*Report by Vishnu Ravi Shankar & images by Dulon Kharsati; with inputs from Gopalakrishnan R.
Pune, 18th February 2016: The second season of the UBA Pro Basketball League Season tipped off at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Indoor Stadium in Balewadi earlier this evening. In the two north division games played today, Delhi Capitals and Mumbai Challengers registered opening wins.
Celebrities in attendance
Ms Poonam Mahajan, BJP MP and President of the Maharashtra State Basketball Association, and Mr Suniel Shetty, veteran Hindi film actor were the chief guests of the occasion. Ms Urvashi Rautela, upcoming Bollywood actor, was also present for the second game of the day between Mumbai Challengers and Haryana Gold. “UBA is providing an excellent opportunity to all the players out there. I am a national level basketball player myself, and all you guys are seriously amazing,” said Ms Rautela, encouraging all the participants.
Earlier in the day, addressing the gathering, Ms Mahajan said, “I’m really grateful to UBA that you have come here in India to support the sport. We need strength for basketball because we have amazing players in India who want to shine and who want to well for basketball. We will grow the sport together from U13 to seniors,” said Ms Poonam Mahajan, BJP Member of Parliament and President of Maharashtra State Basketball Association, one of the chief guests of the occasion.
“Basketball is one of the most exciting sports. It is ultimate when it comes to physical fitness and strength. When I came to hear that there is this new league, seeing the people associated with this league, it is unbelievable. Mr Fisher who was sitting next to me, I think he was actually playing the game even while sitting there. I’m sure it looks awesome on television. It is a question of time before basketball catches up with our favourite sport-cricket. What is interesting and beautiful about this league is that it is not about the teams, owners or money, it is first and foremost about the sport of basketball,” said Mr Shetty.
Mumbai Challengers bt Haryana Gold
After the opening game action between Delhi and Punjab, last year’s semi-finalists Haryana Gold took the court to face the least successful team in the first edition of the UBA Pro Basketball League, the Mumbai Challengers.
As with every team this season, both rosters sported a fresh appearance. Haryana Gold have the services of two new point guards, Ashiv Jain and Sanjeev Kumar, to replace their point guard last season: Railways player Himanshu Sharma. Being products of the IMG Academy in Florida, USA, both Ashiv and Sanjeev were rearing to put their talents on display. Guards Birender Singh and Vikas Kumar were retained in the Gold side from last year. In the frontcourt, centre Jaskaran Singh joins the team along with forward Deepak Rathee. Legendary former India women’s player Shiba Maggon is coaching the Haryana Gold side.
For the Mumbai Challengers, their top scorer in Season 1, Karanpal Singh, returns to the team. He is joined in the starting lineup by youngster Prudhvi Reddy (from Telangana) at the point guard position along with Punjab players Ranbir Singh and centre Gagandeep Singh. The fifth cog in their lineup is former India international forward Jagdeep Singh Bains, who is making a comeback to competitive basketball after a long layoff.
Haryana Gold began the game hot, with an 8-0 lead coming out of the gates. But Mumbai overcame their sluggish start with a point guard change, benching Prudhvi Reddy and bringing on backup Surender Hooda, who did a better job of taking care of the basketball. But Mumbai really put their foot on the gas towards the end of the first quarter led by an inspired comeback from Jagdeep Singh Bains. He put all his tricks on display, dazzling the crowd with some nifty post moves, decisive drives and finding his teammates for easy buckets. The play of the game was an and-1 up-and-under move by Bains that found the bottom of the basket from the other side of the rim. After building a double-digit lead, the rest of the Mumbai team helped to maintain the gap between the teams with forward Nikhil Kumar being aggressive and putting up 24 points. Haryana Gold struggled to contain the Mumbai offense and were forced into multiple turnovers, failing to establish a rhythm in the contest.
The game turned into a blowout with Mumbai Challengers taking the game 95-77. Mumbai coach PC Anthony, who has coached the junior boys and girls Indian teams, said “Our point guard switch from Prudhvi to Surender was one of the turning points of our game. Even our post players played well, and we managed to give them enough rest through multiple substitutions.” Regarding ex-international star Jagdeep Singh he said. “Jagdeep’s contribution is very high. Just his presence on the court has an impact similar to what Sachin Tendulkar has on a cricket field- it boosts the remaining players.”
