CHENNAI: “When you have been having soup with your right hand for 50 years and suddenly, somebody comes and asks you to do so with your left, it’s not easy at all.” That’s how Tamil Nadu’s basketball players summed up the experience of training under a new coach. Shifting to a Serbian coach just before the nationals is yet another baby step being taken by this team in terms of grooming more players for the Indian side.
With men finishing runners-up and women ending fifth in the nationals last year, the host state for this year’s edition — to be held in Chennai from January 17 to 21 — is keen on getting gold.
That’s because the event will serve as a crucial platform for proving their worth, before India turns out at the World Cup qualifiers in February. Following that are both Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.
Coming in just five weeks before the tournament, men’s and women’s head coach Milan Opacic has drastically changed training methodology, style of play, and the members’ mindset.
“Serbia is third in FIBA rankings. Obviously, there is a difference in the way basketball is played there. Though it’s just been 35-38 days of training, he has brought in a lot of changes. Technique, in particular,” said women’s captain Alagutamillmozhi.
“Previously, we used to play in a certain way and not understand the logic behind it. He made us realise that. That reasoning and change in style has helped us understand the game better.” Though this meet will see around 64 teams (both men and women) competing, coach Opacic has broader goals and wants the state to have plans aimed at development in the long run. “We want to be champions. That way we can send in many players to a national side. Tamil Nadu is on the path of development. We are happy that we have many tournaments. But, it won’t be meaningful if I stay just for this tournament, and train them just a month before the championship. “
The Serb extended that line of thought to the national scheme of things as well. “The federation has to make a long-term plan if India needs to be successful. We are 10-20 years behind China and Serbia. We want India to play in Europe and other countries, and improve their rankings (64th in men and 45th in women). That’s the ultimate goal.”
Opacic also revealed that since the Basketball Federation of India has a good rapport with its Serbian counterpart, there are plans of bringing in more coaches and former players from the country.
Tamil Nadu also has another Serb — Aleksandar Virijevic — as an assistant coach for both men and women. It won’t come as a surprise if India goes for an exposure tournament there in the near future.