July 20, 2017

Kevin Durant to visit India to coach NBA Academy prospects and donate basketball courts

Kevin Durant's 2017 Summer Checklist:
- Win his first NBA title? Check.
- Win the Finals MVP award? Check.
- Re-sign with the Warriors on a bargain? Check.
- Visit India? Almost there!

Yes, Durant, who has been the brightest star under the scorching headline of NBA news since he joined the Golden State Warriors last year, will cap off a memorable twelve months by visiting India next week. The NBA announced that Durant will visit New Delhi and Greater Noida on July 27th to support the continued growth of basketball in the country. Durant will coach top prospects at the NBA's elite India Academy, host a large-scale clinic for thousands of young players around the country, and donate two basketball courts to a local school through his charity foundation.

Durant will begin his official trip on July 27th in New Delhi with a visit to the Ramjas School, where he will donate two new basketball courts to the school as part of the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation’s "BUILD IT AND THEY WILL BALL" Courts Renovation Initiative. Durant will then visit The NBA Academy India at the Jaypee Greens Integrated Sports Centre in Greater Noida, becoming the first active NBA player to visit the academy. Durant will coach the prospects through a series of shooting, passing, dribbling and defensive drills. Later in the afternoon at the academy, Durant will lead a large-scale basketball clinic for 5,000 youth from the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme – 1,000 of the athletes will be onsite while the other 4,000 boys and girls will join virtually from Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata via a satellite link.

"I’m excited to travel to India to help promote the game of basketball and meet the prospects at The NBA Academy India," said Durant. "I’ve wanted to visit India for a long time, and I can’t wait to experience the country’s unique culture and share my knowledge with the kids there."

"We are thrilled to host 2017 Finals MVP Kevin Durant in India," said NBA India Managing Director Yannick Colaco. "Kevin is coming off an historic season with the Golden State Warriors. Having one of the very best players in our league interact with the basketball playing youth of India will serve as great inspiration to the next generation of players here, especially the high-performing prospects at The NBA Academy India."

Indeed, Durant is one of the best players - if not, the absolutely best player (with apologies to LeBron, Curry, Westbrook, Kawhi, and Harden fans) - in the NBA at this moment. That previous point might be debatable, but what is definitely not up for debate is that Durant will instantly become the most-talented basketball player to ever step foot on Indian soil. On a Hoopdarshan podcast last month, we discussed the history of NBA players to visit India, and KD's presence will be historic because he will clearly be at top of that totem pole.

By now, Durant's story is well known among NBA enthusiasts. He was the second pick by the Seattle Supersonics back in 2007, and moved with the team to become the leading star for the Oklahoma City Thunder a year later. Over the years, Durant has developed into one of the greatest scorers in NBA history, winning the 2008 Rookie of the Year, making seven All NBA teams, gathering four scoring titles, reaching his individual pinnacle with the 2014 MVP Award, winning two gold medals for USA in the Olympics and one gold at the FIBA World Championship. Last season, he spectacularly and controversially left the Thunder to join the unstoppable Golden State Warriors, whom he helped to the 2017 NBA Championship as the Finals MVP.

Durant's visit to the NBA Academy will be the highlight of the trip. The Academy, which I wrote about in detail for the most recent issue of the SLAM Magazine, opened in May and hopes to employ a "holistic, 360-degree approach to player development with focuses on education, leadership, character development and life skills". The NBA will be hoping that, through this Academy, they can help players with basketball promise reach their full potential.

Welcome to India, KD. Hope you survive that Delhi summer - it might be tougher than any defense you've faced in the NBA all season. Take back some curry for Steph.

July 19, 2017

Australian College of Sport ties up with Pursuit to boost Indian sporting talent

Earlier this year, Indian basketball received a pleasant surprise: four of our top players - Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, and Yadwinder Singh - were invited to Melbourne, Australia to take part in the country's National Basketball League (NBL) Draft Combine. The four players made quite a positive impact with the coaches and scouts from the NBL squads and their performances led to an almost instantaneous reaction: Amritpal was given a chance to take part in the Sydney Kings rookie camp and preseason, while Bhriguvanshi became the first Indian to be signed to an NBL contract, by the Adelaide 36ers.

