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 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 on September 10, 2017. Click here to read the original piece.

Photo collage courtesy:

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.

September 6, 2017

Prashanti Singh joins the very short list of women’s basketball players with an Arjuna Award

This article was first published in my blog for The Times of India Sports on August 27, 2017. Click here to read the original piece.

The Arjuna Award is named after perhaps one the greatest sharpshooters in human mythology. Arjun, the great protagonists of The Mahabharat, was a famed archer and marksmen, and the modern Arjuna Award—instituted by the Indian government—has adopted a bronze statuette of Arjun in a pose of brief meditation before he readies to release the arrow off his bowstring.
This week, another phenomenal marksmen in a completely different field of sport will be getting her dues. Prashanti Singh, the former captain of India’s basketball team, will join the short list of Indian basketball players to win the prestigious Arjuna Award after over a decade of basketball excellence domestically and service to the national team. The 33-year-old shooting guard from Varanasi will become just the third women in history to win an Arjuna Award for basketball.
Singh comes from a family of basketball royalty, even though this royalty originated in a small town with a more strenuous path to climb the ladder of athletic success. Despite the odds, Singh and her sisters battled the traditional patriarchal society to produce an array of basketball stars for the country. Three of her sisters—Divya, Akanksha, and Pratima—joined Prashanti to star for Delhi at the domestic stage and play for India in international tournaments. Her eldest sister Priyanka played domestically and has been a NIS coach. The “Singh Sisters” of Varanasi remain some of the most popular and influential faces in Indian Basketball.
Prashanti Singh, also known by her nickname ‘Boskey’, is now the most decorated women basketball player in India, holding the national record for most number of medals (23) in national championships, most of which came for Delhi while she was an employee for MTNL.  She has represented the national team in the 2006 Commonwealth Games, the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games, and six FIBA Asia Women’s Championships (2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013), plus one more at the junior level.
Singh has had several memorable moments in the India jersey abroad. At the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Japan, she helped India defeat Malaysia to qualify for Level 1 of the tournament. Her personal highlight was the 35-point performance in India’s upset victory over Korea Samsung at the 2011 William Jones Cup in Taiwan. She also played a role in India’s best-ever FIBA ABC finish – fifth place at the ABC in Thailand in 2014 – in an overtime win over Kazakhstan.
With this honour, Singh becomes just the 20th basketball player in the country to receive the Arjuna Award over the past 56 years. What is more startling, however, is that she is only the third women to be bestowed this honour. In 1983, former national captain Suman Sharma became the first Indian women to win an Arjuna Award for basketball. Three years ago, Indian hoops legend Geethu Anna Rahul (formerly Jose) became the second.
Singh’s award, however, makes her the second basketball player in succession to get the Arjuna, and it sure to motivate young women around the country—no matter what their background and launch-pad might be—to pursue greater things in the sport. And she will surely not be the last. Already, the campaign has begun to consider the Indian basketball team’s current captain—Tamil Nadu born Anitha Paul Durai—to be the next player in consideration. Paul Durai has played in eight FIBA Asia Championships, played professionally in Thailand, and won medals for India in international 3×3 championships.
With the sport beginning to get more recognition in the country, there are a number of male players waiting in the flank for their name to be called, too. The current “Big Three” of stars in the Men’s national team—Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amjyot Singh, and Amritpal Singh—have been centrepieces for a relatively strong stretch in Indian basketball over the past few years. Another player to consider will be Satnam Singh, who became the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA in 2015.
Currently, Basketball lacks far behind Hockey, Cricket, and Football when it comes to the prestigious national honour, but as the sport continues to grow in India, look for more Prashantis to be in line for the future.

September 5, 2017

Team India heads to Nepal for 2nd South Asia U16 Basketball Championship

This week, the youngest players to sport an Indian national basketball jersey will get their first opportunity to represent the country at the international stage. The 2nd U16 South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) Basketball Championship will be held in Kathmandu, Nepal, from September 5-9, 2017. India will be among five teams from the South Asian region to take part in this tournament, which will serve as a qualifier for the upcoming FIBA Asia U16 Championship later this year.

Organised by the Nepal Basketball Association, the tournament will feature hosts Nepal, India, Maldives, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. Sri Lanka withdrew from participation before the beginning of the tournament, so instead of a group stage followed by knockouts, the entire tournament will be held in round robin formats for the five teams, and the top finishing team will be declared champion. India will start as favourites, even though we did not participate in the previous (2015) edition of this tournament.

