to achieve success internationally at a high level."

"Cotter’s visit was very useful," said S. Bhasker, who is currently the Head Coach for Team India, "Most teams today employ the ‘horns offence’ and Cotter ran the team through a series of ‘shell drills’ that emphasizes maintaining proper defensive positions in order to counter this offence."

“Basketball has evolved drastically in terms of the way it is played. So visits from foreign coaches help us a lot. The entire team benefits and it is also a chance for individual players to showcase their talents in the hope of landing playing opportunities abroad,” said centre Amritpal Singh.

Vishnu Ravi Shankar, the Business Head of Pursuit, who coordinated the visit added, “Being the first such initiative of its kind, we are excited that Coach Cotter’s sessions were well received by the players and coaches alike. We thank the Basketball Federation of India for their smooth approval process. Even the local organisers were very kind and provided us good accommodation close to the venue. We definitely hope to facilitate more such camps in the future for the benefit of India Basketball and its players."

It is interesting to note that, ever since the summer of 2015, India has not had a steady Head Coach. For several years in a row, the national team employed various foreign Head Coaches for short stints, culminating with the memorably successful run of Scott Flemming. But Flemming resigned from the Indian team in May 2015, and the team's head coaching duties have been shared between various local coaches over the past 18 months. The split between the BFI last summer is a major reason that the federation hasn't gone out and hired another (expensive) foreign coach; perhaps Cotter's visit will rekindle the mutual interest between foreign coaches and India, or at least continue the conversation of bringing in their experience to share with coaches and players of the national team.

December 7, 2016

Three Madhya Pradesh basketball officials booked by police for fraud

This is not the first time you're hearing news like this in Indian Basketball, and it certainly won't be the last.

If you are an astute follower of this blog and Indian basketball, you will recall that, in August 2014, the Madhya Pradesh Basketball Association (MSBA) began dealing with an internal power struggle, as two separate groups of the association elected two different presidents, one group led by Kailash Vijayvargiya and the other by Avinash Anand. One group refused to recognise the other, the second group accused the first of misuse of funds.

(This break-up will sound familiar, of course, because a similar division of associations happened at the national level with the Basketball Federation of India less than six months later.)

Now, a little more than two years later, Madhya Pradesh basketball is back in the news for the wrong reasons. Various sources reported that three members of the Vijayvargiya group - Secretary Kulwinder Singh Gill, president BJM Sharma and treasurer Ritu Sharma - have been booked by the police in Indore on Monday, December 5, for criminal breach of trust, fraud and forgery embezzlement in allegedly diverting association funds into private bank accounts. Police said cases have been registered under Sections 406, 417, 420, 467,468, 471 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code. The complaint of fraud was filed by the MPBA's other group - who go by the Corporation Basketball Trust - secretary Avinash Anand, and office-bearers Laxmikant Patel and Bhupendra Bandi late on Sunday night. According to Indore's Tukoganj police station in-charge Dilip Singh Choudhari (via The Times of India), the group accused the trio of diverting funds received by the association for personal use. Choudhari said the complainants had approached the crime branch twice before: once in 2012 and then again a couple of months ago, before the case was shifted to Tukoganj.

According to Anand, the trio - led by Gill - has been accused of siphoning off more than Rupees 40 lakh received as government grant to the association in 2010 towards hosting a national championship in the state.

Anand is quoted further by The Hindustan Times:

"Gill first illegally closed the association’s bank account with State Bank of India and opened a new account with Arihant Cooperative Bank. He then issued two cheques in favour of his mother, one for 5 lakh and the other for 3 lakh. A car insurance and LIC premium was also paid from this account, among other things. Later, this bank account was closed and a fresh account was opened with Bank of Baroda, again without due permission from the association."

A couple of months ago, Madhya Pradesh boys' team retained the Sub-Junior National Championship trophy in Hyderabad. But as it is often with Indian basketball, a big shot is followed by a turnover. Hopefully, the new administration keeps the same U14 sub-junior players in mind over themselves - the future of the state and the country - before repeating the mistakes of the past.

Satnam Singh documentary "One in a Billion" is now streaming on Netflix worldwide!

Here's a pitch for a movie: a poor farmer's son from rural India learns basketball and becomes the first of a country of 1.3 billion to be drafted into the NBA.

