National Collegiate Athletic Association legend William R Harris and former Minnesota Lynx forward Tamika Raymond, who were appointed the head coaches of the men’s and women’s teams on September 28 and October 4 respectively, have been conducting the Asian Games’ camp in Chennai but they are having a tough time, with the players lacking in basics.
“Working with this team has been hard because they don’t know the fundamentals, they are not as athletic and we have problems communicating, but the boys are very, very receptive,” said Harris.
Tamika said, “I have very little time here but that little time can result in change. These players have great basketball IQ and they, if pushed in the right direction, can make it big. The problem now is that the team is still far behind on fundamentals. What kids in the States learn when they are 11 is what we are teaching the senior team now.” Harris, who was brought in as the coach after Serbian Aleksander Bucan’s contract came to an end, was given exactly 47 days -- from the day of his appointment -- to turn the men’s team into a force at the 16th edition of the Asiad. For starters, that’s practically impossible. Secondly, Harris has to work from scratch to get the team into shape.
“My contract expires on December 1 and there is only so much I can do in that time. But if I can manage to help them with their fundamentals, I’ll consider it a job well done,” said Harris.
The Indian men’s team will lock horns with Afghanistan in the preliminary round one of their Group D encounter on Nov 13. Depending on the outcome of their opening encounter, India will join winners of Group B -- either Philippines or Saudi Arabia -- in Group F of preliminary round two. But the real challenge will begin if they make it to the next phase — Group F — where they could line up alongside Chinese Taipei, Japan, Qatar and Iran.
“We have different kinds of players in our team and it’s important for us to carefully categorise them in order to get to a good spot. That’s not going to happen with two months of training. Basketball is about time. The players need to dedicate their lives to playing the game. Our focus is not on the Asian Games. I want to make this good team a great team but it will take time,” said the 1996 NCAA Division III Coach of the Year.
Talking about the future of Indian basketball, Harris said: “It’s hard to say. My contract is till December and once I get back to the States, it’s going to be hard to keep track of things here. If I do get to stay back, then I guess I’ll have a comment on that.
“But India has a lot of people willing to play basketball. They have what it takes to be smart ball players. They might lack the build the guys in the NBA have, but that shouldn’t stop them from becoming good players. I really think there is a future but it depends on the way the sport is handled, and that only time will tell.”
Speaking about India’s chances at the Asian Games, Tamika said: “The Asian Games is not what we are looking at now. It’s way too early to determine the kind of progress the team has made. We’ll be taking on China, Korea and Thailand in our group and that’s a tough group to be in. We have a good mixture of experience and youth and that’s a great thing for the team.”
India’s only hope of seeing one of its players play in the WNBA rests with skipper Geetu Anna Jose but Tamika said the 25-year-old Kerala centre had a long way to go.
“Geetu is a great player but I doubt she’ll be a challenge in the WNBA. She needs to improve on a lot of things to get to that standard. But if there’s anyone that can do it, it’s her. See it’s like this, little girls in US start playing against boys and it makes them harder, but in India that’s not the case.”