Interview with Vishesh Bhriguvanshi: "A professional basketball league will propel India to the top of Asia"
The euphoria over Indian basketball players participating in the NBA has grown exponentially over the past few months. Sim Bhullar became the first Indian origin player in the league and Satnam Singh registered for the draft, a first for mainland India. However, it’s shooting guard from the town of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh who is creating waves
Aged just 17, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi was a member of India’s marquee international victory at the Asian Beach Games in 2008. A gold medal defeating continental powerhouse Philippines, who are also the current Asian champions was no mean feat.
In 2009, Vishesh was acknowledged as one of the top 10 player at the FIBA Asian Championship, despite only participating in the group stages. The same year, he was awarded the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award at Basketball beyond borders, an all Asia basketball camp organised by the NBA.
But, it was not till the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup, that Vishesh’s in-game maturity was highlighted. Leading from the front, Bhriguvanshi registered seven rebounds and assists each to help India defeat Asian heavy weights China as the 2014 Asian Championship.
India would eventually finish second at the event, but not without announcing themselves as serious contenders. Arguably one of Indian basketball’s stronger era’s, Vishesh has been a pillar in the national team, ever since transitioning from the junior level in 2008.
He had an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, discussing the national basketball structure, an immediate need for a domestic professional league and the road ahead.
Q. How were you introduced to the sport of basketball?
When I was studying college in Varanasi, there was a court built near my house. When I started playing there, I never thought I would represent the National team one day. I started playing seriously in 2003 and the rest is history.
Q. Was it difficult transitioning from the junior to senior level of basketball?
Well for me I barely had a transition period. In 2008, I was representing the Indian junior team, when the Coach asked me to come for the training camp. I got selected to represent the main team then and also played in the Stankovic Cup.
Yes, in the beginning it was very difficult to adapt. I had my bad days where I thought I was not good enough for that level, but kept at it and finally got rewarded the same year. The skill sets were so different, so many knew things that I didn’t think of, when I was playing juniors.
Q. How was the 2008 Asian Beach Games and Basketball beyond borders experience?
After I made my senior national team debut, I wanted to play as many games as possible. I really liked the Basketball beyond borders event, because it got 24 best players of Asia, under one roof. Winning the MVP award ahead of them, was an amazing feeling.
From a nation’s perspective, the Beach Games was our first major gold medal, winning against a top team like Philippines also gave us a lot of confidence.
Q. The 2009 FIBA Asia Championship proved that India were no pushovers, would you agree to that statement?
Yes, to a certain extent I would. We didn’t lose by a massive margin to any of the teams and also showed spirit in our attacks. Personally, finishing in the top 10 players list was amazing, since I played just 5 games. So, overall I would agree with the statement.
Q. Finally coming to the 2014 FIBA Asian Championship, how important was it for Indian basketball?
That particular match proved that we have a lot of talent in Indian basketball. Also, I would not solely restrict it to the game against China, even against Iran (then world champions) we were leading after the first quarter. Most our games we lost by 5-6 points.
Seventh is a position we can definitely build on in the near future.
Q. How much of an impact has Scott Flemming had on the team and your game personally?
His experience in the NBA D-League has clearly helped each player in the team. Not only have we grown as a team, but we each have specific attributes, which he brings out the best. He is a perfect fit for a national team, that’s trying to develop grassroot level talent.
The biggest thing he asks from us is to play as a team, he doesn’t care whether we lose or win, but playing as a team is of utmost importance to him. This will only help Indian basketball moving forward, in terms of inculcating discipline.
Q. Despite good performances, there is no professional league in India. How big a hindrance is it?
It’s like a vicious circle, because we keep playing against each other. For an athlete, a team and a sport to get better, they have to play against better opponents. If a professional league starts, we will get some foreigners playing and we will play continental tournaments as well.
It will only help propel India to greater heights.
Q. How strong is the current domestic league in India?
Western Railways and ONGC are the two big teams in India. In fact, they really promote the sport and help it in it’s growth. However, there only so much they can do.
Q. So what next for Vishesh Bhirguvanshi and India?
The Asian Championship is coming in October and the National Championship next month and another All-India tournaments later. I personally believe a professional league will help us become the best in Asia.