The summary, if this was a piece of fiction, sounds too improbable to be realistic. But the truth is often stranger than fiction, and over the last decade, that story actually took place: Satnam Singh, the son of a farmer from Ballo Ke village in Punjab, used both nature (his size) and nurture (hard work) to make history when the Dallas Mavericks picked him in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Released worldwide to stream on Netflix on December 6, 2016, "One in a Billion" tells Satnam's comprehensive story so far in great detail. The documentary was produced by OBB Pictures and directed by Roman Gackowski. For a year and a half of filming, Gackowski followed Satnam as he finished his time at the IMG Basketball Academy, got drafted to the NBA, and visited his village in Punjab. He also interviewed several close individuals connected with Satnam's story from this childhood, his education, and his professional career.

If you know Indian basketball, you know the ending of the story already. "One in a Billion" takes us back to the beginning. It brings to screen the surreal story behind Satnam's real life. Some of the strongest moments are when the documentary crew follows him into the hinterlands of Punjab as he visits his family, introduces his friends, and lays on the very farm he grew up in. These scenes are juxtaposed with scenes a few months later at the IMG Academy, one of the finest facility of youth sports development around the world. The documentary introduces viewers to Satnam's family, his coaches, teachers, and his agent. We see him direct the way deep into his Punjabi village. We see agent Travis King's pitch to Satnam, we see him visit draft combines and get suited up for the draft, perform at pre-draft workouts with various teams in the NBA.

One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when Satnam - who has struggled in IMG because of his weak English proficiency - realises that his English has now become good enough to converse freely. "I just wanted to keep talking," he says joyfully. Of course, the moment at the Barclay's Center in New York City when NBA Deputy Commissioner drafts Satnam into the NBA is Satnam and the film's crowning moment.

Also featured in the film are individuals who have played a role in the life of Satnam or in basketball at large over the years, including NBA India's former Director of Operations Troy Justice, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, IMG Academy Basketball coach Dan Barto, IMG Academy and former India national team coach Kenny Natt, basketball agent Travis King, Secretary-General of Punjab Basketball Association Teja Singh Dhaliwal, owner of the Sacramento Kings Vivek Ranadive, VP of Kings' basketball operations Vlade Divac, Satnam's family, including his father Balbir, and many more. As I have been tracking Satnam's story closely for several years and offer an international perspective on Indian basketball, I was featured in the documentary as well.

Satnam Singh, however, is the of course the star of the documentary. Through old photographs, stories, footage, and the lead-up to draft day, the documentary paints the picture of a young man who stood up to the responsibility of shouldering a moment in history. Satnam says early in the movie, citing the responsibilities his father told he has for his family and India, that "It's a lot!" The documentary shows a humble young man going out into the big world of NBA basketball where everyone except himself seemed to have a well-carved space. Satnam, instead, created his own space, breaking through the giant wall with his 7-foot frame and coming out on the other side as an ever-smiling, ever-vulnerable, gentle giant.

Go and watch "One in a Billion" now! If you already know the story, it will open your eyes to understand the man in the middle, the details of his struggles, and the joy of his triumph. And if you don't know it yet, well, get ready for an inspirational tale, against all the odds, of an Indian star's success.

December 5, 2016

Second season of basketball talent search programme ACG-NBA Jump gets launched in India

Well, that escalated quickly.

A year ago, NBA India teamed up with ACG Worldwide to launch a first-of-its-kind talent search programme, the ACG-NBA Jump. Since then, the following things have happened:
- The NBA saw hundreds of young players from around the country and picked 32 for the Finals in Delhi, attended by former NBA coach Brian Shaw.
- Palpreet Singh Brar won the contest.
- With help from NBA coaches and rigorous training, Palpreet attended the NBA D-League tryouts.
- Palpreet became the first Indian to be drafted directly into the D-League.
- The NBA launched a massive Academy for elite Indian talents to boost up top-level talent from the country.

It's been a year of rapid growth for NBA India, and young Indian talents can now have realistic dreams of seeing their potential recognized, honed, and improved to take the jump to the next level of the game. Earlier this week, the NBA announced the schedule of the second season of the ACG-NBA Jump programme, to continue its efforts in finding the top Indian players and boost up their talent pool for their upcoming Academy, set to open in Delhi-NCR by April.

The second season of ACG-NBA Jump was officially launched at the Kalina University indoor court in Mumbai in the presence of former NBA champion Shawn Marion, who was in India this week to promote the game of basketball. The programme that commenced this year would go on to provide the top 24 prospects with scholarships and training at the recently announced elite basketball training centre.

