BENGALURU: India’s basketball coach Veselin Matic is making the most of his time during the lockdown. Other than interacting with players, he is making plans to help the team attain greater heights. The Serbian, who has coached Poland, Syria and other teams, took charge last year. Under him, the team has excelled and also produced an emphatic win over Iraq in the Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers, recently, in February.
In a chat with this newspaper, Matic said he wants to form a bigger pool of players to challenge bigger teams and is keen to make the sport popular throughout the country. Excerpts.
How difficult has this period of lockdown been away from family?
This is something new and a big challenge for me. I am in daily communication with my family over phone. This difficult period gave me some good time to plan various ideas on how to improve Indian basketball. The Basketball Federation of India with Sports Authority of India (SAI) conducted online coaches’ clinics for two weeks and I had to prepare for that too.
How has the communication been with Indian players during this period?
We have been in constant touch with national campers of all age groups. They are given fitness routines, including workouts which they can do at home. The coaching staff is in touch with all athletes individually. Our next step is to start the national camp, develop technical and physical ability of the athletes as per guidelines issued by Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports and SAI.
How long would it take for players to attain match fitness after they resume full training?
I am aware fitness is very important and we are advising and circulating fitness plans to all the players. For sure, time spent at home is very different from the period they spend in the camps. When they come back for camps, it will take around 21 days to attain match fitness.
Could basketball also witness some changes post Covid-19?
The ministry and SAI have prepared guidelines on how to start national camps. Training activities may have to be performed in small groups, maintaining distancing norms of 1.5 to 2 metres between athletes and staff. We have to ensure that aspects of training which require physical contact are avoided. The court shall be divided into three/four areas, with a maximum of three players in each who will train.
What is your view on the probability of teams playing without spectators?
In India, a lot of tournaments are organised. People not coming to watch will affect the popularity of game. We need to promote and popularise the game of basketball from the grassroots to the top level. I think everything will be normal in some time.
India beat Iraq and came close to defeating Bahrain in the Asia Cup qualifiers. What is the team’s real potential?
I have a plan till 2025 on how to change and prepare a team which will represent India at the top level. I have planned to have a large pool of quality players in all age groups by 2025 and have two teams (A and B) at the senior level followed by U-18 and U-16. This will help India be in the top eight in Asia. Also, I want to modernise basketball in India at various levels to make it popular.
You have been with this team for more than a year. How do you assess the progress so far?
I feel very good to be the head coach of India, the country aspiring to be a global leader in sports. After one year, I stay in the same direction, that is to develop the game by increasing its popularity across the country, by organising leagues from youth to senior level around the year and to increase the number of players that can play in the league.
How can youngsters in the team take their game to next level?
From the first day, I have been trying to focus on youth by visiting the national championships held under BFI and by scouting talent and training them in camp. Players born in or after 2003 have to be the future of Indian basketball. By setting up more and more academies, where young athlete can train, will help the youth take their game to the next level.
India are ranked 12th in Asia. What would it take to challenge higher ranked teams?
Basketball is prominent in Asia. To stay at 12 and to reach the top eight, we need a pool of quality players, league and popularisation of the sport. We have already planned with the BFI and SAI on taking India basketball to a higher level in Asia.