Pratham Singh gathers the ball, works a fake and jumps to shoot. The ball rolls from his hands and without touching the rim, it settles in the basket before dropping on the floor a second later. The sight of the ball following a parabolic path and silently settling will shoot up any player’s confidence and Pratham is no exception.
He pumps his fist and runs back to take his position in the defence. During the next 20 minutes of play, Pratham would do the same drill – shoot three-pointers – time and again with the other members of the his team at the Jaypee Greens Sports City in Greater Noida where they are preparing for the upcoming Asian Games.
It’s been a month since Pratham and 11 other players led India to their biggest win in the country’s 80 years of basketball history.
Playing in the FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan, China, India defeated the home team 64-58 to claim their first victory over the Asian giants in nine attempts. Asia’s top ranked nation, China was the favourites to lift the Cup and India was just another team for them.
But once India led them at the half and trailed only by two points going into the fourth quarter, they backed themselves to pull off an unlikely win. And they did.
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Pratham hit three three-pointers and young Amjyot Singh Gill pulled off a rare alley-oop in dying minutes to help India conquer what they had never done before.
“We couldn’t believe we did it. We had defeated China for the first time. It was a very emotional moment and every player jumped in excitement and hugged each other,” Joginder Singh, India’s point guard, says.
During this excitement, there was one man who sat calmly and only got up to shake hands with the China coach. Scott Flemming did smile but for a different reason.
“I was happy for the players. I saw that kind of joy in their eyes for the second time after the Lusofonia Games. I was happy that our team could repeat that good performance,” Scott says.
Scott has been the coach of India for around two years now. He has earned the respect of each player and the team acknowledges the difference Scott has brought to Indian basketball.
“Scott is very aggressive but a very positive coach. He always teaches you new things and because of that our game has improved considerably,” Joginder says. “Both on and off the court his behaviuor inspires and motivates you to perform.”
Surely the Asia Cup performance was an inspiring one from India which could well be the new beginning Indian basketball has been long waiting for. After the China win, India defeated Indonesia to qualify for the quarter-finals where they lost to Philippines – by four points – a match India dominated till the very end.
“We almost won it. Had there been a minute left, we would have reached the semi-final. But it was not to be. Against Jordan it was again very close but we could not finish it,” Narender Grewal recalls.
Finishing close games was never India’s strong point and Scott admits it that is one area they need to work hard on.
“Our players run out of steam in the third quarter and that is where we lose games. They do not have it in them do play the fourth quarter. Same thing was happening against China but there our defence won us the game. That game was all about defence,” Scott says.
Numbers are in favour of the American as India affected 23 turnovers and defended every possession in the final quarter. Also, they did not allow China’s Zhou Qi, a certain pick in next year’s NBA, to shoot from the inside.
“In Asia Cup our defence was our plus point and that helped us to lead teams like Iran and Philippines. We have a better counter-attack, we will the close matches in the future. Counter-attack is still a work in progress for us,” Joginder, the hero of the Lusofonia Games final, says.
The team is training hard for the Asian Games but they still have a long road ahead and Scott doesn’t deny that it is just the beginning.
“We have to go a long way. We still have to face strong teams like South Korea. But we will perform better in Asian Games. We have the confidence and out team chemistry has improved a lot from the time I joined,” Scott says.
Whether or not the team will perform in these games, these young cagers are ready to fight for every point.