Basketball and India

Sachin Gupta's promotion continues historic year for basketball in India

A few hours after the Minnesota Timberwolves parted ways with President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas, team owner Glen Taylor announced that Sachin Gupta would take over the responsibilities and duties of the role in the interim.

The promotion, albeit in an interim role, makes Gupta the first executive of Indian origin to lead an NBA franchise.

Gupta's achievement, which comes nearly 15 years since he first joined an NBA franchise in the Houston Rockets, adds to the incredible list of accomplishments by Indians or personalities of Indian descent over the past 12 months in the world of basketball.

MORE: Gupta's journey from Boston to Timberwolves' President

With respect to the global outreach of India's basketball talent, whether it's players, officials or executives, one could argue that 2021 was the most successful and most impactful year in recent memory.

In case you can't remember it all, here's a look at the most notable moments from 2021 that have left a lasting impact on India and Indians.

The rise of Princepal Singh

Considering Singh's meteoric rise since picking up the sport in 2016, what he did in 2021 should come as no surprise.

Even so, the young boy from Punjab has set himself apart by putting his name in the record books.

In mid-August, while with the Summer League champions in the Sacramento Kings, he became the first Indian-born basketball player to win a championship at any level of the NBA. His stint in Las Vegas, albeit brief, made him only the second Indian ever and first since Satnam Singh in 2017 to log minutes and score in the Summer League.

MORE: Princepal's Summer League debut a giant leap for Indian basketball

Earlier in the year, Singh's trailblazing path made him the first-ever NBA Academy alumni to check into a G League game and score as part of the young Ignite squad.

Singh's next goal? The NBA. "I want to play for a long time, so I want to keep my body fit and have a long NBA career."

NBA Academy Women's Virtual Camp

As with all activities globally, the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily suspended all the women's development programs and camps that the NBA Academy was conducting. However, the eight-week program eventually transitioned to virtual and was conducted in June and July of this year with a select group of 50 girls, shortlisted out of over 300 applications from over 50 countries.

MORE: Shomira Bidaye discusses journey to NBA Academy | Parnika Srivastava hopes to reach WNBA one day

The 50 included five Indian girls: Shomira Bidaye, Yashneet Kaur, Kavya Singla, Sunishka Karthik and Parnika Srivastava. Of the five, four were later announced among the standouts of the program.

NBA Academy success continues

Since the NBA Academy began its operations in India, with the establishment of its India campus in 2017 and the first-ever women's camp in 2018, it has empowered and given the young generation of Indian ballers - boys and girls - a spotlight to sign with prep schools and colleges in North America.

In 2021, three former NBA Academy alumni signed with either prep schools or colleges in the United States or Canada: Riyanshu Negi, Asmat Kaur Taunque and Lalhnehpuia Chhakchhuak.

Full list: Academy male alumni studying abroad | Academy Women's camp studying abroad

Of the trio, the Mizoram native Chhakchhuak is the only one in 2021 to add himself to the list of Academy alumni studying abroad when he signed with North Park University.

Negi, who was previously with DME Sports Academy - a prep school in Daytona Beach, Florida - signed with Crandall University, a liberal arts university in New Brunswick, Canada. Meanwhile, Kaur, who was accepted into the Lawrenceville School in August of 2019, signed with California Institute of Technology, an NCAA Division III institution in the USA.

Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Live Virtual Sessions

It wasn't just the NBA Academy camps that were disrupted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fast-growing and popular Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program in the country was as well. However, that also eventually transitioned to Zoom. Starting in March, the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA conducted a weekly live virtual session series.

MORE: Jr. NBA's 12-week series ends to widespread acclaim | Watch every episode of Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Live Virtual Sessions

Conducted every Saturday and hosted by Bryan Garmoth, the series featured NBA, WNBA and G League players, legends and coaches engaging participants, aged between six and 18, in skill development, leadership and life skills sessions.

Suyash Mehta, NBA's first Indian-origin referee

Days before the start of the 2020-21 season, Suyash Mehta was one of three referees promoted to the role of a full-time NBA staff official.

The promotion made him the NBA's first-ever Indian referee.

MORE: Suyash Mehta discusses Indian origins, life of NBA referee and more

Mehta, whose parents are from India, also has coaching experience at various collegiate levels including the Atlantic 10, Big South, Colonial Athletic Association, Conference USA, NCAA Division III and junior college officiating experience.

India's fight to 2021 Asia Cup qualification

It came down to the final seconds of the Qualifying Tournament but India, in due course, qualified and became one of the final 16 teams to qualify for the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup, which will be held in 2022.

The national team was severely impacted by the pandemic, with a lack of basketball activity and training camp hampering their performance in the latter two of the three qualifying windows. However, luck favoured the squad as Vishesh Bhriguvanshi's prayer from halfcourt at the buzzer helped them defeat Iraq, 81-78, in Window 2 of the qualifiers.

They lost the other three games in the two qualifying windows, but at the end of it all, that victory helped them clinch the tiebreaker over Iraq and finish third in Group D. Finishing third gave them another chance to qualify for the Asia Cup via the Qualifying Tournament.

MORE: India's track record at FIBA Asia Cup

In the qualifying tournament, their chances slimmed after they lost to Saudi Arabia, 80-61. In their must-win second game, they were down by as many as 14 but made a valiant comeback. Heading into the final quarter, India kept it close but still trailed by nine, 61-52). That's when they put their foot on the gas and outscored Palestine 27-16 to win 79-77.

The win had Indian Basketball Twitter buzzing. This victory combined with Palestine's loss to Saudi Arabia on the following day sealed India's spot at the Asia Cup, their 10th straight appearance.

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