"The ACG NBA Jump programme, a feeder to NBA Academy India, has potential and a great opportunity for all the kids here in India," said Marion, "I wish we had a similar setup when we grew up. I wish I can be here for the entire programme and see through the talent that comes through. I wish the participants in India make the most of the opportunity created by ACG and NBA. India has a bright future of basketball players."

"The top 24 prospects from this year's programme will have the opportunity to receive full scholarships and NBA-level coaching at NBA Academy India when it is scheduled to open in April," said NBA India's Managing Director Yannick Colaco, "I encourage players between the ages of 13 and 17 to visit to learn more about India's largest national basketball talent search to date."

The NBA has invited individual players to participate in the ACG NBA Jump Official Tryouts. The entire tryout session in 2016 consists of six sessions, across the span of a couple of weeks. The first session, which took place in Mumbai on the 3rd of December has already been completed. The ACG NBA Jump officials invite players from every school/ district/ city and state to come and participate in the tryouts. NBA scouts will be present at the tryouts, too.

ACG-NBA Jump Tryouts Schedule:
  • December 3, 2016 – Mumbai - Mumbai University Indoor Stadium, Kalina, University Complex.
  • December 10, 2016 – Chennai - Santhome School Indoor Stadium.
  • December 15, 2016 – Delhi - Thyagaraj Stadium.
  • December 17, 2016 – Ludhiana - Guru Nanak Indoor Stadium.
  • January 6, 2027 – Kochi - RSC Kadavanthara Indoor Stadium.
  • January 14, 2017 – Kolkata - WBBA Grounds, Red Road, Kolkata.

Eligibility criteria
1. Applicants should be born between 1st Jan 2000 and 31st Dec 2004
2. Competition is only for male participants

Check the ACG-NBA Jump website to register first, find out all the eligibility and registration details, and specific timings for each tryout in each city.

The second phase of the programme, a three-day national training camp, would culminate with the selection of the 24 prospects who would receive scholarships and training at NBA Academy India.

November 30, 2016

Former NBA champion Shawn Marion is matrixing it up in India this week


Back in 1999, in the good ol' days before the Y2K scare and smartphones, technology was a lot more mysterious and opaque for the average person with a Hotmail account. It was in these times that The Wachowski Brothers began to promote their upcoming, enigmatic film, 'The Matrix'. "What is the Matrix" asked the promos leading up to the movie; we didn't know anything about it, but we were told it was going to be something special, something futuristic, something intelligent, something difficult to understand. When it was released, it went on to become one of the most popular and influential movies ever, whilst still remaining special, intelligent, beyond easy comprehension.

What is the Matrix, indeed? In India, the film was released dubbed in Hindi as 'Mayajaal', the web of the Maya, or the illusionary world around us. It was a translation befitting the enigma and illusory shroud of the original. I saw the posters, but I regret never watching the dubbed version itself to hear whoever voiced Keanu Reeves's "I know Kung Fu" in Hindi.

Four months after the film's international release (so, probably right about the time we would've seen it in India!), the Phoenix Suns picked up a mercurial, hard-to-define, 6-foot-7 forward Shawn Marion with the 9th pick of the draft from UNLV. From his rookie season onwards, this forward showed that he could do a little bit of everything, score inside, outside, defend, dribble, attack, rebound, pass. In the time when the NBA was still strict about its positional definitions, he was a peak into the future, a player who excelled both at the physical and cerebral parts of the game, a do-it-all forward who has become the precursor to every small ball "big" that NBA lineups now thirst for (I'm looking at you, Draymond!).

Over the course of a successful - if a little underrated - sixteen year career, Marion became a multiple-time All Star and All NBA Third Teamer, played a crucial role for the mid-2000s Suns, one of the entertaining teams in history, and won an NBA title late into his career with the Dallas Mavericks. The 2005–06 NBA season in Phoenix was perhaps the best of Marion’s career. He was the only player in the NBA ranked in the top 20 in points, rebounds, steals, blocks, field goal percentage and minutes. He finished the season leading the Suns in points per game (21.8), rebounds per game (11.8), blocks per game (1.7), and steals per game (2.0). By the end of his career, he joined an exclusive four-man club in NBA history, which includes Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett and Hakeem Olajuwon, to record 17,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 1,700 steals.