Recent youth standouts and big man duo of Punjab's Prince Pal Singh and Madhya Pradesh's Harshwardhan Tomar are likely to be India's leading performers at this event. India will be coached Vibhor Bhriguvanshi, the experienced coach of the Uttar Pradesh and Varanasi teams. He will be assisted by Babu Davis and accompanied to Nepal with manager Kulvinder Gill.

Team India for 2nd SABA U16 Championship
  • Prince Pal Singh
  • Binod Rajak
  • Harshwardhan Tomar
  • Mani Thakur
  • Ajmer Singh
  • Gaurav Sheoran
  • Priyanshu
  • Jerom Prince George
  • Prashant Tomar
  • Nitish Beniwal
  • Vigneshwar Upadhyay
  • Rajveer Singh Bhati
  • Head Coach: Vibhor Bhriguvanshi
  • Assistant Coach: Babu Davis
  • Manager: Kulwinder Gill

India's Schedule for the 2nd SABA U16 Championship - all timings IST
  • September 5 - India vs. Maldives - 1:15 PM
  • September 6 - Bangladesh vs. India - 12:45 PM
  • September 8 - Nepal vs. India - 1:15 PM
  • September 9 - India vs. Bhutan - 10:45 AM

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

September 3, 2017

BIPA president Gajendra Singh Shekhawat is one of nine new ministers in cabinet reshuffle

Gajendra Singh Shekhawat grew up around basketball, playing the game at the Inter-University and National stage in his youth. As he became a prominent politician in the country, he continued to have close ties to the game and this year was officially named as the President of the Basketball India Players Association (BIPA).

Now, the former baller is in the news again: Shekawat was among the nine new faces that took oath on Sunday during the third reshuffle of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's new cabinet. A technology-savvy farmer, Shekhawat has been made the Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.

Shekhawat is a Lok Sabha MP for the BJP from Jodhpur, Rajasthan. He is a Member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance and Chairperson of the Fellowship Committee. Apart from being the BIPA president, he is also currently is a Member of the All India Council of Sports.

The BIPA was officially launched earlier this year, uniting several Indian basketball legends with the mission to promote the game, support former players, and start a nationwide school league in India.

August 31, 2017

Indian Basketball star Amritpal Singh has been signed by NBL's Sydney Kings

For those searching for the ultimate desi Cinderella story, the tale of 26-year-old star Amritpal Singh is even stranger than fiction.

At age 18, Singh, the son of a farmer from a small town in Punjab, had never held a basketball. By 22, he had become the captain of India's national basketball team. At at 26, he has taken his boldest step forward it: he will become the first Indian to be in a roster of a team in the Australian National Basketball League (NBL).

On Wednesday, August 30, the Sydney Kings officially signed Amritpal Singh, making the 7-footed center the first Indian-born player to be contracted to an NBL team following changes to the rules that allow for these nationalities to play as unrestricted players.

Earlier this year, Singh's teammate with the Indian national team and ONGC (Uttarakhand) Vishesh Bhriguvanshi signed a training contract with the Adelaide 36ers.

Sydney Kings Managing Director Jeff Van Groningen said it was a significant signing for the club and Australian basketball. "We welcome Amritpal to our organisation," said Van Groningen. "We take our responsibility as a member of the global basketball community very seriously and endorse the NBL’s focus on ‘bridge-building’ with those that share an interest and passion for our great game both in India and within the Indian community here in Australia. We are excited at what Amritpal can contribute to the Kings as a strong, rebounding big man and we look forward to contributing to his rising career. He is young in the game but secured this opportunity through hard work and professionalism."

Singh has served as captain of the Indian national team, most recently in the India's gold-winning triumph at the 2017 SABA Championships in Maldives. Domestically, he plays for the Pune Peshwas of the UBA Basketball League and was employed by ONGC in Uttarakhand. Over the past few years, Singh has had his share of professional experience abroad, as he played in the Japanese D-League and BJ Summer League. Earlier this summer, he impressed NBL scouts at a Draft Combine and Melbourne and was given an opportunity to train with the Kings. He traveled with the Kings' invitational squad to China for the Atlas Cup and helped them win the competition with his big performances.

