Indian basketball over the last decade has seen spectacular rises and demoralizing falls. But through all this, some individual stars have shone bright.
In team sports like basketball, individual brilliance may or may not translate into larger victories. But solitary flights of accomplishments do enough to remind the Indian basketball community, that elite talent does exist in India, despite what the National Federation may think. And when we bring these individual stars together into a Dream Team or an All-Star lineup, the imagination does begin to soar with questions of 'what if'.
What if these stars had actually played on the same team as contemporaries? Would India have beaten more of the top Asian teams by now? Would Indian basketball finally have made it to the larger consciousness of the general sporting public?
These are great questions to ponder over, but impossible to answer.
Formulating a Dream Team
Another question worth considering is how do we even arrive on these dream lineups? Unlike the NBA — where basic and advanced stats, not to mention multi-camera video footage, is readily accessible — Indian basketball is notorious for its lack of documentation.
Whether qualitatively, or quantitatively, there are not enough games or stats to even make 70% accurate calls on prospective All-Star lineups. Neither am I a coach, basketball analyst or scout who has watched every India game played in the last decade, in person. I am just a writer who happened to have begun his own basketball journey in 2010, giving me a ringside view of Indian basketball over the last decade.
Besides the lack of data problem, there is also the question of how to approach this roster-building task. Rather than going with individual performances alone, I have gone with creating what I'd like to call an "All-Decade All-Star Dream Team". The players selected have been picked as per position, based on their international and domestic performances over the last ten years. I have included backup options for each position, to ensure a full squad of 12 players. I have also chosen a Head Coach and Assistant Coach for these teams, similar to how we have them in NBA All-Star Games.
So without further ado, here are my 'All-Decade' Indian basketball team rosters for both men and women.
Indian All-Decade Men's Team
- PG: Lalrina Renthlei, Backup: Joginder Singh Saharan
- SG: Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Backup: Pratham Singh
- SF: Jagdeep Bains, Backup: Yadwinder Singh (leading the second unit)
- PF: Amjyot Singh, Backup: Aravind Annadurai, Third option: Palpreet Singh
- Centre: Amritpal Singh, Backup: Satnam Singh, Third option: Rikin Pethani
- Head Coach: Scott Flemming, Assistant Coach: Sambhaji Kadam
After everything I have seen in Indian basketball over the past decade, I am of the firm opinion that any Indian men's dream line up must ideally have a starting five comprising:
1) A point guard from the North East (preferably from Mizoram); 2) A centre from Punjab; 3) A power forward from Tamil Nadu; 4) A shooting guard from say UP/Karnataka and 5) A small forward from anywhere else!
My All-Decade line up stays true to this personal philosophy while looking to address key roster challenges keeping in mind the quality of opposition Indian teams face at the Asian level.
Starting from the PG position, Mizoram's Renthlei is arguably the most talented Indian basketball player in recent memory to have never been given the chance to wear India colours. The 28-year-old's continued non-selection is nothing short of a travesty and throws a very poor light on the opaque and arbitrary National Team (NT) selection process, that does not seem to base its decisions on any measurable data.
Those who have followed India's games at the Asia level is acutely aware of our high rate of turnovers. Renthlei fills precisely this desperate need for a reliable ball-handler against high pressing teams, who can also spot up from the outside as well as create opportunities for his teammates. Renthlei is all this and more, especially when you also factor in his athleticism, quickness, basketball IQ and on-floor leadership.
Joginder is a solid backup point guard option with an impeccable outside shot, not to mention his uncanny ability to score in the clutch.
At the starting SG position, we have the obvious choice of Varanasi's Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, with Pratham Singh coming off the bench. While Bhriguvanshi needs no introduction, the 6'3 Pratham is one of those players who simply didn’t get enough time in the sun. He could/should have contributed more to the Indian national team. Who can forget Pratham's heroic late-game threes in the historic win over China?
If he hadn't suffered an almost career-ending back injury, Punjab's 6'6 Jagdeep Bains may well have been the player of the last decade. Having reached an almost mythical status within the famed Ludhiana Basketball Academy (LBA), Bains is looked at as a mentor and precursor to the steady stream of elite international basketball talent coming out of Punjab.
Leading the second unit, I have the 6'5 Yadwinder Singh, another product of LBA. Yadwinder is a tireless workhorse and one of the best on-ball defenders India has ever produced. A known glue guy, Yadwinder is a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate with an ability to shut down the opposition's best player while also getting his own shots from time to time.
At the Four, Amjyot Singh aka the 'Sultan of Swat' is a no brainer for this spot. Likened by his teammates to Kevin Durant, the 6'8 stretch four is a mismatch nightmare for his position. Before his controversial run-ins with the federation in recent years, Amjyot was by far one of the best forwards in the continent, who may well be picked in an Asian All-Decade All-Star team, let alone an Indian All-Decade team.
While many may wonder why Satnam isn't my starting centre, for those of us who have followed Indian basketball closely in the last decade, Amritpal Singh is the more natural candidate.
Guaranteed to put up 10-10 numbers every time he steps on the floor, the near 7ft tall Amritpal makes the most of his limited skillsets by displaying a very intelligent basketball mind. His ability to set timely screens on top of the key, as well as knock down 10-feet jumpers and free throws means that he is a perfect foil to play off of versatile offensive forwards like Amjyot Singh and Jagdeep Bains.
Before his untimely resignation in 2015, Scott Flemming was key to India's historic triumph over China, putting Indian men's basketball finally on the Asian map. Flemming also expanded the traditional post-up games of India's bigs like Amjyot Singh, Palpreet Singh and Amritpal Singh, which opened up new avenues for these players as international pros.
Assistant Coach Sambhaji Kadam has been picked for having played as a point guard under Coach Flemming in the early part of the decade. Kadam enjoyed Flemming's trust as well as the respect of many of the players who look up to him as a been-there-done-it senior.
Continue Reading: India's All-Decade Basketball Teams - Part II (Women)
You can also listen to me breakdown my India All-Decade Men & Women's Teams on the Hoopdarshan podcast here.