Marion's game was something special, something futuristic, something intelligent, something difficult to understand. During pre-season of his rookie year, broadcaster Kenny Smith nicknamed him 'The Matrix', and it became his persona in the NBA forever.

Now, a year and a half after his retirement, Mr Matrix himself is in India to show us the Mayajaal side of that persona!

NBA India announced today that Shawn Marion will arrive in India on November 30 for a five-day visit of Mumbai. During his stay in Mumbai, Marion will be a part of the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme activities. On Thursday, December 1, he will chat with fans in India live on NBA India's Facebook page. He will visit New Delhi to conduct a Jr. NBA camp at the ITL Public School on December 2. Marion will be present at the inauguration of the 2016-17 ACG NBA Jump programme, which will take place on December 3, 2016 at Mumbai University Indoor Basketball Stadium, Kalina. He will feature on Sony Six’s Sunday show – NBA Around the Hoop – on December 4.

"I’m really looking forward to visiting India for the first time," said Marion. "It will be an incredible experience to interact and share my love and knowledge of the game with young Indian boys and girls."

By the time he retired in 2015, Marion had played for the Suns, the Miami Heat, the Toronto Raptors, the Mavericks, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. He will most be remembered for being the glue that kept together the mid-2000s Suns, which were led by Steve Nash and assisted - when healthy - by Amar'e Stoudemire. They were the original run-n-gun 'smallball' team, preceding the upcoming dominance of the Golden State Warriors, and Marion was the original 'tweener' forward capable of playing big or small (on both ends of the floor) as the lineup required. Although his numbers were down by 2011, he played an important role as a starter for the Mavericks squad that upset the Miami Heat 4-2 in the Finals to win the NBA championship.

November 26, 2016

Tamil Nadu Girls and Kerala Boys are 2016 Youth Nationals Champions in Hassan

It is a rare occurrence when both the boys' and girls' teams of the same state in India peak at the same time, but that was exactly the case with three states - Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Uttar Pradesh - over the past week in Hassan (Karnataka). All three states finished in the top three in both divisions at India's largest under-16 hoops meet, the 33rd Youth National Basketball Championship for Boys and Girls. The tournament concluded with the finals on Saturday, November 26th, as Tamil Nadu (Girls) and Kerala (Boys) won the last games of the week and emerged as champions at the city's Hasanamba Indoor Stadium

Organised by the Karnataka State Basketball Association (KSBBA) under the auspices of the BFI, the 2016 Youth Nationals featured 24 boys teams and 22 girls teams in the eight day tournament. Last year's washout had led the BFI to declare all the finalists as champions, so both the boys' and girls' divisions had two reigning champions each: Tamil Nadu and Delhi (Boys) and Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh (Girls).

This year, Tamil Nadu's Girls had an opportunity for sole ownership of the winner's trophy when they faced Kerala in the final. The only two undefeated teams thus far, Kerala and TN went toe to toe for the first two quarters of the game, and Kerala held on to a slim, 37-35 lead at halftime. TN turned things around drastically after the break, and took over the game: dominant efforts by Avanthi Vardhan (17) and S Pushpa (17) helped TN take a lead and stretch it to double digits, eventually to an impressive 82-66 victory. Shreekala R scored a game-high 27 to pace Kerala's efforts.

Kerala had better luck in the boys' final against Uttar Pradesh, where they turned a slow start into a dominant, blowout win. UP led 18-16 at the end of the first quarter, but it was all Kerala after that. Amal Reghu exploded for 33 points while Chacko C Simon (19) and Sejin Mathew (16) made valuable contributions to help Kerala win 85-51. UP's duo of Priyanshu and Bhagyansh Gulati scored 21 each, but they lot little offensive contribution from the rest of their squad in the loss.

Uttar Pradesh will go home happy, however, because in addition to securing silver in the boys' tournament, they won a bronze medal earlier on Saturday when their girls' team - led by the unstoppable Vaishnavi Yadav - blew out Madhya Pradesh 71-39. Yadav, a rising basketball star from the state, scored 39, matching MP's entire box score! Divyani Gangwal had 22 for MP. The boys' bronze medal game also was not a particularly close affair. After a high-scoring, tight first quarter (26-26), Tamil Nadu revved up their engines with the help of their duo M Arvind Kumar (30) and K Surya (23) to win 99-69. The Tomar brothers - Pratyanshu (22) and Prashant (16) - led the way for the hosts Karnataka.

