September 21, 2017

2017 SLAM Top 50: Al Horford, No. 41


Al Horford is poised to play a pivotal role for the new-look Celtics.

This article was first published in my #SLAMTop50 contribution for SLAMOnline.com on September 11, 2017. Click here to read the original piece.

This time last year, Al Horford was the new face in an established franchise, the big-name All-Star recruit to a young squad, where the rest of the pieces had already begun to fit. His role in Boston, after years of success in Atlanta, was to provide veteran savvy and star power to help the Celtics mature into true contenders.

A year later, as the Celtics made dramatic changes this past summer, Horford has quickly become one of the only enduring major pieces of the recent past, ready to adopt—and thrive in—yet another new role.

When Boston begins the new season against the Cavaliers in mid-October, Horford is likely to be the only regular starter from last year still in this season’s starting five. Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Amir Johnson—all of whom formed the framework of the Celtics’ starting unit last season—are gone. In come Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris, and the rookie Jayson Tatum, who join second-year swingman Jaylen Brown.

And then there’s Horford, Boston’s highest-paid player last season. Despite his credentials in Atlanta that included deep playoff runs and four All-Star appearances, Horford took a backseat while Thomas became the heartbeat and engine of the franchise. The duo—aided by a deep rotation of talented role-players—helped the Celtics to the best regular-season record in the conference.

Now, with the new arrivals to boost up the backcourt, Horford is likely to become the third option on offense for the Celtics. For a player who has been a multiple-time All-Star despite career scoring averages of “just” 14.3 points per game, the new role will suit him just fine. In Irving and Hayward, the Celtics have brought in two dynamic scorers that could become one of the League’s most dangerous offensive duos and score upwards of 50 points together per contest. With more tick, expect Brown to take a major leap this season, and rookie Tatum is already being compared to Boston’s last great swingman scorer, Paul Pierce. Under Brad Stevens’ leadership, the Celtics had a top ten offensive rating in the League last season. It might take a few months for Irving and Hayward to find their fit, but rest assured, scoring is not going to be their problem.

This is where Horford fits in. At 31, he is already the second-oldest Celtic, just behind the high-flying Gerald Green, and his experience will carry Boston while the youth come of age. Even though he has the potential to be get buckets for himself (he was the team’s third-leading scorer last season), Horford’s best basketball talents are more altruistic in nature. On the court, he is likely to be the Celtics’ most consistent performer even without taking a shot: grabbing boards, setting screens, finding the open man, and continuing to defend at a high level in the post. The best Horford teams—like the 2014-15 Hawks—operate with quick pacing, spacing, and ball-movement, with Horford serving as the big fulcrum that keeps the offense moving.

Indeed, Horford’s “fall” from 27 to 41 in the SLAM rankings is a serious demotion, and so is his role in the Celtics’ hierarchy for 2017-18. But if a player with his sense of leadership, poise, and multi-skilled talents is your squad’s third-best player, your squad is in good shape.

September 20, 2017

The Subramanian School of Punjabi Basketball Excellence: An Update


Amritpal Singh’s latest achievement adds to the long list of successes of the Ludhiana Basketball Academy

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas.com on September 10, 2017. Click here to read the original piece.

Photo collage courtesy: Ekalavyas.com

In the early 2000s, a diminutive basketball coach from Tamil Nadu worked his way up north the country, thousands of kilometres away, and found career nirvana in Punjab. It was here that the legendary coach Dr Sankaran Subramanian began to lead the Ludhiana Basketball Academy (LBA), recruiting talented but raw young athletes from big cities and tiny villages in Punjab. By the time he passed away in 2013, Subramanian had had an imprint in the rise of some of India’s most successful young basketball players.

And the feathers in the cap of the LBA’s alumni, just like the swishes in the basket of a sharp-shooter, continue to add up even a decade and a half since Subramanian’s first foray into Punjabi basketball.

This week, Punjabi seven-footer Amritpal Singh, one of the linchpins of India’s national basketball team, made history by becoming the first Indian-born player to join the roster of an Australian National Basketball League (NBL) squad. After years of success in Indian basketball and playing professionally in Japan, Amritpal got the biggest boost of his career when he was signed by the Sydney Kings, with whom he is guaranteed to play the 2017-18 NBL season.

It’s hard to imagine what the state of Indian basketball would be without the influence of its LBA alumni. The Academy has produced important international stars, NBA and NBA G-League draftees, professional players at home and abroad, and cult heroes. Here is a list of some of the biggest names to hone their craft at the famed indoor Guru Nanak Court of the Ludhiana Academy.

