|Monday – January 27th, 2014|
|FINAL. INDIA WINS!|
Tomorrow as we wake up to a new day, all the leading national dailies will carry blown up pictures and reports from India’s cricket series against New Zealand, or perhaps columns dissecting the surprise Australian Open victory of an unheralded Swiss not named Roger Federer.
India’s gold medal triumph in the men’s basketball event at the Lusofonia International Games in Goa will be pushed to the margins. The papers will undoubtedly state that India won gold by beating Angola 77-70. They will also point out that Joginder Singh top scored with 18 points and Captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi scored 17. But this final win was never about the individual numbers.
Sometimes stats have to be thrown out of the window. One of the accepted thumbrules of basketball is that the team which rebounds consistently better and has higher number of shot attempts closer to the basket, usually wins the match. But there is also the saying that goes: rules are meant to broken. Today’s gold medal match was one such exception.
Angola had 85 field goal attempts, almost twice as many as India (45). They had three times as many shot attempts (59) inside the three point arc as compared to India (20). They also grabbed more than twice as many rebounds as India (68 rbs as against India’s mere 31). Yet, miraculously, India still managed to win.
Dig deeper into the stats and you find that Angola gifted away this match to India. They shot terribly from the freethrow line (19/41) and from beyond the arc (5 of 26). On the other hand, India made the most of its fewer offensive possessions. India connected on 13 of its 25 three point attempts (52%) and shot a respectable 69% from the freethrow line. Many of these freethrows and three pointers were made in high pressure situations late in the fourth quarter. While India seemed buoyed by the home support and elevated its game, Angola’s shooting seemed to wilt in the hostile environment of the Dr Shyam Mukherjee Multipurpose Indoor Stadium at Goa University, Taleigao.
Two of India’s starters, forward Yadwinder Singh and 7ft Centre Amrit Mann fouled out of the match. Captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi suffered a sprained ankle late in the second quarter. Inspirational veteran with the magical vision Sambhaji Kadam— India’s only true point guard, did not play this match due to a recurring groin injury. Despite all these adverse factors India still won.
Unlike the earlier league encounter between the two teams where India ran off to an 18 point lead by halftime, tonight both sides remained neck and neck with the lead changing hands as many as 11 times. 12 times the scores were tied. It was anybody’s game going into the final quarter, but only India managed to reach within and find that little bit extra to distance itself from Angola towards the end. That little extra for India came in the form of point guard Joginder Singh and Captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi , who made some crucial clutch three pointers and converted from the line to give India its first international tournament win in ages.
The Indian men took home a well deserved gold. Angola earned a fighting silver and Mozambique won the bronze, overcoming Cape Verde in the third place match earlier this afternoon. In the women’s section, Mozambique comfortably won gold after beating Angola in the final round robin league match. The young u-21 Indian women’s team had to be content with the bronze after finishing ahead of the bottom placed Macau China. (For details of India’s last league match against Angola, go here)
HE SAID SHE SAID- I
“Coming from a smaller city like Varanasi, I never imagined one day I’ll be leading the national team. There was this overwhelming realisation that we are playing in our home. If we can’t win here then we can’t win anywhere else! In the huddle before the game I told the guys to lay it all on the line. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose, but we must leave everything on the floor.”
-India’s 23-year-old Captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi
HE SAID SHE SAID- II
India Men’s Head Coach Scott Flemming in the post match press conference:
“I knew we had to play all the way to the end. I knew we had a chance, but they were playing well and it could have gone either way. I thought we executed a couple of our plays really well in the end, which gave us wide open shots that we knocked down. We struggled rebounding the ball which is partly our fault and partly because Angola is a great rebounding team. Although we were outrebounded, we shot better at the line and from the field. Just like last night (in the semifinals against Cape Verde) I thought we had a strong fourth quarter.
We can be a lot better. But how great it is to sit here with the gold medal and still say that we can do a lot better. There’s all this talk about the other teams being young, but we are a young team as well. Outside of Sambhaji Kadam (who is 35-years-old and did not play in this match due to a groin injury) and Yadwinder Singh, all our star players are 25-years-old or younger. So the best players in India are young and still improving.”
On playing at home
“Now they’ve had the chance to experience what it’s really like to be a home team with a huge crowd cheering for you. Unlike in colleges in the USA or in the NBA, international teams mostly play away from home, where home fans are few and far between. I’m glad our team has now got the taste of playing in front of large crowds in a packed arena. This was pretty new for all of them. I’m really glad for our players. These guys have been working hard for the last six to eight years but probably didn’t get enough credit. Now they have something they can really be proud of and India can be proud of.”
