Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, the captain of the Senior Indian Men Basketball team hails from Varanasi, or ‘Kashi’ as it is alternatively known by many. He was a diehard football fan and was introduced to the game by his elder brother at the age of 13. Thereafter, he started playing in the grounds of U.P College which has produced many other India players like Trideep Rai, the Singh sisters, Arjun Singh etc. It didn’t take him very long to make it to the Junior Indian team in 2006 and three years later he was amongst the top 10 scorers at the Asian Championship in 2009.
Locally he plays for the ONGC, Uttarakhand team, which is currently the country’s best club side.He has had a major role to play in almost all their victories.
He also played a huge part in India’s win over China last year. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that this Varanasi boy is a gem for Indian basketball. He has brought great honour to this country through his dedication towards the sport.
We made him relive the moment when he started playing for the Indian team, the historic victory over China, Satnam Singh’s NBA leap and the future of basketball in India:
How long has it been since you started playing basketball?
You are probably the youngest player to have made it to the Senior Indian team ever, how did it feel at that moment? Was it a big transition from the Junior to the Senior level and what difficulties did you face at that time?
“Anybody who makes it to the Senior Indian team for the first time faces difficulties and I did too. I was the youngest in the squad and it was very natural that it took me some time to adjust because the level was definitely high. But, after two tournaments of sitting out, I started making it to the playing five.”
As the captain of the national men’s side, do you feel some additional pressure while playing against Asia’s top teams like China or Iran? To be more specific, what was going through your mind in those final seconds of the match against China last year? How did you guide your team mates at that moment?
“I do not worry too much and take no additional pressure. When I am on court, I do not think of myself as the captain or try to over think any situation. All that I care about is playing well and winning every match that I play. During that match against China we played well in the first half and Coach Flemming told us to continue that in the second half too and so there was a little bit of pressure. Apart from that I just told my team mates to continue doing well because we only had a few minutes left on the clock and we had a very fair chance of winning if we put in our best. As it turned out, everyone did so and we won the match. The best part of playing with that squad was that everyone listened to whatever I said even if I was wrong.”
Since you’ve been playing for the country for years, and you recently led a junior NBA camp, what in your opinion does Indian basketball lack which is keeping its players from moving forward and how do you think that can be changed?
“One thing I realised after the junior NBA camp was that the children in the age group of 13-16 years were really good and even more talented than older I really think they can do wonders in the future if given proper guidance.
For instance, we have the SABA Qualifiers and before that a camp is conducted for 15-20 days after which the team leaves and they are expected to do well. In my opinion a training camp of this kind should be held from time to time for this (13 to 16) age group under foreign coaches so that they can develop at the grass root level and perform better. If this actually happens, there is no way in which Indian team won’t do well in the future.”
Just a few days back we heard the news about Satnam Singh’s NBA Draft and basketball suddenly caught the attention of a huge number of people. Do you think it’s a boon for Indian basketball? If yes, how do you think it can change the scenario of basketball in the country?
“In our country it is not wrong to say that no other sport is given as much attention as cricket. For example, just yesterday Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa won the Canada Open but, people hardly took any interest in this news. It’s a good sign for basketball in India that Satnam made it to the NBA and people are actually acknowledging the fact, the news made the front page and media took a lot of interest in it. I think with his achievement hopefully more people will get inspired to do the same.”
It was a shocking news for everyone to hear about Coach Scott Flemming’s resignation since the Indian team was doing wonders under his guidance. He seemed like he would change the condition of basketball in the country. What do you have to say about his sudden resignation? Do you think it has got something to do with the tussle within the federation?
“It was shocking for me too as a player. His resignation is a very big loss for the team because under his guidance India performed well. He stayed here for three years but brought some drastic changes in our performances; we were moving forward by the day. Had he stayed a little longer, we might have reached the peak as well.
The tussle within the federation is one of the reasons why he left. He thought that it was time to leave because the contracts of foreign trainers weren’t being renewed so he took an opportunity that came his way from the U.S. In my opinion it’s a huge loss, he did wonders for the team and sport.”
Do you think the Indian team will be able to perform better than last year now that coach Flemming has left? Does it affect you in any way personally because you seemed to be pretty close to him?
“After Coach Flemming left, we don’t even have a proper coach. Currently the head coach doesn’t even have permission from SAI (Sports Authority of India). He was a very experienced coach and he developed a system for the team. We had a very friendly atmosphere in the team because of him. When he was the coach he used to change one or two players in the team but apart from that the team remained the same so we developed a very good bond on and off court. But now that many new players have come, there might be some issues. He was on very friendly terms with me, Yadu (Yadwinder Singh), Amjyot and Amrit and constantly told us to act like seniors and hold the team together.”
The ONGC players make the backbone of Indian team and have led it to some great wins, why is it that ONGC players like you haven’t been attending the Indian camp for the SABA Qualifiers at Bengaluru? It doesn’t seem like an opportunity any player would ever want to miss.
(Chuckles) “NO comments.”
Does that mean you won’t be playing at the SABA Qualifiers? I’m sure a lot of basketball lovers will be disappointed if they hear the news that their captain isn’t going to be there this time. Apart from that, do you feel that Indian team will be able to win the qualifiers in the absence of ONGC players and Coach Flemming?
“No, we won’t be playing. But I’m sure India will win whether or not we are there because when they come on court, they play to win.”
Speaking of the SABA qualifiers, if India qualifies for the Asian Championship, the group A that they are placed in along with Iran, Japan and Malaysia seems to be pretty easy, what do you have to say about it?
“In comparison to the past two-three years, this time the group seems quite easy and on the basis of last year’s performance if we win two or three matches in our group, we can definitely make it to the quarter finals.”
How has the power struggle within the BFI affected Indian basketball?
“I don’t want to comment a lot in this regard but because of this tussle SAI (Sports Authority of India) is facing a lot of troubles and the Indian camp is being organised by the state government. The costs of renting of stadium, lodging and other facilities have become a burden. When the camps used to be organised by SAI there was no need for renting of stadiums or lodging; we were provided good hostel facilities. It’s a waste of money which could have been used in a better way.”