A total of 46 teams from around India - 25 in the Men's and 21 in the women's section - have descended upon the city of Ludhiana in Punjab for India's biggest annual basketball event, the 63rd National Basketball Championship for Men & Women. The tournament, which will be pitting the finest basketball players that India has to offer, will be tipping off on Friday, December 28, 2012, and will conclude with the Finals on January 4, 2013.
Here is the complete list of participating teams in their groups, via the BFI.
Last year's champions in Chennai, Punjab (Men) and Indian Railways (Women) will be looking to defend their titles this year. Punjab come into the tournament not only as reigning champions but also as hosts, but they can expect a stiff challenge from the likes of Tamil Nadu, Indian Railways, and Services in the Men's division. Indian Railways (Women) have been dominating this tournament and have won it for the past nine consecutive years. They will be looking to make it 10 in a row this time around, although teams from Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, and Delhi might also look to upset the powerhouses.
In addition to the tournament, a 'Train the Trainer' coaching clinic is scheduled to be held at the venue on January 1-2 under the direction of India's new national team coach Scott Flemming and India's Strength & Conditioning Coach Zak Penwell. Penwell's book on Strength & Conditioning for the Indian basketball player will also be officially released at this event both in English and in Hindi.
On January 4, Coach Flemming will host an open tryout for any interested youth players to try and have a shot at India's U16 teams for both boys and girls.
The next week is definitely going to oversee the most significant domestic events in Indian basketball, so all hoops fans in the country are encouraged to attend and follow the action. You can follow results of the games daily here on the BFI website.
I wrote this feature as the cover story for SLAM China 2012 No. 23 where it was published in Chinese. The original English version was first published on SLAMOnline.com on December 18, 2012.
It’s an afternoon practice session at the Qingdao University Gymnasium. It’s a big city debut in the evening in Shanghai. It’s the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles. It’s the first round of the NBA Playoffs in Houston. It’s him as an athletic 18-year-old straight out of high school in Toronto. It’s him in his mid-30s as a veteran in China.
No matter what jersey he’s wearing, no matter the time or age, no matter the opponent, Tracy McGrady’s on-court demeanor rarely changes. Without the ball, he moves slowly, almost seeming to lumber painfully from one side of the court to the other. Once the whistle blows and the game begins, he speeds up a little, but his body language still gives the impression of lethargy, of being a little too relaxed, of being a little too disoriented.
But blink and you may miss the sudden spurt of energy, a sudden flash, an unexpected spin around an opposing defender, a perfect catch of the ball, a sudden spark of complete concentration, of complete orientation, a couple of quick dribbles to beat the next defender, a quick jump shot, a perfect swish.
Walk down through any public park in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, or McGrady’s new home of Qingdao, or anywhere across the country, and you’ll see Tai Chi in action. Young and old (well, mostly old!) Chinese practitioners exercising in slow physical meditation. Not every form of physical workout needs to be externally grueling; Tai Chi proves that the slow, almost lethargic-looking form of exercise can perform wonders, can offer the perfect internal balance, can prepare its subject physically, mentally and spiritually for grueling tests of the body and the mind ahead.
From Auburndale High School to the Mount Zion Christian Academy, from Toronto to Orlando, from Houston to New York, and from Detroit to Atlanta, Tracy McGrady—probably unwittingly—honed his Tai Chi skills. In the process, he became the best high school player in the US, became the ninth pick in the NBA, won a Most Improved Player award, was named to the All-NBA First-Team twice, became an NBA scoring champion twice, and played in seven consecutive NBA All-Star games. He became one of the most popular players in the world, and most importantly, one of the finest basketball players in the world.
And in 2012, he arrived in China, the land where Tai Chi has flourished, to flourish with his own command of Tai Chi Basketball. He arrived in the city of Qingdao to guide the city’s DoubleStar Eagles to greater heights than they have ever before.
The Chinese Basketball Association is at its most advanced stage yet. The league has never been better. The talent level in each team stronger than ever before, there is more balance in the league than ever before, and with each passing year, the league gets richer and more popular across the world. There are also a high number of talented foreign players spread across the league, many of whom have been big names in the NBA in past years.
Foreign players have been hitting up Chinese shores for over a decade, but the most-hyped breakthrough first came when Bonzi Wells came in to play for the Shaanxi Brave Dragons. An unsuccessful stint by Yao Ming’s former teammate Steve Francis followed, but the league truly came into global attention when Stephon Marbury bought his talents to China. Marbury’s journey eventually took him and the Beijing Ducks to their first CBA championship in 2012. A year ago, during the lockout in the NBA, a multitude of NBA players—including Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, JR Smith, and Aaron Brooks—all chose to play professionally in China.
