With a team comprising mostly rookies and a few experienced players, Tamil Nadu's performance in the recent Senior National championships is something to be proud of
Point guard Vinoth Kumar's assertive and imaginative passing, forward Raghu Ram's effortless shooting under pressure, pivot Sidheek Razak and forward Arun Chandra Doss's accurate baskets (in the league), point guard Praveen Kumar's feints and drive-ins (in the final) and Akhilan's vision (in the quarterfinals) were instrumental in the Tamil Nadu men's team's brilliant show in the Senior National basketball championships in Chennai last month. What made Tamil Nadu's performance — reaching the final — worthier was the fact that five of the six hoopsters mentioned above were rookies.
The host didn't lose face by losing to Punjab in the summit clash. Tamil Nadu didn't give in easily and played with all its might till the end of the third quarter after which Punjab raced to victory.
A young side with a sprinkling of senior players, Tamil Nadu stood head and shoulders above many top teams such as Uttarakhand, Indian Railways and Services. Topping the Group, which had Railways in it, was no easy task. Pratam Singh was the bulwark of Tamil Nadu in the group stages as he converted baskets consistently. His exit from the tournament due to chicken pox, when the event reached the knock-out stage, was a big blow.
M. S. Nazar, chief coach of Tamil Nadu, had faith in the youngsters who rallied behind him implementing his ideas in a wonderful manner. Hardly any one gave the team a chance in its quarterfinal clash with favourite Uttarakhand. Beating a team that had stars such as Mohit Bhandari, Trideep Rai and Murali Krishna required exceptional planning and impeccable execution, and the host did this to perfection. Tamil Nadu won on extra time; Raghu Ram and Akilan excelled in their roles.
Seniors prove their worth
Against 28-time champion Services in the semifinals, Tamil Nadu's seniors proved their worth as the host emerged triumphant again on extra time. Saravana Rajan and Mihir Pandey with the combined experience of seven Nationals behind them proved their mettle with regular baskets.
There was nothing major to cavil about Tamil Nadu's display in the final against Punjab. If only Mihir had provided support to Rikin Pethani in the rebounds — offensive and defensive — Tamil Nadu could have possibly provided a stiffer fight.
Rikin was outstanding throughout the championship. The 6 ft 6 inch Sathyabama College student, hailing from Gujarat, made some timely defensive rebounds and his shooting spoke volumes for his immense talent. The youngster, representing Tamil Nadu for the first time, needs to be groomed if the State is keen to perform well in the Nationals.
Tamil Nadu's future certainly looks bright and coach Nazar concurs. “It is really satisfying to reach the final with as many as seven newcomers. The senior players co-operated well. We have many more talented players waiting in the wings, which is a good sign. One major concern is the defence which needs to be strengthened. In some matches, co-ordination was lacking as the players come from different departments. Overall it was a very good show by us,” says the 50-year-old Nazar, who is Chief Office Superintendent in the Integral Coach Factory.
Keywords: National basketball championships