After India’s senior women and U-16 girls teams earned promotion to Division ‘A’ in 2017, the U-18 side will look to do the same when the FIBA U-18 Women's Asian Championship gets underway here on Sunday.
India, ranked 37th in the world, is currently placed in Division 'B'
alongside countries like Iran, whom it will play on the opening day, Kazakhstan, Syria, and Singapore.
Division 'A' is where the continental heavyweights such as the four-time defending champion China, Japan and Australia compete.
Going into the tournament, India’s mood can be best described as cautiously optimistic. Unlike last time, the team isn’t undercooked. It has been training for two months in what coach Zoran Visic termed “the best possible conditions,” in Vidyanagar, on the city’s outskirts.
Also, six of the twelve girls in the group have past international experience. The key trio of captain Pushpa Senthil Kumar, Ann Mary Zachariah (both centers) and Sreekala Rani (forward) played in the victorious U-16 team.
But at the same time, Pushpa is still recovering from a twisted ankle while Sanjana Ramesh and Vaishnavi Yadav, the best players from that U-16 side, are nursing injuries according to Chander Mukhi Sharma, Secretary General of the Basketball Federation of India.
“They [Sanjana and Vaishnavi] were the main players then, but we have worked hard in the last two months and the girls will give their best,” said Visic.
“I hope we repeat last year’s performance. I believe we can qualify [for Division ‘A’].”
Even as he pleaded ignorance about the level of competition his wards will be up against, Visic was mindful of the kind of play needed. “The philosophy remains the same, at U-16 or U-18,” he said. “Focus will be on fast breaks and strong defense.”
“That is how we can be competitive against Asian teams. We have some videos from U-16 last year. If other teams, like India, have some players from then we will know [what to do].”
Interestingly, the Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium has been a happy hunting ground for Indian women. Both the senior and the U-16 teams made the cut for Division ‘A’ here. The U-18s now have the opportunity to successfully round off the cycle.