On India’s foul trouble early on in the match
“They did a good job of penetrating the basket. We are still working on our help defense. We were getting beat one on one and when that happens you need help defense. Our help defense was in place but we ended up committing some fouls trying to stop the penetration. One of the toughest things to guard is the drive-penetration. So most of the fouls against Amjyot and Amrit were as help defenders.
Amritpal had three fouls at halftime. Sometimes I don’t put players on the floor even if they have two fouls (at halftime). Amritpal and Yadwinder got their fourth fouls early and I had no choice but to sit them out. It’s risky to put guys back in too early as they could get fouled out by the end of the third quarter. In such situations you have to hope that your other guys step up. At times they did and at times they didn’t. But I thought (backup centre) Riken did well at the end and we got some good minutes out of Palpreet Singh in the beginning. You can’t just rely on your starters. You’ve got to use all your players and trust your bench. That’s something I keep telling Indian coaches as well. You have to keep legs fresh as long as you can. It was hard to do that with the guards today as we lost Sambhaji and we didn’t have a lot of depth.”
On point guard Joginder Singh’s three pointers late in the game
“He did that last night, and he did it again tonight. He is not the quickest or the most athletic guy around, but he’s smart and he’s a big shot player. When you need a shot, Joginder’s going to knock it down for you.”
Reasons for India’s poor rebounding
“We only had two or three practices before this tournament. So a lot of the fundamentals that I work on in these practices especially around defense and rebounding, we weren’t able to accomplish. To be honest, we are a lot smaller and thinner (than Angola). They (Angola’s players) have NBA type bodies. Even when we were trying to box them out, they were shoving us under the basket and the officials let it go. Some of it is our fault, but they are just big strong players. That’s something we have to work on in India. Our strength and conditioning programme has to continue and we have to get into the weight room and get bigger and stronger, so that we don’t get shoved under the basket. That’s why the major NBA and college teams in the USA lift all year long. In order to hold your position against a big 250 pound man you got to have strength, and they were pushing us under the basket like wet noodles at times.”
On India’s preparations coming into these Games
“You have to realise that we had 2-3 full practices before these Games. I found out about the Lusofonia Games a little over a month ago. We had a one week training camp in Mumbai during the Savio Cup. So they were practising with me for an hour, if you can call that practise. In reality, it was more of a walkthrough, because they had a second practise with their respective teams before their games at night. So we had very limited practise. We had two solid practise sessions here in Goa before the tournament. But we can’t work them too hard because they have to get ready for the game. We overcame a lot of things here. I was frustrated because we didn’t have a lot of prep time. I’m a coach who likes to be really prepared and ready and here I was throwing things in there as if it were a kitchen sink! Thankfully, the team responded well. It wasn’t perfect basketball by any stretch of imagination, but we managed to do enough to win.”
On his future with the Indian team
“It’s hard to answer that. I’m on a two year contract. So we’ll see what happens at the end of this year. There are a lot of things that I have to take into consideration. I love our players. I’ve learnt to love India. But I’ve got to look at my options. I never make promises that I don’t keep later. So we’ll see. Right now I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I’m here. So let’s leave it at that.”
On what this win means for the future of Indian men’s basketball
“The two things that I’ve been requesting (the Basketball Federation of India) for the last one year is: 1) better facilities to practise in consistently; 2) playing more games. Whenever we go to the Asian Championships we are competing against teams that not only have pro leagues in their countries, but they also play 30 to 40 preparatory games prior to the ABC (Asian Basketball Championships). Compared to that, India manages to get only three to four practise games under its belt. So that’s a big disadvantage. This is the first season that I know of that we’ve had such a midseason tournament (like the Lusofonia Games). Tournaments like these are a huge help because nine or ten of the guys here will be playing in the ABC later this year. Not only is it good that we played, but now we also have the confidence that comes from winning such a tournament. The players are starting to feel that “hey, India can be strong in basketball.” I know the tournaments we’ll play in later will be tougher than this. But hopefully this (win) is the first step to be more competitive in future tournaments.
Play by Play
(*note that all four teams below have already qualified to Level 1 and these matches are being held for the sole purpose of granting the two winning teams the right to choose their pre-quarter final opponent from level 1)
Girls: Kerala 60 (Nivya Raj 20, Anusha 19) bt Maharashtra 53 (Shruti 21, Neha 12) [21-11, 13-17, 13-11, 13-14]