Photo via: Australian College of Sport
The growing Indo-Australian sports (and particularly, basketball) connection hasn't just been conjured out of thin air. In the background, Indian sports management company Pursuit have been working hard as the mediums between the athletes and their athletic destinations.

Now, Pursuit takes another major step forward in their growing relationship with Australia: On Wednesday, the Australian College of Sport (ACS) formally announced that they have entered a tie-up with Pursuit to act as the ambassador for ACS in India and the rest of the Indian subcontinent. Pursuit will represent ACS for the purpose of scouting and recruiting student athletes to be admitted to the ACS Programme across basketball, football, cricket, badminton, swimming and golf. This tie-up is intended to facilitate India’s most talented athletes to train and study in ACS’s world class facilities in Australia.

The Australian College of Sport was established in Adelaide, Australia in November 2006, and focuses on individualized athlete development combined with formal education to prepare athletes for a professional playing career. In 2011, ACS launched its golfing programme in Melbourne and in 2015, expanded its basketball programme and opened a second campus in Sydney.

This tie-up is a direct result of the Australian Prime Minister, Malcom Turnbull’s visit to India in April 2017, when the Indian and Australian Governments signed several MoUs, including one on sports. This MoU endeavours to connect Australia’s global reputation for sports excellence and expertise with India’s ambition to improve its sports administration and infrastructure.

“This tie-up is significant as it provides another pathway to young Indian athletes to develop their craft in a world-class environment," said Vishnu Ravi Shankar, Director of Pursuit. "What’s more, the classroom education that ACS offers on sports development and management creates an opportunity for the student-athlete to build a career in the global sports industry."

“Through this tie-up, we aim to get exposed to the right pool of talent in India and provide the right platform to aspiring athletes in India that are willing to compete professionally and exploring the sporting industry," said Stuart Roberts, the CEO of ACS. "Our High Performance Training Curriculum enables the athlete to achieve superior results."

From an Indian perspective, this tie-up is intended to address the lack of coaching and training facilities in the country, allowing India’s most talented athletes to train and study in Australia’s world class facilities. The focus is on finding players in the age group of 17 to 22, where player development is crucial. Besides honing of pro athletes, ACS also delivers vocational education through its degree pathways with top tier Australian Universities such as Deakin University, University of South Australia and Torrens University.

Shankar added that the programme in ACS should increase the future scope for Indian players to have an opportunity to play in Australia. "Doors are opening up for Indian players now," said Shankar. "Australians already know that Indians can play sport because we compete with them in cricket. After Amritpal, they will be looking at Indian athletes as viable options for basketball, too."

Recently, Pursuit also finalised a deal with the IMG Academy in the USA for a different programme to promote Indian athletes. "Both of these things are just the beginning stage," said Shankar. "We need to do a lot more, we need to tie up with more colleges and academies and with the right kind of people. The point is that kids should have multiple options. Eventually they should have options in different parts of the world with different types of affordability. World class training is important. A course like ACS which comes with a sports development programme can be a great starting point."

July 17, 2017

Guards of Honour

This article was first published in my blog for The Times of India on July 7, 2017. Click here for the original piece.

With no shortage of talented bigs, India’s immediate basketball requirement is in the backcourt

In the very first game of the BRICS Games in Guangzhou last month, India were down by 10 to China, 38-28 at halftime. The deficit, considering the circumstances, wasn’t really a worry up: China were always going to be heavy favourites over a developing Indian basketball team and the BRICS Games were largely serving as practice for the larger challenge ahead, the FIBA Asia Cup in August. India were playing in the tournament without star big man Amritpal Singh, but had seen good early performances by their other two stars Amjyot Singh and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi.

But early in the second half, tragedy struck. Bhriguvanshi, India’s most experienced player, a former captain, and one of the best shooting guards in Asia, took a hard fall and then writhed on the floor clutching his right knee. It took the help of medical staff and teammates to carry him back to the locker rooms. His night was over.

