Basketball is a chaotic game in the worst of times, a symphonic orchestra at its best, and raging hyperactivity in the vast in-betweens. Amidst all this, there’s one player who remains an isolated pocket of calm. It’s a calmness borne out of efficiency – knowing what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Indian Overseas Bank’s (IOB) veteran forward takes us through his basketball journey, memorable international experiences, the legends he modelled his game after and his ready advice for today’s generation of players. Know your star, the always cheerful Mihir Pandey.
Name: Mihir Pandey
Born: 9th October 1979
Height: 198 cms/ 6’5’’
Position: Power Forward/ Small forward (occasionally)
Current designation: Senior Manager, IOB Chennai
Played for (& duration):
IOB, Chennai & Tamil Nadu (2005-current)
Young Cagers (India) 2003-2010
Indian Railway (2001-2005)
Diesel Locomotive Works, Varanasi (2001-2003)
Banaras Hindu University (1998-2001)
Notable International tournaments:
William Jones Cup- 2005 (Chinese Taipei)
Asian Championships- 2003 (Harbin, China); 2005 (Doha, Qatar)
South Asian Federation Games- 2010 (Dhaka, Bangladesh)
Asia Cup- 2005 (Bangalore)World Railway Championship- 2003 (St Petersburg, Russia)
Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Varanasi has produced many high calibre players like the Singh sisters, Trideep Rai and current India captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi. On a lighter note, I guess you can attribute the international success of players from Varanasi as “babaji ka ashirwad” (blessings from the holy city of Varanasi)!
Journey into basketball
“I was 18 years old and had just joined Banaras Hindu University. Up until then, I focused only on cricket, where I was an all-rounder. I even went for the under-18 cricket trials, but didn’t get selected to the UP state team. It was then that BHU Coach KN Rai noticed me for my height. Since I was anyway unhappy with the selection process in cricket, I thought I’d give basketball a shot.
“I started playing on the BHU team and we took part in various district leagues and the All India Inter University Championships. I saw the way my seniors approached the game and I started working hard myself. Before I knew it, I was offered a job on sports quota with Diesel Locomotive Works (DLW) in Varanasi.
“2003 was my breakout year. I joined DLW and simultaneously completed my graduation from BHU in BA (Economic Hons.). After I became part of the DLW team, DLW reached the finals of the inter railway championships for the first time in its history. My rebounding and passing skills came to everybody’s attention and I was selected to the overall Indian Railway team.
“Later that same year, my performance for Indian Railway during the Senior Nationals in Hyderabad was noticed and I got selected to the national team. In April 2005, I was offered a job at the Indian Overseas Bank (IOB), where I continue even today.”
“I am the only person in my family to take up sports as a profession. My father is a doctor and my mother is a homemaker. I have five brothers who are all working in diverse fields such as IT, business and national defense (BSF)! My parents were supportive of me from day one. They knew I would work hard in whatever field I decide to pursue.”
“I enjoy passing the ball. The most important thing for a good passer is that he should play for the team. The moment you think in terms of the team, you’ll start thinking about how best to utilize your teammate and put him in the best place to score. Basketball is not an easy game and passing requires the ability to stay calm in the head so that you can be aware of all your options.
“Of course, the basic types of passing such as single hand passes (with either hand), two handed chest passes, overhead and bounce passes need to be ingrained in a player. Practice by definition means ‘experimenting’. The more you practise different skills, the more confidence you gain to actually try them in a match. Self confidence is the key to anything, really.”
Daily training schedule
“Right now it is off-season for us. Every morning I make it a point to do some conditioning work and stretching. Then I’m in office from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. Evenings are spent in the gym. Usually, our entire team gets down to serious group practices one month before a tournament.”
Favourite Indian players
“Ajmer Singh Ji, without doubt. I never saw him play personally, but he coached me at the Indian Railways. He taught me everything I know about playing in the post. He is a role model for all post players. I remember I was guarding him once in practice. I tried to push him out of the paint with both hands, but he was just immovable down low, like a rock. This was when he was 50 years old mind you, and I was in my prime!
“Other players who have inspired me are Ranjit Singh (Railways) and India’s evergreen shooter Ram Kumar. I learnt from him how to be calm on the court.”
Favourite international players
“Kobe Bryant, because he can change the course of the game anytime he wishes. Michael Jordan of course, needs no explanation!”
Most memorable moments
“Our 8th place finish at the 2003 Asian Championships in Harbin, China. I got the chance to play with the legendary Arjuna Awardee Parminder Singh Sr. At 6ft 8 inches and 120 kgs, he was truly a sight to behold. What really made this tournament memorable was our win in our very first match against Kuwait. Due to technical issues, our flight from Delhi to Harbin had to be rerouted through Japan. Our delayed arrival meant that we had to directly drive down from the airport to the stadium for our match. We told the airport authorities that we’d pick up our luggage later and just went ahead with our kit and shoes. We then went on to win despite the fatigue of a 16 hour long journey!”
Most forgettable moments
“The finals of the 2010 South Asian Federation Games in Dhaka, Bangladesh against Afghanistan. This was the only time we failed to win the SAF games. We made mistakes down the stretch that cost us the match.” (Afghanistan beat India 65-64 with a last second shot at the buzzer by team captain Nafi Mashriqi.)
Young players to watch out for
“IOB’s international guard Pratham Singh. I’m not just saying it because he is my teammate. I think if he gets extended opportunities in the Indian team, he’ll be able to give good support to Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (India’s shooting guard and captain).
“Two other promising youngsters are Punjab’s 6 ft 11 inch centre Amritpal Singh and 6ft 10 inch Amjyot Singh. Both are quick with strong bodies. They just need more experience at the international level.”
Is coaching one of your future goals?
“Well, I’ve had a 16-year association with the game of basketball. I’d definitely like to take up full time coaching of the IOB team. In the future, if I’m needed and considered capable enough, I would love to assist the national teams as well.” (Apart from playing for IOB, Pandey is also one of its assistant coaches.)
Message for youngsters
“There are two things that I invariably tell them:
- Practicse harder when the coach is not watching: Most players put in the work when the coach is present, but the moment there is no supervision, they become lazy. It is important to remember that by shirking your responsibilities you are not cheating the coach, but cheating yourself.
- The ‘3P’ value system:
- Perseverance: without this you can’t achieve anything worthwhile in life
- Performance: words only go so far; you need to back it up with your actual game
- Patience: in some ways, this is more important than the first two. Many people work hard and perform well, but don’t necessarily get the reward. It is important to not lose hope.”
(Pandey keep getting invited as a chief guest to various school and college functions.)
Life motto / Philosophy
“Respect everybody. This is something my parents taught me, and is probably one of the reasons why I can’t say no when children come to me after a match asking for a photo or an autograph. I always keep thinking, ‘if I was in their place, how would I feel if I was turned away?’ Just because I have played for India doesn’t make me any different than others. Our behavior on and off the court is equally important.”