Sydney Kings Head Coach Andrew Gaze, a former legendary player in Australian basketball, said he was excited to work with Singh. “Amritpal was a very strong contributor to the Kings offseason program, particularly during our invitational tour to China," Gaze said. "His rebounding was a major factor that allowed us to win the Suzhou event, and he also picked up our overall playing philosophies and schemes quite quickly."

"He's got great athleticism, runs the floor, got good hands, got good shooting touch," Gaze told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday. "He's got great size. Last season, one of the major deficiencies we had was our rebounding. He rebounds the ball really well."

The Kings found their most successful stretch in the NBL in the early 00s, when they won a three-peat of championships from 2003-2005. They have struggled in recent years, however, and finished second-to-last in the NBL's standings last season.

The Sydney Kings begin their National Basketball League 2017/2018 season with a game on Saturday, October 7 against the Adelaide 36ers at Qudos Bank Arena. But before that, Singh will be initiated to the team in the highest-level possible, with a pre-season game against the NBA side Utah Jazz on October 2. It will be his first time playing against this high level of competition, which could include a potential matchup against the 'Stifle Tower' Rudy Gobert.

Singh 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 to the famed Ludhiana Basketball Academy (LBA) and their late head coach Dr S. Subramanian. Once he took to the game, Singh improved rapidly, graduated quickly the Indian national team, and has been a linchpin 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.

"He's a good athlete, and he comes from a relatively small town in his area with not a lot of resources to refine his skills," Gaze told the Sydney Morning Herald. "It's testament to his work ethic and his love for the game and passion that he's been able to make this type of progress."

More from Gaze's interview with the Herald.

"You can't use one of those spots just for some token reasons or for marketing, there's none of that, as a coach I wouldn't do that, he's absolutely here on merit," Gaze said.
"We've got to keep this in perspective, he's got a long way to go. This is not the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon, he's a player I believe has huge upside.
"He's a quick learner, he's got a good IQ, he's got a good instinct for the game, a natural instinct. He's got a lot of upside on the basis he's only been playing the game for five or six years."

Singh will join a roster in the Kings that includes swingmen Kevin Lisch and Brad Newley, both of whom made the All NBL Second Team last season.

Singh's unlikely journey to the Kings took one last minor speed-bump, when the riots in his home state of Punjab earlier this week put the entire area in a curfew and caused him to miss his flight abroad. Singh arrived late to Sydney, but now, he is ready to contribute and start on a whole new chapter in his basketball life.

August 29, 2017

Prashanti Singh receives the prestigious Arjuna Award for Basketball

It's finally official.

Prashanti Singh, the 33-year-old shooting guard born in Varanasi, was conferred the prestigious Arjuna Award by the President of India Ram Nath Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on National Sports Day, August 29. Singh was among a list of 17 Indian athletes to receive the Arjuna Award on Tuesday, from sports including Cricket, Hockey, Paralympics, Golf, and more. Former hockey captain Sardar Singh and Paralympian javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia were given the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awards. The Arjuna Awardees received statuettes, certificates and cash prize of Rs 5 lakh each.

With her accomplishment, Singh becomes the 20th Indian basketball player to receive the Arjuna Award and just the third woman on the list. The last Indian basketballer to receive an Arjuna was also a woman: Geethu Anna Rahul in 2014.

Singh is now the most decorated women basketball player in India, holding the national record for most number of medals (22) in national championships for Delhi while she was an employee for MTNL. She has represented the national team in the 2006 Commonwealth Games, the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games, and six FIBA Asia Women’s Championships (2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013), plus one more at the junior level. Last year, Singh and her sisters were given the Rani Laxmi Bai Award in Lucknow.

August 23, 2017

On Kevin Durant’s comments and India’s misplaced outrage

This article was first published in my blog for The Times of India Sports on August 13, 2017. Click here to read the original piece.

First of all, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Kevin Durant’s comments about what he saw in India were ignorant and lacked perspective.

Secondly, the outrage that has followed his comments in India has been totally misplaced and out of context.

Here’s the backstory: a few weeks ago, Durant, one of the world’s most-talented, richest, and famous basketball players, came to India on an official trip with the American National Basketball Association (NBA) to promote the sport in the country. Durant was the crown jewel of the NBA’s investments in the Indian market. A few months ago, he won his first NBA title with the Golden State Warriors and a Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. He divided opinions among fans for his decision to join the talented Warriors last year, but nobody can deny his talent and potential to be remembered as one of the greatest scorers in league history.