Looking around the CBA today, the list of foreign players can sometimes read as a list of the NBA’s ‘Where Are They Now?’ Mike Harris, Rashad McCants, Shavlik Randolph, DJ Mbenga (McGrady’s former teammate in Qingdao), Al Thornton, Quincy Douby, Josh Boone, James Singleton, Von Wafer, Randolph Morris, Sundiata Gaines, and Ike Diogu are earning their salaries far from home in China. Marbury is still leading the Ducks’ offense. This year, multiple-time All-Star Gilbert Arenas finds himself (chilling on the injury list) in Shanghai.
But let’s be real: Tracy McGrady has arrived this season as the biggest foreign name in the history of the CBA. Never before has an American star of his caliber played in front of China’s local audiences, been a teammate to their own players, represented a team of one of their own cities. Tracy McGrady, the man who played 15 fruitful years in the NBA. Tracy McGrady, the man who averaged 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game through his career. Tracy McGrady, who once scored 13 points in 35 seconds.
That Tracy McGrady is now playing in China.
Qingdao is a beautiful city on in the Shandong Province on China’s East Coast. It’s one of the cleanest and greenest of the major cities in the country, and even earned the title of China’s Most Livable City in 2009 and 2011 by the Chinese Institute of City Competitiveness. The city is home to beautiful German-style architecture, pleasant beaches, wide roads, mountains spotting across the city limits, and most-famously, to China’s well-known Tsingtao Beer. Like McGrady, the city is laid-back and easy-going.
But with McGrady’s addition this year, their fans—young and old—are expectant of great things.
“I used to be a big fan of Shandong’s basketball team for more than 10 years back in the old days,” says Zhao Quan Min, a fan who showed up at the Qingdao University Gymnasium to watch McGrady and the Eagles play against the Bayi Rockets, “But I never really followed the new Qingdao Eagles. Of course, I used to like McGrady back when he used to play with Yao in the Houston Rockets. So it’s great that he’s here in our city.”
When asked about his expectations for the team this year, Zhao smiles and without a hesitation replies, “A championship.”
McGrady’s move is helping to bring non-basketball fans to the stadium, too. Wang Bi started coming to Qingdao’s home games after she heard about McGrady’s signing. She says she has been a fan of Mai Di for the past eight years. When asked why, she answered, “Because when I saw him on TV, he was so handsome, and cool!”
On game night, another group of fans sitting in the upper stands let their large banner—unfurled widely across the rows—do the talking: ‘T-Mac comes—Can Championship Be Far Behind?’
Speaking to reporters, McGrady admitted he knows little to nothing about his opponents in China. He’s new here, and he’ll learn. The CBA won’t be an easy league for him and his team, and there are no guarantees of success. But the city of Qingdao expects, and the fans are excited. Now, the pressure is on McGrady to deliver.
Or so we think. Because as the man himself claims, there is no pressure at all.
China loves basketball, and McGrady, who spent the best-remembered years of his career in Houston with China’s greatest player, Yao Ming, is rightfully loved in China. He has been a superstar in the US, and his arrival in China has been greeted with frantic fan frenzy. He was mobbed by fans as he first walked out through the airport, he is mobbed by fans screaming out his name at every home game, he has fans of other teams cheering for him, he has the attention of every person in the 1.4-billion strong country that cares for basketball, and even of a great number of those who don’t.
In the middle of this frenzy, this outpour of love and attention, McGrady seems as calm as ever.
McGrady has had a rough start to his career with the Eagles, and the team has gone through a major transition phase since finishing ninth last season, their best ever finish since the team’s inception in 2003. Gone are last year’s All-Stars Li Gen and the American Lester Hudson. In came McGrady and former NBA player DJ Mbenga, who was soon replaced after a rough start by the American Chris Daniels. To put it bluntly, the surrounding cast in the team around McGrady is weak, but that is the price that the team has to pay for signing a former NBA superstar. Speaking to reporters, McGrady made clear that one of his goals is to help his Chinese teammates get better.
The Eagles finished last season with a 16-16 record, their best ever finish in the CBA. After a rough start to this season, the team fired their Korean head coach Kang Jung-Soo and promoted junior coach Zhang Shizhang to the top post. Unfortunately, as the new coach is learning, success won’t be too easy, even with T-Mac’s talents. Nine games in, McGrady’s Eagles are the worst team in China. At the time of writing, they were 0-9 and T-Mac was still looking for his first win in China. The team will have to work hard and figure out their identity if they plan to fulfill their first goal: to start winning games. The fans’ dreams of the playoffs, or that improbable championship, will have to wait for later.
