India can catch up with China in basketball: Former Lakers coach

New Delhi, March 5: Former Los Angeles Lakers coach Del Harris feels a well-defined, proficient youth programme can see India potentially catching up with China as a truly professional basketball nation.

India’s men’s team is ranked 58th and China’s 12th in the FIBA world rankings. Among women India are 39th and China 8th.

The yawning gap between the school-college level and the pro level has to be narrowed if the transition of players is to be eased. Harris says the gap is there everywhere, even in the US, where the NBA draft picks out the best.

“The gap between school-college and pro-level is there everywhere, even in the United States. Only the exceptional college-level players get picked in the NBA draft,” Harris, who is here to conduct a series of clinics, told IANS.

“Not everybody can advance to the next level but what you do is to have a strong youth programme and produce more potential candidates for the next level. If you have 100 candidates for the next level you will have a better chance of producing good players than say if you have only a handful.

“So it’s all about numbers and India definitely has the numbers like China does. I don’t see why India can’t be where China is.”

Harris has been a basketball coach at every level over the past 53 years. He has been involved with the NBA at various levels for 38 years and was the head coach of the Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers, where he was adjudged Coach of the Year in 1995.

He became only the 19th NBA coach to win 500 regular season games in 1997. His teams won over 540 games in 12 full seasons. He is currently vice president of the Texas Legends team in the NBA Development League, the Mavericks minor league affiliate.

He was the first foreign head coach of the Chinese team for the 2004 Olympics.

“Basketball is on the upswing here. You have done well by tying up with IMG and bringing in a veteran coach like Scott Fleming. You have chalked up some good plans to improve basketball from the bottom up and that should really have a long-term effect in making the sport popular and professional,” said Harris.

“There’s a lot of high-level basketball being played around the world so there is a great opportunity for players to find a competitive league and play pro-basketball.”

Harris said Indian players needed to go overseas and play in competitive leagues to reach the next level.

“Every person, whether he is an athlete or a businessman, will be wanting to associate or compete with the best and so it’s only natural for players to go somewhere where they can improve their skills. The only way to improve, to a large extent, is to be around with people more proficient so that they can learn how to improve,” he said.

“But what India should strive towards is to have a good pro-league and set a standard for others to come and play.”

Harris, who has also coached the national teams of Puerto Rico, Canada, the United States and the Dominican Republic, felt India needed to have as many courts as possible.

“Unlike cricket or a football stadium, basketball doesn’t need a huge area or equipment. It only requires limited space. One, two, three or 10 can play, not very many,” Harris remarked.

“All you need is a basket suspended somewhere and a ball; you can even play with a football. This sport should be invested in because kids in lower income groups can play it and that’s where NBA have gotten many great players.

“Wooden courts and top-of-the-line facilities should be set up at the national and collegiate level for players who want to seriously pursue the sport,” Harris added.

(Santosh Rao can be contacted at santosh.r@ians.in)

IANS