Even though basketball is a niche sport in India, Durant was welcome with enthusiastic support and hype. After spending his first evening meeting with Bollywood and sports celebrities in New Delhi, Durant got to work the very next day. His foundation donated two basketball courts to the Ramjas School in New Delhi and he interacted with young schoolkids at the courts’ inauguration. Later, he headed to the NBA’s state of the art elite India Academy in Greater Noida, where he trained several of India’s top teenage basketball prospects. Durant’s time at the Academy ended up as he was joined by hundreds of more young players from the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme, as well has a few thousand who checked-in via a live-stream from around the country, to create a Guinness World Record for “largest basketball lesson” (3,459 attendees). 

Before leaving India, Durant took a standard tourist pilgrimage down to Agra, where he visited the Taj Mahal. He documented his entire trip, from trying out local cuisine to hanging out at the Taj, in a short video on his YouTube channel.

So far, so good.

The trouble began with Durant returned home to the United States and was interviewed by Anthony Slater of The Athletic. It was a wide-ranging conversation that touched on his decision to take a pay-cut for the Warriors, the NBA’s summer transactions, and more. But it was what he said about India that caught the attention of the mainstream media in India.

Q: First of all, India. You just got back. What was that like?

DURANT: Um, it was a unique experience. I went with no expectation, no view on what it's supposed to be like. I usually go to places where I at least have a view in my head. India, I'm thinking I'm going to be around palaces and royalty and gold — basically thought I was going to Dubai. Then when I landed there, I saw the culture and how they live and it was rough. It's a country that's 20 years behind in terms of knowledge and experience. You see cows in the street, monkeys running around everywhere, hundreds of people on the side of the road, a million cars and no traffic violations. Just a bunch of underprivileged people there and they want to learn how to play basketball. That s— was really, really dope to me.

Q: Was there a particular situation or person or thing that was eye-opening on the trip?

DURANT: Yeah. As I was driving up to the Taj Mahal, like I said, I thought that this would be holy ground, super protected, very very clean. And as I'm driving up, it's like, s—, this used to remind me of some neighborhoods I would ride through as a kid. Mud in the middle of the street, houses were not finished but there were people living in them. No doors. No windows. The cows in the street, stray dogs and then, boom, Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world. It's like holy s—, this was built 500 years ago and everyone comes here. It's just an eye-opener.

Now, Durant didn’t “need” to answer straightforward questions about India with this much frankness and detail, but he is known to be a fairly open guy and not afraid to say what he believes is the truth, even if it might ruffle some people the wrong way. Most foreign celebrities would have answered the questions with the token “It was a beautiful country” and “I loved how nice the people were” answers. But no, Durant chose to say what was on his mind.

But by being this frank, Durant put himself at risk of sounding extremely ignorant, which he did. I won’t expect every American to know the differences in riches, culture, and lifestyle between India and Dubai, but Durant was an ambassador for the NBA to India and should have known better. India is infinitely complicated and it’s impossible for the most-learned expert on the country to describe in a few simple soundbites, let alone a 28-year-old American athlete who has spent most of his waking moments perfecting the craft of basketball instead of catching up on international cultures and history. This is why most visitors are advised against going off the script.

The reaction by many Indians, as expected, was to take quick offense (we’re getting better at that by the day). Around the world-wide-webs, mainstream media houses that rarely report on the positives of the sport and its athletes found the type of outrage they were looking for, and people began to write open letters to Durant to make the usual “Incredible India” pitch.  

Durant swiftly responded, and a day later, apologised on Twitter.

Sorry that my comments about India were taken out of context, I’m grateful for the time I’ve got to spend there and I’m really pissed about how my comments came off, that’s my fault, should’ve worded that better. I spoke about the difference between my imagination and reality there is in Delhi and about where the game is compared to the rest of the world. No offense from this back, I’m coming back out there for more camps and cool shit. Sorry…

Later in the day, his manager and partner Rich Kleiman cleared the air with The Times of India to say that Durant had an “amazing time” in India.

What should we make of those careless comments and the apology that followed? India is neither “palaces and royalty and gold” nor “20 years behind in terms of knowledge and experiences”. It’s a bit of all and none of the above. It all depends on where you go, which Indians you ask, and ultimately, who your tour guides are. India isn’t “just a bunch of underprivileged people” and not full of homes without doors, of mud, and monkeys and cows roaming everywhere as Durant may have made it sound to others ignorant to the country reading his comments.