Amritpal Singh

Why not start with the man of the moment himself? Amritpal was born in the village of Fattuwal in Punjab, the son of a farmer, and used most of his athletic gifts ploughing the field or playing Kabaddi. At 19, he was finally introduced recruited to the LBA to be trained under Subramanian. Once he took to the game, Amritpal improved rapidly, graduated to the Indian national team, and has been a centrepiece of the national squad for the past six years, a stretch that has included India's historic wins over China at the FIBA Asia Challenge and the most recent appearance at the FIBA Asia Cup. 

The 26-year-old has played professionally in Japan in the BJ Summer League and for the Tokyo Excellence in the Japanese D-League in the past. After impressing the Sydney Kings in the NBL Draft Combine and with their invitational squad at the Atlas Cup in China, Amritpal was signed to the team to become the first Indian to be in the top-level NBL roster in Australia.

Satnam Singh

No doubt the most-popular name in Indian basketball internationally, Satnam’s well-documented “One in a Billion” story saw him rise from the unknown farming village of Ballo Ke in Punjab to become the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA. Satnam discovered basketball at age 10 and became a star for Punjab at the junior level soon after joining the LBA as an adolescent. The Academy gave him his early lessons in the game, and at 14, the teenage giant was recruited to play for the IMG Basketball Academy in Florida, USA.

After five years at IMG, Satnam, a 7-foot-2 center, declared for the NBA Draft in 2015 and was picked 52nd by the Dallas Mavericks. Since then, he has played bit minutes for the Mavericks’ G-League squad Texas Legends and for the Mavericks’ Summer League teams. The 21-year-old returned to the Indian national team for the first time since 2013 for the FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon this year.

Yadwinder Singh

“Yadu”, the son of a farmer from the small Punjabi village called Rasulpur Khurd, started his athletic career as a serious Discus thrower in school, before joining the LBA at age 16 as one of its first batch of recruits. Within a few years, he improved dramatically and found a place for himself in the Indian national side in the early 2000. The 6-foot-6 forward became an important role player for India with his famous bursts of energy and effort on court.

Yadwinder now plays for ONGC in Uttarakhand and for the Haryana Gold squad in the UBA league. He was one of the four Indian players to take part in the NBL Draft Combine earlier this year. Although a back injury kept him out of India’s most recent international outing, he is the team’s most consistent veteran presence.

Jagdeep Singh Bains

Jagdeep was the other athletic forward to form the first batch of recruits with Yadwinder. Originally born in Sri Ganganagar in Rajasthan, “Jaggu” was first a part of the Rajasthani junior state team before Subramanian recruited him to the LBA in 2002. An unstoppable scorer, Jagdeep played in many international tournaments for India and domestically for Punjab Police, before suffering a career-threatening injury in 2012. Fortunately, he made a glorious comeback to the game with the UBA League’s Mumbai Challengers in 2016.

Amjyot Singh

Chandigarh born Amjyot Singh’s first athletic obsession was cricket, but a High-School injury kept him out of the game for three months. During this time, his interest in basketball grew, and when he returned to fitness, he tried out for the school team. By 2008, Amjyot’s exceptional gifts in the game were clear: he was soon promoted to the national U16 team and recruited to the LBA. Now, he is India’s best offensive player and has been the team’s leading scorer in most of the international competitions over the last few years.

The 6-foot-8 25-year-old forward was besides Amritpal in their experiences in the Japanese Summer League, D-League, and at the NBL camps in Australia. Furthermore, Amjyot developed into one of the top-ranked Asian 3x3 basketball players in the world with his success for the Japanese Team Hamamatsu. Last year, Amjyot declared for the NBA’s G-League draft and will hope for another opportunity at the stage in the near future. At the domestic stage, he has represented IOB (Chennai) and the UBA’s Delhi Capitals.

Talwinderjit Singh “TJ” Sahi

Known affectionately to fans as “Air India”, TJ Sahi is one of the most athletic players that Indian basketball has ever produced. The 31-year-old point guard from Ludhiana comes from a family of athletes: his father is a Decathlon national record holder and his mother played hockey. Sahi, however, chose basketball, and in his journey of learning the game home and abroad, his paths crossed with the LBA, too.

Sahi has been in an out of the Indian national line-up for a dozen years, and is as popular for his dominant international scoring spurts as he is for his YouTube-breaking dunks. Currently, he plays for the Bengaluru Beast squad in the UBA League and was India’s lead guard (because of injury to Vishesh Bhriguvanshi) in last month’s FIBA Asia Cup.