India were outscored by 30 points in the second half and ended up losing the game 97-57 to the hosts. But the larger concern for the team – and for the Indian basketball fans following the tournament from home – was Bhriguvanshi’s health. Medical staff feared an ACL tear. He was ruled out of the rest of the tournament, and crucially, India faced the daunting possibility of heading out to Lebanon for the FIBA Asia Cup without their best wing player.

There is a common belief that basketball is a game for tall players, and scouts in India have long been in the hunt for the most talented bigs around from around the country to hone and develop them into game-changers. The swing towards looking for those athletic bigs took such a turn over the past decade that India now enjoys a glut of tall talents. The Men’s national team is loaded with a logjam of frontcourt riches, featuring Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh (set to return to the team for the FIBA Asia Cup), Satnam Singh (India’s first NBA draftee who will return for the championship, too), Yadwinder Singh, Rikin Pethani, Ravi Bhardwaj, and our first NBA G-League draftee, Palpreet Singh Brar. With a variety of skillsets and experience levels, these big guys will ensure that India will have the might to go up against any frontline in the continent.

The real problem for India, however, lies in the backcourt. Any regular player or fan of basketball knows that, while the big guys are the muscle on the court, the “smaller” guys (relatively) are the engine. It is the guards and the “wing” players who are usually every team’s best ball-handlers, creators on offense, shooters, and perimeter defenders. Even in teams where the big guys are the best and highest-scoring players, it is the players in the backcourt that set the pace of the game.

In recent years, especially with the way that the game has developed in the NBA and worldwide, there is now an urgent need for elite guards and wings for every successful team. Over the past few decades, guards have been faster, stronger, better shooters, and more athletic. A team with great big players will only be half as useful if it doesn’t have creative and talented options in the backcourt, too.

A great current example of this unbalance in the NBA is with the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans’ frontline features arguably the two best big men in the league: Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. But without too many backcourt options to set up plays for the big guys and stretch the floor for them to have space in the middle, the ‘Twin Towers’ experiment hasn’t worked so far.

The Pelicans will serve as a good learning experience for India’s rumoured new men’s basketball team head coach, Phil Weber. Weber has been a long-time NBA assistant and most recently finished working with – you guessed it – Davis and Cousins in New Orleans. In India, he will get a sense of déjà vu in that first practice, as Amjyot and Amritpal (and Satnam and Palpreet and Yadwinder etc. etc. etc.) will provide limitless options for dominance in the post, but the backcourt will continue to be a point of major concern, from New Orleans to New Delhi.

The good news is that Bhriguvanshi’s injury has turned out to be less serious than initially diagnosed; the player I fondly like to call the ‘Banarasi Mamba’ is now likely to return to the team in time for the FIBA Asia Cup next month. Bhriguvanshi will be asked to excel at multiple backcourt positions for India as both our best creator and best scorer at the FIBA Asia Cup. He will be a little rusty, and even if he’s at his best, India has no other players in the guard or wing positions who can match the best backcourts in Asia.

While Akilan Pari, Hafeez Muin Bek, Prasanna Sivakumar, Anil Kumar Gowda, Arjun Singh, Arshpreet Bhullar, and the aging TJ Sahi are all great players at the domestic level, they will struggle against the top guards and small forwards in the continent, such as China’s Guo Ailun, Philippines’ Jayson Castro and Terrance Romeo, Iran’s Samad Nikkah Bahrami, Lebanon’s Wael Arakji and Fadi El Khatib, and many more.

A couple of talented young perimeter players, like Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi and Prudhvi Reddy, are in the pipeline for India already, but still need to add muscle and match experience to be ready for the biggest stages. In the long run, however, India needs to begin focusing on developing young talent all across the board, and not just the “readymade” big players.

