Tamil Nadu hoopsters bag the National championship after 10 years

The Tamil Nadu hoopsters didn’t tire of saying how imaginative and intuitive their chief coach S. Bhaskar was during the Senior National basketball championship, which concluded in New Delhi a few weeks ago.

The players credit the 47-year-old from the Sports Authority of India (Mayiladuthurai) for making the right substitutions, giving the right ideas during time-outs and providing them with the motivation that ensured Tamil Nadu regained the National crown after a gap of 10 years — it last won the title in Cuttack in 2003-04 while making the final in ’08 (Surat) and ’11 (Chennai).

“He is one of the most intelligent among contemporary coaches in India,” says playmaker P. Akilan, whose successful association with Centre Rikin Petani was one of the high points in New Delhi. According to the 25-year-old, it was the coach’s “workouts” on the short-clock (24 seconds) and the timeouts that turned out to be crucial.

His timeouts against Indian Railways in the league match, and his use of the short clock in the quarterfinal against Karnataka, says Akilan, were game changers.

A lifetime achievement

For Vineeth Ravi Mathew, one of the few senior players, captaining the side to the title, was a “once in a lifetime achievement.”

Making a comeback to the team after three years, Vineeth termed the triumph as great. “All credit to our coach Bhaskar. This time we had a short 15-day camp when normally it would be for 30 days. But we made the best use of the situation. Moreover, the temperature in New Delhi was 12 degree Celsius, which for many South Indians is chill. We adjusted to the conditions really well,” he said.

The first thing, Vineeth told his teammates, after being made the skipper was to drive home the point “there is no IOB, no Customs teams. There is only one Tamil Nadu team.” Technically, Vineeth said being defence-oriented was the main reason for the side’s success. “The ‘man-to-man helping defence’ enabled us to remain unbeaten in the league and win the crown. Pratham Singh was in great form. Prasanna Venkatesh, playing in his maiden Nationals, scored in all the matches. It was a superb team effort,” said Vineeth.

Pratham Singh, one of the stars in Tamil Nadu’s triumph, reiterated that it was Tamil Nadu’s defence that helped it overcome opponents. “Being defence is safe and productive. On the other hand, being offensive is not a guarantee for success; it may or may not click,” said the 24-year-old, who hails from Amritsar. Pratham credited coach Bhaskar for “motivating us and building our confidence.”

No ego

C. V. Dinesh, who couldn't do much due to an ankle injury that got aggravated in the first match in the Nationals, said the team “had no ego problems or politics and we encouraged one another. Bhaskar sir’s workouts were perfect.”

The victory for the young team, whose average age is 24, was creditable given the fact that the Tamil Nadu Basketball Association has been acting as a caretaker for the last six months. “For the last four years (till September 2013) when we completed our four-year term, we had to fight several cases in court against people who wanted to disrupt our activities. The court has given us permission to take care of the TNBA till the elections are completed. Janarthan Reddy will be the observer appointed by the court for the elections which we intend to finish by April,” said Suren, a former India captain and TNBA treasurer. Suren added that it was difficult to select players in the open trials (for the Nationals) as there was no State championship, but the Selection Committee did a good job. “It was a joy for Tamil Nadu as six from the side have been picked as probables for the Indian camp,” he said.

There is unanimity that Tamil Nadu can recapture the golden period (it won five Nationals in a row from 2000 to 2004) it enjoyed with proper planning and organisation. The new TNBA body which will take charge in April will have to ensure that the young side reaches greater heights.