Palpreet Singh Brar

Palpreet, a menacing, 6-foot-9 power forward from the village Doda in Punjab’s Sri Mukhtar Sahib district, studied under Subramanian in the LBA and secured his place behind Amjyot and Amritpal as yet another Punjabi post presence. 2016 was a big year for Palpreet, as he won the ACG-NBA Jump challenge to receive the opportunity to prepare and fly to the United States for the NBA G-League tryouts. He impressed several teams in the process, and became the first Indian to be drafted into the G-League when the Long Island Nets picked him 80th overall last October.

Palpreet was eventually cut from the team before training camp, but he is continuing his international basketball hustle, finding success in the international FIBA 3x3 state with Team Hamamatsu of Japan.

Kiranjit Kaur

Originally from Ludhiana, Kiranjit Kaur, is one of the most successful women players to have honed her skills at the LBA. Kiranjit, 29, played for India at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and various FIBA Asia Championships before switching sports to become an international netball player for the country.

Harjeet Kaur

Another success story from the LBA’s women’s coaching programme has been Patiala’s Harjeet Kaur. The 6-foot-2, 29-year-old forward represented India in various international competitions including the FIBA Asia Championship for Women in 2009 and currently works with the Punjab Police.

Loveneet Singh Atwal

Despite usually being one of the smallest players on court, 5’11” guard Loveneet Singh used his speed and energy to become a regular feature for India’s junior teams and make his senior debut, too.  The 21-year-old from Ludhiana was one of the finalists of the ACG-NBA Jump last year and credited the LBA for helping him develop his game despite not being gifted with size like some of the other top players out of Punjab.

Prince Pal Singh       

For a hint of the future talent coming out of the LBA basketball nursery, look no further than Prince Pal Singh. The 6-foot-8 teenager, the son of an electrician from Gurdaspur in Punjab, was discovered by the LBA at age 14. A year later, he excelled at an open trial event in Chhattisgarh to secure a $75,000 USD scholarship to the Spire Institute in Ohio, USA.


Now 16, Prince Pal continues to make rapid improvements in his game. He has joined the NBA Academy India, was recently selected for an elite camp in China, and was Punjab’s top starring player in their triumph at the Youth Nationals earlier this year.

September 19, 2017

ONGC to represent India at 2017 FIBA Asia Champions Cup in China: Roster, Schedule, and Preview


Asia's premier club basketball tournament - the FIBA Asia Champions Cup - will return this year for to be held in Chenzhou, China, from September 22-30, 2017. This is the second consecutive year that Chenzhou will host this tournament. Ten of the top club teams from different countries in Asia will take part in this championship. All matches will be held in the city's Chenzhou Sports Center.

China's CBA squad Kashgar - otherwise known as the Xinjiang Flying Tigers - will return to the tournament to defend their title from last year. Once again, India will be represented by Dehradun's squad ONGC, who won their fifth-straight title at the Federation Cup earlier this year. Despite featuring some top Indian talent, ONGC were ousted from the Preliminary Round stage without a win last year and finished tied for 9/10th place in the ten-team fray. ONGC have been drawn in the tournament's Group B.

FIBA Asia Champions Cup 2017 Groups
  • Group A: BC Astana (Kazakhstan), Mono Vampire Basketball Club (Thailand), Petrochimi (Iran), Sareyyet Ramallah (Palestine), Chooks-To-Go (Philippines).
  • Group B: Shabab Al Ahli (Dubai), ONGC (India), Al Riyadi (Lebanon), Dacin Tigers (Chinese Taipei), China Kashgar (China).

ONGC have finalised their roster, coached by their former star and former India captain Trideep Rai. The team is set to have serious cause for concern this year: their marquee talent Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, recovering from a serious knee injury from the BRICS Games earlier this year, hurt himself again at the '3x3 Road to Mexico' basketball event in Gurugram a few days ago. Big man Yadwinder Singh is back in action after an injury, while guard Arjun Singh will be another important player to watch. The squad's superstar big man - Amritpal Singh - has left the team to join the Sydney Kings of Australia's NBL.

ONGC roster for FIBA Asia Champions Cup 2017
  • Abhishek Rai
  • Mohit Bhandari
  • Vinay Dabas
  • Anoop Mukkanniyil
  • Riyazuddin
  • Arjun Singh
  • Vishesh Bhriguvanshi
  • Muralikrishna Ravindran
  • Udai Bhan Singh Rawat
  • Yadwinder Singh
  • Head Coach: Trideep Rai
  • Assistant Coach: Dinesh Kumar

The tournament will be held in league-cum-knockout format, with the top four teams of each group of five qualifying for the quarter-final stage after the preliminary round of round-robin games.

