Passionate point guard

Sambhaji Kadam...creative skills with the ball and tireless court coverage.-

Chosen for the ‘best assist’ awards at international competitions in Thailand and the Philippines, Sambhaji Kadam is praised for his leadership skills by Indian and foreign coaches alike. By Nandakumar Marar.

Trained to be a wrestler at the age of eight, by his father in Miraj district, Sambhaji Kadam charted his own course, choosing basketball at the age of 13. He won a tiffin-box as prize for emerging the ‘best player’ in a State junior event in Mumbai in 1991. Creative skills with the ball and tireless court coverage got him an entry into the Army at BEG, Pune.

Since then Sambhaji has represented Services in the National Championships and major tournaments. He has been India’s point guard for the last 13 years and also at the FIBA ABC Championships.

Chosen for the ‘best assist’ awards at international competitions in Thailand and the Philippines, ‘Samba’ is praised for his leadership skills by Indian and foreign coaches alike. The 5ft, 9in player continued his good show for the Army Red in the 28th Federation Cup in Ahmedabad as he delighted fans with his hand-assists, three-pointers and drive-ins. His ability and regular service for Army teams at the National level and the India captaincy earned him out-of-turn promotion from Havildar to Subedar. Sportstar caught up with the 35-year-old at the YMCA International Centre for his views on the sport.

On the effect of NBA games and highlights shown on television.

The NBA telecasts are creating space for the game. People are finding time for basketball now, having realised what the sport is all about. Children get to see how basketball is played abroad and become familiar with the world’s best players. I believe the media has a major role to play in popularising the sport in India.

On the difference between the playing styles of NBA and Indian basketball.

Many national teams and foreign leagues do not follow the NBA style, which is an elite league, an assembly of the best from around the world, including the United States. These stars don’t have to be taught how to play, but it is about coaches getting them to play together. For a national team in Asia or Europe, players need to be trained at different levels, hence the difference.

India's Sambhaji Kadam attempts to score past Bangaladesh defenders in the qualifing round of the middle Asia Zone for the Asia Championship in New Delhi in 2011.-SANDEEP SAXENA

During major basketball events, posters of LeBron James and other NBA stars are put up at venues by the organisers to attract fans. Similarly, if the pictures of India’s leading players are put up at venues, then not only will the players gain recognition but also the fan following will automatically rise. There are popular names among India internationals too, and it is time more people get to know about them.

On whether Indian players can get selected to the foreign leagues, like it happens in hockey and volleyball.

A basketball league in India will allow our best to rub shoulders with Asian players. Even the Europeans will come if there is good money. Once the outside world realises that our best can compete with foreigners, once the league games are televised in Asia, then the doors will open up. Cricket showed the way with IPL, other sports in India are catching up. It is all about packaging the sport attractively.

On watching NBA and his favourite player.

Michael Jordan. The first time I saw him on television when NBA matches were aired in India, he became my favourite. I liked his confidence and his ability to shoulder any responsibility. I like that attitude. Taking risks is important if you wish to achieve something in life. If you shy away from responsibility, you can’t give your best. Nothing is gained by playing safe. Unless you attempt to do something, how can you think of achieving anything? Success or failure is not in your hands, but you can at least give it a try.

On the risks taken by him in life.

My family was poor. I knew that the burden of improving it was on my shoulders. I realised that sports can change my future. I started working hard on basketball and enrolled in the Army at the age of 18. The BEG coach had seen me as a junior player. Army teaches you discipline, it is a must in every field. Once discipline and determination becomes part of your thinking, I believe nothing is impossible. Since my childhood in Miraj, I have seen how the society reacts and respects people who have a status and are financially strong. I decided to aim for the ultimate in basketball, playing for India became my goal. I got out of turn promotion because of my good performances and became a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO). I won the ‘Best Services Player’ award twice, captained India and was promoted to the rank of Subedar. Sports gave me a lot of things. My life changed. I want more changes to happen. I am ambitious.

On calling the shots as point guard.

The game starts with the playmaker or the point guard, as he is called. He has possession of the ball, he explains to team-mates about the task ahead. In basketball, the second coach on court is the playmaker. He has to be aware of getting his team to perform in line with the coach’s thinking. When the ball is in his hand, he analyses the match situation and reacts accordingly. In doing so, he makes the other players react. I am doing what the coaches expect from me, for the Services and the National side.

Miami Heat’sLeBron James goes up for a dunk in a NBA game. “Foreign players like James are more popular in India than the locals,” laments Sambhaji Kadam.-AP

On the realisation that sportspersons need to be entertainers, even while winning remains the driving force.

Entertaining people, who come to watch the sport, is a responsibility I am serious about. NBA draws audiences the world over as the games are watched on television and also due to the presence of star players. The public is attracted when something different is attempted. People enjoy watching dunks, enjoy when I try to do something special on court (over-the-shoulder passes, ball distribution without looking at teammates etc).

On reactions from the public and the feedback from national coaches.

I am playing since 1998 because of the love for the sport. The public was supportive when a freak injury at the ABC Championships kept me away from the limelight. I realised that maintaining fitness is my responsibility, towards my team-mates and fans. India’s head coach Scott Fleming and the American coach before him had faith in me during the recovery period. They gave me encouragement that I have the calibre and capability. It is very important for a sportsperson to have coaches, foreign or Indian, who are motivators. Fleming knows exactly what an Indian player wants, on and off the court.

On leaving wrestling to take up basketball as a youngster.

My father trained me in wrestling, with the belief that with early preparation I would continue the tradition. I was pretty good and those workouts for wrestling, from eight to 13 years, have helped me to be competitive till date. Since my first Senior Nationals for Services, in Jaipur, in 1998, I have been sincere in my attempts to provide entertainment to the fans who come to watch the sport.