So, start dribbling kids: India needs a point guard. Keep working on that outside shot, on those passing skills, on your court vision, and learn to put the ball on the floor to drive and dish or to take it all the way to the hole. Basketball is as much a game for the quick and dexterous as it is for the big and strong, and India’s future excellence depends on finding elite-level talent to cover all ends of the spectrum.

July 14, 2017

IOA finally grants affiliation to the "new" Basketball Federation of India

From a distance, it might seem like Indian Basketball has been bouncing around just fine. India has seen improvements in our national performances over the past few years and have hired a couple of respected international coaches for the senior men's and women's squads. Our stars are starting to make waves internationally and we are even hosting a couple of major FIBA events - the FIBA Asia Women's Cup and FIBA Asia U16 Women's Championship - on our home turf this year.

But true fans know that basketball's mere existence in India since 2015 has been an act of rebellion. Two years ago, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) broke apart into two opposing factions, each claiming to be the rightful committee to lead Indian basketball. The faction led by President K. Govindraj, formed in Bengaluru, was granted affiliated by the international basketball association FIBA because they held their annual general meeting legally as per the BFI constitution. But the faction led by President Poonam Mahajan, formed in Pune, contested this decision, and were supported by the the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports of the Government of India. Because of this division, the IOA and the Sports Ministry didn't recognise the Govindraj-faction BFI under the umbrella of Olympic sports and sports federations in India. All of the progress in the sport has since been propelled by the Govindraj-BFI without direct support or affiliations from these higher associations.

Anyways, it's now mid-2017, and the IOA - who had earlier appointed an "ad-hoc" committee to oversee Indian Basketball - have finally done the right thing and granted affiliation to the BFI, coming to terms with the federation that is recognised by BFI and who have been running the show for Indian basketball for the last few years.

The Times of India reported on Friday that, in a letter dated July 13, 2017, the IOA's General Secretary Rajeev Mehta wrote, "In accordance with the directives of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and honouring the rule 29 of Olympic Charter, the IOA grants affiliation to the BFI with K Govindraj as president and Chander Mukhi Sharma as secretary general." Mehta added that the affiliation is "subject to ratification by the executive council / general body of the IOA."

Apparently, it was the leader of the opposing faction - Poonam Mahajan - that finally urged the IOA to end the impasse. More reporting on this issue by Amit Sampat for The Times of India:

The reason to revise the decision and grant recognition to the other faction was the initiative of Poonam Mahajan informed Mehta. "On the initiative of Poonam Mahajan we took this decision. She wanted to end this impasse and was eager to see basketball as one of the top sport. She was always positive for basketball and informed me that she has no problem if IOA grants recognition to the other group. On her positive approach the IOA took this decision and the issue will soon be resolved," Mehta told TOI.
The sports ministry, however, has not granted recognition to either of the factions. Ever since June 12, 2015, the sports ministry has put on hold the conduct of any official basketball event in India until the office bearers of the BFI are recognized by the government.
Even the IMG-Reliance group, which signed a 30-year contract with the BFI in 2010, has stopped all activities including sponsorships until the office bearers are recognized. In that historic deal in 2010 the IMG-Reliance group was given the commercial rights of basketball in India.

Officials of both the factions and IMG-Reliance group have been fighting their respective battles in the court. Mediation is in progress to resolve the issue.

The IOA's affiliation is good news, as the rightful committee atop the BFI can now clear one obstruction on their way to full legitimacy. Hopefully, the government can now follow on this decision and extend their recognition towards the BFI, too. The ball is now in the court - literally, as it is a courtroom battle now - but fans will be hoping for a quick mediation so that the BFI can look for new sponsors beyond IMG Reliance and help move the game forward.

July 13, 2017

India's Men squad head to Chinese Taipei for 2017 William Jones Cup: Roster, Schedule, Preview

India's big summer of international basketball action continues. After the women's team's experiences at the William Jones Cup last week, the Senior Men's squad will have their chance at the prestigious invitational tournament in Chinese Taipei. Under a new, experienced head coach, but minus several of our top players, India heads to Chinese Taipei for the 2017 William Jones Cup - the Men's tournament - to be held from July 15-23 at the Taipei Heping Basketball Gymnasium in Taipei. The tournament will serve as crucial practice for India as they prepare for the summer's biggest extravaganza: next month's FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon.

