‘It’s exciting for the NBA to be here’

Troy Justice feels that in the next five years there will be incredible growth — both at the grassroots and national levels.-S.S. KUMAR

Troy Justice, the NBA’s Senior Director, Basketball Operations, India sheds light on the basketball scene in the country, its further development and what the future holds. N. Sudarshan listens in.

It has been over three years since Troy Justice was appointed the NBA’s Senior Director, Basketball Operations, India. Brisk and energetic, his brief includes travelling round the country, interacting with players and coaches alike and devising newer methods to take hoops to an all-new level. Sportstar caught up with him on the sidelines of a private function in Chennai as he shed light on the basketball scene in the country, its further development and what the future holds.

Excerpts:

Question: What is the primary objective of NBA in India?

Answer: It’s exciting for the NBA to be here. India is a priority country. The objective is to grow basketball at the grassroots. The aim is to get more kids bouncing basketballs. It is to give eight-year-olds and nine-year-olds enough opportunities to play and participate.

How do you assess the overall scenario in India?

The basketball level has grown since the first time I was here. I go to the national tournaments and the national camps. The candidate pool for the nationals is getting wider with each passing day. We have players now in India who are being observed and seen on the global scale. The Indian women recently won the FIBA Asia 3x3 Championship in Doha, which is a good sign.

How have the player’s skills developed since you came here first?

We are seeing very organised basketball being played right now. When I first came, it was very freelance, like taking the first available shot, shooting as against passing and moving. With more training sessions taking place across the country and with emphasis on specific skills, the players have started to play a better defence. Also, the offensive set-plays are being well thought out. So what we are actually seeing is the coaching grow and with that the players’ skills.

How important is coaching development?

It is very important and we have been focussing on it. In the past three and half years we have conducted about 450 training clinics for players and coaches. We have had 21 NBA / WBNBA players who have come down to India since 2008, to interact with them — eight-time NBA All-Star Chris Bosh (Miami Heats) being the latest.

Seventeen-year-old Satnam Singh Bhamara is considered a prodigy and is touted to do to India what Yao Ming did to China in creating a basketball wave. How is he coming along at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida? And do you think we need more such young players to give basketball a fillip?

Yeah, absolutely. Satnam has made huge progress. He is getting stronger. At last year’s FIBA Asia under-16 championships, he averaged the most points in the tournament. He is now capable of standing up and hitting a 15-foot jumper, an 18-foot jumper. He is learning fast. There is one more boy named Palpreet Singh. He is of the same age as Satnam. A 6-foot-10 athletic shot blocker — a very talented player.

In the U.S., college basketball is the feeder for the NBA. How crucial do you think it is to develop such a system in schools here?

Schools are critical. They are the backbone for developing basketball at the grassroots level. That’s why we are focussing on schools. Our junior NBA curriculum is used to develop things at schools. Earlier the kids start, the better they will be.

Coming to the present, other countries are obviously ahead of India. What do you think will be a realistic time-frame for India to catch-up with the rest?

Great things take time. They require a lot of hard work. We understand where we are now and we all know about the potential that exists. It’s unlimited. It’s a matter of working everyday and over a course of time it adds up to a huge improvement. It’s actually hard to identify a timeframe. It depends upon the work that’s put in.

Honestly I believe we are not that far off. In the next five years you are going to see incredible growth — both at the grassroots and national levels.

What is the NBA planning in the days ahead?

Every three months or six months we have something new to offer. Our coaching programmes continue to go to newer places every year. From last year we have our NBA 3X which will continue to grow. The national winners will play in the world tour, which will give them much needed international exposure. If they win there they get will enter the FIBA World 3X Championships. So we are looking forward to all these.