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Slam dunk, Delhi!

According to coaches and players, the Delhi basketball scene is in the doldrums due to the neglect of the federation and nepotism

When Kevin Durant netted the final basket in the National Basketball Association (NBA) finals in 2018 to seal the victory for Cleveland Cavaliers, Sachin Sharma sat miles away from the action in his house in New Delhi, dreaming of being part of such a spectacle. Sharma is the captain of the Delhi state basketball team.

But Sharma says that achieving his dream is not at all easy in the current situation of Delhi basketball. “We face a lot of hurdles in playing the sport in the city”, he says. “First of all, basketball is not one of the most popular sports in India, and secondly it is certainly not that looked into in Delhi”, he says.

Young blood: Coach Puneet Kumar in actionphoto: puneet kumar

“Like other sports, we can’t go professional, as it is a huge risk. Most of the players have to depend on other jobs to sustain themselves. Even the jerseys and equipment that we use to represent in the state team are not sponsored by the association. We have to buy our own gear”, he says. “It is not possible in India — let alone in Delhi — to sustain themselves by depending only on basketball as their sole profession.”

The major problem, according to him is that no players in Delhi are getting enough chances to play in the national team. According to coach Puneet Kumar, “There have been no Delhi players in the national team for a long time — five years to be precise”, he says. “The numbers have especially gone down ever since the Basketball Association of India shifted their headquarters from Delhi to Chennai. The chiefs of the association too are from the South and hence giving more chances to players from the South”, he claims. “Nepotism is a major factor for Delhi players not getting chances in the national team. For players like us, it is a given fact that we will not get a chance, but less talented players will. So, many players quit the game as they know that there is no future. Only players like us who truly love the game still continue”, says Sachin Sharma.

According to president of Integrated Basketball Players’ Association president Jayasankar Menon, who has lived in Delhi till July this year, says that the major problem why Delhi is not improving is that there is no national league that is meant for basketball. “In cricket you have Indian Premier League (IPL), in football you have the Indian Super League (ISL), we even have a league for Kabaddi — the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) — but we have nothing in basketball”, he says. “If we have some league, and one team represents Delhi, then we will have more and more youngsters from the city participating in the team, and hence more players getting in the nation’s notice.” However, according to Kumar, “Before a nationwide IPL like league, we need to have a club-based league in the city, like a Calcutta Football League or the Delhi Soccer League. We do not have enough tournaments in the local sphere barring one, and that too happens very erratically” he claims.

An IPL style tournament, known as the 3×3 BBL, was hosted in the Great India Place Mall in Noida, but according to Sharma, this tournament has had very little impact. “To play the 3×3 format, you need special training, and as we, the local players of Delhi, are accustomed to play the traditional format of the game”, he says. “So, we couldn’t play in the league, and hence, no local talent came to the fore due to the tournament”, he adds.

Another problem, according to Kumar, is the lack of clubs in Delhi. “The problem is not the number of clubs, in fact we have 47 clubs. But only 5-6 of them are currently active, and the rest have remained dormant, and no more clubs are being registered. There is some legal battle going on between a few clubs and the federation, and that’s why the federation can’t register any more new clubs”. However, a Sharma, who also plays for the Delhi Storm Club, claims, “ The clubs that have been functioning in the city, influence the federation somehow. Newer clubs cannot come due to the existing monopoly of the old clubs”,
“To improve the game, you need to improve the coaching facilities. Good coaches should come up and that is how the city’s basketball scene will develop”, says Jayasankar Menon. The lack of good coaches in the city is perhaps the biggest problem that Delhi basketball is facing right now. “There is a sort of nepotism in this matter too”, claims Sharma. “At all government sponsored facilities like the IGI stadium, the coaches and assistant coaches are the ones who share a cordial relationship with the federation. So, these coaches are appointed not on the basis of their talent and ability, but their rapport with the federation”, he adds. According to Kumar, who is 30, the game in the city needs more young coaches who can break the old patterns of how the game is taught and create new strategies that are suited for the modern game. “But barring a handful of private clubs, the coaches appointed are very old and strategise in the traditional template of the game”, he adds.

Prospects: A training session at the NBA Delhi academyphoto: nba

But among all this mess, there is a silver lining. “ The training facilities for youngsters have improved a lot. Delhi has the best school and college basket balling structure in the country, as almost every college affiliated to the Delhi University has a major basketball team”, says Puneet. “I have seen students thronging to basketball courts to watch the game with eager excitement”, says Jayasankar Menon. Even the NBA. The biggest basketball body in the world has set up an academy in Delhi, which according to Sharma, is doing wonders for basketball at a very grassroot level. “The students there get trained in the NBA style of basketball, and thus the young players show a marked improvement. The under-16 and under-18 boys have done very well at the National Basketball Championships this year”, says Sachin.

However, despite such strong infrastructure and training facilities, Delhi fails when it comes at the national stage because, according to Menon, there is “zero support” from the federation. “If the federation that is set up for the welfare of basketball overlooks talent, then the basketball scene in the city will ever improve”, he concludes.