The Guru Nanak Stadium in Ludhiana is all set to host the 70th Senior National Basketball Championship for men and women.
The opening ceremony will take place on 21st December at 3 PM, followed by the conduct of the matches from 22nd to 28th December.
The Championship is expected to continue the traditionally followed league cum knockout format.
While the competition fixtures are still awaited, it is expected that a majority of Indian states and Union Territories will be sending in their teams for the prestigious event.
As in past editions, the teams are expected to be divided into Level 1 (top 10 teams) and Level 2 (all the remaining teams). Within these Levels, teams are further divided into Groups (A & B in Level 1, and C to F in Level 2).
In the league stage, all teams within each group play against each other. Thereafter, the top teams from Level 1 progress to the knockout rounds, where they are joined by the overall top two teams from Level 2.
Besides appearing in the knockout rounds, the two top Level 2 teams also achieve another key goal of getting promoted to Level 1 for the next edition. Meanwhile, the two bottom teams from Level 1 get relegated to Level 2.
Previous winners and current predictions
The previous edition saw current hosts Punjab being crowned in the men's category, while Railways repeated as winners in the women's section. These two teams will be front runners this year as well.
Team rosters are still awaited, so it will be difficult to make accurate predictions. That said, an always physically gifted Punjab men's team has only grown stronger in recent years, with the return of star players like Amjyot Singh (ex Indian Overseas Bank, Chennai) and Amritpal Singh (ex ONGC, Dehradun). While team rosters haven't yet been announced, these 'bigs' will be expected to lead the charge at these Nationals, alongside other big international names like Jagdeep Bains and Arshpreet Singh Bhullar. (An interesting side note may well be to see if Amjyot and Arshpreet end up getting barred from competing domestically in the Nationals as a result of their ongoing India team suspensions)
Punjab will have to see off opponents like Uttarakhand (featuring veteran stars like Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Yadwinder Singh), Services (Narender Grewal and Joginder Singh Saharan) and Tamil Nadu (Akilan Pari, Aravind Annadurai, and Co.)
Coming to the women's section, Railways will again start off as favourites. Being the only professional recruiter for women's basketball players in India, Railways has always had an unfair advantage in the Nationals. Their strongest rivals this year will be teams like Kerala and Chhattisgarh, who are expected to be led by internationals Jeena Scaria and Poonam Chaturvedi respectively.
Why Nationals are important
Besides crowning the overall best performing basketball states in India, the National Championships (whether at the Senior, U18, U16 or U14 levels) are the primary bases for India team selections.
For many of India's senior and upcoming stars, doing well in the Nationals is a matter of immense prestige and importance. Podium finishes and certificates from the Nationals also help participating athletes with securing government jobs, sports quota seats in leading colleges and the promise of scholarships in foreign Universities.
At the younger age group levels, the Nationals are also attended by scouts from the NBA India Academy, which in turn brings promising players on the radar of NBA India scouts.