Originally published in Nov 2017, on www.ubaindia.com
There is a wave of change underway in Indian basketball, and the agents of change have converged from all over India for the UBA Pro Training Camp at JGI University in Bengaluru. The catalysts for change, UBA Director of Coaching Jody Basye and UBA League Assistant Coach Jon Kimberlin have flown in from 15,000 km away from the USA. All with the common goal to raise the game even higher when UBA Season 5 tips off. UBA Season 5 is on the horizon, and extensive preparations are underway.
“Basketball is totally merit-based, period. You might be able to get an opportunity by your name, but once you get that opportunity if you can't prove that you deserve it you will be done.”- Coach Jon
Watch an inside look at the camp here.
The JGI University Indoor Stadium echoes with rhythmic thumping of what sounds like a hundred basketballs being pounded on the hardwood. Inside, some of India's best basketball players blaze down court dribbling a basketball and splaying sweat in every direction. The coaches are equally active on the sidelines, exhorting the players to extract every last ounce of effort they can give, and then some.
The first thing the players did at the camp was have their abilities quantified in terms of speed, quickness, stamina and explosiveness among other things. “There's a reason we test the players at the beginning of the camp, to measure them tangibly. One of the most important things is athletic training and conditioning. We can see that they actually improve their scores. They jump higher run a little faster and run a little longer faster. So that's why we take these measurements. They are a necessity. Without them there's no way to actually say, 'Yes, they are better today’” said Coach Jody.
This is high-intensity training at game speed. Only, in a game, you get to catch more breathers. In the UBA Pro Training Camp, the players train twice a day with the briefest of breaks for lunch and film sessions, and they wash it all down with an intense session in the gym. Then they are back at it again the next day.
The players are being put through the paces and it shows perceptibly with each passing day. "Basketball in the UBA has been on a continuous progression principle from the day we walked through the door," said Coach Jon. "We started getting better by the end of Season 2. Season 3 was better than 2 and Season 4 was on another level. And the reason Season 4 reached its pinnacle is because of addition of American players and more of Indian national team's players, the fusion of the system together with the better athletes together coming and elevating everyone."
A UBA season is about showcasing the finest Indian basketball has to offer, then taking it to a higher level. To be able to compete in the UBA, the players need to keep raising the bar and keep getting better and better. One's best was good enough yesterday, here the players need to do better than their best every single day to just keep up. From the moment these players get up in the morning, they need to be sure they put enough distance between them and what they were in the morning.
“Back to back training sessions day after day! It's a grind. But if you burn like the sun, you shine like the sun.”- Loveneet Singh (Bengaluru Beast).
"Use the backboard!" chants coach Jody (in the same rhythm as the 'Trust the process’ chant), as a player bricks a layup. Learning happens at various levels in UBA Pro Training Camp, including phonetically. "We can see the shooting, passing, and movement in scrimmages that's why we spend so much time on the court, coaching them and stopping them because they need to hear what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong," said Coach Jody. "We try to talk as much about the right stuff as the wrong stuff. You'll see coach go out there, keeping it light at times, the players get rewarded mentally and at the same time we also tell them when they are messing up.”
For a player to be able to compete in UBA, they need to be in peak physical condition, and then they need to take their peak and climb higher. What is the first thing our coaches look for in players? “They gotta have athletic ability, and be internally motivated,” said Coach Jody. “Fitness, fitness and fitness," espoused Coach Jon. Getting better in basketball can be a slippery slope, if you aren't climbing up, you are slipping down. Staying stationary is not an option, not with the competition getting more and more fierce with each season.
In the UBA Pro Training Camp, the guards and centers alike are put through the paces. The days when the primary requirement for Indian basketball players used to be an ability to reach the top-most shelf, are in the past. Done and dusted. Height alone is not enough for basketball. “Indian basketball has been scouring the country looking for big guys to be able to compete," said Coach Jon, shaking his head. "You can't just be big, that's not good enough. A smaller, faster, more coordinated guy is going to give the bigger guy trouble."
That truth is evident in the UBA Pro Training Camp as guards find ways to finish over or around big men, who do manage to get their hands on their share of attempts for blocks. The big guys here aren't backing down either as they canter downcourt to establish position and finish.
Coach Jon was on hand to watch Mumbai Challengers' assistant coach Sudeep Bose lead Kerala's team to the finals in the 68th Junior National Basketball Championship (June 2017). “Talk about athletic guys. There's a lot of athletic and young players in India. Lots of them. They are raw and they need coaching and polishing. I was pleasantly surprised to see how much talent, how much speed and ability there was," enthused Coach Jon.
For UBA, Raising the Game is about more than just putting the best basketball competition India has ever seen on the floor. The goal is to elevate the sport of basketball in the country and motivate the youth to take up and fall in love with basketball. “We came to the Nationals because we wanted to see what junior basketball looked like," said Coach Jon. "We wanted to really see who our future players are going to be. Now we have a list of all of the players from the junior nationals and we will be keeping a close eye on what they are doing because we will be recruiting them in the future to play for UBA.”
The future of Indian basketball is dazzlingly bright, and it is made more so by the players and coaches who push themselves and each other to the very limit every single day in the UBA Pro Training Camp in order to be able to put the best basketball competition which India has ever seen for Season 5 and beyond.
The game is about to be raised yet again, come Season 5 and we will all be witnesses. Stay tuned for the 2nd part of the trilogy covering the UBA BengaluruTraining Camp.