India's squad from the 2017 BRICS Games last month
This year's large fray of the round robin championship will feature ten teams, including international squads from Asia and a couple of club teams from the rest of the world. India's schedule will be jam-packed, with nine games in nine consecutive days. Participating teams include two host Chinese Taipei teams, Asian champions Iran, Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Iraq, and club sides from Lithuania and Canada.

Last year's the Philippines' club squad Mighty Sports won the William Jones Cup. India showed potential but finished with a 1-7 record. Memorably, a couple of important Indian players arrived late to Chinese Taipei because of a visa issue.

India will not be held back by visa problems this year, but injuries and travel will reduce the team to a more depleted squad, compared to what the coaching staff will hope will be the full team for Lebanon. India is being led by Rikin Pethani as captain and will feature international star Amjyot Singh. Missing from action will be Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Yadwinder Singh (injury) and Amritpal Singh, Palpreet Singh, and Satnam Singh (busy with international club obligations). Their absence will give other veterans and up-and-comers like Pratham Singh, Basil Philip, Prudhvi Reddy, Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi, Gurvinder Singh Gill, and Prasanna Sivakumar a chance to shine.

All the spotlight, however, will be on Phil Weber, newly-hired coach of the Indian Men squad - even though at the time of writing, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) is set to finalise his contract or make an official announcement. Weber is an experienced NBA assistant coach who is currently working for the New Orleans Pelicans alongside Alvin Gentry and has worked in the past for the Phoenix Suns and the New York Knicks. This will be the first opportunity for Weber to put to test about ten days of practice time with the national team and get an idea of how India will shape up against top-ranked teams from the region (and beyond). Assisting him in India's coaching staff will be experienced national coaches Bhaskar Sappaniambalam and Sebastian Padipurakkal Joseph.

India Men's roster for 2017 William Jones Cup
  • Prudhvi Reddy
  • Anil Kumar Gowda
  • Arjun Singh
  • Pratham Singh
  • Basil Philip
  • Jeevanantham Pandi
  • Rikin Pethani - captain
  • Amjyot Singh
  • Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi
  • Gurvinder Singh Gill
  • Prasanna Venkatesh
  • Muin Bek Hafeez
  • Head Coach: Phil Weber
  • Assistant Coach: Bhaskar Sappaniambalam
  • Assistant Coach: Sebastian Padipurakkal Joseph
  • Manager: Devender Kumar

India Men's schedule for 2017 William Jones Cup - all timings IST
  • July 15 - Iraq vs. India - 8:30 AM
  • July 16 - India vs. South Korea - 8:30 AM
  • July 17 - Chinese Taipei Blue vs. India - 4:30 PM
  • July 18 - India vs. Iran - 12:30 PM
  • July 19 - Atletas All-Star Lithuania vs. India - 8:30 AM
  • July 20 - India vs. Chinese Taipei White - 12:30 PM
  • July 21 - 3D Canada vs. India - 8:30 AM
  • July 22 - India vs. Philippines - 10:30 AM
  • July 23 - India vs. Japan - 12:30 PM

India's last international outing was at the 2017 BRICS Games in Guangzhou, China, from where they returned with a 0-3 record. Without Amritpal and Bhriguvanshi on the roster for the William Jones Cup, a lot of hopes will be on Amjyot Singh to be India's star man. Coach Weber will be putting a lot of trust on relatively inexperienced role players beyond the core of Amjyot, Pethani, Pratham, and Venkatesh, but that is why a tournament like this can be crucial to help the team get big match practice.

India's most winnable challenge will be in their very first game, against Iraq. The rest of the national teams are ranked higher than India and the club squads are likely to post a major threat, too. Playing against Iran will give India a good idea of the team they are also scheduled to face in their preliminary round stage at the FIBA Asia Cup.