The top three teams in both sections awarded cash prizes of Rs 75,000/-, Rs 50,000/- and Rs 25,000/- respectively. Numerous Karnataka State Ministers and Kannada actor/former MP Ramya (Divya Spandana) were present in the final. Karnataka's U18 girls' team - winners of the 2016 Junior Nationals in Puducherry - were felicitated.

Final Scores
  • Girls: Tamil Nadu (Avanthi Vardhan 17, S Pushpa 17, T Dharshini 13) bt Kerala (Shreekala R 27, Olivia Shaibu 13) 82-66 [16-18, 19-19, 21-11, 26-18].
  • Boys: Kerala (Amal Reghu 33, Chacko C Simon 19, Sejin Mathew 16) bt Uttar Pradesh (Priyanshu 21, Bhagyansh Gulati 21) 85-51 [16-18, 26-15, 26-10, 17-8].

Third/Fourth Place
  • Girls: Uttar Pradesh (Vaishnavi Yadav 39) bt Madhya Pradesh (Divyani Gangwal 22) 71-39 [10-8, 21-10, 26-13, 14-8].
  • Boys: Tamil Nadu (M Arvind Kumar 30, K Surya 23, T Prathap 15) bt Karnataka (Pratyanshu Tomar 22, Prashant Tomar 16, Srujan BK 13) 99-69 [26-26, 28-14, 22-20, 23-9].

Final Standings

  • 1. Tamil Nadu
  • 2. Kerala
  • 3. Uttar Pradesh
  • 4. Madhya Pradesh
  • 5. Maharashtra

  • 1. Kerala
  • 2. Uttar Pradesh
  • 3. Tamil Nadu
  • 4. Karnataka
  • 5. Rajasthan

November 25, 2016

Review: Greg Pearson's "Maybe Next Year" is for the sports optimist in all of us

At first, it seemed like an arbitrary decision. I liked the colours on Patrick Ewing's jersey on his old basketball card. I became enamoured with Allan Houston's baseline fadeway, Latrell Sprewell's cornrows, and Marcus Camby's tattoos. I saw a team carry out a series of upsets in 1999 to become the first eighth seed to ever make the NBA Finals. And, sitting in India thousands of kilometers away from New York, I decided to myself, "Okay, this is my team. Now, I like the New York Knicks."

Over the next few years, the surprise and elation of 1999 would turn into suffering and embarrassment, but, in a perverse fashion of strange self-misery, my liking of this team turned into love. I loved the Knicks even during the Tim Thomas - Keith Van Horn era, loved them when they traded for Stephon Marbury (my first NBA jersey!) and tried to make the Eddy Curry - Zach Randolph duo work. I cringed, but continued to love them even as Isaiah Thomas committed errors and sins, as the team sunk to bottom-status depths, and found small pleasures in the David Lee 'era'. I was boosted when the team signed Amar'e, elated when they got Carmelo Anthony, and downright ecstatic with Linstanity happened. I raised a sceptical eyebrow when Phil Jackson made Kristaps Porzingis the fourth pick and turned into a unicorn worshippers soon after the greatness of Lord Zingis Khan was understood. And throughout a 17-year period of playoff disappointments and ugly records, I continued to rock the blue-orange-white. The pain, I believed - that I still believe - makes the pleasure all the more worth it.

What seemed like an arbitrary decision has become a defining characteristic. My personality as an adult is permanently dyed with that blue, orange, and white. I've visited New York only a few times in my life, watched just one game at the Mecca of the Madison Square Garden, and yet, I feel worthy to celebrate the Knicks' history, cheer with every big win, and throw my hands up in frustration at every moment of sorrow. There is a sense of optimism in this type of irrational fandom, a hope that, if the present is bad, maybe the future will be better. Knicks have only won two NBA titles, both in the early 1970s, a decade or more before I was even born. And after every wasted season, I think to myself, well, hell, at least there's next years!

I divide sports fans into two distinct brackets, and the bracket they fall in go on to define their higher philosophy in life: the pursuit of success versus the pursuit of loyalty. There are sports fans who are promiscuous with their fandom, following success wherever it may lead them. And then there are those who stay faithful to one life, through its bitter pains and occasional joys, following one team no matter where it leads them.

In the newly-published book Maybe Next Year (McFarland, 2016), newspaper writer and editor Greg Pearson profiles the fans of the latter category in various North American sports, both professional and collegiate, to discover a thread of optimism that somehow keeps them going and keeps their spirits high, even during the worst of times. The book features more than 100 loyal followers of 23 teams, who explain their reasons for never giving up. One of those followers featured, in a New York State of Mind, is me!