But will there be a later? With the exception of Marbury, many foreign players have the tendency to use China has just a stepping stone or a phase in their career. There are no guarantees if McGrady will be in Qingdao, or even in China next season. McGrady sounded non-committal about his future too.
“I’m not thinking about long-term plans right now,” he said. “I don’t think that far ahead. I go day-by-day. I don’t know what the future holds for me.”
If he doesn’t have a clear future, then McGrady will have to make the most of his present time with the team. And whether or not he likes to admit it, this is a team that is under major spotlight this season, and with every loss, the pressure on the players is going to increase exponentially. China loves McGrady because they love basketball superstars. But China loves winning even more.
Marbury—another great talent from the NBA who couldn’t find success back home—was able to turn it around and win an elusive championship with the Beijing Ducks in China. Marbury always had fans in China, but becoming a champion turned him into a legend. A statue of him—paid by the Ducks’ fans—stands outside the Wukesong/MasterCard stadium where his team won the CBA Finals last season.
McGrady will have no problem having individual success in China, putting up big stats (he’s currently averaging over 25 points, 4 assists and nearly 6 rebounds per game), and in the process, remaining extremely popular. He has been a great individual player and a popular one before, in the NBA. But he was never too successful with his team, and never tasted the sweet success of an NBA Championship. Now in China, he has to turn his fortunes like Marbury did and turn individual brilliance in to team success.
There will be questions and concerns constantly surrounding him. He’s in his 30s now and is being expected to carry a heavy load for the Eagles. Will he be able to do it on a consistent basis at this age? He has also been constantly hampered with injuries in the past, injuries that cut short what could have been an even better career.
The journey ahead won’t be easy. There will be loud noises screaming at McGrady on court and loud fan frenzy chasing him off of it. There will be the need to win and to entertain, to dominate and to help others in his team dominate. To stop his opponents and go somewhere neither he nor his new team has never been before.
Luckily for McGrady, he is already blessed with one weapon for the road ahead. He may look calm, slow, and a little too relaxed at times, but don’t be fooled: because like the art of Tai Chi makes one move gracefully to become stronger, McGrady has the graceful talent to come out stronger than ever on the basketball court. The eyes won’t always show it, but a switch will constantly flip off and on—multiple times a game—when he turns the calmness into deadliness, the lethargy into swift concentration.
When he becomes the most dangerous player on court.
Mood Indigo is one of the largest of its kind festivals in Asia, held annually in December at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Mumbai. Last year, the 4-day festival attracted over 80,000 students from 600 colleges from across India.
Mood Indigo's (uber-flashy) website. Each squad can have four members, three starters and a bench player.
The tournament is sure to follow the same format as the NBA 3x tournaments which have taken place across various cities in India already this year. Since this tournament is taking place at a big festival it will probably be televised on Sony SIX as well. It's all part of what SIX promised would be more localised NBA/basketball programming for the Indian audiences this year along with of course broadcasting live NBA games.
So if you're amongst the 80,000 heading over to the festival, don't forget to pack your shorts and sneakers too!
The 2nd Bangalore IMG-Reliance School Basketball League has tipped off in the Sri Kantaveera Stadium in Bangalore on Monday, December 17th. Organised by the Karnataka State Basketball Association (KSBA), the Bangalore School League will feature 10 boys' and eight girls' teams from across the region.
Here is the list of participating teams:
Group 1: Vidya Niketan School, Bishop Cotton's School, Christ School, Sri Kumaran Children's Home, Poorna Prajna Education Centre (PPEC) (Indiranagar).
Group 1: Bishop Cotton's School, Poorna Prajna Education Centre (PPEC) (Indiranagar), Delhi Public School (Bangalore South), Kendriya Vidyalaya (Hebbal).
Group 2: Sri Kumaran Children's Home, Mary Immaculate Girls' High School, New Horizon School, National Public School (Rajajinagar).
The full schedule of fixtures is available on the official website of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI).
Here is my interview with the new Coach, where he discusses his past and his future goals for India’s basketball team. He doesn't promise overnight success, but he does hope to hold himself to a high standard and help build basketball in India. Pukka promise!
Working on a story for the past few weeks, I got the opportunity to attend several basketball games in China to watch the Qingdao Eagles and their newly-signed superstar Tracy McGrady (heard of him?) in action. I've attended three Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) games so far, two home games for the Eagles hosting the Foshan Long Lions and the Bayi Rockets, and one away game where they came to China's capital Beijing to play Stephon Marbury and the Beijing Ducks. The first two games happened to be his first home games in front of his new adopted fanbase.