The 2017 FIBA Asia Cup will be the biggest-ever iteration of the event, featuring the top teams from both the Asia and Oceania regions, held from August 8-20 in Beirut, Lebanon. India are in Group A of the tournament with defending champions Iran, Jordan, and Syria. Hopefully, Weber and the team are able to learn important lessons at the William Jones Cup over the next ten days and have a full, healthy squad available for the bigger challenge ahead.

July 9, 2017

William Jones Cup 2017 (Women): 3 teams tie for best record; India finish 0-5

Under the leadership of a new, foreign head coach, India's women's team got off to a bumpy start in their first outing - the 2017 William Jones Cup in Chinese Taipei - but gained valuable experience against much-better squads to bring back home with them for the bigger challenge ahead.

India were one of six Women's teams that took part in the 39th William Jones Cup, a round robin tournament at the Changhua Gymnasium in Changhua in Chinese Taipei as a preparatory outing before the FIBA Asia Cup for Women destined to be held back at home in Bengaluru at the end of July. India were the only Division B team (the lower pool of the FIBA Asia Cup) at William Jones and lost all of their games to end at the bottom of the table. Nevertheless, the tournament turned out to be crucial for new Serbian head coach Zoran Visic to tinker with the team's lineups, instill some of his coaching style and philosophies, and provide the women with necessary competitive-game experience.

Three teams - Japan, New Zealand, and Chinese Taipei Blue - finished with identical 4-1 records to top the tournament fray, with a total of 9 points each and identical 1-1 records against each other. Japan, the current Asian champions, held the tie-breaker differential between the three teams with +1.07.

India's squad was captained by veteran star Anitha Paul Durai and feature other talents to watch like Jeena Scaria, Kavita Akula, Poojamol Subhashmon, and Shireen Limaye. Visic was joined in the coaching staff by veteran coach Shiba Maggon.

India's final scores at 39th William Jones Cup
  • July 5: New Zealand bt. India 75-52
  • July 6: Japan bt. India 93-42
  • July 5: South Korea bt. India 56-51
  • July 5: Chinese Taipei Blue bt. India 113-59
  • July 5: Chinese Taipei White bt. India 79-41

India's 0-5 record dropped them to sixth/last place in the tournament. India were definitely a pace slower than all of their Division A opponents, but played a great game against South Korea in the close loss. Visic relied on the team's eldest players - Raspreet Sidhu and Anitha Paul Durai - to play the bulk of the minutes for the team. Paul Durai, Jeena Scaria, and Sidhu were India's top three scorers. Kavita Akula, Rajapriyadharshini Rajaganapathi, and Shireen Limaye also got to play major minutes through the course of the tournament.

India will now come back home for the FIBA Asia Cup in Bengaluru from July 23-29. In an interview a few weeks ago, Coach Visic had told me that the team will have to overcome their relative inexperience if they hope to win Division B and be relegated to the higher division for the Cup's next iteration. After playing against tougher opponents in Chinese Taipei, India should find their group - with Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan - a little easier. They will have to overcome Division B's Group B winners next, most likely to be Lebanon or Kazakhstan. With a home crowd cheering behind him, let's hope that the team can bounce back to Asia's higher level.

India are participating in the men's William Jones Cup, too, set to begin in Chinese Taipei on July 15.

July 8, 2017

Youth Nationals 2017: Tamil Nadu (Girls) and Punjab (Boys) win gold in Hyderabad

A month ago, Tamil Nadu's Girls and Punjab's Boys rose among the best under-18 talents in the country to win the Junior Nationals gold in Puducherry. This week, it was deja vu of their younger sisters and brothers, as the two states repeated their incredible feat at the under-16 level, too.

Two of India's most-famed factories of young basketball talent - Tamil Nadu and Punjab - continued to stamp their authority at the game's youth level when both emerged as victors at the 34th Youth (U16) National Basketball Championship for Men and Women in Hyderabad. The eight-day tournament concluded at the famed Gachibowli Stadium in Hyderabad with the finals between the top remaining squads in the country on Saturday, July 8.