ONGC's Preliminary Round schedule - all timings IST
  • September 22 - Dacin Tigers vs. ONGC - 12 PM
  • September 24 - ONGC vs. China Kashgar - 5 PM
  • September 25 - Al Riyadi vs. ONGC - 7:15 PM
  • September 26 - ONGC vs. Shabab Al Ahli - 12 PM

Without Amritpal and with a Bhriguvanshi not at full strength, ONGC will find it difficult to compete against the more stacked squads from Chinese Taipei, China, and Lebanon. Their best chance at a victory, and a potential quarter-final spot, could be in their final game against Dubai's Shabab Al Ahli.

China Kashgar will once again be favourites to win gold this year, while Lebanon's Al Riyadi and Iran's Petrochimi could both pose serious threats to their crown.

September 18, 2017

Hamamtsu win inaugural '3x3 Road to Mexico' basketball event in Gurugram


Over the past few years, as 3x3 basketball has risen in stature, Team Hamamatsu have strongly established themselves as the most dangerous Asian squad in this shorter format of the game, and as one of the top teams around the world, too. Although they officially represent the Japanese city of Hamamatsu, the team is a collection of top desi talents of Indian, American, and Canadian origins. So, when India hosted their own major showcase of high-level 3x3 basketball, it was no surprise that the star-studded Hamamatsu squad once again rose to the top.

Last month, the first-ever international professional 3x3 basketball league was announced in India by YKBK Enterprise Pvt Ltd, a company who have won the exclusive rights from FIBA to hold the event in the Indian subcontinent. Although the league itself won't be held till next year, a special two-day 3x3 showcase event called the ‘3x3 Road to Mexico’ was conducted on September 16-17 at the Ambience Mall, Gurugram. Featuring 12 top teams from India, Japan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Maldives, this fast-paced tournament featured marquee national basketball stars like Amjyot Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Satnam Singh, TJ Sahi, Palpreet Singh Brar, and more.

In the tournament's final game, Hamamatsu won in an exciting back-and-forth battle against another Japanese squad, Yokohama, 20-19 on the back of strong efforts by Palpreet Singh Brar, Kiran Shastri, and Bikramjit Gill. As winners, they were awarded a cash prize of INR 4,00,000/- and an all-expenses-paid trip to participate in the FIBA 3×3 World Tour in Mexico City from September 30 to October 1, 2017.

The final round of the dunk contest was also held on Sunday, which was won by Ukraine's Dmitry ‘Smoove’ Krivenko.

Earlier in the semi-finals, Hamamatsu defeated Japan's Tsukuba 21-16 while Yokohama bested the Indian Ludhiana Basketball Academy 21-14 to enter the tournament's finale.

September 15, 2017

Sacramento Kings unveil Hindi logo with new alternative court


Ever since they finally cut ties with All Star DeMarcus Cousins in February, the Sacramento Kings have ushered in rapid changes to their roster. Out went Cousins, Rudy Gay, and Ben McLemore. In came new VP Scott Perry, Buddy Hield, and a fascinating mix of rookie talent and veterans, including De'Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles, George Hill, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph and Bogdan Bogdanovich. For a team that hasn't made the playoffs in 11 years, it was yet another attempt at a complete do-over. Over the off-season, the team introduced a new look: new logos, new jerseys, all new everything.

But the very help of the team - majority owner Vivek Ranadive - remains the same. Ranadive, famously, is the first Indian-born owner of an NBA team, and despite his best intentions to make the Kings into a global brand by being leaders in the a high-tech push, the team's on-court failures have cast a dark cloud over all other promotional efforts. Over the years, Ranadive has made a major push in trying to lure the Indian and Indian-origin fan-base to his team, including Bollywood Nights, the team's Hindi-language website, live-streaming a game on Facebook in India, and even signing the first Indian-origin player - Sim Bhullar- to play in the NBA for his fifteen seconds of fame.


This week, the team debuted their latest plans to reach out to India and China for their hope of global fan outreach. The Kings unveiled an alternative court design for the 2017-18 season. "The new black court," says the team's official website, "reflects the design elements of the team’s global marks, including new logos specific to India and China. As part of the franchise’s mission, the team strives to make basketball the premier sport of the 21st century beyond traditional borders."

Look closely at the court, and if you aren't yet distracted by the Lannisters-like new logo in the center, you will notice two smaller logos on each end of the court inside the three-point lines with the words 'राजा' (Raja), the Hindi word for 'King'. The Kings unveiled a similar logo in Chinese characters 国王 which is pronounced as 'Guówáng'.

