‘Signs are encouraging’

P. V. SIVAKUMAR

FIBA Commissioner Norman Isaac is optimistic about Indian basketball. “Things are looking up for the game in the country,” he says in a chat with A. Joseph Antony.

Come September and India will field a women’s team in the Asian Basketball Championships in Chennai. And a string of international outings await the Indian squads, hitherto hindered by lack of overseas exposure.

Over time, Indian teams have grown in confidence and are gradually moving to the fore. Exploding popular myths that Indians are not suited for basketball, the National men’s and women’s teams made a mark on the Asian scene last October.

India won the men’s gold in the first Asian Beach Basketball Championships in Bali. The Philippines and Malaysia claimed silver and bronze respectively. The Indian women’s team won the bronze, behind Japan and Thailand.

Norman Isaac, the Federation Internationale de Basketball (FIBA) Commissioner in India, told Sportstar that things were looking up for Indian basketball. “After Harish Sharma took over as the Secretary General of FIBA’s Central Asian Zone and the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), the Indian teams have been getting substantial international exposure.

“The appointment of Bucan Alexander as the National coach has given basketball a major boost. He’s at every National event, closely watching the action and spotting talent. Where one point guard was considered indispensable, he’s come up with three to replace him or her,” Issac said.

There are several positive signs, the most promising being the interest shown by the National Basketball Association (NBA) in India becoming a major destination for the high action sport. The ‘Basketball Without Borders’ programme it conducted went down well with the fairly large following, and from one of the seminars, woman international Divya Singh and Yuvika Sharma were selected by the University of Delaware’s Sports Management Department for its Higher Education Administration Graduate Programme.

“The Indian National League failed to take off, but two tournaments in Mumbai proved quite heartening. The Ramu Memorial tournament had its silver jubilee edition in February-March this year at the Indian Gymkhana, Matunga, Mumbai. The Savio Cup, another National tournament which was a success, was staged by the Don Bosco school in its premises, but in the same locality. The Taraflex surface was used for both, enabling full flow of the game and ensuring a zero-injury environment,” said Isaac, an NIS coach in basketball and a FIBA referee.

“The conduct of this year’s Surat Nationals indoors and on a wooden surface earned extensive media coverage, which is very encouraging. Lack of sponsorship has been a major hurdle, but with increased media interest, funds will flow into the game,” says Isaac with optimism.

A qualified journalist, empanelled by Doordarshan and All India Radio, Isaac had reported the Asian Junior Championships in Kolkata, where Yao Ming, the 7ft. 6in. posterboy in China and now a rage in the US, played too.

He also covered the Surat Nationals, commenting on as many as four matches a day! What’s perhaps more reassuring for him is the emergence of 14 men and two women international referees from India. One of them, Gens Varghese, regularly officiates in the Australian league, where compatriot Geetu Anna Jose made her presence felt as a player. Varghese and Atanu Banerjee have been invited to officiate at the quadrennial World Cup competitions.