Originally published on 19 Feb, 2017 on www.ubaindia.com
There's a vast undercurrent of movement underway in Indian basketball, ready to sweep the country in the form of a basketball renaissance. The UBA Pro Basketball League Season 4 is set to tip off on 16th February, 2017 at the Sathyabama University, Chennai. Having started off in 2015, the league has evolved in every edition since and each one has proved to be bigger and better than the preceding one. Here's a look at 8 reasons why UBA Pro Basketball League Season 4 will raise the roof higher:
If you're a basketball fan lucky to be in Chennai at this time, don't be alarmed if you feel tremors on occasion in this region. The frequent and empathic slam dunks in the UBA Season 4 scrimmage on 14th may have registered on the Richter scale. Chris Solomon of the Bengaluru Beast brought the house down with a jet-fuel propelled, one-handed tomahawk slam setting the tone for the scrimmage.
Among the first instincts of any man/woman landing on the moon is to bounce on the spot and enjoy the weightless sensation. Spectators at the Sathyabama University can be forgiven for attempting to test the gravity in the arena. Had Newton chosen to sit in the bleachers here during the scrimmages instead of under a tree prone to dropping apples, we might have ended up with an entirely different concept of relativity. Nowhere else in the country are the laws of gravity so blatantly flouted with amorous disdain.
As John Edgar Wideman prophesied, "When it's played the way is supposed to be played, basketball happens in the air; flying, floating, elevated above the floor, levitating the way oppressed peoples of this earth imagine themselves in their dreams." Those dreams are lived upon here as the players engage in a primal and unrelenting battle to come out on top.
The scrimmages just provided a taste of what is in store for the season. A dunk can galvanize the entire arena, sending a ripple through their ranks. It will be interesting to see which player first makes a poster dunk in the regular season.
The teams really mean business and this fact will be impressed upon the audience very quickly. After weeks of training camps, the players were hungry and raring to see how their hard work translated on the court, and it was a thing of beauty. While there were a few errant passes from some players trying to push the pace, as the games went on they found their footing and began to orchestrate a basketball symphony.
There are fewer adrenaline shots more potent than witnessing Agu push the pace in the open floor. Sprinkling sweat as his body works overtime to maintain core temperature in response to his relentless exertion, Agu employs his breakneck speed to his advantage with subtle changes in pace to throw the defense off track with his timing.
The coaches are sensing a sense of acceleration here as well. UBA League Assistant Coach Jon Kimberlin speaks in a deliberate, enthusiastic and precise manner, in a voice close to slight hoarseness, somewhere halfway in between 0 to Tom Thibodeau levels, as a result of years of spirited teaching. His eyes lit up at the sight of watching the players scrimmage. "They are going to play much faster this time around," he said. "That will be a huge difference this year. The scores will be a higher because of that. The athleticism will be on another level, we are going to see some athletic moves and action that a lot of people may not be used to seeing."
With the numerous training and coaching camps having been undertaken by the coaches and players, we can look forward to a more nuanced product on the floor. There are few sports which call for the coach's involvement as much as basketball does. They can resemble an orchestra conductor as they attempt to direct the action on the floor with as much vigor as the players. The coaches are always in motion on the sidelines, but the majority of their work is done behind the scenes as they teach the players to play together and with a singular mindset.
Coach Jon Kimberlin recalled "Coach Ram Kumar had said recently, "I'm never done learning." To have a guy like that with such an exhaustive resume buying in completely and all the other coaches having the same attitude helps everyone to take the game to another level. As for the young guys assimilating in here, they are coming without many pre-conceived notions and are easy to mold as well."
With the players getting to spend more and more time with each other on and off the court,the rising level of familiarity has brought them closer to each other resulting in an almost cerebral on-court connection where each player is more aware of the other's on-court tendencies and preferences.
As Hall-of-Famer Isiah Thomas so eloquently put it to Bill Simmons, "The secret of winning in basketball is that it is not about basketball." What he was alluding to was the ever-elusive team chemistry which comes into play when the players know, like and respect each other and put the team above the individual. The chemistry among the players in the UBA has been steadily growing, and the UBA Season 4 will bear witness to more polished on-court product as a result.
Jon has been deeply involved with the players and he has an insider's perspective on what's in store this time. He foresaw the team chemistry pushing the players to a greater whole than the sum of their parts. He said, "We'll see more camaraderie and team play as previously the players were gelling with each other and may have leaned towards individual play a bit. We'll see more intensive coaching and more action happening on the sidelines with a lot more plays being drawn on coach's boards with a heavier emphasis on strategy. We'll see the substitution patterns be a lot faster as well, while in the past games may have seen the top few players play the brunt of minutes. Everybody can stay fresh and contribute better for their teams."
