TEHRAN (FIBA Asia Challenge 2016) - Iran may have won the FIBA Asia Challenge 2016 title, and fellow West Asia teams Jordan and Iraq may have impressed, but, once again, India were the ones who turned a lot of heads. With great play and a couple of memorable wins over more ballyhooed foes, India saw their stock continue to rise as a budding Asian power.
As early as the very first day of the tournament, India served notice that they were a team to reckon, erasing an early deficit to turn back the higher-ranked Philippines, 91-83. They lost their next two games, but another milestone was notched when they upended erstwhile unbeaten China, 70-64, in a repeat of the “Wonder of Wuhan.” That loss practically exposed China’s weaknesses, which would eventually doom them in their Quarter-Finals affair against Iraq. India recorded back-to-back wins the next day when they outclassed Kazakhstan, 100-90, to formally advance to the next round, where, unfortunately, their winning run was halted by eventual champions Iran, 77-47.
India next lost to Japan in the classification round, but they ended their campaign on a strong note, defeating another higher-ranked squad, Chinese Taipei, 80-68. It was a vengeful victory for the Indians, who had lost to the Taipei quintet on Day 2, 90-66, and it validated their status as a team to watch in the next few years.
Much of India’s success can be attributed to their “big three” of Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh. That trio combined to score 47.5 points per game, which is about 65% of India’s scoring average.
Of the three, it was Amritpal who stood out, literally and figuratively, as the team’s breakout star. The 2.07m center from Punjab has come a long way from learning the basics of the game when he was already 19 years old, and he has been a marvel for India these past few years, and it has culminated in his averaging 17.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.1 blocks per game in the FIBA Asia Challenge. He is one of only five players to average a double-double in the tournament, joining the likes of Hamed Haddadi and Quincy Davis. That’s certainly not bad company for a late bloomer like Amritpal.
Amritpal’s frontcourt partner, Amjyot, also shone for India. The athletic 2.03m wingman had his finest game on Day 1 against the Philippines, scoring 24 points and hauling down 18 rebounds, but he remained a double-double-threat for the team in their succeeding contests. Amjyot’s combination of size, agility and shooting makes him one of the toughest match ups in Asia, and given as he’s only 24 years old, it’s safe to say he has yet to meet his full potential.
India’s seventh place finish is perhaps sweetest for veteran Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, who first played on the senior team in 2009. He was with the team in their lows — 13th place in the 2009 FIBA Asia Championship, 11th place in the 2010 Asian Games, 14th place in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, a winless 9th place in the 2012 FIBA Asia Cup, and 11th place in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship — but he has also become a vital cog in the squad’s rise to be among Asia’s podium contenders.
From 2009 to 2013, India amassed an international record (FIBA Asia Championship, FIBA Asia Cup and Asian Games) of 6 wins against 22 losses (21.4% win percentage). As a mark of the team’s overall improvement, however, India has recorded 12 wins against 17 defeats from 2014 to 2016 (41.4% win percentage). Consequently, their world ranking has risen from 61st in 2013 to currently being in a tie for 53rd with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
All these hint at how the perennial South Asia sub-zone champions are ready to make even bigger waves as the new FIBA Competition System dawns. With impending home games sure to increase basketball interest and the likelihood that India will be in the top division of FIBA Asia in the qualification for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019, India are certainly not to be taken for granted. It also doesn’t hurt that India have two players in the United States working hard to make it to the NBA — Satnam Singh Bhamara and Palpreet Singh Brar — both of whom can return to add even more depth and ceiling to the national side. All these developments suggest that India are not only ready to threaten the traditional basketball powers in Asia. Instead, India are ready to become one of the continent’s new powerhouse teams.