The team will use these alternative court designs during the games when they wear their new 'global uniforms' at home at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. More details via their official website:

The team will use this customizable floor through the season when wearing the Global Uniform at home. Building a brand that connects with fans around the world will help create an authentic connection with emerging international basketball audiences, from the court up through jerseys, apparel and more.
International elements are present throughout the new design. For the team’s biggest global celebrations, Bollywood and Lunar New Year theme nights, interchangeable panels featuring a new regional logo – a Kings crown featuring the team’s name in Hindi or Mandarin – will be added to the floor. The Kings will use these marks, in addition to the primary logo in future India and China endeavors.

The team will utilize three courts this season – the purple hardwood design from the 2017-18 season will return when the team wears the Association and Icon Edition uniforms, the new black court will be in place during games with global themes and when the team suits up in the Global uniform, and a third court will debut during the season when the team’s fourth uniform is announced.

This is a cool idea I guess, although, once again, I don't see many Indian fans paying attention to the team just because they occasionally have a Hindi word on the floor of a (likely) League Pass game. The Kings have to start succeeding. In their new backcourt of Fox and Hield, they may actually have the start of a wonderful young tandem. It's a pity that they will be playing in the cut-throat Western Conference, because despite their improvements, it seems like it's going to be yet another season outside the playoff picture in Sacramento.

September 13, 2017

Hoopdarshan Episode 52: Amjyot Singh reflects on India's performance at 2017 FIBA Asia Cup


Last month, India sent a stacked roster to the FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon but returned disappointed, losing all three first round games. In Episode 52 of Hoopdarshan, one of India's finest basketball players and the team's recent captain - Amjyot Singh - joins hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok to talk about India's performances at the tournament, playing with Phil Weber evolving his individual game, Satnam Singh's role off the bench, and fired some shots at Chennai cuisine!

Kaushik and Karan also catch up on other news around the Indian basketball and NBA universe, such as India's U16 SABA victory, Prashanti Singh's Arjuna Award, Amritpal Singh's signing by an NBL team, and reflect on the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas trade.



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!

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September 9, 2017

India crowned youth South Asian Basketball Champions & qualify for 2017 FIBA Asia U16 Championship


With clinical brilliance, India's under-16 men's squad made no mistake as they blew past their opponents to win the 2nd South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) Championship in Kathmandu, Nepal, held from September 5-9. The triumph helped India showcase several of the country's exciting new basketball talents and secured the team's qualification for the larger challenge ahead: The FIBA Asia U16 Championship.

Held at Kathmandu's Dashrath Rangshala Stadium, the tournament was organised by the Nepal Basketball Association and included hosts Nepal, India, Maldives, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. India sent out a strong 12-man roster, coached by Vibhor Bhriguvanshi, of young players out of whom many had recently impressed at the Youth National championship in July.

India started the tournament in the most dominant fashion possible, demolishing the Maldives squad 152-17. India led 67-9 at halftime, went on a 49-2 run in the third quarter, and finished off the game with a 135 point victory. Rising stars Prince Pal Singh (31), Harshwardhan Tomar (20), and Binod Rajak (20) all contributed in this unreal scoreline.

India continued their hot streak on Day 2 against Bangladesh. Four Indian players scored in double-digits, led by Priyanshu's 32, in a comfortable 83-64 win. This was India's closest-margin of victory, and Bangladesh showed real life in the first half, but the Indian continent proved to be too strong after the break.

India faced hosts Nepal next, and were unstoppable once again, mostly because Nepal had no answer for the post-dominance of 6-foot-8 center Prince Pal Singh. Prince Pal dropped 45 points on the day to help India to a 106-39 victory. Abhisekh Singh scored 20 for Nepal in the loss.

On Saturday, India put on the finishing touches to their campaign, blowing past Bhutan to a 131-50 victory. Seven Indians scored in double digits include Prince Pal (20), Rajak (20), and Prashant Tomar (16).

Prince Pal Singh, one of the rising stars in Indian basketball, was named the tournament's MVP. India won every game by an average margin of over 75 points each. Players like Binod Rajak and Priyanshu also showed their potential. While Varanasi-born coach Vibhor Bhriguvanshi - elder brother of national team star Vishesh Bhriguvanshi - will be overjoyed with his first major international coaching experience.

India will now prepare for the FIBA Asia U16 Championship, set to be held in Malaysia later this year. Korea won the 2015 edition of this tournament in Indonesia, while India dropped to 13th place.