India have a mountain to climb

India have a mountain to climb

Japan women’s team goes through their paces ahead of their opener against India in the FIBA Women's ASIA Basketball championship, at Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium in Bengaluru on Monday. Photo/ B H Shivakumar

Coach Zoran Visic had stressed on the need for staying prepared for this competition on the very day India earned promotion to the top tier of the FIBA Women's Asia Cup from Division B, back in 2017.

It was a momentous occasion for the Indian women's basketball team, who had joined the Asian elite. From Tuesday at the Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium, the Indian eves, captained by R Rajapriyadarshini, will battle it out against the Asian giants in Division A to preserve that seat.

India are placed in Group A alongside defending champions Japan, South Korea and Chinese Taipei while Group B consists of last edition's runners-up Australia, China, New Zealand and the Philippines. 

Each team will play the other in their group once (three games each), with the table-toppers qualifying for the semifinals. The second and third-placed nations will play the quarterfinals.

To avoid relegation, India will have to stay in the top seven. The last-placed side will compete in the lower division from the next edition of the tournament. 

The hosts will have a mountain to climb against the quick-footed Japanese on an opening day. They take on South Korea on Wednesday and Chinese Taipei on Thursday.

Much will be expected of Jeena PS, who is back after her stint with Ringwood Hawks in NBL-1, a semi-professional league in Australia. 

The Serbian coach, aware of the job at hand, is taking one step at a time. "Target is to be competitive against other teams in Division A," said Visic, who is banking on the home support to boost his side. 

"It will be a very good experience for us to measure ourselves with the best teams from Asia. We need to be competitive. The girls have practiced hard in the past two months, we'll see what happens. We will not go below our level," he added.

Visic rued the absence of a professional basketball league in India. "These countries have national leagues, they have foreign players, well-built players, not only Japanese but also Americans," he pointed out.

Center Rajapriyadarshini is not worried about the outcome, she is just eager to perform. "We will give our maximum on the court. We will do what our coaches have taught us and give our best inside the court," she said.

Meanwhile, Japan are looking to become only the third team to complete a four-peat after China (1978-84) and South Korea (1990-95). Having won the event in 2013, 2015 and 2017, their coach Tom Hovasse is confident of accomplishing the feat. Power forward Ramu Tokashiki will grab the spotlight.

"Of course, we are three-time champions. We know Australia and China are really strong. They've gotten better but so have we. You can never underestimate the heart of the champions and right now we are the reigning champions. We have confidence and our goal is to win," he said.

However, the Ataksuki Five will face a strong challenge from Australia, who will be looking to avenge their loss in the final. Returning from 2017 squad are Katie Ebzery and Sara Blicavs, who will be motivated to achieve a different outcome this time.

Groupings: Group A: India, South Korea, Japan, Chinese Taipei.

Group B: China, Australia, New Zealand, Phillippines.

Matches today: Australia vs Phillippines (1:15 pm), South Korea vs Chinese Taipei (3:30 pm), China vs New Zealand (5:45 pm); Japan vs India (8:00 pm).