Tipping off on July 1st in Hyderabad, the 'Youth Nationals' were organised by the Hyderabad District Basketball Association (HDBA) under the aegis of the Telangana Basketball Association and the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). The prestigious championship featured 26 boys' and 25 girls' teams from all across the country.

This year's tournament marked a special high-point for Tamil Nadu's Girls, who have now won four consecutive gold medals at this event and played in five straight finals. In the final, TN clashed against Karnataka, who were India's U18 champions last year and, like TN, reached the final stage undefeated. With a fast start where they took a 14-point first-half lead, however, TN assured their intent of keeping their names on the trophy. Led by the duo of Monica Jayaseeli (23) and Pushpa (20), TN's first half helped secure a 70-53 victory and yet another impressive title. Reshma Ramesh scored 18 for Karnataka in the loss.

Despite being the training ground for so many of India's top players, Punjab hadn't made it to the medal rounds of the Youth Nationals since 2013. This year, however, they fielded a stacked up featuring young phenom Princepal Singh. In the final they faced a surprising Madhya Pradesh side who had risen dramatically from Level 2 to reach the podium stage. But what was supposed to be a blowout turned out to be a closely-contested matchup, as MP's talented wing players helped to neutralise the damage Princepal did in the inside. In a back and forth game where both teams exchanged leads throughout, it eventually ended up being clutch free throws made by Princepal in the game's last 20 seconds that helped secure a 80-77 victory for Punjab. Princepal ended up with 25 points on the day while Rajan (18) and Harsimranjit Singh (16) aided his cause in the win. MP's star player Divyaraj Singh Rathore scored 28 while his teammate Udayveer Yadav added 20.

For the prize and souvenir distribution ceremony, G Kishan Reddy (MLA & Floor Leader, BJLP, Telangana) was the chief guest and Dr V Ragothaman was the guest of honour. MVP awards given to Karnataka's Sanjana Ramesh (Girls) & Punjab's Princepal Singh (Boys). Princepal, you may recall is the same Punjabi youngster who last year won a $75,000 scholarship from the Spire Institute to train in USA. The BFI gave additional 'Most Promising Player' awards to Telangana's Arya Sreeramaneni (Girls) and MP's Divyaraj Singh Rathore (Boys).

The third/fourth place matchups were also held on Saturday. Last year's finalists Kerala defeated a strong Uttar Pradesh side 58-67, led by An Mariya Johny (17) and Ann Mary Zachariah (16). In the men's game, Andhra Pradesh capped off an unlikely surge in this year's tournament with a nail-biting victory over Haryana, 72-68. A Sai Pavan scored 21 for the winning side, assisted by SVV Sai Krishna's 17. Haryana were led by Anil (20), Mukesh (17), and Kapil Mor (17).

Final Scores
  • Girls: Tamil Nadu (Monica Jayaseeli 23, Pushpa 20) bt Karnataka (Reshma Ramesh 18) 70-53 [18-14, 19-9, 16-14, 17-16].
  • Boys: Punjab (Princepal Singh 25, Rajan 18, Harsimranjit Singh 16) bt Madhya Pradesh (Divyaraj Singh Rathore 28, Udayveer Yadav 20) 80-77 [19-18, 19-19, 20-21, 22-19].

Third/Fourth Place
  • Girls: Kerala (An Mariya Johny 17, Ann Mary Zachariah 16) bt Uttar Pradesh 58-47 [16-7, 9-7, 17-13, 16-20].
  • Boys: Andhra Pradesh (A Sai Pavan 21, SVV Sai Krishna 17) bt Haryana (Anil 20, Mukesh 17, Kapil Mor 17) 72-68 [15-16, 14-21, 25-11, 18-20].

Final Standings

  • 1. Tamil Nadu
  • 2. Karnataka
  • 3. Kerala
  • 4. Uttar Pradesh
  • 5. Chhattisgarh

  • 1. Punjab
  • 2. Madhya Pradesh
  • 3. Andhra Pradesh
  • 4. Haryana
  • 5. Uttar Pradesh