Born in Suitland, Maryland, Durant has experienced poverty and a close periphery to crime in his youth, too, but he had probably never seen the challenges that India faces in trying to move forward with a population four times as large in a landmass one-third the size of his country. Uttar Pradesh, the state where the Taj Mahal sits, in particular, is India’s most populous and one of its poorer states. If it were a separate country, UP would be the fifth-most populous in the world.

Durant’s comments were ignorant and insensitive, especially since celebrities and role models of his influence in 2017 have been forced to limit their thoughts to the lowest, most-politically-correct, common denominator. If anything, I hope that this situation forces him to learn more about India’s culture and history, and learn that, even if we might be behind in infrastructural development, there is goodness in the country that has enriched the world in so many different ways. Hopefully, he’ll fulfil his promise to return for more “cool shit”, whatever that might mean.

But the larger issue here for me is the misplaced outrage that followed Durant’s comments. I was born and bred in UP, too, and if Agra culture-shocked Durant, he should’ve seen the sensory-overload that attacks visitors to my hometown, Varanasi. It is simultaneously one of the most beautiful places on Earth while one of the most difficult.

It is easy for us as Indians to take these wild contradictions for granted. Many of us only wake up to care about India’s serious issues when we see them from foreign eyes. So many of us are okay to only care about the problems in our own home when an outsider embarrasses us to do so.

There is some truth to all of Durant’s observations. Agra may have one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but it is still a relatively underdeveloped city with a lot of poverty and crumbling infrastructure. Overall, 22 percent of Indians live below our self-defined official poverty line. Yes, there indeed are monkeys and cows running wild in many Indian cities, there are people indeed suffering, people who are poor, too many people without proper access to the basic human needs of food, shelter, and clothing.

Our outrage as Indians shouldn’t be about Kevin Durant speaking about India’s poverty; it should be about India’s poverty. I’ll quote my friend and podcast co-host Kaushik Lakshman who wrote that, “if taking offense was an Olympic sport, we’d win gold every time.” If we really want things to change, let’s turn this pent-up energy towards some positive change. 

August 21, 2017

Australia become first-ever FIBA Asia Cup champions in Lebanon; Disappointing India ousted in First Round

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) wanted to inject a greater sense of competitiveness in their continental championships in Asia and Oceania. So, for the first time ever, they simply combined the two, and made a massive rebrand of the event with the first-ever FIBA Asia Cup 2017 over the past few weeks in Beirut, Lebanon. The Cup introduced a couple of powerhouse teams to the crowded Asian fray, and in their first-ever appearance against this new competition, Australia ran rampant to win the gold medal with a crowning final victory against Iran on Sunday.

Team India, despite sending a full-strength team on paper, suffered from injuries and lack of full preparation, and returned from Lebanon winless and ousted at the preliminary group stage.

The FIBA Asia Cup featured 16 of the top senior men's teams from Asia and Oceania in the first-of-its-kind tournament held from August 8-20 at Beirut's Nouhad Nawfal Stadium. The tournament determined the composition of the joint FIBA Asia and FIBA Oceania qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

Australia and Iran both stormed into the final of the tournament undefeated, setting up a mighty clash at the top. But once the ball was tipped into play, it was the 'Boomers' that took complete command. Australia opened with a 12-2 run in the first five minutes and a commanding 43-26 lead by halftime. Led by Brad Newley (18), they cruised in the second half to a 79-56 victory. Iran's star center Hamed Haddadi finished the game with 18 in the loss.

Haddadi, who led the tournament in rebounds and even assists, ended up winning the FIBA Asia Cup MVP, his fourth Most Valuable Player trophy in this tournament.

Earlier in the day, Korea were led by Ung Heo (20) to defeat New Zealand 80-71 and win the bronze medal. Finn Delany (22) and Reuben Te Rangi (18) were the leading scorers for NZ in the loss.

India’s performance at the tournament turned out to be a dud. The team's recent improvements, the presence of our “Big Three” Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh, and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, the return of NBA draftee Satnam Singh, and even the coaching of NBA veteran American coach Phil Weber didn’t help in propelling the team to better results.