Pearson's guidelines for choosing his fans was simple: he focused on teams that hadn't won a championship for forty or more years, covering a couple of generations of shared grief, often passed down from parents to children. Some of the memorable fanbases featured include the Detroit Lions, the New York Jets, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Cleveland Browns. In the basketball world, fanbases of the Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, and New York Knicks talked about their years of pain and optimism. Pearson also included the Sacramento Kings, who moved to the city 31 years ago but were saved from relocation through fan efforts and a purchase by Indian-born owner Vivek Ranadive in 2013.

The most pertinent chapter in the book is the first, which features on the Chicago Cubs, who hadn't won an MLB World Series since 1908. The Cubs serve as the book's opening, and perhaps, also its happy conclusion. The night before Maybe Next Year arrived at my doorstep, they defeated the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series and broke a 108-year title drought!

Reading through Maybe Next Year was therapeutic in a way. It made me realise that I am not alone: us loyal fans keep going through the ups and downs (mostly downs), no matter what the result. So the next time you jump on the bandwagon of the 73-9, Curry-Durant Warriors, tip a hat to those hardcore Warriors fans who lived through 40-years of near-misses, of Run-TMC, Chris Webber, Jason Richardson, the "We Believe" team, and Baron Davis. After decades of irrelevance, they found their year in 2015. The Cubs waited over a century for 2016. Perhaps, one day, our favourite teams will have their year, too.

November 24, 2016

Health, Wealth, and Ringzzz

Where I write Diwali greetings cards with Squad Goals for each NBA team.

This feature was first published in my column for on November 7, 2016. Read the original version here.

Photo courtesy: Ekalavyas. Image by Harshika Jain

It is of some fortune for NBA teams that the new season is starting off around the same time as billions of Indians around the world celebrate Diwali, the beginning of a fresh, new year. Just replace the LED lights with some diyas, tune down the sound of the DJ with some fireworks, and turn our attention to the demigods on the court.

Diwali is synonymous with greeting cards and large parcels of gifts, usually consisting of diabetes-inducing laddoos and addictive kaju-kishmish combinations, as friends pass on their good wishes to each other. Some need wishes of better performance in their exams, some for good health, and some for financial stability.

What wishes do the NBA teams desire? Of course, the ultimate goal of each team is to eventually win a championship (yes, even the 76ers, despite what seems like a ‘process’ as pain-inflicting and long as the whole of the kal-yug). But what are their realistic aims for the 2016-17 season? Every team, from the Warriors to the Nets, will start the season with the same record, 0-0. Where do they hope to go from there? With the new season and the new year on the Hindu calendar on the way, here are some of my wishes for each squad.

Atlanta Hawks: A new guest is in your house, a guest that calls your city his home. May Dwight Howard find peace in his hometown next to Paul Millsap, may Dennis Schröder not falter as the lead point guard, and may you survive the loss of Al Horford to remain a playoff contender in a rebuilt year for the Eastern Conference.

Boston Celtics: May the arrival of Al Horford from Boston bring you prosperity. The mantle for ‘second-best’ in the East is up for the taking, and we shower blessings for Coach Brad Stevens to figure out a perfect formula with the depth at his disposal to give you that mantle.

Brooklyn Nets: You suffer from lack of talent and lack of a future First Round draft pick. Wishing that you’ll do the decent thing to trade Brook Lopez away from his pain. When things look dark, put more wax in the diya for some optimistic light: at least you could get a season of semi-Linsanity with Jeremy Lin back in New York.

Charlotte Hornets: May Coach Clifford’s defensive intensity stay as consistent as ever, but for you to return to the playoffs, you will need Kemba Walker to have some help on offense, too. Hopefully the gods will fix Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump-shot so that he can master basketball as well as Arjun mastered the teer-kaman.

Chicago Bulls: You see that box of Diwali sweets that just rolled up to your house? Sure, the chocolates, bundi-wallah laddoos and barfis, look amazing right now, but remember that you can’t just have all the sweets, you need a balanced diet. You are blessed with the ‘Three Alphas’ in Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Jimmy Butler, but where is the outside shooting coming from? You are very intriguing, my Bulls, and a few healthy options in your diet could make you a surprisingly dangerous playoff team.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Your Diwali night was the ring ceremony, where you raised your banner and were celebrated as returning champions, and your Big Three of LeBron-Irving-Love is similar to the triumphant return of Ram-Laxman-Sita from Lanka. Lakshmi has been good to you in recent years. Your goal is to stay healthy, the East is yours for the taking but don’t underestimate it. Returning to the NBA Finals is a must, and after that, may you repeat your Ramayan once again with another title for Cleveland.

