By tradition, India’s senior national basketball championship – or the ‘Senior Nationals’ – are held in the transition period between one calendar year and another. Although there have been exceptions on the schedule every now and then, for most of India’s finest hoop players, the New Year’s celebrations have been held in preparation or during intense basketball competition.
This seems fitting: if you’re Indian and you worship the great gospel of basketball, then the Senior Nationals are clearly the most important domestic event on your annual calendar. For India’s top basketball players, coaches, referees, managers, and fans, the start of every New Year is a chance to get together and reflect on what matters to them the most.
The turning of the calendar from the old to the new is also a time for resolutions; for us to make promises to ourselves, set goals, and use the opportunity of a fresh slate to take a fresh approach towards betterment. With the 65th Senior National Basketball Championship (in Bhilwara, Rajasthan) concluding earlier this week, it’s a good time for the Indian basketball fraternity to make some resolutions, too.
What should be the milestones for our top players, teams, and stakeholders of the game? Here are 15 New Year’s resolutions for Indian basketball in 2015:
1. Parents support at basketball events. The irony for many young players with basketball aspirations in India is that the biggest roadblock in the realization of their dreams isn’t always talent or opportunity: its family. Traditionally, Indian parents have been hesitant to let their children chase a career in sports (or creative arts). In recent years, however, the trends have been improving, and more parents are showing support for kids with ‘alternative’ career prospects. The support has to begin at a young age, and I hope that more Indian parents appear in the audience at basketball events organized by the BFI/IMG Reliance (like the Indian School/College Basketball Leagues) and the NBA (like the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme) to give the youngsters the encouragement they need. It’s these kids who will eventually become the future basketball stars of India.
2. India’s best players get offers to play professionally abroad. The only Indian players to play for professional clubs abroad have been Geethu Anna Jose and Anitha Paul Durai. But there is a lot more potential in India, and it’s only a matter of the right kind of exposure to provide opportunities to our young and rising stars. Players like Amrit Pal Singh or Amjyot Singh are top talents and could definitely benefit other professional leagues in Southeast Asia, Australia, the Middle East, or even Europe.
3. More Geethu Anna Jose, please! She’s now a proud winner of the Arjuna Award and probably the greatest basketball player India has produced for the last few decades. But Jose has taken a semi-hiatus from basketball. Even though she may not be the dominant force she was until a few years ago, I believe that the 29-year-old still has a lot to contribute to Indian basketball and can carry our national team and Railways to greater heights.
4. Satnam Singh Bhamara plays NCAA basketball. Bhamara exploded on to the scene as a talented 7-footed teenager, completing an incredible journey that started in a tiny Punjabi village and took him to the IMG Basketball Academy in Florida. Bhamara is reaching the end of his tenure at IMG, and the possibility of NCAA basketball might beckon in the future. If he makes it to Division 1, he could be the first Indian national to do so.
5. NBA Jam and Reliance Foundation expand to more cities. It was a marquee year for NBA India, as both the NBA Jam and the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme expanded to more Indian cities, reaching more young players than ever before. NBA India’s Senior Director Basketball Operations Carlos Barroca told me that the NBA has big plans for future expansion: hopefully, they can take their coaches to train Indian coaches and players in more cities than ever.
6. India’s Men’s NT repeat FIBA Asia Cup wonders at Wuhan again, at the FIBA Asia Championship. India performed a Wonder at Wuhan in July, defeating Asia’s top side China for the first time, and did so on their home soil. In September 2015, Asia’s best teams will head to Wuhan again for a bigger tournament: the 28th FIBA Asia Championship (ABC). India’s performances at the FIBA Asia Cup were great, but a repeat of that performance at the ABC will raise pride for Indian basketball more than ever before back home and give another grave warning to India’s other continental rivals.
7. India’s Women shock the ‘Big Four’ at FIBA Asia Championship for Women. FIBA Asia Women tournaments are a ‘quad-poly’ between four top teams: China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, and Korea. These four teams, in some order, always finish in the top four at the Women’s FIBA ABC events. In 2013, India won a ‘Level 1’ FIBA ABC game for the first time (against Kazakhstan) and finished fifth, their highest ever rank in the tournament. This year, I hope we dare to dream bigger and manage to defeat one of the top four, thus getting a chance to enter the semi-final stage for the first time in history.