India were drawn in Group A of the tournament's preliminary round with eventual semi-finalists Iran, Jordan, and Syria. Their campaign in Lebanon got off to an ominous start from the beginning against the powerhouse Iran squad. India were supposed to be heavy underdogs anyways, but few expected how flat the team performed on the day, especially on the defensive end. The duo of Haddadi (20) and Mohammad Jamshidi (18) led an unstoppable Iran attack en route to the 101-54 win. Only one Indian player (Amjyot Singh) touched double digits on offense. To add insult to injury, star guard Vishesh Bhriguvanshi - still hampered by his knee injury from the BRICS Games - was ineffective in the game and was benched by Coach Weber for the rest of the tournament.

India improved in the next game against Jordan, who were playing without their star import players, and stayed close from wire to wire. But India couldn’t capitalise on Jordan’s shortcomings, and without Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, made silly errors at crucial moments to fall to a 61-54 loss. Mousa Alawadi led Jordan with 22 in the win, while Amjyot was again India's leading back with 17.

Most disappointing for India was their final group game, against Syria. It was a game of two halves, as India dominated Syria in the first period and even held a 19-point lead early in the third quarter. But an epic collapse followed, and Syria turned the game around in the second half to reverse the score and knock India out with a third consecutive defeat, 87-78. Ivan Todorovic finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds in Syria's win, while the duo of Michael Madanly and Tarek Aljabi added 18 each. For India, Arvind Annadurai (20) and Amritpal Singh (17 points, 13 rebounds) both played well in the first half but went ice cold in the second.

India finished the tournament 0-3 and didn't qualify for a chance at the knockout stage.

A number of issues led to India's disappointing tour in Lebanon, but Coach Phil Weber pointed out that the two biggest problems were the team's lack of preparation/conditioning and a hole in the guard position. Hired only a month before the team was to fly to Beirut, Weber simply didn't have enough time to work with the full team, and many of the players were far from being in game shape. Bhriguvanshi's injury led the squad rudderless without a backcourt leader, and his backup TJ Sahi was also inconsistent because he had missed a major chunk of action in the recent past due to injury, too. A major let-down was Satnam Singh, who was out-of-shape and played a limited, backup role for the team.

Amjyot Singh, the captain of the tournament, led the team in scoring (13.0 ppg) and assists (4.3 apg) and was one of the squad's few bright sparks. Amritpal Singh had the team's best efficiency rating and led them in rebounds (8.7 rpg). Arvind Annadurai did a good job in his role while 17-year-old point guard Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi showed potential that he could rise to be an answer for the team in the PG position in the future.

Final Standings
  • 1. Australia
  • 2. Iran
  • 3. Korea
  • 4. New Zealand
  • 5. China

All Tournament Team
  • Fadi El Khatib (Lebanon)
  • Hamed Haddadi (Iran) - MVP
  • Sekeun Oh (Korea)
  • Mohammad Jamshidi (Iran)
  • Shea Ili (New Zealand)

August 20, 2017

First 3x3 pro basketball league coming to India next year; showcase event planned in Gurugram next month

Progress and development isn't always a straight line - or in basketball terms, a straight drive to the open basket. Sometimes, offenses need to find creative ways of moving forward, to use new tactics, to approach the same solution from different angles.

For Indian basketball, that new angle has come through the launch of a first-ever professional 3x3 basketball league. India has a short-term UBA pro league but still no full-time 5x5 league for basketball professionals. On Saturday, the international pro 3x3 league was officially announced in New Delhi by YKBK Enterprise Pvt Ltd, which has the exclusive rights from International Basketball Federation (FIBA) to create and implement the league in the Indian Sub-Continent.

While the League is tentatively scheduled for next year, a special two-day 3x3 showcase event called the ‘3x3 Road to Mexico’ will be conducted on 16th & 17th September at the Ambience Mall, Gurugram.

Six international and six leading Indian club teams have been invited to participate in the 3BL, including India's ONGC, IOB, Railways, Services, Ludhiana Basketball Academy and Vijaya Bank, and visiting squads from overseas such as Hamamatsu, Alborada, Yokohama (all three are city based teams from Japan), the Malaysian National Team, Sri Lanka President’s Team and a side from Maldives.

"3x3 is not only FIBA's second official discipline and will be played in Tokyo 2020 at the Olympics, it moreover is the number 1 urban team sport in the world," said Robert Reiblinger, FIBA 3x3 Development Manager, at the league's launching press conference at the Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi. "Therefore, India with its plenty of metropolitan areas has a sheer unlimited pool of athletes and talent to offer. Indian teams have had their fair share of success already in 3x3 on continental national team level and Indian players raised some eyebrows on global level when they pushed their team last year to the finals of FIBA's 3x3 World Tour Final. FIBA is very excited to now have with this event as a direct World Tour Qualifier that will take India to the World stage again."