Dallas Mavericks: Here’s wishing that you don’t let people forget about you. You have a good coach (Carlisle) and a solid, if aging, backbone (Nowitzki). May your new additions – Barnes and Bogut – slide in seamlessly into the lineup, and your point guard – Deron Williams – show more consistency.

Denver Nuggets: Yes, you are sure to go through some of the bumps in the road. That is a part of youth, dear Nuggets. Don’t be down with failure this season, you must keep a long-term approach. May your brigade of exciting young players – Emmanuel Mudiay, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Jusuf Nurkic, Will Barton – grow into great talents. 

Detroit Pistons: May Guru Dronayacharya, I mean, Stan Van Gundy, be a positive influence on you and may Andre Drummond learn to make his free-throws. Many believe that you have the ability to become the surprise team in the East: my wish is that improved performances by Drummond, health for Reggie Jackson, and consistent outside shooting brings the chants of ‘DET-ROIT-BAS-KET-BALL’ back to the playoffs.

Golden State Warriors: Congratulations, for better or worse, you are heading towards a mythical season. Diwali is not a time for negative wishes, but so much negativity has been showered upon you recently that you must turn it into a feeling a revenge and retribution. You blew a 3-1 lead, the worst job of defending an advantage at home since Raavan in Lanka; nothing but a championship ring will be good enough. I wish great chemistry to Durant, Curry, Green, and Thompson and I wish for a historical season in the Bay.  

Houston Rockets: You do not need my blessings for offense: between Coach Mike D’Antoni and James Harden, you will have no trouble with the prosperity of points. But life is all about balance, my Rockets, and without defence, you can wave those post-season dreams goodbye. I wish to you the gift of more defensive intensity so that you are not just fun to watch, but successful, too.

Indiana Pacers: Count your blessings, dear Pacers, I’m sure only the intervention of Lord Dhanvantari helped Paul George return to the court and back to superstar status. I wish to you more continued health for PG-13 as he makes an ambitious bid for the MVP award. You are in arm’s reach away from the Eastern Conference Finals, and I wish that your role players – Myles Turner, Monta Ellis, Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young – can provide George the supporting cast he needs.

Los Angeles Clippers: I wish to you to stop complaining, dear Clippers. Sure, you’ve never been past the Second Round despite a wealth of talent, but you are blessed with a strong, consistent core of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan. You can be a legitimate challenger to the Warriors in the West: my blessings for you to figure out some team chemistry issues so you may finally make franchise history.

Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe has gone, crossing over the river from the Maya to the Atman, achieving basketball immortality and Nirvana. This is a good opportunity, young Lakers, for you to start over in the mortal with new deities to worship. Sure, you will lose a lot, but you should stay in track for a strong rebuild. May D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle, form a strong young core and the distractions of the great Swaggy P kept to a minimum. The latter will need some extra prayers.

Memphis Grizzlies: Lakshmi’s blessings of prosperity have been especially kind to Mike Conley, who now has the richest contract in the NBA. Times are changing in the league, but you remain the same. I wish for health for Marc Gasol, offensive output and shooting from Chandler Parsons, and for Conley to live up to his contract and make Lakshmi proud. May the dominance of the gritting and grinding era never end.

Miami Heat: Life has its ups and downs. A few years ago, you were blessed with the NBA’s best players, had championships, a great coaching and management staff, and weather to attract the top free agents. The top players are gone but you must count your blessings because all the rest is still intact. Starting new without a long-term loved one – Dwyane Wade – is never easy. I wish you a relatively painless rebuild.

Milwaukee Bucks: There are some curious creatures in the universe with the power to astonish, surprise, and leap into greatness with the finesse of a hiran. In Giannis Antetokounmpo, the ‘Greek Freak’, you have one such special creature, a hiran, I mean, a Buck. I wish you the best for the ‘Point Giannis’ experiment and for him to make a tantalising young duo along with Jabari Parker. You have my blessings to jump back to a playoff spot in the East.