Outside of T-Mac, the Eagles have a poor roster which hasn't been able to find a winning combination as of yet. As a matter of fact, the team lost all three games I watched and have started the new CBA season 0-8 to find themselves getting comfortable with last place.
Here are some pics (from my humble pocket camera!) that I took watching the 7-time All Star and his team in action. And follow my Facebook and Twitter pages for updates for my big story, coming out very soon...
The Qingdao University Gymnasium, home court to the Eagles, on game night.
McGrady fans in different jerseys representing.
T-Mac, his team, and his cheerleaders during the pre-game national song.
In the game against Bayi.
Home fans going crazy in the close game, before another close loss.
Qingdao vs. Beijing game.
Riding on with their newly recruited players from Kerala Police, the Palakkad Women's team took their first ever Gold at the 57th Kerala State Senior Basketball Championship at the Govt Higher Secondary school at Manjeri. Ernakulum Men dethroned defending Champion Thiruvanthapuram to take the Men's title.
In the Men's battle, Ernakulum - comprised of players from Central Excise, Kochi - had to fight hard to beat Thiruvanthapuram 66-54. Ernakulum had a close 33-29 lead at half time. Monish Wilson came up with 17 points for the winners. Eudric Pereira had 15 points for Thiruvanthapuram.
In the Women's 3/4th place game, Kannur Defeated Thrissur 66-40 with their prolific scorer Jeena PS scoring 35 points. Pathanamthitta Men took the third spot after defeating Kollam 69-48.
Awards were also distributed to individual players from the State rewarding their performances through the year. Eudrick Pereira and Neenumol PS won the P S Viswappan Memorial Gold Medal for the best player. Basil Phillip and Poojamol KS were given the Parmeswaran Pillai Memorial Cash award.
This is my first feature published in SLAM China. Originally in English, it was translated and published in Chinese in the magazine's 2012.22 edition. Here is the original English version of the story.
The NBA can be a funny, unpredictable place. Today’s legend can become tomorrow’s has-been. An afterthought from the past can spring up to be a superstar in the present. And the interweaving, up-and-down fate of the 2009 draft class, who entered the league with such fresh-faced optimism three years ago, is a perfect example that star power in the world’s strongest basketball league is but a fickle thing. There are no guarantees and no accurate predictions.
While Jennings was coming into his own, another rookie guard in Sacramento was making a name for himself, too. When Tyreke Evans finished his rookie season, he became only the fourth rookie in NBA history since Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James to average 20, 5, and 5 in their first year in the league.
And yet, only a few years after their impressive rookie campaigns, both Evans and Jennings now find themselves expendable. Neither of their teams have yet offered them an extension to their rookie contracts, leaving the glittering stars of the 2009-10 NBA rookie class looking into their future with looming uncertainty.
NBA Drafts are an inexact science, mainly because it is near-impossible to predict the type of career a near-teenager would have when a team decides whether or not to call up his name on draft night. Some highly touted youngsters picked high turn out to be spectacular disappointments. Some unknown names found hidden in the second round can spring up to become All Stars a few years later.
Evans and Jennings were the two best players of the 2009 class, as they finished first and second respectively in the NBA’s end-of-season All Rookie Team picks. But with both their careers flattening over the next year, neither the Kings nor the Bucks respectively have yet given their ‘star youngsters’ a contract extension.
The second pick in 2009 was almost as inconspicuous in his rookie year as the first. The Grizzlies took a gamble with Tanzanian Center Hasheem Thabeet. Thabeet was a flop from day one, and was rapidly forgotten amongst the other names of his rookie class. He averaged just 3.1 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in his first season, numbers that he hasn’t been able to match in his NBA career since. After a few unimpressive years in Memphis and Portland, he was picked up as a free agent by the Thunder this year, who themselves lost the man picked after Thabeet in 2009 in a high-profile trade.
The third pick from 2009 may have a sunny outlook to his future. James Harden didn’t garner the same hype as some of the other players of his draft class, mostly because he on-court minutes were limited coming off the bench for a couple other explosive superstars in OKC. Still, Harden quietly developed into a solid pro, until he had a banner campaign last season winning the 6th Man of the Year Award, and become the centerpiece of a major trade that sent him to the Houston Rockets before the start of the new season. Just three years into his NBA career – which he mostly spent as a backup – Harden deservedly got handed a max contract. With the scintillating start to his Rocket career, he is already proving that he deserves it.
