Time to bring in the Pro League

Lop-sided contest… Punjab Police's Amritpal Singh and Harvinder Preet Singh and ONGC's Yadwinder Singh (right) fight for the ball in the men's final.-PICS: VIPIN CHANDRAN Lop-sided contest… Punjab Police's Amritpal Singh and Harvinder Preet Singh and ONGC's Yadwinder Singh (right) fight for the ball in the men's final.

The sooner the Pro League takes form, the better. For, one got the feeling that players were not taking the game seriously at the 26th Federation Cup in Kochi. For a major part, they appeared to be just going through the motions. Over to Stan Rayan.

Indian basketball's Pro League is very close to becoming a reality. The event which players and coaches believe could change the game in a big way is just round the corner.

“It's very, very close,” said Bobby Sharma, IMG's Global Head for basketball, who is working closely with the Basketball Federation of India and Reliance to make Pro League a reality. “I can't tell you when or how it will look like… all these will be done at an appropriate time, but I can tell you, it's very, very close.

“Just the fact that the IMG's Global Head is in Mumbai for the last one year is reason enough to believe that it's very close.”

The sooner the Pro League takes form, the better. For, one got the feeling that players were not taking the game seriously, at the 26th Federation Cup in Kochi. For a major part, they appeared to be just going through the motions.

The Federation Cup — at least in the men's section — is supposed to be an event to spot the country's champion club. It is supposed to feature the best clubs of the country's top eight States.

Players not keen

It was, however, clear in Kochi that not many players and teams were keen to give their best. Western Railway, the men's champion last year, is a classic case. The team had just nine players for almost all its matches instead of the full squad of 12. Many of the other teams too were two or three players short.

Two of the women's teams, Southern Railway and Tamil Nadu, landed in Kochi after the tournament began and the latter had to play its opening game just a couple of hours after its arrival.

“Yes, the Federation Cup is not a big thing for us,” said Indian star Geethu Anna Jose after helping Southern Railway, Chennai, to the women's title. “We take the inter-Railways championship more seriously because it's a trial to select players for the Indian Railways team.”

And the Railway players take the National Championship seriously because they get an increment often from their employer if they win the title.

Puzzled coach

No wonder American Kenny Natt, the Head Coach of the Indian men's team, was left puzzled by the mediocre fare.

Southern Railway team which won the women's title.-

“What I've been told is that the top eight teams will be here,” said Natt, who has worked with some of the biggest NBA stars like LeBron James. “But I don't know why the competition here is not as good as it was at the Nationals (in Chennai, in December). There were a lot of good players at the Nationals, I don't see them here. I'm not sure how they select the teams or how the structure goes, I've been here just for nine months…It will take another eight or nine months to understand the structure.”

Well, Natt was not the only man confused at the Federation Cup. Even the favourite ONGC, despite its top internationals Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Yadwinder Singh, was in a tizzy against Punjab Police's stifling defence in the final.

Punjab Police lifted the title after a 10-year break, after the team's strong defence left ONGC's players confused and their game in tatters.

Amritpal, the star

Centre Amritpal Singh, the star of Punjab's triumph in the Chennai Nationals, was a key factor in Punjab Police's triumph. Just 20, he plucked the rebounds under the defensive board smartly and then raced to the other end and scored effortlessly. ONGC had names like Shabeer Ahmed and R. Murali Krishna in this department but they are both aging stars and were too slow for a hot team like Punjab.

The final, which the Police won 72-59, was close in the early stages but Punjab captain Harminder Singh's three three-pointers and Amanjot Singh's two long-rangers in the second quarter pulled the game away from ONGC. Jagdeep Singh, the Indian captain, also served a lovely treat with his turnaround jumpers and smart playmaking skills while Amanjot easily shook off his markers with his lightning runs.

With stars like Geethu Anna Jose and Anitha Pauldurai and the lively point guard Kokila, Southern Railway was too strong for defending champion Chhattisgarh and won by a handsome margin.

With matches being lopsided in the league, the five-day Federation Cup was played to an empty hall during the first three days but when the games became close in the semifinals, the spectators packed the venue.

“We need a Pro League to bring back the crowds,” said Geethu, who has played in the Australian league and participated in the American WNBA tryouts. “We need not have a big one for a start; just a four-team league with one foreign player in each will be good,” she added.

FOR THE RECORD

Men's final: Punjab Police 72 (Amritpal Singh 22, Jagdeep Singh 17, Amanjot Singh 15, Harminder Singh 11) beat ONGC (Dehradun) 59 (Vishesh Bhriguvanshi 21, Yadwinder Singh 20). Third place: IOB (Chennai) 84 (Rikin Prathani 28, Pratham Singh 20, Vineeth Ravi Mathew 10) beat Central Excise (Kochi) 74 (Shinumon Augustine 23, Monish Wilson 22, Subash J. Shenoy 11). Semifinals: Punjab Police 69 (Amritpal Singh 24, Jagdeep Singh 23, Amanjot Singh 10) beat IOB 65 (Vineeth Ravi Mathew 17, Mihir Pandey 16, Rikin Prathan 10); ONGC 47 (Yadwinder Singh 17) beat Central Excise 44 (Monish Wilson 14, R. Manoj 14, Subash Shenoy 10).

Women's final: Southern Railway (Chennai) 95 (Renjini Peter 30, Geethu Anna Jose 20, Anitha Pauldurai 18, Kokila 10) beat Chhattisgarh 57 (Poonam Chaturvedi 17, Seema Singh 16, Anju Lakra 15). Third place: Delhi 65 (Akanksha Singh 16, Raspreet Sidhu 15, Prashanti Singh 14, Pratima Singh 10) beat Kerala 50 (P. S. Jeena 18). Semifinals: Southern Railway 63 (Geethu Anna Jose 24, Anitha Pauldurai 16) beat Delhi 51 (Raspreet Sidhu 17, Pratima Singh 11, Akansha Singh 11); Chhattisgarh 70 (Anju Larkha 29, Kavitha 19, Seema Singh 15) beat Kerala 67 (P. S. Jeena 23, Seena Joseph 11, Ashey Mathew 10).