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Basketball and India

19 for ’19: Things to look forward to with Indian basketball in the New Year

NBA will host it's first ever preseason games in India this coming October.
The Indian flag at aNBA will host it's first ever preseason games in India this coming October.n NBA game. (Getty Images)

Faster than a Mumbai minute, another year has passed us by, and the calendar has now turned to 2019. Each year comes with new opportunities, new resolutions, and the potential for bigger and better things. Basketball in India had a topsy-turvy 2018, but the road ahead has some room for optimism.

From Indian stars making it big abroad, local leagues taking the next jump, domestic events showcasing the next big thing, and a major festival of NBA visiting the country, here are 19 things to look forward to in 2019 for Indian basketball:

1. Senior Nationals in Gujarat: The biggest date in domestic Indian basketball calendar always falls earliest in the year. The 69th National Basketball Championship for Men and Women-'Senior Nationals'-will be held in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, from January 5-12. Over 25 state/territory/unit teams from around the country are expected to participate for this mega hoops festival. Last year Nationals, held in Chennai, saw hosts Tamil Nadu (Men) and Indian Railways (Women) emerge as champions. This tournament is usually a showcase of the top players in the country or rising stars to keep an eye on: who will breakout and make a name for themselves this year?

2. Satnam Singh in his first season with the St. John's Edge: Satnam Singh, the incredible Punjabi giant who became the first Indian drafted to the NBA, played two years in the G-League and was even the subject of a Netflix documentary. Now, he has started a new chapter in his career: the NBL in Canada.

Satnam began playing for the NBL's St. John's Edge a few months ago, and will be looking to elevate his status in the league as the season progresses.

3. Amjyot Singh continues his journey with the G-League's OKC Blue: While Satnam was the first, it has been his fellow Punjabi cohort Amjyot Singh who has found the most success and consistent playing time in the NBA's G-League. Amjyot is now in his second season with the OKC Blue and continues to stretch the floor, hit big threes, and contribute off the bench.

He is one of India's most talented players, and the country will await his eventual return to the national team, too.

4. Princepal Singh hopes to be the next to make the leap: The next in the line of Indian "Singhs" to make a mark in leagues abroad-Satnam, Amjyot, Amritpal, Palpreet-is likely to be Princepal. The 6-foot-10 18-year-old has already notched up a young career of impressive accomplishments: junior FIBA Asia experience, a selection to the NBA Academy India and then the NBA Academy in Australia, All-Star Basketball Without Borders, and much more.

Last month, he made his debut for India's senior national team for the Super Kung Sheung Cup in Hong Kong and flew right afterwards to Las Vegas for the G-League showcase. Will 2019 be the year when he turns that officially takes the mantle as the "Next Big Singh"?

5. Other NBA Academy India stars-including women-to follow suit? Princepal was the first, but he surely won't be the last. A host of other young players could make significant improvements in 2019 after another year at the elite training centre, such as Robin Banerjee, Pritish Kokate, Amaan Sandhu, and Manoj Sisodiya. Last year, the Academy held the first-ever women's camp in the summer, and names such as Sanjana Ramesh and Vaishnavi Yadav immediately rose to the top. Hopefully, there will be more opportunity for young women to avail of the Academy's training and facilities in 2019, too.

6. More young players to take the leap: Vaishnavi Yadav of Uttar Pradesh had a fantastic 2018 and the young guard surely has the potential to become one of India's best players over the coming years. Other junior players to look forward to include the high-flying Seijin Mathew, guard Rajeev Kumar, Harshitha Bopaiah, and more.

7. Domestic junior events to highlight the country's future stars: All of the players named above started from humbler origins in the basketball world, hopping on trains with their teammates for "mini" nationals, staying in hostels away from home, playing hoops in small cities, and making a name for themselves. The Basketball Federation of India's (BFI) calendar of sub-junior, youth, and junior nationals will once again bring together state teams of U14, U16, and U18 talents from across the country.

The top performers in these tournaments are usually invited to India national camps, taking a major step forward towards their dream of wearing the 'India' jersey.

8. More NBA players to cross the hemisphere for hoops: Last year, past and present NBA players like Brook Lopez, Robert Horry, Tim Hardaway, and a handful more for the BWB Asia Camp came to India in behalf of the league to participate in NBA events and promote basketball in the country.

MORE: NBA legend Tim Hardaway Sr. visits India

Rest assured, the trend will continue in 2019, as former and current NBA stars continue to see India as the next big hotspot for the game's popularity.

9. FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Men: This is a bi-annual event, but due to a schedule conflict the past FIBA Asia U16 Championship was held in 2018 (instead of 2017) in Foshan, China, and won by Australia in their first appearance in the Asian fray. India's young squad, unfortunately, struggled, and finished last among 13 teams. The championship is scheduled to return this year in Beijing, back in China, so the Indian youth won't have too long for a shot at redemption!

10. FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women: India's youth women have a little more to be positive about. Two years ago, in the 2017 version of this tournament held on home grounds in Bengaluru, India started in the lower Division B and finished the event undefeated to win promotion to Division A.

They will get their shot at proving they belong at the higher stage this year. Will the next group of young stars be able to sustain India's new position?

11. Season 2 of the 3BL: Last year, India's first 3x3 professional basketball league-the 3BL-was held from June to August. Approved by FIBA, the league was held in six 'legs' across six different cities in India, bringing together the shorter, faster brand of basketball to Indian audiences.

Featuring a mixture of Indian and international players, the league will return for its second season a little more seasoned in 2019, and continue to link up with FIBA's 3x3 Masters World Tours, sending the top teams to participate with Asia and the world's best 3x3 squads.

12. In Mizoram, another season of feverish MSL: India's best-kept basketball secret continues to be the Mizoram Super League (MSL), held in Aizawl, featuring a diverse and talented crop of players from Mizoram, other North-East Indian states, the rest of India, and abroad. Expect season 6 of this league to continue to pack stadiums, create drama, and finally, break into the mainstream conversation of basketball in India.

13. India's junior teams to participate in Jr. NBA World Championships again: In 2018, the NBA held the first ever Jr. NBA World Championship in Florida, bringing together 16 American teams and 16 international teams of top junior players in an exciting short tournament. Once again, the top teams from India will be chosen this year via the Jr. NBA Championships at the city and national level over the summer, and the best boys' and girls' teams will represent the country in the US.

This is an exciting opportunity for young Indian players to gain experience with some of the world's best under-14s, and hopefully, make a mark of their own.

14. FIBA Women's Asia Cup: The top senior women's teams from the continent will gather together in September 2019 for the FIBA Women's Asia Cup. India hosted the 2017 version of this tournament at home in Bengaluru, and India's squad won Division B in dramatic fashion with a heart-stopping game-winning shot by Shireen Limaye in the final against Kazakhstan.

Can India create more magic now that they have been promoted to Division A? They will now have to contend with the continent's finest, including reigning champs Japan, Australia, China, and South Korea.

15. Sanjana Ramesh makes an impressive jump to the NCAA: The MVP of the NBA Academy's Women's camp and the Basketball Without Borders Asia camp this summer, Sanjana Ramesh added to her spectacular year by becoming only the second Indian to get a full scholarship to join an NCAA Division 1 college in the USA.

She will be joining Northern Arizona University in the fall of 2019, and will hope to have an impact for the 'Lumberjacks' as soon as possible.

16. India at the FIBA Asia Champions Cup: Every year, the domestic club champions from around Asia participate in the continent's basketball version of a "Champions League", the FIBA Asia Champions Cup. India didn't participate in this tournament's most recent iteration in Thailand (won by Iran's Petrochimi) but will hope to send a team to the 2019 event. India's most regular representatives in recent years have been Uttarakhand's ONGC.

17. William Jones Cup for India's Men/Women: The two William Jones Cups are annual invitational tournaments for club and country, held in Taipei. India's senior men and women teams intermittently take part in the Cup, and occasionally, even pick up a victory or two (although those occasions have gotten rarer in recent years). The 2019 edition of the tournament is still a long way away and there are no guarantees, it is probably a safe bet that there will be some India representation in Taipei this year.

18. Growth of grassroots basketball initiatives-the big, the small, and everything else in between: Although the headlines are made of star players and national teams, the real groundwork done for the growth of basketball in any country has to be in the grassroots. This groundwork requires patience and persistence, and India has several examples of different types of grassroots programmes.

The biggest one is the NBA's Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme, reaching out to millions of kids, schools, and physical educators around the country every year. But there are small, inspiring examples, too, such as the Dribble Academy assisting kids in the Gheja village in Noida, the Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy pushing basketball and education in the Chennai region, and many more.

19. NBA India Games: In what is sure to be a game-changing weekend for basketball in the country, the NBA will hold the historic, first-ever preseason games in India on October 4-5 in Mumbai, between the Sacramento Kings and the Indiana Pacers. Stars and up-and-comers like Victor Oladipo, De'Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, Marvin Bagley III,, and more will showcase their skills.

With live NBA basketball within a close arm's reach, the event is sure to drum up excitement like never before and hopefully turn India into a regular preseason destination.

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