The scrimmages held at the stadium did not see the players letting up for even an instant. Under scrutiny of the team coaches and UBA assistant coaches, the players put on a show befitting a playoff game. Every possession in the scrimmages was treated as a do-or-die situation with no quarter given. The proceedings had the pace of a track meet with the players were giving it their all. As a result, the substitutions were frequent and resembled a Ice Hockey-style line substitutions. Every layup was a hair's breadth away from being blocked. Players were driving and kicking the ball out with the tenacity of a Kabaddi attacker making forays in the opponent's zone. Blocks were leading to outlet passes (which would make Kevin Love proud) across the court in a flash, double teams were stretching to centre court and the players seemed to be burning skid marks on the floor with their blistering pace.
While individually players might have faltered on occasion in the hyper-competitive scrimmage, collectively they all moved with a single minded purpose to change the topology of the floor traffic, trying to create gaps with constant movement. The scrimmages were just an indication of what is in store on the 16th as we are in for a hyper-competitive treat.
The UBA Season 4 will see some of Indian basketball' fan favourite household names making their UBA debut. Stars like Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Yadwinder Singh, Amrit Pal Singh, Palpreet Brar, Pratham Singh, Rikin Pethani and Amjyot Singh are just a few of the many newcomers who will look to light the court up this season.
This season we will also see more players of Indian origin plying their trade. One such player is Inderbir Gill, who's born in Punjab and is built to wreck havoc on the court. In the scrimmages, he pulled out a Tim Hardaway-signature crossover at full speed, resulting in a driving lane opening up like Moses parting the red sea. Speaking of playing in the UBA, he said "I'm really excited to be here, it feels surreal. I was present two years ago for the University games, and the game has grown exponentially since then. The talent level has exploded and the evolution in the game is clear to see." He's been named the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) Player of the year and he's played with Amjyot Singh for the Hamamatsu Team in the FIBA 3x3 in Japan.
During Season 2, Rikin Pethani had had expressed his desire take to the floor for the UBA in the past. And here he is now, continuing the trend of UBA making basketball fan's dreams come true.
For the very first time, the UBA will feature 10 USA international players participating in the league. The names include the 6"9 Mak Boskailo, and 5"10 Tevin Kelly, both of whom live above the rim for the Hyderabad Sky. De'Sean Mattox will suit up for the Haryana Gold and Chennai Slam will be starring Brendon Pineda. Dermaine Crockrell is with the Punjab Steelers and the high flying Chris Solomon is on the Bengaluru Beast. This is a homecoming of sorts for Chris as his father happens to be from New Delhi, India. Jimmy Scroggins joins the Mumbai Challengers, Ronald March will be playing for Delhi Capitals and De’Sean Maddox will be on the Haryana Gold. Rounding up the list of newcomers from USA is Alex Scales, the league's most experienced first timer who has played briefly for the San Antonio Spurs and two NBA D-League teams. His illustrious professional career spans over 11 countries as he's been playing professionally since 2000.
The top returning stars of the UBA have had a trip to remember as 15 of the UBA's standout talents travelled to Arizona for the second annual Pro Training Camp where they underwent two grueling practices a day followed by two hours of intense conditioning. Their practices and scrimmages included going up against NCAA players and former NFL players.
They found time to undergo Rannvijay’s challenges as well which were creative enough to wind the players out and also provide a fun test. The players had memorable moments off the court as well, just ask Akashdeep about his position on Tarantulas if you want to know more.
The influx of talent has resulted in the game being elevated to another level. Jon observed that the game is being raised by the influx of new talent in addition to the UBA veterans who experienced the season before. Speaking of that, Jon said “The players’ evolution has put the onus on the coaches to raise their game as well. During the training sessions, the focus was on the coaches in addition to the players. In early February, we ran 8 practices, and we felt that these might be the 8 best practices we have ever run here. The coaches had picked up all that we were putting in. Compared to the practices of Season 3, the assimilation of coaching practices is so much better. You put better players in better practices in the gym, and that's what happens. Players and coaches are pushing each other. They were in Bengaluru for two weeks. We started with 130 players and came down to about 86 players and 10 American players were added to the mix."
Indian basketball is in for a treat in the coming few days. Be there at the Sathyabama University from 16th February to see the UBA Pro Basketball League Season 4 tip off. You can also catch the live telecast on Ten Sports network.