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Indian Basketball

Building India's basketball future: Head coach Veselin Matic on investing in young talents

Published at :December 25, 2023 at 6:56 PM
Modified at :January 14, 2024 at 12:33 AM
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(Courtesy : Scroll.in)

Kevin Somani


Veselin Matic has been part of the Indian setup for the past four years.

Indian men’s basketball team head coach Veselin Matic has been part of the setup for more than four years. The team under his regime recently progressed to the pre-quarterfinals in 3×3 format at the Asian Games and played in the U-18 3×3 World Cup.

Matic had previously told that by 2024 or 2025, Indian basketball would enter a new phase with more emphasis on young players, which is evident from the recent Indian teams that have more youngsters. He also shared his insights on various aspects, such as the fitness and training of players, the improvement of facilities and the new leadership of the Basketball Federation of India. Here are the excerpts:

KhelNow (KN): How has your experience been till now in this season?

Veselin Matic (VM): This year has been quite different. Many teams have undergone a lot of changes, such as Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Joginder Singh joining the Delhi team, which was not very strong before. I don’t see many young players in many teams. However, Railways revised their policies a little and brought in some young players. Punjab has displayed a lot of talent, even without Amjyot Gill in the tournament and several players playing for other departments like Services, Railways and so on.

Chandigarh is a thrilling team with some good new young players. It is good to be at Senior National Basketball Championships with states introducing new talents.

KN: What are your thoughts on 64 teams participating in this Senior National Basketball Championships? Has it made it tough for you to select players?

VM: No, we already know many things before the Senior Nationals. For U-16 and U-18 tournaments, it has been a little different. It’s almost the same team every time and there are a few changes which we have to observe. I have faith in the experienced selection committee to choose good players. The federation is hoping to start a league very soon and we have to select the players for the league too. These players will play for the league and for that, we need 60 to 80 players.

KN: Growth of youngsters in the past few years?

VM: The situation is unchanged. India cannot depend on older players anymore if they want to be a basketball powerhouse. These older players who played took India to a certain level, but if you want the country to be a top team they need to find players that are fit for the international level. Especially for the Asia level, you need to follow that path. For players, you cannot just get ready for the nationals. We don’t know how much time they have invested to prepare for this.

Some teams might have a week or two and some might have three months. But what about the rest of the year? It is important to know what they are doing before or after Senior Nationals. There’s no doubt about what they are doing here, but what happens next? We are fortunate that there are not many injuries. In such a rigorous schedule, you are vulnerable to injuries. Playing competitively every day for 10 days is not easy.

KN: We are here right now at a cement court where lower pool teams are playing, which increases the risk of injury. What are your thoughts?

VM: The new federation is planning to put this in the assembly: if you want to conduct national-level tournaments, you must have a wooden court and good playing conditions. It shouldn’t be too cold or too hot and there’s a lack of air-conditioned courts in India. Even in December, we are still looking for a place to prepare the team. In India, you also have to see the time of the year.

It’s a big country. There are some places where it is too hot and some places it’s too cold, some places you can practise and some you cannot. There has to be some centre for this. The federation has identified Chennai as a centre which has international standard facilities. I hope it will be a good centre for developing Indian basketball.

KN: Speaking of Chennai, our new president is from Chennai and has focused on developing basketball from the grassroots. What are your discussions with him and the new administration that has come in?

VM: We talk daily, which is one of the most important things to improve basketball. What everyone is talking about is a need for a league. Not only professional but school-level leagues, high-school-level leagues and college and professional leagues. That is a big thing for a federation and not easy to do. I know they will take time. They need to be focused on starting these projects. The new federation is very ambitious to move Indian basketball forward.

KN: How long are you going to be in India?

VM: I don’t know. My contract ends in May and I will complete my fifth year in India. We have started negotiations. With or without me, India has to establish a team that can be competitive internationally. It is important to start a league and make it competitive. Even though it is far away to start a league, there needs to be one soon!

KN: What are the plans and initiatives for improving the standards of Indian basketball, particularly in terms of coaching and player conditioning?

VM: The people who enroll in this course will see how the national team works and how the youth national team works. We want to involve more people. For example, immediately after the Senior Nationals, we are going to organize an international clinic on strength and conditioning which is a very big weakness in Indian basketball. This will help coaches understand the international standards of strength and conditioning. Also in the future, we need to send coaches outside of India to attain more experience.

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