India’s growing talent pool in basketball was on view at the Senior National championships held in Chennai recently.
Indian captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi proved his end-game skills in Uttarakhand’s league matches against Delhi and Indian Railways.
The championships also helped unearth an exciting talent in Arvind Kumar of Tamil Nadu. The 22-year-old, standing at just over six feet, leapt a foot or two higher and scored baskets through hook shots, layups, and made crucial assists. He played a key role in Tamil Nadu’s victory over Punjab in the final.
Possessing a calm and composed demeanor, Muin Bek was a delight to watch. His three-pointers were almost always on target for the host. The trio of Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh and Princepal Singh struggled midway but played well when it mattered to take Punjab to the summit clash.
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Veselin Matic, head coach of the Indian national men’s team, was happy with the Tamil Nadu men’s team, which he said rotated the players intelligently, giving opportunities to every player. “They had a proper one-month camp and didn’t allow their players to compete in any tournaments,” he said.
The 61-year-old, however, was not impressed with many teams in the Senior Nationals. He was of the view that many teams including those in the upper and lower pool came unprepared for the Nationals. He said most of the sides weren’t competitive enough and were there in the championships just to make up the numbers.
“This is not the way to develop players,” he said, while sharing his own plans for the national team. “Our objective is to play a quality game and be more competitive and challenge teams such as New Zealand, the Philippines, among others, by 2025,” Matic told Sportstar.
While Matic has spelled out his aspirations, Indian basketball administration seems to be groping in the dark.
There is no plan in place for a professional league, which would enable Indians to play alongside foreign talent and hone their skills.
The Indian National Basketball League, which is scheduled to begin on June 15, will be similar to the Federation Cup. It will feature the nine best men’s and women’s teams from the Senior National Championships. Officials agree that the grassroots basketball in the country is in dire need of improvement. The planned National Schools League this year, though belated, is a step in the right direction.
For the first time, the Basketball Federation of India changed the format of the National championships this year.
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There were two league rounds followed by knock-outs instead of one round and knock-outs. The new system gave another opportunity to teams that didn’t feature in the top two in the first round.
“This format was inspired by FIBA World Cup. Teams which come from far away states need one more chance to prove their worth. This is the best way to get all the teams motivated, “said Norman Issac, chairman, BFI Technical Committee.
Ramkumar, former India skipper and head coach of the Indian Railways, feels the best part of the Senior Nationals in Chennai was the involvement of the crowd, especially the school children. “It was nice to see kids come and watch basketball and cheer for every team. The Chennai Nationals was much better than many Nationals in many ways,” he said.
Grassroots promotion, unfortunately, is not given the priority, feels Ramkumar. “We don’t have Physical Education Teachers for a particular sport in schools. No matter what the sport, it should be taught passionately to children. The Khelo India Games is a good tournament where young players will be spotted and groomed.”
Ramkumar said a professional league is the need of the hour as it will provide the Indian player the necessary benchmark to assess their game. “In that way, the INBL 5×5 (for Indian players) announced by BFI is also good as players need more matches. A national-level hoopster needs 50-60 matches a year to improve. Whereas in a Nationals, a player can play a maximum of seven matches, which is not enough, “said the Dhyan Chand Awardee.
Trideep Rai, former India hoopster, feels Nationals will continue to have relevance as Institutions recruit sportspersons from the Nationals. But not many institutions across the country recruit hoopsters, both men and women.
According to Trideep, India needs more facilities like the NBA Academy in New Delhi. “They have good facilities, good coaches, good nutrition, a good gymnasium and the players are treated well,” he said.
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Trideep rued the absence of All-India tournaments in the north of India. “There was the Prithvinath tournament earlier. Now that too is not there. “
National camps, Trideep argues, are meant for 10-15 players. “What happens to other players? When there is a professional league like IPL in cricket you will have more young players coming into the sport. “
Jayasankar Menon, former India captain, said, “The only way to better the standards of Indian basketball is through a professional league.”
Jayasankar said the league should have a home and away concept that will encourage fan following, which will go a long way in the sport having a firm grip in the minds and hearts of its fans.
According to Jayashankar, the league will also open different avenues for past players like him. “I played for India for 11 years. But my experience is not used. If the league happens, new doors will open.
“The current Indian players have more fitness than the players of our era. But in terms of technique, there are no off-ball players who are really dangerous, ”he said.
There is a need for a major overhaul at the grassroots level. The BFI should also look to revive All-India tournaments across the country. Of course, a professional league is most desirable. The BFI’s cup of challenges is overflowing.