NEW DELHI: India’s basketball coach Scott Flemming lays great store by the proposed professional league on the lines of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and feels it can do wonders to the sport in the country – but not overnight.
“The professional basketball is a great idea and the the country badly needs it,” Flemming who has also served as the coach and athletic director at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Ohio, said.
Flemming, who has over 30 years of collegiate and professional experience in the US as head coach of the men’s national team, said the professional basketball league, floated by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and IMG-Reliance and scheduled for next summer, should make the sport so popular that the players could make a living out of it.
The former Texas Legends assistant coach felt that the league will spread the canvas, making the selection of national players a lot tougher.
“I agree that a two-month league would not improve the quality of players overnight, but one must start somewhere,” said Flemming.
Most top Indian players are semi-professionals – working in banks, the railways or public sector undertakings – and they play in tournaments organised by either the BFI or in privately-sponsored tournaments.
“The league will give a boost by improving the infrastructure and increasing the pool of players and their quality. Above all, Indian players will have a big platform to become full-time professionals. And I’m sure with time the league could expand and become a year-long affair,” Flemming said.
“Automatically, the number of qualified coaches and referees will go up and with all these positives Indian basketball would get a tremendous image makeover,” he added.
Basketball’s popularity is on the rise in the country and one big reason is the growing fan following of the NBA thanks to the change in telecast timings.
Till last year, all NBA matches started before 5 a.m. India time and adjustments have now been made to the weekend matches to cater to the Asian market, especially India and China. Earlier, for example an Eastern Conference clash which tipped off at around 7 p.m. equated to 4.30 a.m. in New Delhi.
Before the start of the 2013-14 NBA season, NBA commissioner David Stern announced that the timings of some of the weekend matches would be changed. Thus, these matches start at 8 a.m. (Eastern Conference matches) and 9.30 a.m. (Western Conference matches).
Basketball Federation of India CEO Roopam Sharma said the constitution of the league would be on the lines of IMG-R’s other venture, the Indian Super League — a two-month eight-city franchise football tournament scheduled for later this year.
“IMG-R are readying a blueprint for the tournament and it is expected to be similar to the ISL. There would be teams from all the major metro cities and is scheduled to start around July-September 2015,” Sharma said.
With the ISL having faced teething administrative problems as it even had to be postponed twice, Flemming cautioned against jumping the gun and expecting big things immediately.
“This is a new initiative, there are bound to be administrative and logistical roadblocks, it’s not going to be smooth sailing. But this is a long-term project. The seeds have been sown, now we have to wait patiently for it to bear fruit. The process can be lengthy.”
Flemming is certain many American and European hoopsters would be more than happy to be part of the professional league.
“There are many players back in the US, I know personally, would be ready – they are very good but there are just so many players around that not everyone can get into the NBA so they play in smaller divisions or leagues elsewhere.
“Another reason why good foreign players will come is that the league is slated in the off-season. They will see it as a great opportunity to come here for two months and make some money.”
Fleaming was all praise for BFI’s new two-year collaboration with infrastructure major Jaypee that allows the national teams to use the world class Jaypee Greens facilities in Greater Noida.
“The Jaypee Greens facility is the best I have seen in the country. We have been having our camp there for almost four weeks and the players are really enjoying the facilities. We can already see some improvement fitness-wise.
“We need to make such facilities a standard for the national team in other parts of the country. It’s also a great source of motivation for many of of the state-level players to get good enough to play for India,” Flemming concluded.