Cricket still king, but hoops in India on the rise
MANILA, Philippines -- When someone mentions India, the word basketball is rarely mentioned in the same statement. The sport most commonly associated with the former British colony, of course, is cricket.
On the hardwood, however, the Indian team hasn't exactly been too shabby. Though the Indians have never qualified to any FIBA World Championship tournament, and have played in the Olympics only once, they remain reasonably competitive in the FIBA Asia scene. Their best performance was placing 4th in the 1975 ABC Tournament, but, by far, the most memorable moment for India was back in the 2004 FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup.
India played in the first game of the tournament, which was held in Chinese-Taipei. The Blue Tigers played the home team and lost badly, 61-98. Next up was the powerhouse South Korean side, which has been an Asian power since time immemorial. The Taeguk Warriors were coming off a blowout win over lowly Kuwait in the second day of competitions, 92-64, and were surely poised to beat the Indians.
That is until 6'9" center-forward Sozhasingarayer Robinson dropped 36 big ones on the Koreans, scoring off fadeaways, dunks, and put-backs. Robinson led India to what I believe was its first win ever against Korea, 77-76. Sure, Korea played with just its collegiate all-stars, but it was still a really good team. One guy who played in that match and who is still playing now is super sniper Cho Sung-Min.
Following a win over Kuwait, India carried a 2-win, 1-loss slate (tied with both Taiwan and Korea at 2-1), but they eventually got eliminated from the semifinals because of an inferior quotient. They went on to beat the Brian Ilad-led Philippine side, 111-93, in the consolation round before losing to Japan, 65-75, in the battle for 5th place.
As I write this, India is getting massacred by the undefeated Iranians. The score reads 56-22 with 8:25 to go in the third period. The game is on its way to being India's 3rd loss of the tournament after a heart-breaking OT loss to Bahrain and another defeat to the Kazakhs. Nobody really expects India to win in the second round of these competitions, since they take on China tomorrow and then Korea on Wednesday.
Despite those gloomy prospects, however, the Indians continue to play as if they were oblivious to the big score cube at the MOA Arena. They continue to battle in spite of the clear difference in quality between them and the two-time FIBA Asia kings.
During the fourth quarter of this particular game, I got to talk to Mrs. Chawn Flemming, wife of Team India head coach Scott Flemming. The following are the highlights of our conversation:
Rappler: How has your stay in Manila been so far?
Chawn Flemming: Good. The Filipino people are really friendly. It's not just an ad after all!
R: How do you feel about the way the Indian team has played so far?
CF: Pretty good. It's a young team, and they're still learning my husband's system. We've been with the since November only, but we already see a lot of potential here. It's a great group of young guys. What they have to understand is that progress takes time. Right now we have 2-year contract, and we really hope we can make a difference in those two years.
R: What is your approach with the team?
CF: Our approach is that every tournament they play in and every team they play against should give them incremental improvement. We're also trying to build personal relationships with these guys. We talk to them individually and invite them over for dinner. We want it to be a holistic approach, too.
R: Who seems to be the most promising player on the team?
CF: I cannot and won't answer that! (we both laugh heartily at that repsonse) All I can say is it's really good to have the veterans there and have all the experience under their belt.
R: Can you talk about how basketball is received in India?
CF: Obviously, cricket is king in India. This is why I give so much credit to these guys for playing basketball even if it's not the popular sport. I am amazed by them. The more I am around them, the more I admire them.
As I wind up my chat with Mrs. Flemming, the score reads 100-56 with 1:20 to go.
This is going to be one of those games where coach Flemming will probably find a lot of things-to-learn-from, and, hopefully, that will lead to a better, more mature Indian team in the near future.
As far as the game is concerned, all we're waiting for is the final score, but as far as Indian basketball goes, the final buzzer is still a long time coming. - Rappler.com