A few months ago, Telangana teenager Ambati Prudhvishwar Reddy made the news in Indian basketball circles, when his pathbreaking move to the Europe Basketball Academy (EBA) in Barcelona, Spain came to light. Reddy hopes to graduate from the Academy to become one of the first Indian players in the Euro League.
With limited professional opportunities at home, many young Indian basketballers are now exploring careers in foreign leagues. We caught up with the Head Coach of the Europe Basketball Academy, Mr Srdjan Premovic via an email interview, on what he saw in Prudhvi Reddy, how selections to the EBA work, and how he rates the potential of basketball talent in India generally.
What do you look for before choosing players in your academy?
When we are looking to intake player in EBA, for us it is very important that the player is serious about basketball. Those players that are having idea (sic) of joining our academy in Spain for any other reason that is not basketball related we recommend to choose some other program. We are the best basketball academy in Europe and we really insist on a serious approach every day because to be a basketball player means every day six hours of hard physical work and that is the only direction we show to our players.
Does it matter to you which country the player is from?
We are an international program unique in the world and we are proud to say that EBA was attended by players from more than 50 different countries from all 6 continents, so for us the only important is that the player is passionate about basketball. Where a player is from is not important as we believe that in every country in the world there are talented players who, with a lot of work and good competition, can reach a very high level.
Do you have any minimum height requirement for basketball players that you select to EBA?
Height is important for playing basketball but we should not forget that basketball is a running sport. In the last few years especially, it has become a trend that mobile players are considered more attractive for professional teams in Europe, since the game became much quicker and the tempo of the game is demanding better running players. So height is not crucial – it’s important but it’s not most important. More important than height is also what you can do for your team, so my advice for players is that they should not be obsessed with height.
What is the ideal age group for players to join your academy? Is there any age limit?
EBA is signing up players that are minimum 14 years old and players can be up to 28 years old. For younger players we recommend our academy development programs and for players that are older then 18 years we advice our professional programs or programs that can guide players towards getting scholarships in USA.
According to you, how many such basketball training academies are there in Europe where potential Indian kids can join?
As I said EBA is the best academy in Europe as we provide the best level of coaching, facilities, accommodation, nutrition, competition, health care and education. So we really can only speak about our academy as a guaranteed place where players will get first class basketball experience. The only academy that is comparable to EBA is IMG academy in USA but the difference is that our programs are 4-5 times cheaper then IMG programs and the level of competition we play against during the season is much higher in our academy as we play against top Spanish teams all the time and players can really feel what is top level basketball.
From what you have seen so far, what is your assessment (talent wise, fitness wise and maturity wise) of Indian players as compared to players from other countries?
To speak about Indian talent we can say a lot as you have billion people in India, so the potential of Indian basketball is amazing and EBA is very interested in Indian talent. Last season we had our first Indian player with us Ambati Reddy and through our nine month season we can say that he was one of best materials to work with. We never had problems, he never missed practice and his hunger for basketball was seen every day and we are sure you in India have a lot of good talented players. This season we will have five Indian players, so we are very happy that we will have continuity of Indian players in our program.
Indian players are not less talented than players from other countries, there are just objective reasons as to why this talent cannot be maximized. Lack of infrastructure is definitely a big problem because to develop talent you need minimum conditions and practice courts are one of the most important factors. Also what players from other countries have and unfortunately Indian players don’t is quality competition because without good organized competition you don’t have fans, if there is no interest of fans then you don’t have sponsors. Also, it is important for the media to follow basketball better, then overall interest for basketball in India will grow and you will get results. It is also important that for a country of one billion people, if you want to develop basketball you will definitely need more quality coaches and I really am glad to see Coach Flemming doing a great job. But if this trend is not continued and supported by BFI, one man can not turnaround things by himself. The results India made this summer are encouraging and I really hope this trend will continue.
How many years is the training for? What is the annual cost of training for players from India (all expenses included- travel, accommodation, food and education)?
Our nine month program is our longest program and matches with the duration of one school year. Our nine month program with all costs included costs 13387 EUR which is more less 10 lakhs in Indian money. In this price, accommodation in single room, three meals everyday, plane ticket and all basketball and education services are included.
