Of the three founding members of FIBA Asia, only India bears the cross of not making it to a FIBA World Cup. Japan has been to the grand stage seven times and the Philippines has six appearances, including a bronze medal.
But in October 2022, an Under-17 team showed there is light at the end of the tunnel. The side finished second at the FIBA 3×3 U17 Asia Cup to secure a place at the U17 World Cup.
So what if India’s first World Cup appearance will not be in the regular 5×5 format? The 3×3 is the trend now.
“It is anybody’s game,” says Eudrick Pereira about the format. Pereira coaches the Indian National Basketball League (INBL) team Kochi Tigers.
The 3×3 is a shorter, faster format of the game. The T20s to the ODIs. Six players on the court. The 24-second shot clock cut down to 12 and the first to 21 points wins. No stoppages. 10 minutes of non-stop basketball and game over.
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Pereira’s advocacy for the format is perplexing and convincing at once.
The 34-year-old has been through the wringer. He has played in the All-India Invitational and has played for India at the Asian Games. Basketball has been his life for 17 years. It has even got him his current job with the Central Excise and Customs Department.
No one would hold it against him if his nearly two-decade association with the sport prompted repulsion to the new avatar.
Surprisingly, it is quite the opposite.
“I had the opportunity to play with players from Spain, the USA, Canada, Macedonia and Switzerland. They are constantly playing 3×3 in different countries,” says Pereira.
The world is catching on with the 3×3 format. It is an Olympic discipline as well. For India too, the time is now, Pereira feels.
The INBL was flagged off in 2022 for 5×5 and 3×3 competitions but returned for a second season with just the 3×3 format for both men and women.
“The INBL 3X3 is a great initiative for the players. In 5×5, the number of players in each team is 12 and as a coach, my experience in five-on-five is that around nine players will be getting suitable minutes. That means if there are 10 teams and 120 players, there will be 30 players not getting any minutes to show what they work for. That is a major issue. 3X3 allows only four players and all of them will get good playing minutes.”
But players’ needs go beyond just minutes on the court. Sonya Joy, a part of the Kochi Tigers 3×3 women’s team, emphasises the need for camps.
“We have camps for 5×5 for a few months. But in 3×3, there is no such thing. There is nothing to concentrate just on 3×3,” Joy says.
For her, tournaments are just the precursor. “There are lots of talented players but they are not getting opportunities. (With tournaments like INBL) You realise good players are playing who have talent. (But) You have to select them, put them in the camp and see what they can do from there.”
While on one hand, Joy aims for a holistic road map, Pereira, on the other, is happy just to see the wheels being set in motion.
Major tournaments in India have always been invitation-based. The INBL, however, opens up avenues for everyone with its open-category tournaments, Pereira feels.
“The All-India Invitational tournament, which is the highest level of basketball happening in our country over the past 50 years, only calls in selective teams. There is a large group of players who are not in these teams and they are denied an opportunity to play. INBL 3X3 changes that,” he says.
In 2022, eight men’s and seven women’s teams played in the All-India Invitational. In contrast, 540 men’s and 88 women’s teams played in the INBL 3×3 this year.
For Pereira, the foray into coaching stems from another reason close to his heart. India’s troubles on the global stage root from a very basic reason – lack of coaches.
“If you are a central government employee, you cannot go outside your department and become a professional coach. Lots of players are posted just like me, having 18-20 years of exposure, who have no opportunity to coach. Their knowledge died the day they stopped playing.
“Right now, whoever is not getting a government job is becoming a coach. I’m not saying they are not capable. But a very large group – of the greatest players who have played basketball in this country – has no opportunity to coach,” he says.
With the INBL, Pereira takes one step towards bridging this gap. “I would like to give back what I can,” he says.
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