Hopes on hoops

April 8, 2016 , by DREAMS, Leave your thoughts
Hopes on hoops » My Dreams Mag
In a brief history of women's basketball, Nepal made their first ever podium finish ending up second in the first South Asia Basketball Association (SABA) Women's Basketball Championship at their backyard. Benefited by the absence of regional giant India, along with Pakistan, with both giving a no-show due to internal reasons, Nepal managed to finish second in the inaugural edition.

Nepali women’s basketball team dribbling ahead

The SABA Championship was already a two-horse race following the withdrawal of India and Pakistan, and Afghanistan’s decision to leave the regional sports lately. While Maldives and Bangladesh were playing their first international tournament, familiar foe Bhutan was never in Nepal’s radar.
This left Sri Lanka as the only thorn to pluck for Nepal in their bid to claim a historic title but an experienced set of players from the island nation broke the hosts’ hearts. Sri Lanka defeated Nepal 75-49 in the last league match, which served as a final, to claim their first-ever international title in women’s basketball. Nepal was deprived.
“I don’t know whether this opportunity will knock on our door in near future or not. The trophy was laid right in front of us and we failed to lift it,” said Nepal’s coach Bikash Shahi, a former international hoopster himself. At the surface, Nepal missed out on their first-ever international title even in an absence of regional giant India. But in the hindsight, there is a different story that gives a bigger picture.


A Young Game?

Nepali basketball doesn’t have a big history although its popularity has soared, especially in Kathmandu, owing to competitions between schools and colleges for whom basketball competitions have largely been one of the easiest means of publicity. Nepal made its first-ever international debut through the first SABA Men’s Championship in 2001 but 15 years down the line it hasn’t lifted itself above those competitions in schools and colleges.
NBA, one of the most watched sports competitions and fourth most revenue generating game in the world according to recent stats, has its base in NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament. But both the tournaments have made a long way in its history before coming to a point where it will never wane.
For Nepal, matching NBA is a far cry, in fact, farthest but its start is something that the country’s basketball governing body can emulate. However, 15 years after participation at international stage, the game is yet to pick up. Forget about a professional league, the senior hoopsters of the men’s national team are still dependent on inter-college basketball tournaments to keep them active.
And what about the women’s team? Unsurprisingly, the current women’s team was formed just two years ago and was playing their second-ever international tournament after the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. Their struggle is similar to the men’s national team that has always sought for frequent tournaments, probably an extended form of domestic league that they have not got so far. A second place under these circumstances is something the girls would cherish.


Silver amidst fizzled out expectations
After the 12th South Asian (SA) Games in Assam and Guwahati were called off due to internal problems in the Basketball Federation of India, SABA Championship came to relieve Nepali women, who had trained for more than five months for the regional games.
It was due to the build-up to the SA Games and a one-month extensive training in Thailand, coach Shahi and skipper Sadina Shrestha had shown a huge amount of confidence in winning the SABA Championship prior to the tournament. But what unfolded right in front of them was actually a complete turn around, not mentioning the quality they have improved on.
Barring the tough final league game against the Lankans, Nepal looked far from convincing in their three league matches although the victory-margin suggested otherwise. Nepal opened the tournament with a 92-26 victory over Bangladesh before they struggled to score freely in 77-36 defeat of Maldives.
They did salvage some pride routing Bhutan 90-32 but the real test was against Sri Lanka where they succumbed to the experience of the opponents. Under pressure, Nepal saw more turn overs in what served as a final allowing Sri Lanka, who rarely missed scoring opportunities from inside the free-shot zone. The Lankans remained.



Not the same Nepal
Just few years ago, anyone watching Nepal’s game in women’s basketball would have come to the conclusion that for a sport that requires technique, pace and strength, Nepali women were too soft. But not anymore, the match against Sri Lanka itself underlined it. Sri Lanka was a team that had scored in triple figures in all their three matches before preparing for the clash against Nepal who proved as a hard nut to crack.
Nepal went neck-to-neck in the beginning of the game and it was only due to the turnovers, Sri Lanka managed to have an edge over them. Nepal were still in the game when they trailed by just nine points at the middle stages of the final quarter before a flurry of twos and three-pointers helped Sri Lanka march ahead.
Rabindra Maharjan, a former national team hoopster who retired two years ago, saw changes in the way they played, “A lot seems to have change in the way these girls have started to play the game. They are passing the ball swiftly and making good run in the court. Sri Lanka has an experienced set of players who have been in the game for a long time. Our girls displayed superb pressing defence.”
He added, “We have seen in the past how they refrained from coming out strongly during the games but that is no more the case. They have come to the level of Nepali men’s team with their game. It has just been two years for us in women’s basketball and I see a lot of positives. We just need to cash in on them.”
Nepal’s Sneha Shrestha, Bhawana Lama and Anusha Malla have proved themselves as a revelation with their pace, better passing game and ability to score. Everyone has started contributing to the game and if the Nepal Basketball Association (NeBA) begins thinking the way it has never done before — strengthening the domestic structure and providing frequent trainings, basketball will be another reason to smile for the country.
Everyone will love this game.


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