The future of basketball in India
With the most recent FIBA rankings have India ranked 53rd, there is still a lot to be desired for the team. Although the young cagers recorded a surprising victory against host nation China in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup, they finished 7th out of 9 teams with a record of 3-4.
As coach Sat Prakash Yadav and the Basketball Federation of India await the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge, where they will play teams from both FIBA Asia and FIBA Oceania for the first time. At the SABA Championship a month ago, India recorded resounding wins against Maldives, Nepal, and Bangladesh to get to this point.
Going from 14th to 11th to 8th in the last three Asia Championships gives India the momentum to reach the top five optimistically. With Amjyot Singh playing in Japan and Satnam Singh Bhamara playing in NBA’s development league for the Texas Legends, it creates more exposure for Indian basketball players at higher levels.
The NBA also built 100 basketball courts in India to increase accessibility to 10 cities for the Mahindra NBA Challenge. Started initially in Bangalore, Mumbai, and Ludhiana, there will be two age group divisions. They made it age 14-17 and 18+, to ensure that the league’s purpose and benefits are not being wasted with one big division. The Sacramento Kings are the only NBA team presently to have their website available in Hindi, as they try to connect with Indian basketball fans.
NBA also launched their website in India to deliver customised content for them and to expand the presence of women’s basketball (WNBA) and the development league (D-League). Keep in mind that time zone differences make most NBA games start in the middle of the night or early in the morning, yet many people watch the games and stay in the loop with current basketball matters in spite of those circumstances.
The UBA Pro Basketball League acts as India’s top basketball league and recently finished its third season. Although there are only eight teams currently, the aim is to create a competitive and balanced nature. Delhi Capitals won the season two championship after defeating Chennai Slam two games to one in the best-of-three final series.
Despite losing out that year, Chennai Slam of the south division are the most recent champions, after defeating a young Punjab Steelers team 69-59 to win their second championship in three seasons.
Bhamara was also the first Indian ever to be selected in the NBA draft, as he was drafted 52nd overall in 2015 by Dallas Mavericks. Sim Bhullar, a Canadian of Indian descent made his NBA debut in April 2015 for the Sacramento Kings. He is the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA. Due to government rules, he cannot play for the national team because he wasn’t born in India.
He is currently playing for the Toronto Raptors development team, Raptors 905. India’s best result at the Asian Games is a 4th place finish in 1951, they were hosts that year. In this day and age, would allowing players who have Indian descent make the team better?
India also has an under 19 national team, under 17 national team, and a women’s national team. Unfortunately for the women’s team, they are 40th ranked, and haven’t made the Olympics or Women’s World Cup. However, with 17 appearances in the Asian Championship, they could be hopeful for medal aspirations with the right people in charge to enhance women’s basketball players in India.
Geethu Anna Jose, once captain of the women’s team, won a gold medal in the first edition of the FIBA Asia's FIBA 33 championship in 2013 and received an Arjuna Award in 2014-15 for outstanding contributions towards sport in India.
Although not relatively recent, Ram Kumar received the Dhyan Chand Award, which is India’s highest award for lifetime achievement in sports. His father, Khushi Ram, was also involved in basketball as the captain of the national team in 1965, the year when they made their first appearance in Asian Basketball Championship.
Both under-17 and under-19 sides for men and women haven’t recorded a medal at the World Championships or Asian Championships, with the under-19 men’s side coming closest with a 4th place finish in 1972.
With a current average roster age of 24 for the men’s team and a current average age just under 23 for the women’s team, achieving goals such as qualifying for the Olympics, appearing in the FIBA World Cup, and getting a medal in the FIBA Asia Championship, will improve and bring up a lot of promising talent from India.
If the Basketball Federation of India could provide more basketball specific stadiums, training camps for all ages, and assistance from the NBA, could develop more talent for basketball in India and enhance a bright future to come.