Mumbai Challengers (Nikhil Kumar 24, Jagdeep Bains 15, Karanpal Singh 13) bt Haryana Gold (Deepak Rathee 15, Vikas Kumar 13) 95-77 (17-24, 27-13, 27-18, 24-22)
Delhi Capitals bt Punjab Steelers
The opening game on the first day of the second season was a match between north Indian strongholds, Punjab Steelers and Delhi Capitals. With a whole host of new players on each of the franchises this season, both teams had rejigged starting lineups from last season. Punjab’s star player and international forward Gurvinder Gill returns this time for his home team along with point guard Kuldeep Tita Singh. Punjab regular at the national championships, Amrit Pal Singh, joins Kuldeep in the starting backcourt along with rookie forwards Kaushal (from Karnataka) and Keshav (from Kerala) in the starting lineup.
For the Delhi Capitals, starting point guard Sachin Sharma returns to orchestrate the offense. He has a lot of new offensive weapons around him this year with his starting backcourt mate is former India player Vinay Kaushik, while ex-India player Ajay Pratap Singh and players from the services Ramesh and Settu comprise the starting frontcourt.
Delhi started off the game well, with forward Smithin Sethu showcasing his mid-range game. He knocked down mid-range jumpers in the post and got to the foul line in the first quarter, quickly putting up double digits in scoring. His teammate guard Vinay Kaushik helped to add to Delhi’s lead with three 3-pointers in the first quarter. On the other hand, his teammate Delhi’s centre Ramesh struggled to keep up with Punjab centre/ forward Gurvinder Gill. After conceding a 7-point lead in the first quarter to the Delhi team, Punjab surged ahead in the second quarter, thanks to Gurvinder who impressed with an array of different moves in the post.
Entering the second half down by 7 points, the Delhi Capitals changed their defensive strategy against Gurvinder, giving him more space and daring him to shoot. It proved effective for the Capitals as they clamped down on Gill’s scoring and Punjab had to rely on their other players for offensive. But, apart from Amrit Pal Singh (19 points), Punjab had little contribution from their other players. The Delhi Capitals on the other hand found their shooting touch in the second half connecting from the inside and the outside. Sachin Sharma and forward Ajay Pratap Singh connected on crucial 3-pointers for Delhi while their centre Ramesh and forward Settu (20 points) found their way to the basket in the paint. Vinay Kaushik was also an offensive juggernaut for the Capitals putting up 19 points shooting almost 50% from the field. Capitals coach Mukesh Bishnoi credited the defensive aggression in the second half for his team’s victory.
In the end, Delhi Capitals cruised to a 69-57 victory taking the opening game of the UBA Pro Basketball League Season 2.
Delhi Capitals (Smithin Settu 20, Vinay Kaushik 19, Ramesh 11) bt Punjab Steelers (Amrit Pal Singh 19, Gurvinder Singh Gill 10) 69-57 (22-14, 11-25, 17-10, 19-7)
About the UBA Pro Basketball League
The UBA Pro Basketball League is structured on a league cum knockout basis. Season 2 will be held in two phases: 18 to 28 Feb in Pune followed by 21st March to 3rd April in Hyderabad. There are eight teams in total divided into two divisions: Pune Peshwas, Delhi Capitals, Haryana Gold, Punjab Steelers (North division) and Chennai Slam, Mumbai Challengers, Bengaluru Beast and Hyderabad Sky (South division). Chennai Slam won the inaugural season last year with Pune Peshwas finishing second.
About United Basketball Alliance India Pvt. Ltd.
The United Basketball Alliance (UBA India) is a next-generation sports branding company. Its main objective is to make sport brands mean something to their sport viewers. To do that, UBA helps brands connect with viewers by providing insight-driven ideas across all media platforms. With respect to its Pro Basketball League, UBA India has already secured primetime television broadcasting arrangements with the Ten Sports Network, and is securing corporate sponsorships for the league, and creating merchandising opportunities.