INTERVIEW: Scott Flemming, new Coach, Indian Basketball Team - Bringing Consistency and Continuity
India’s influence on the rest of the world – culturally, economically, and intellectually – is growing at the faster than ever rate across the world. Indian food, clothing, cars, films and technology are spreading across the globe, and the Indian language is too. One of the perks of this is that now, more than ever, there are more Hindi or Indian-origin words in English dictionaries and daily usage.
So the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘pukka’ as an adjective for ‘genuine’, ‘socially acceptable’ or ‘excellent’. Back home, India’s definitions – like everything else wonderfully Indian – are loose and varied. Pukka can mean ‘well-cooked’, it can mean ‘solid’ (for a pukka ghar), it can be an affirmation of a relationship (rishta pukka ho gaya) or a pact between two kids (kal milenge, pukka?).
For the last few years, sports in India, including basketball, have been shifting and changing in a turbulent pace. Foreign money and local money has made sports richer, but has also taught that in many cases, money doesn’t necessarily buy success, at least not straight away. It takes time and patience to build a pukka foundation and then watch it mature.
Basketball in India took a turn for the better when the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) entered into a sponsorship pact with IMG-Reliance. The pact promised great things for the future of Indian hoops, including better organisation in the federation itself, better conducted events, and a promise of a professional Indian Basketball League. But the first step to greatness had to begin in India with great coaching.
Unfortunately, India’s best players are yet to find consistency and stability at the top, as India’s Senior Men’s team has gone through two American Coaches and many interim Indian coaches just in the past few years since the IMG-Reliance partnership. Most recently, former NBA head coach Kenny Natt, who had worked in India for about a year, left the National Team and India to take a position at the IMG Academy in Florida.
Another change in the Head Coach position brings a new face in charge. American Scott Flemming, who spent the past two years as an assistant coach of the NBDL side Texas Legends, was appointed as head coach of India’s Men’s National Basketball team three months ago. Flemming finally arrived in India last month and has quickly acclimatise himself here, from working with Sub-Juniors at the national camp to discovering old markets in the New Delhi gullies. But he has a bigger challenge ahead: to bring stability and a stronger foundation to hoops in a country where everything else is growing and changing – for better or worse – at an alarming rate.
Flemming has spent 19 years as Head Coach of Mount Vernon Nazarene University (MVNU) men’s basketball coach and 20 years as the school’s athletic director. He has coached at the NCAA Division 1, Division 3, NAIA Division 2, and the professional level. He has 22 years of experience coaching in college in the US, and holds a 440-273 record. He has been named NAIA Coach of the Year. Flemming has also played basketball at the High School and NAIA Division 1 level.
Now in India, this highly experienced coach is preaching the importance of continuity, discipline, and consistency to hoops in India. To build a pukka foundation for a system that has the potential to grow the right way.
Here is my interview with the new Coach, where he discusses his past and his future goals for India’s basketball team. He doesn’t promise overnight success, but he does hope to hold himself to a high standard and help build basketball in India. Pukka promise!
Hoopistani: Congrats on being named the new coach of India’s National team! How did you hear about this opportunity, and why did you choose to accept it?
Flemming: Thank you. I accepted the position for several different reasons. First, after 22 years of being a head coach at the college level in the U.S. I was interested in returning to a leadership position where I could oversee the programme. Secondly, I saw this as an opportunity to really make a difference in the Indian national basketball programme as well as personally in the lives of the people I would be engaging with. I also saw this as a great chance for my wife and I to encounter another culture and to receive all the many benefits that come from that experience.
Hoopistani: Have you been to India before? What are your expectations before you land here?
Flemming: No, this is my first time. I did a considerable amount of research and I talked to many Indian friends in the US as well as others that have lived in India. This was very helpful but there is only one way to truly be educated to a new culture and that is to live there on a daily basis. I knew there would be some adjustments but I also was told that we would greatly appreciate the people and that has been the case.
Hoopistani: How do you think your past experiences – in college and in NBDL – can assist you in leading the Indian squad?
Flemming: I have coached at many different levels including small college, major college, and professionally where I worked with numerous NBA veterans. In addition, I have directed many youth basketball camps over the years. I believe this diverse experience will help me to relate to the various age groups I will be working with. Because of these varied experiences I will have high expectations and yet have the patience to teach the basic fundamentals when needed.
Hoopistani: What have been some of the initial activities that you have been involved in in India?
Flemming: In the last two weeks I have been overseeing the U14 national team training camp. I worked closely with the coaches and the players as we started to implement our system of play that we will be using at all levels. I have also been working with our BFI staff in planning for the future of the national programme. I am living in New Delhi where much of our training will take place.
Hoopistani: You have been handed the baton after Coach Kenny Natt, who carried great expectations when he first started his stint with the Indian team. How much do know of basketball in India, and how do you think you will fit in?
Flemming: Again, I have done the historical research of Indian basketball and I have even talked with Kenny first hand. I am here to help the national teams move forward. I will always hold myself to high standards but I also realize it will take some time to see significant growth. My goal is to bring continuity and to see improvement each day.
Hoopistani: How would you describe your coaching style and philosophy?
Flemming: Many coaches say they are defensive coaches or offensive coaches and I have always felt that to be a successful head coach it is important to work hard at both aspects of the game. I have always emphasized an up-tempo style offense and a tough half court man to man defence. We will look to score easy baskets in transition but we will have a disciplined half-court offense where high percentage shots will be expected. Defensively, each player will be held accountable to guard on the ball but we will have a strong emphasis on team defence. I will be demanding but it is also important to me to establish good relationships with my players. I will ask them to play hard, play together, and put team above self. If they are willing to do that we will get along well.
Hoopistani Have you observed Indian basketball in action yet? Our national team hasn’t had flattering results in recent years – where do you see immediate scope for improvement, and scope for potential?
Flemming: I have watched several of the former games on film. I do see potential in many of the players. I will know all of the needs better when I work with them personally. It will be important to build on what Coach Kenny Natt implemented. The goal will be to play quality basketball on both ends of the floor for the entire game. Even when the perimeter shots are not going in, defence and rebounding can keep you in the game. Sustaining quality play will be the key.
Hoopistani: Who have been some of your mentors in basketball?
Flemming: Of course like many coaches, I have looked up to and implemented many concepts from coaches such as John Wooden, Dean Smith, Larry Brown, and Doc Rivers. I was able to see Rick Carlisle in action when I worked for the Dallas Mavericks development league team. He is one of the best coaches in the game right now. A mentor that came along recently in my career is Del Harris. He is a 35 year NBA veteran and a former NBA Coach of the Year. I worked closely with him every day and I don’t know anyone that knows the game better than he does. He is a great coach and even a better person.
Hoopistani: By the end of your tenure in India, what improvements do you wish to see in the National team?
Flemming: I hope to bring continuity to the national teams. It will be important to develop consistency from the youth teams all the way to the senior team. Not only will this pay dividends now but it should help greatly when these young players make it to the senior level. Of course I want to see the teams win more games but I hope to instil the discipline and the accountability that will significantly increase the quality of play. I also hope to continue to build the national team programme to a point where every young basketball player in India wants to be a part of it. Basketball is a great sport and I would like to see India embrace it at a much higher level in the years to come.