Evans was picked fourth (and went on to win the Rookie of the Year Award), and the fifth pick was another player whom – like Blake Griffin – NBA fans couldn’t witness in action straight away, Ricky Rubio. Rubio came with a mercurial reputation, and many doubted if the young Spaniard’s skill-set could thrive in the NBA. After being picked fifth by the Timberwolves, Rubio insisted to stay two further years playing in Europe before finally making his way to the NBA last season. In less than two months, Rubio went from being an unseen commodity in the NBA landscape to one of the most exciting young players in the league. He suffered a major injury midway through last season, but his brief cameo was enough to prove to his team that their future will be built around his development alongside Kevin Love.
With Rubio missing the rookie season, the T-Wolves instead relied on having their offense marshaled by 2009’s sixth pick Jonny Flynn. Flynn played well enough to be named into 2009-10’s All Rookie Second Team. But he has miraculously disappeared from the NBA since! Just a few years after an impressive rookie season, Flynn has bounced around two other NBA teams, and in the NBDL, and is now already out of the NBA, holding his business down under in Australia for the Melbourne Tigers.
But the 2009 class provided several hidden gems outside of the lottery picks. Talented point guards Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, and Jeff Teague came between the 17th-19th picks, and Darren Collison was 21st. The Bulls waited till 26 to find Taj Gibson. The Spurs, one of the shrewdest scouts of talent in the league, were able to find a nice pick-up in DaJuan Blair with the 37th pick. Players like Jodie Meeks (41), Marcus Thornton (43), Chase Budinger (44), Danny Green (46), and Patty Mills (55) are proof that solid professionals can be found deep into the second round of the draft.
Every draft class has their shining star, the one player who stood the test of time to rise above the rest and become the cream of the crop. 1984 had Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton, but people will most remember the group of rookies drafted that year for a certain North Carolina guard named Michael Jordan. 1996 featured a plethora of riches, from Steve Nash and Allen Iverson to Ray Allen and Stephon Marbury, but no one would make a bigger dent on NBA history than Kobe Bryant. 2003 brought Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh, but it will most be remembered as the year that first pick LeBron James became a professional player.
Who will be the star of 2009? Will Blake Griffin continue on his road to success as he bounced back from a season-ending injury to a superstar career? Will James Harden become the next best shooting guard in the NBA, only after Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade? Will Ricky Rubio recover to continue the impressive fulfillment of his basketball journey that saw him become Spain’s youngest ever professional at 14? Will Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans finally rediscover the potential that had NBA fans gawking in surprise? Will Brandon Jennings – who has led the Bucks to a nice start to the 2012-13 season – take the next step as one of the elite point guards in the NBA? Can Stephen Curry become the league’s next best shooter? Can Hasheem Thabeet save his career and somehow, play like a second-pick is supposed to? What about DeRozan, Holiday, Lawson, Teague, Colisson, or Gibson?
Luckily for all the young players, time is on their side. Just as many of them have seen their NBA fortunes change so dramatically in the course of the last three years, they have to be ready for similarly dramatic changes in the future. The 2009 class has some big names: some peaked early and fell quick, and some waited a while before exploding on the scene. The end of the first three years can only mean the start of a new career for many of them. How well they do over the next few years will determine if this group will eventually be remembered as one of the better draft classes in NBA history!
Here, in no particular order, is my list of ten favourite NBA ‘What ifs’: Moments that shaped NBA history, and moments that could’ve landed us into a significantly different NBA universe. Read and judge for yourself…
14 Men's teams and 12 Women's teams will make up for large contingent of competitors who are set to take part in the 57th Kerala State Basketball Championship in the city of Manjeri in Malappuram District, Kerala, from December 4-9, 2012. The championship, which is being held at the Govt. Boys Higher Secondary School in the city, is being organised by the Kerala Basketball Association under the auspices of Malappuram District Basketball Association.
The tournament is being held in preparation for India's Senior National Basketball Championship, slated to held in Ludhiana, Punjab, in the end of December. Kerala's team for the Senior Nationals will be chosen based on their performance at this tournament.
A ‘Referees Clinic’ will be set up to familiarise the players with the newly implemented laws for the championship. International Referee Fr. Philips Vadakeekalam, Chairman of Technical Commission (Kerala), will lead the clinic on the venue from 1 PM on December 4th the opening day. This will be followed by a test for aspiring Referees on 6th December.
Thiruvanathapuram (Men) and Kannur (Women) are the defending Champions of this tournament. India's international stars Basil Phillip, Eudrick Perreira, and Jeena PS can be expected to take part in the championship.
featuring three former NBA players – Jerome Williams, Paul Grant, and Anthony Bonner.