Indians find the cost of living in Europe too high. Do academies in Europe offer any training discount for Indian players?
If a player joins EBA, he really don’t have other expenses in Europe regarding his support, as everything is covered in the price of the program. Our price is already one of the lowest, as for 49 EUR per day (more less 3900 INR per day) a player has accommodation, three meals, six hours of basketball daily in top level facilities with expert coaching, and everyone who has visited Barcelona in Spain can say that this is very good price. If players showcase good progress, in the 2nd year we may offer partial or full scholarship.
What according to you is the difference in training offered between Europe, USA, Australia or elsewhere?
The USA market is very crowded and if a player is not in the top USA programs they really can end up in medium or low level programs, and when they realise this it is usually too late and they end up losing a year. Indian players definitely are more suited to the European style than the American style, as in Europe, basketball is considered as team sport that is played with five men on the court.In Europe, players are trained to be able to play with others and not to play only individually by themselves and I believe that is major difference between basketball in the US and Europe. In Europe, players will be working more on fundamentals, shooting, one on one, pick and roll, playing without the ball and defense, while in USA, players will be working mostly in weight room and on one on one basketball.
Europe basketball is offering more complete preparation for players than USA and we in EBA are working everyday with a mission to create a complete player who is able to play on both sides of the court and also beyond the court is able to live his life and make decisions. Also, we work on the physical aspect everyday in weight room and we find this very important but we do not work to make our players look nice like they do in USA but to be able to use these physical abilities for basketball purposes. Body building and basketball need different directions of body development and our experts are developing our players from physical side keeping in mind what is important for basketball.
About Australian basketball: we have many players coming from Australia and since most of them have European origins their basketball prospective is closer to European than USA basketball. Generally Australian basketball is growing and they have very good sports institutes that are approaching basketball from a scientific aspect which I think is very good.
Why should young kids join Europe Basketball Academy?
Players should join EBA if they want to live a ‘basketball life’ everyday and if they want to reach high basketball goals. Our coaching, accommodation, nutrition, facilities, health care, education and competition is at a level that is way above other programs on the market and we have had players from more then 50 different countries from all six continents, which says enough about our range. Also, players should join EBA if they want to get a value deal: matching best service for best price.
What are the professional opportunities for trainees once they graduate from your academy? What is the minimum level of annual fees that a player can expect in Euro League, Chinese Basketball League or other important leagues in the world?
EBA is able to to provide a professional career direction or USA scholarship direction for players that complete our programs. We have a FIBA licensed agent as a part of academy staff that is taking care about the careers of our players in case a player is interested in a professional career. Of course to be able to play professionally, a player really has to reach an elite level and it is not just enough to come in academy and expect that all things will just happen on their own – working hard everyday is mandatory and depending on the level a player reaches after nine months, we will provide a suitable career start in Europe.
Regarding salary range in Euroleague and other major leagues in Europe, it can go from 30000 EUR until 3000000 EUR per season depending on the level of the player.
With respect to scholarships to play in USA: during nine months in Spain, players will be going through SAT preparation everyday as part of the program and they will have SAT test in Barcelona in approved SAT center. Also during the season, all games are recorded by our professional video staff, so every player will be presented in the best possible way to schools. We, as a leading academy in Europe, look to send players only in respected USA programs in NCAA division 1.
What is your message to Indian kids who wish to pursue basketball in Europe, and also to their parents?
To all Indian kids who are looking to play in Europe, I can say that if they see basketball as team sport, Europe is best place for them. In Europe they will learn how basketball is simple and that it is not most important how tall you are or can you jump high, but how you can outscore, outsmart your opponent and be more effective than him. To parents I would advice to support their children in their decisions and to let them make some decisions about their future because that is how you become grown up and mature. Among the billion plus people in India, I am very positive that there are many potential basketball superstars. I believe every year India will grow as a basketball country.
* This interview is the first in a series of proposed articles that will explore all the potential career opportunities for the benefit of the growing Indian basketball community. Readers, especially promising youngsters, are advised to treat these articles as purely informative and do thorough research with the help of their guardians and coaches before deciding to join any of these programmes.