Minnesota Timberwolves: This Diwali, I won’t offer you any good fortune: you already have been showered with luck by Lakshmi after adding Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and Coach/President Tom Thibodeau in recent years. But fortune is only half the job: now, you need to follow Guru Thibodeau’s lead and become the hardest working team in the NBA. A long-awaited return to the playoffs is near.

New Orleans Pelicans: Do you know that some souls have a third-eye chakra, a part of the brain that sees more than the physical realms of the two eyes, that can see into the people of humans and into the future of the universe. This is a very special gift, and you, dear Pelicans, have a special soul with the ‘third eye’ in Anthony Davis. His has the shape of a unibrow, but the results are the same: dominance. At times, the talent around Davis could make this season seem depressing: I wish continued health for Davis and consistent play from his teammates to make sure the future remains bright.

New York Knicks: One of the most contentious traditions of Diwali is gambling, and this Diwali, you have really gone for a high-stakes gamble, adding Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to a squad with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. I wish that all these maha-yoddhas mesh together to thrive in your holy triangle and you treat those long-suffering fans with deep playoffs action.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Don’t feel alone Russell Westbrook, the brother by your side has left you for Bay-area pastures, but you have some decent teammates around you: Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, and Enes Kanter. Perhaps no individual has as much pressure to carry team like Westbrook does. Hanuman moved a mountain, remember. Westbrook would himself say: “Why not?”

Orlando Magic: You confuse me Magic-wallahs. What’s up with all the bigs? Remember, the holiday season is a time of generosity, too, and each generous act returns to one with greater goodness. Trade away some players, give away some players, edit and sharpen your roster. You have a good coach in Frank Vogel and some interesting pieces – I wish Aaron Gordon develops into a star and you have some real jadoo in Orlando in the future.

Philadelphia 76ers: Remember, Diwali didn’t happen in a day. It took Ram, Laxman, and Sita the suffering of exile from their kingdom, a kidnapping, a battle, and a long stroll back to return to Ayodha triumphantly. You have been broken down, but every depth leaves room for a rebuild. Nurse your injuries and enjoy your precious gifts. I guess what I’m trying to say is: trust the process.

Phoenix Suns: Believe in your karma, Suns. A decade before the Warriors free-wheeling, three-point-shooting style revolutionised the NBA, you did it first and nearly perfected the art. You have an inexperienced team right now, but the fruits of your labour will come back to bless you in the future. Be patient. Devin Booker is the real deal.

Portland Trail Blazers: May Damian Lillard truly become an MVP-level talent and may your role players grow to greatness besides him. After the first three teams, the Western Conference is there for the taking; with Lillard as your leader, may you improve on your playoff performances from last year and even go a step further.

Sacramento Kings: I hope that when he inaugurated the new arena – the ‘Golden 1 Center’ – your Indian-born owner Vivek Ranadive decorated with ample diyas and agarbattis and held a grah-puja to court the blessings of all the gods. You are going to need it. The only true raja among those Kings is DeMarcus Cousins. May he find basketball nirvana in the league – even if it means a trade for him and a few new faces for you.

San Antonio Spurs: The last two decades have been your satya yug, a time where paradise has come on Earth, and you have enjoyed unprecedented, continued success. Now that the leadership of Tim Duncan is over, may the good times continue with Kawhi Leonard as your franchise player. May you be blessed with one more title and some much-needed smiles for Kawhi.

Toronto Raptors: You were blessed with a franchise-best season last year. How do you follow up with the rising expectations? You know what to expect from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but I wish that Jonas Valanciunas will develop into a game-changing center this year so you can continue to become an elite team in the East with a realistic chance of upsetting the Cavaliers.

Utah Jazz: Do you know the story of Satyavadi Harishchandra, an ancestor of Ram? At one time, he was a great, rich king, just like you were a great contender with Stockton and Malone. But by the manipulation of Vishwamitra, Harishchandra lost everything and spent years in suffering. You, our Jazzy friends, have suffered a lot in recent years too. But remember, Harishchandra’s tragic story had a happy ending, and he came to rule Ayodha. You have an uber-talented young core: may your tapasya pay off so you return to the playoffs and become one of the surprise teams in the West.

Washington Wizards: Listen, I get it, brothers fight, it’s been happening forever, from Pandavs and Kauravs to Cain and Abel. The tension between your talented backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal is worrisome but not unfixable. Without pukka-dosti, a good bond between your backcourt, your playoff chances will be dim. I wish you camaraderie and positive vibes for the rest of the season.