Giving the game a fillip

Jubliant Uttarakhand players with the trophy after winning the men's title.-AKHILESH KUMAR

The National Championship may not exactly be the right platform to judge the growth of basketball in India, but the assembly of talented players from all over the country does give a fair indication of the state of health of the game, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

The heroes were the same, but the champion was different. Indian basketball is perhaps trying its best to make progress by bringing in good coaches from the NBA in the US, backed by the financial support from IMG Reliance, but one has to be patient to see the growth of the game in the country.

The National Championship may not exactly be the right platform to judge the growth of basketball in India, but the assembly of talented players from all over the country does give a fair indication of the state of health of the game.

Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has been able to attract the best of players in the country in the men’s section, and it looked a foregone conclusion that Uttarakhand would win the championship. The presence of Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Yadwinder Singh, who had powered Railways to the title two years ago, in the Uttarakhand camp, meant that it would actually be a walk in the park for the team aspiring to win its second National title. Uttarakhand had won the title earlier in 2005 at the same venue in Ludhiana as Uttaranchal.

However, Punjab, which has been struggling to retain some of its best players, raised visions of matching Uttarakhand’s firepower in the final. The defending champion, spearheaded by Talwinderjit Singh Sahi, gave a fantastic performance in the semi-finals while taming Tamil Nadu. But much to the disappointment of everyone, the final proved to be a one-sided affair as Punjab’s challenge failed to take off.

Uttarakhand was a class act, as it won all its league matches, including the ones against Tamil Nadu and Railways, with clinical efficiency. While Bhriguvanshi was unstoppable throughout the tournament — he came to the rescue of his team whenever it was in trouble — Yadwinder Singh rose to the occasion in the final. He eventually won the ‘Most Valuable Player’ award instituted in memory of the former Secretary-General of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), Harish Sharma.

The Railways team, the women's champion.-AKHILESH KUMAR

It has been a big jump in terms of the quality of accommodation and food for the players owing to the assistance of IMG-Reliance. Good television coverage and good job opportunities spread across many departments in the country would alone be able to provide a further fillip to the quality of the game.

The new National Coach for men, Scott Flemming of the US, was a keen observer throughout the championship and conducted a coaches’ clinic apart from spotting talent in the under-16 level. He was clear that the standard would get better once the players sharpened their basics and the understanding of the game.

Flemming was categorical in saying that his coaching mantra was simple — he expected the players to “play hard, play together and put team above self on and off the court”. He said that the key to success was in sharing the ball, as there was no room for being selfish on a basketball court.

In the women’s section, Geethu Anna Jose was the star as she started and ended the championship scoring 50 points or more.

The President of the BFI, P. S. Gill, observed that Geethu deserved to get the Arjuna Award. He also said that there was a good possibility of the Indian women’s team making the podium at the Asian level with a little more thrust.

It was the 26th National title for the Railways in the last 28 years. Railways scored 100 points or more in four of its seven matches, including the final against Tamil Nadu. For Tamil Nadu girls, it was their maiden appearance in the final and they distinguished themselves with a fearless display that fetched 82 points, the highest by any team against the champion side in the tournament.

Geethu Anna Jose was easily the towering star in the women’s section, and was presented the ‘Most Valuable Player’ award. The rest of the Railway team pulled together strongly to keep Geethu in the forefront.

THE RESULTS

Men’s final: Uttarakhand 79 (Yadwinder Singh 35, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi 15, Murali Krishna 13) beat Punjab 61 (Satnam Singh 19, Talwinderjit Singh Sahi 13, Ranbir Singh 13). 3rd place: Services 79 (Gopal Ram 16, Jogender Singh 12, Jairam Jat 11, Narender Kumar 11, Dalip Kumar 10) beat Tamil Nadu 49 (Pratham Singh 17).

Women’s final: Railways 102 (Geethu Anna Jose 50, Anju Lakra 14, P. Anitha 13) beat Tamil Nadu 82 (Raja Priyadarshini 21, Apoorva Muralinath 19, Soniya Joy 13, M. Adhirai 10). 3rd: Chhattisgarh 71 (Seema Singh 27, Poonam Chaturvedi 16, L. Deepa 11) beat Delhi 66 (Raspreet Sidhu 23, Pratima Singh 16, Sonika Ohlyan 13).