By Siddarth Sharma, UBA Columnist
"Stay above 50!" insisted Keanu Reeves as Jack Traven in the movie Speed.
The first impression action in the United Basketball Alliance (UBA) Pro Basketball League impresses upon the observers is a visceral sense of speed which hits you like a blast of air rushing into a plane upon opening the door mid-flight.
The heightened pace of the game is something which has been achieved through a conscious effort to raise the game. For a player on the court, the need for movement during the game can be likened to climbing a slippery pole: there is no standing still as if you aren't in motion, you're slipping down the pole. There is a strong sense of urgency in how the players move with and without the ball on the court. Except in situations where one has to run the clock down or slow down to set a play, there is no room for a breather when the ball is live.
After Ice Hockey, Basketball is the fastest team sport on earth, and perhaps even on Mars as Space Jam demonstrated. And it is meant to be played as such. One might think that holding a basketball in your hands is akin to gripping a paintbrush. The court is your canvas, the players palettes and when you step between the lines, you get to paint your masterpiece. If you've ever felt that way, pray relinquish the thought. UBA Director of Coaching Coach Jody Basye or UBA League Assistant Coach Jon Kimberlin would be happy to sweat it out of you.
Basketball is not an individual pursuit. The position of every single player relative to the other nine bodies on the court creates unique situations rich with endless possibilities every single second. It is the responsibility of every player to recognize the power of that and help move the team as one to exploit the openings presented by the opponent. In order to do that, they need to be in motion. New opportunities arise on-court every moment like so many whack-a-moles popping out, and the spoils go to the fastest.
In Season 4, the addition of 10 international basketball talents from the USA has served to inject the league with an increased need for speed. If you think you're fast, try to spend a few seconds on the court when Dermaine Crockrell is streaking down the court on a fast break. Playing against and alongside speedsters will only do wonders for the game of the Indian basketball players as their own games will rise thanks to the frenetic pace.
"I feel the need. The need for speed!" exclaimed Tom Cruise as Maverick in the film Top Gun.
Speaking of Top Guns in Indian basketball, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi comes to mind as he has been leading India for almost a decade with his well-rounded game and veteran leadership. He knows more than a thing or two about speed and using changes in pace to own the court. He made his UBA debut this season with Bengaluru Beast and after his team bested Chennai Slam in the final game of the regular season in UBA Season 4 to earn a spot in the South Division play-in game, he sat down with UBA broadcasters Paul Crane and Victor Howell for a post-game interview.
Speaking of the pace in the UBA, Vishesh said "Here the ball moves so fast. If you stay in the backcourt and wait for the ball, that's not possible. After the opponents make a basket, the ball moves upcourt very fast. You have to run if you want to be involved in the action. If you want to stop and run a play in the halfcourt, you can do that but for that you have to run fast and get into position. This helps everyone as it makes everyone's game faster over here."
Had long time Los Angeles Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler called a game in India a few years ago, he might have been deprived of his trademark catchphrase 'Lawler's Law', which states that the first team to score 100 in a match, wins. In the past, matches in India were not known for triple digit scores, rendering the law obsolete. With the UBA's emphasis on speed, we are seeing teams crack the 100-120 point barrier in 40 minutes of regulation time with regularity. This provides for a more entertaining spectacle for the fans in the stands and the ones watching at home, and it helps the players to improve their game while giving them more opportunities to shine on court. The increased speed also results in the entire 10-man line up getting floor time.
Think back to every single basketball movie you may have seen about an underdog team which comes together to topple giants. The one common thread running through most of them is the fact that all those teams had faced hardship personally and as a team, yet they persevered and brought into the common goal. The turning point in these movies come in the shape of a montage where the players are pushed through the paces by the deeply committed coach into improving their fitness.
They have a common message drilled into them: outwork your opponent and run them out of the gym. Then turns the tide as the team crashes down upon the opposition as a tidal wave invading a beach. Much like a wave always finds its way around every obstacle on the beach, the energized players manage to overcome everything the opponents throw at them thanks to their pace and effort. That storyline perfectly applies to basketball in India and how the UBA is raising the game.
A new wave of speed is coming in Indian basketball, and thanks to live coverage, we are all witnesses.