The girls work harder!

K. MURALI KUMAR

“I’m highly optimistic. We’re improving in all the younger age groups. Wait for four or five years — let the continuity remain and we’ll be very good,” says K. K. Chansoria (in pic), the Chief National Coach of the BFI, in this interview with Shreedutta Chidananda.

Since 1975, Keshav Kumar Chansoria has been part of the coaching setup in Indian basketball in one capacity or another. His first assignment in full charge of the National team was the trip to the Philippines for the Asian Basketball Championships of 1975; India finished fourth, a record that stands to this day.

Chansoria led national camps between 1977 and 2000, picking up the reins of the first team again in the new millennium. Under him, India managed eighth place at the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) Championships of 2001 and 03, a huge crest from the disappointment of the preceding years.

Today, as Chief National Coach, Chansoria is responsible for the formulation of the Basketball Federation of India’s long-term development programmes. In a chat with Sportstar on the sidelines of the 27th Federation Cup in Bangalore, the septuagenarian recalls the glory of 1975 and discusses his coaching philosophy, the factors underlying India’s present status in Asia, and the BFI’s vision for the future of the sport.

Question: What do you remember of that 1975 tour?

Answer: Those are unforgettable memories. That was my first assignment. Before we left, I was told that the trip would be cleared only if we promised a fourth-place finish. It was unthinkable at that time but we did it. The final-round game against the Philippines, one of the best teams in Asia, was a vital one. I benched all the stalwarts and started with those on the fringes. People were aghast but it was part of a strategy. The Philippines was a team that did not take shots from distance but always drove inside. So I used my tallest players and gave them the sole task of preventing them from scoring. The opposition was deflated, and then I brought on all our big guns. We won 113-69. It is still a record.

Had you done anything different to train your players?

See, the development of a team takes a long time. Psychological training is a must. At the National camp, my first instruction was that I didn’t want anyone walking out of the hostel; I wanted them to come to the ground running. The hostel was only 200m away but my idea is that you have to be mentally prepared for training the moment you leave your room. Training doesn’t stop at any point; it continues day to day, minute to minute, with whatever you’re trying to inculcate in them.

In 1991, we slipped to 13th in the ABC, and after the brief successes of 2001 and 03, we fell again. At the last edition, in China in 2011, India finished 14th — third from bottom. What is the reason for this decline?

(The reason, Chansoria feels, is multi-pronged). We must go back to the game’s roots — passing. Today, nobody is trying to take advantage of the full-court press, taking the ball from the opposition. Even FIBA is changing the rules to make the game faster. We need to adjust to the times.

(A second factor, Chansoria points out, could be the nature of individual players). Earlier, each player had one special skill or hobby. For example, Abbas Muntazir passed well; Vijayaraghavan had incredibly gifted reflexes and went for rebounds; and Kataria was a good shooter. Players like them, Hari Dutt, Hanuman Singh, Om Prakash — they worked non-stop on their skills outside training. They had that madness. If you depend entirely on the coach, it is not possible. We need people beyond normal abilities if we are to keep pace with other countries. There is no question about our talent.

Could it also be that other countries have improved so much that it appears that we have regressed?

Geethu Anna Jose has benefited hugely by playing in tournaments abroad.-R. RAGU

Yes. Forget Korea, Japan and China, even Arabian countries like Qatar and Lebanon have improved. We have to come up with more vigorous coaching and planning to face these challenges. Their training is highly professional. They play various leagues throughout the year and have high competitive exposure, which is negligible here.

So our idea is to concentrate more on the younger age-groups: U-14, 16 and 18. We’ve improved considerably in the U-16 and the U-18. So it is natural that change will take place in the senior section when we improve in the age groups.

What about exposure overseas?

In 2011 we sent the U-16 girls to the NBA Academy in China, where they spent 15 days. The team went to the FIBA Asia U-16 Championship for Women (Jinan, China) directly from there and finished an excellent fifth (at the previous edition in Pune in 2009, India came sixth). The training stint was what made the difference. We’d like this to be the pattern hereafter — any tournament, any age-group — that they go outside and then directly head to the tournaments.

Playing abroad definitely enhances performance. If players get chances, like Geethu [Anna Jose] did, they should go ahead.

Is there a predilection for taller players at the expense of shorter ones who might actually be talented?

It is not like that. The rules of the game have constantly been changed (the three-point rule, expanding the ‘D’ etc.) to reduce the advantage that taller players have. If we see a good shooter, we will not ignore him simply because he is short. But at the same time, a coach can coach everything but not height.

What is instead happening is the pigeonholing of tall players. In our country, whenever we see a taller player, we nail him near the post despite the fact that he has the ability to run up and down, break quickly, handle the ball etc. We ought to develop taller players in other areas.

How does the future look to you?

I’m highly optimistic. We’re improving in all the younger age groups. Wait for four or five years — let the continuity remain and we’ll be very good. We need to be in the top four in Asia in four or five years’ time; that’s the minimum target.

I’d like to add that if we give more importance to the girls’ side, we have a better chance of success. For two reasons: one, the competition is not that stiff there, and two, it is easier to train girls than boys; they work harder.