Also present at the launch ceremony were Yoshiya Katoh (YKBK Enterprise Pvt. Ltd. – Chairman), Rohit Bakshi (YKBK Enterprise Pvt. Ltd. – CEO), Neha Dhupia (Indian Film Actor & Host), Jyoti Jindal (Jindal PreFab – Managing Director), and Jitender Yadav (Pragati Infra Solutions Pvt. Ltd. – CEO & Founding Director).

Apart from cash prizes to the finalists, the winning team at the ‘3x3 Road to Mexico’ will receive an all expenses paid trip to participate the FIBA 3x3 World Tour – Mexico City from 30th September to 1st October 2017.

"We are excited to bring FIBA 3x3 Basketball to the Indian subcontinent and are committed to keep pushing this fast paced urban sport into many cities in the region," said Katoh. "'3x3 Road to Mexico' will be a new opportunity for players, spectators and fans alike to get their first taste of 3x3 Pro Basketball League action. 3BL will create grassroots 3x3 basketball and will be building 3x3 basketball courts across the Indian subcontinent."

The 3x3 format of basketball has come a long way in recent years and will be held in the Olympics for the first time in 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. India has enjoyed relatively betters in 3x3 in recent years at the international stage.

August 18, 2017

Can a strong Team India make waves at the FIBA Asia Cup? I interviewed Coach Phil Weber to preview our chances

This article was first published in my column for on August 7, 2017. Click here to read the original piece.

In recent years, almost every Indian basketball performance abroad—positive or negative—has been accompanied with an asterisk. Due to injury or other professional concerns, India have often been short of a couple of big names in the lineups. In international tournaments therefore, India either played well despite missing out some important players or, or struggled because they were short-handed.

In terms of personnel, that asterisk cannot apply any longer. When Team India step out on court against Iran on August 9 at Beirut’s Nouhad Nawfal Sports Complex for Asia’s most prestigious basketball tournament—the FIBA Asia Cup 2017—they will be doing so with theoretically their strongest roster ever assembled. The tournament, held in Lebanon from August 8-20 this year, will feature the top basketball squads from Asia and Oceania competing for the title and for the qualifying spots at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup. India, who have been improving gradually over the past few years, seem prepared – on paper, at least.

India has been drawn in Group A of the FIBA Asia Cup, along with Asian powerhouse and FIBA Asia Challenge champions Iran, a dangerous and higher-seeded team from Jordan, and Syria, who are—in terms of ranking—the weakest team in the group. In the last major continental tournament—the Challenge in Iran last year—India finished 7th and produced their best performance in 27 years. That tournament, however, featured many sides sending out slightly weaker teams; India will get no such breaks at the FIBA Asia Cup this time around.

India’s roster announced by FIBA in early August includes our “Big Three” of Amjyot Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, and Amritpal Singh. Over the past few years, this trio has been instrumental in helping India to respectable performances at the FIBA Asia Cup and the FIBA Asia Challenges. Individually, their career has jumped into the fast lane, as all three have flirted with professional opportunities abroad. Bhriguvanshi became the first Indian to be signed to an NBL (Australian league) contract. Amritpal is close to an NBL squad himself as he spent the preseason with the Sydney Kings. Amjyot has been India’s most successful players at the international 3x3 basketball circuit

Added to this cocktail of talent is the biggest name, who has been missing in national team action since 2013, Satnam Singh. In 2015, Satnam made history by becoming the first Indian citizen to be drafted into the NBA and has played bit-minutes for two years in the NBA’s G-League. His return presents interesting new directions in the team’s potential.

Joining these four big names are players like TJ Sahi, Rikin Pethani, Arvind Annadurai, Muin Bek Hafeez, Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi, Prasanna Sivakumar, and Anil Kumar Gowda. The only marquee names missing from the list are Palpreet Singh Brar (who was drafted to the NBA G-League last year) and long-time veteran Yadwinder Singh (out with back injury), but with a roster so rich in size, India would have barely had space for more bigs, anyways.

