The National Basketball Association have confirmed their plans to launch an academy for age groups 14 to 18 in Delhi NCR next April for top prospects across India.
The NBA setting up an elite academy in India has come as no surprise. The success of their junior program under Carlos Barocca, vice president, operations has prompted one of India’s fastest growing sports to be attracted by the global giants that are NBA.
Firstpost sat down with NBA vice president, International Basketball Operations, Brooks Meek and NBA India MD, Yannick Colaco for an exclusive talk after a media conference held at their Mumbai office.
Setting up the base for any sport in India, especially a sport as globally recognized as basketball, is a massive task. But the setup of a youth program has made life easier for the organisers behind this latest elite academy.
"I think you’re always going to have challenges but it’s more about the opportunities in setting up the academy program globally. You take a couple of steps forward and you take one back as you go through the process of everything. But I think that the foundation we have laid here, with Carlos and Yannick’s leadership, the relationships they’ve developed — it’s been a little easier than I thought.” said Meeks.
The most obvious question that pops to mind is how will the 14 to 18-year-olds be scouted? Are their specific tournaments that will be visited by scouts or is there a specific plan of action in mind? To this question, Colaco replied, "There are three main components of a scouting program. The first one is a wide net that already exists through our junior programs. The second one is the already existing tournament happening — the CBSE nationals, under-14s, under-16s. There are obviously the BFI organisers as well. The third one is that we’re going to be launching the national open tryout across the country. So we’re just finalising details and venues and next week we’ll be announcing it."
He then went on to say, “We are looking for those who have the best potential of becoming global professional basketball players, especially 13, 14 and 15-year-olds. We actually have scouts from the US — former NBA scouts — who are here working full time. So they’re looking for that potential that will help you make that leap. It’s not just about kids who are the best in their category, but kids who have the best potential, technique and inner passion."
Meeks, on the other hand, focused on Basketball IQ, which he considered to be of paramount importance in the development of an elite level player, citing the example of LeBron James.
"Basketball IQ is just a feeling and understanding of the game. It's knowing where the lines on the court are, it’s knowing how the rhythm of the play is developing. It's seeing plays develop two, three and four places before they do. So if you watch, one of the highest IQ’s in the world is LeBron James and he is seeing plays before they even happen. That comes with feeling and that comes with playing a lot and sometimes it can be natural too. That’s something we’re going to focus on in the development here," Meeks said.
Continuing in the same vein, Meeks then said, "It's not just playing a high number of games, but it's also combining the complete picture — player development, working on those skills that you are really good at, skills that you need to work on because they are probably your weaknesses. Then it's the practice and how you practice with your entire team and how that translates to a game."
The NBA, as a league, works on finding players for certain positions. When questioned about the same, Meeks denied looking for a player for a specific position but instead replied, "We are still doing research on that. The most important thing really is recruiting athletes and recruiting them early enough where you can develop their basketball acumen or basketball IQ. Basketball is a sport of skill and athleticism. Whether you’re six feet tall or six-foot-nine — and our research is going to show — you need to recruit athletes."
A fully residential program, the NBA elite academy will focus on searching for athleticism and providing a holistic approach to making an individual’s talents shine. The residential program will be fully-funded by the NBA and will be structured around the school schedule of players. The prevailing theory is that in order for the basketball curriculum to succeed, it is important for the players to be well-rounded in all aspects of their life. The academy hopes that having close control through a residential program will ensure the same.
Speaking about the developmental aspect of the players, Colaco insisted, "Our approach is a 360 degree one. The kids who receive the scholarship will not only receive NBA quality curriculum, coaching and training but they will also get a high level of academic training as well as personal development. Even things like life skill development are all part of the curriculum." He then went onto say, "So it's not just about playing basketball it's about your academic education, it's about building good citizens and that is something we are very focused on. It’s a very important part of being a sports professional to be fully rounded as an individual."
The next step to the development of a player is professional basketball or the NCAA (college basketball). The NBA elite academy apparently has plans for the future of these players as well. A number of options will be given to the player, according to Colaco.
"So they have a number of options. When they graduate from this -- the NBA academy in India, they can go into the NCAA system and play for a college. If they’re good enough, then they can go to our global academy in Australia which again will help them become professional. If they’re good enough they can go directly to play professional sport. Either Europe, the D-League or NBA. And if none of this works we will contribute to make sure that their college education is taken care off."
All in all, the NBA elite academy is a brilliant prospect and if mirrored along the lines of the Australian Institute of Sports’ association with the NBA, could go onto be a boon for Indian basketball players. The academy, which will have a ratio of one NBA coach for eight Indian players, could reap massive dividends once the first batch of players start for the Indian national team.