8. New male/female stars rise at the U16 FIBA Asia Championships. 2015 is also the calendar year for the next U16 FIBA Asia Championships for both boys and girls. This tournament will be the first major international championship for India’s finest youth players, and it will be the first chance to learn of new names that will one day become mainstays at our senior level. If India is going to find the big breakthrough superstar that makes the NBA or WNBA level one day, we could get the first glance of that star at one of these tournaments.
9. The NBA sends a superstar to visit India this summer. As India grows as a market for the NBA, visits from NBA or WNBA’s current or former players have become a common occurrence in recent years. The NBA usually sends retired legends during the season and uses the offseason as an opportunity to send a rising talent (like Isaiah Thomas in 2014) or an All Star (like Chris Bosh in 2013). Here’s hoping that the summer of 2015 brings a super-duper star (of the Durant-LeBron-Kobe calibre) to the country.
10. Indian basketball games make it to national/cable TV more often. DD Sports – when they have nothing better to show – will dabble with broadcasting Indian domestic tournaments or occasional international games. But in 2013, when Neo Prime broadcast the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, it was the first time that an Indian basketball game – domestic or international – was shown on cable TV in India. Ten Sports/Action broadcast the 2014 Asian Games basketball tournament, too. The move to cable brings more professionalism and better production value to the games, and thus are more eye-catching to both casual and serious fans. Hopefully, the 2015 FIBA Asia Championships (for both men and women) are picked up by cable channels so that a wider audience will be able to catch India’s top players in action. It’ll be a bonus if the domestic national tournaments make the jump to cable, too.
11. Local fans flock to watch national tournaments around the country. No matter how much the organization off the floor and the talent on the floor improve at national basketball tournaments in India, one thing that has stayed unfortunately constant has been the general apathy of local fans. At most national tournaments, the fans in the stands (until the final stages, at least) comprise usually of players from other teams at the event. At the Senior Nationals in Bhilwara, there were sizeable crowds for the outdoor court matches and during the semifinals and finals. Hopefully, the momentum can carry on to the other nationals for the rest of the year, too.
12. Basketball associations in various states sort out their troubles. 2014 was a year when basketball associations in various Indian states – like Maharashtra, Goa, and Jammu and Kashmir – struggled with internal issues, which in turn affected the growth and potential of the rising talents in those states. Hopefully these states – and others particularly in the North-East of India who haven’t earned BFI affiliation – can smoothen their internal differences and find a way to showcase their best at the national tournaments in 2015.
13. Improve the infrastructure, bring FIBA and NBA over. India has a few decent basketball arenas and has been a host to a FIBA Asia Women’s tournament in the past, but we still have a long way to go to match the stadiums in some of the other Asian countries. I hope that various cities around the country shift their attention on helping the growth of sport and invest on building bigger and better arenas. Out in Sacramento, Vivek Ranadive, the Indian-born owner of the Kings, has long-professed his desire to bring his team to India for an exhibition game, but NBA-level infrastructure has been the major speed-bump in his plans. With better infrastructure, it is more likely for FIBA to choose India for a major tournament again and for the NBA to hold India’s first-ever exhibition game soon.
14. More international exposure games for National teams. A common complaint by India’s national team coaches Scott Flemming and Francisco Garcia in recent years has been that our squads are being sent to Asia’s top tournaments untested and completely unprepared. Unlike other countries, India keeps missing the opportunity to take part in ‘friendly’ games or smaller tournaments before the big FIBA Asia Championships. These games give a chance to the coaches to figure out their systems, test their lineups, and help improve team chemistry. Hopefully, before the 2015 FIBA Asia Championships, the BFI are able to secure international practice games for both men and women to help them raise their experience and comfort-level before the bigger challenges ahead.
15. Launch an Indian professional basketball league. I’ve argued in great detail before about how a professional basketball league could revolutionize hoops in India. The trickle-down effect of the league will benefit our players, coaches, referees, and fans, and would eventually help India’s national team performances. Since their relationship IMG Reliance began, the Basketball Federation of India have been discussing and doing the groundwork for the launch of this league for several years, but so far, none of the theoretical thoughts have produced practical results. IMG were instrumental in launching football’s ISL’s in 2014, and hopefully the success of that league will help create a blueprint for an Indian basketball league to finally be launched in 2015.