Commonwealth Games 2018, men's basketball preview: India will rely on frontcourt players to shine at Gold Coast

Sometimes, the Indian basketball team loses simply because a bigger, stronger, faster, better opponent outmatches them. Despite all the effort on the floor, the players don’t have enough gas in them to outmuscle the Iranian side, or outpass the Chinese, or outshoot the Filipinos, or outrun the Koreans.

But sometimes, the team loses because its failures are self-inflicted — when players report to national events ill-prepared and ill-experienced for the challenges ahead; when bureaucracies within the country find themselves at odds with each other; when the federation finds itself with the players it’s supposed to represent.

The most recent international outing for India’s men’s basketball squad — ‘The Young Cagers’ — was a combination of these two ailments. Near the end of February, India got an opportunity to host two FIBA World Cup qualifiers on their home ground, at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru. On paper, India featured the best of their healthy and available players in the roster for these two matches, including international professionals Amjyot Singh (NBA G-League — USA) and Amritpal Singh (NBL — Australia).

Alas, a tragicomedy of errors, misunderstandings, and distrust caused India to score an own goal. The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) did not register Amjyot and Amritpal for the probable roster for the qualifiers with FIBA, the international basketball federation. As a result, despite being fully prepared, the team’s two best players had to watch the first qualifier — a loss to Jordan — from the sidelines, and India lost a game that they could have won had they played a full-strength squad.

Three days later, India’s suffered another loss — this one of more predictable reasons — a talent gulf against Lebanon. Amjyot and Amritpal missed the game again, and the Lebanese further tortured India with pressure on the weaker ball-handlers to race away to a blowout win.

 Commonwealth Games 2018, mens basketball preview: India will rely on frontcourt players to shine at Gold Coast

Indian men's basketball team, with the support staff, which will compete at the Commonwealth Games. Image courtesy: Facebook @Indianbasketball

The losses dropped India to 0-4 in the FIBA Qualifiers, a result that followed India’s 0-3 finish at last year’s FIBA Asia Cup, 0-9 at the William Jones Cup, and 0-3 at the BRICS Games. In fact, India’s men’s squad hasn’t won a major international game since they won the gold against weaker opponents at last year’s South Asian Basketball Championship.

It’s been a cursed recent run, but India will get an opportunity to turn around their fortunes soon. From 5-14 April, 2018, Team India’s contingent of men and women’s teams will both take part in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. The teams departed for Australia several weeks in advance for an exposure and training trip at the Runaway Bay Super Sports Centre in Queensland. India were drawn in Pool B and will play their preliminary round games at the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre.

India will get a second chance at redemption with the two stars Amjyot and Amritpal, both of whom have been named in the roster and will get an opportunity to showcase their improving skill sets after spending the last few months in competitive foreign leagues. The squad will be captained by their most experienced player Yadwinder Singh, the only player to have been on the roster when India last played basketball at the Commonwealth Games back in 2006. Satnam Singh, India’s first NBA draft pick, and Aravind Annadurai, India’s star at the qualifiers last month, are part of the roster, too.

Rajinder Singh, who coached Team India at the two qualifiers, will continue at the helm of head coach for the squad.

This will be the first time since 2006 — when the Commonwealth Games were held in Melbourne in Australia — that basketball will be featured in the event again. It was all-Oceania dominance 12 years ago as Australia and New Zealand played in the finals and the hosts picked up an 81-76 win. India finished bottom of the group stage without picking up a win.

2018 Commonwealth Games Men’s Basketball Groups

Pool A: Australia, Nigeria, New Zealand, Canada.

Pool B: England, Cameroon, India, Scotland.

Team India Roster: Ravi Bhardwaj, Arvind Arumugam, Satnam Singh, Arshpreet Singh Bhullar, Aravind Annadurai, Akilan Pari, Justin Joseph, Jeevanantham Pandi, Yadwinder Singh (Captain), Joginder Singh, Amritpal Singh, Amjyot Singh.

Head Coach: Rajinder Singh, Assistant Coach: GRL Prasad, Manager: Shakti Singh Gohil.

India's Preliminary Round Schedule – all timings IST

5 April: Cameroon vs India – 3:30 PM

7 April: England vs India – 1:00 PM

8 April: India vs Scotland – 4:30 PM

India are in the lower pool. For them to move on to the knockout stage, they will have to finish among the top two of the pool and play against the bottom two teams of Pool A in the Qualifying Finals in Cairns on 10 April. If they win their Qualifying Final, they will qualify for the Semi-Final/Final to be held on 14-15 April at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre.

India’s biggest advantage in this tournament will be size. Between Amjyot (26), Amritpal (26), Satnam (22), Annadurai (24), and more, the team has a glut of capable frontcourt players. It will be coach Rajinder’s complicated task to decide which players to start and how to divide their minutes.

Amjyot, who has been earning valuable bench minutes for the Oklahoma City Blue in the NBA’s G-League, is likely to be India’s top offensive option. Amritpal, who played in the NBL for the Sydney Kings recently, will be an important force in the post on both the offensive and defensive ends. Satnam has a wealth of experience at a young age and is going to be one of the biggest and strongest players at the tournament. Annadurai has been a pleasant surprise in recent months, taking the mantle in the absence of other stars to become a confident scorer for the team.

The team’s weakness is the backcourt. One of the country’s top players — guard Vishesh Bhriguvanshi — has been injured since last fall and couldn’t recover in time to make the Commonwealth Games squad. In his absence, India will hope to survive under the leadership of Akilan Pari (28) and Joginder Singh (29).

The combined Great Britain basketball team is ranked 22nd in the world, but in this tournament, India will face separate squads for both England and Scotland. The former of the two are sure to be the stronger outfit. India and Cameroon are ranked 62nd and 65th respectively, but a full-strength India should be able to perform much better than the past outings that have determined this rank. India are unfamiliar with all three opponents and it should be an interesting prospect to see how they fare against non-Asian competition.

India are sure to suffer without an elite backcourt star, but the team can go past the preliminary round if Amjyot and Amritpal deliver on their return to national colours. It will require a win over Cameroon and a big upset over one of the British teams, but if they succeed, a knockout seed in the qualifying around awaits.

Updated Date: Mar 30, 2018 14:43:55 IST

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