The cherry on the top of this roster is the head coach and NBA veteran Phil Weber. Weber, who has been an NBA assistant coach for nearly two decades and will be in the New Orleans Pelicans’ front office when he returns to the States later this year, was hired by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) in early July to lead the team forward at this important tournament. He will be bringing with him years of elite-level basketball experience and a tactical understanding of that game that should immediately create a more demanding playing environment for the team.

And if everything looks theek-thaak and fantastic on the squad, India should be cruising in Lebanon this week, right?

Well, not exactly.

A strong roster, in this case, isn’t necessarily a sure-fire precursor of strong results. According to the Head Coach, many of India’s top players came into camp extremely late due to injuries and other professional duties. Bhriguvanshi, India’s best back-court player, suffered a serious knee injury at the BRICS Games in China a few months ago, and only got his first taste of action in Weber’s lineup a week before the FIBA Asia Cup. Amritpal and Satnam joined the team late and missed last month’s William Jones Cup because of their other obligations. And a couple of other players did not arrive in full game-shape for the challenge ahead, Weber adds.

“It’s a challenge right now,” says Weber. “I wish I had had everybody together because, right now, [I feel like] a painter without the colours before he puts all paint down. Probably our best player, Vishesh has been hampered and is coming back from a knee injury. Amritpal has practiced only a few times. One constant has been AJ—Amjyot—he is a very good player and has been working harder than probably anybody we’ve had here.”

“We had some guys who basically didn’t come in the shape they needed to,” adds Weber. “But since they’ve been here, they have worked hard. It’s probably my background that has not allowed me to feel good, compared to what I’m used to coaching. But I know we have a long way to go. And we’re gonna work hard and try to put everything together.”

India’s advantage is size. The Men’s national team is loaded with a logjam of frontcourt riches, featuring Amjyot, Amritpal, Satnam, Pethani, and Annadurai. With a variety of skillsets and experience levels, these big guys will ensure that India will have the tools to go up against any frontline in the continent.

“We are probably going to be one of the biggest teams going in with Amritpal and Satnam,” says Weber. “I’d be foolish not to go into the post with them and run certain actions that will maximise their abilities. As coaching staff, all we can do is what the players’ strengths are and minimise or try to hide their weaknesses.”

The real problem for India, however, lies in the backcourt. Bhriguvanshi is the only Indian player with All-Asia talent among the guards. Over the past few decades, guards have been faster, stronger, better shooters, and more athletic. A team with great big players will only be half as useful if it doesn’t have creative and talented options in the backcourt, too.

After a short absence, uber-athletic point guard TJ Sahi returns to the team, and will prove valuable for his pace and scoring ability. Coach Weber also shared positive feedback about two relatively newer faces: Anil Kumar Gowda, who played well at the William Jones Cup, and 17-year-old Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi, who has made rapid improvements in practice.

It will ultimately circle back to the “Big Three”, however. India’s past success came on the back of the individual brilliance of Bhriguvanshi, Amjyot, and Amritpal, and going forward, these three are likely to remain the strongest pieces on Weber’s offensive chessboard.

“We just want to be efficient offensively,” Weber says. “In order to do that we have to have our three best players involved in the actions. We want ball movement and quick decisions... Our benefit is that we have Amritpal, Vishesh, and Amjyot, and all three really know how to play… We’re going to have quick ball movement, and want our main guys to be in the action, and the other guys to be very smart in spacing the floor – spacing will be huge for us.

“Defensively, we will emphasize defensive transitions and matchup of course: all the basics, which are fundamentals... We’ll mix up our defences because I don’t believe we’ll have the depth to go ten deep.”

Weber, who has had the experience of working with some of the best basketball players in the world including Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins, is rightfully cautious of projecting the potential of the Indian talent he has seen at camp so far. A strong team on paper can only perform if all those pieces to be healthy, fit, and gelling together at the right time.

Last week, India’s Women’s team ended the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup at home in spectacular fashion, winning the Division B final on a last second shot to enter the higher tier. Despite basketball on the whole getting lesser attention than other sports in India, this victory was greeted with great jubilation by fans, even though it was only a promotion game. If anything, the reaction has taught us that Indian fans are yearning to see our national teams succeed, and any positive result could go a long way in promoting the sport.

So, which Team India will we see in Iran? The stacked, giant, confident squad with three superstars and Satnam Singh, ready to shock the continent? Or a team that is too rough around the edges to go deeper into the tournament? With tip-off only days away, this is certain to be one of the most-intriguing outings for Indian basketball in recent history.