Host and former champions Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Railways will be among the strong contenders for the title in the men’s section in the 71st Senior National Basketball Championship which begins on Sunday.
The home team, led by Muin Bek Hafeez, is expected to face stiff challenge from teams including the Railways, Services, defending champion Punjab and Uttarakhand. Tamil Nadu, winner of the men’s title in 2018, will start its campaign against Delhi and has been placed in Group C alongside Uttarakhand and Mizoram.
A total of 16 men’s and 15 women’s teams feature in the tournament which will conclude on April 10. The teams have been split into four groups each in both sections with the top two from progress to the next stages where eight teams will be divided into two pools. Top two sides from each pool will qualify for the semi-final stage, the organisers said at a press meet on Saturday.
According to Tamil Nadu men’s team coach C V Sunny, the first target is to qualify for the next stage. “Qualifying for the next stage will be our first target. Each match is important and we will have to be on our toes from the word go,” he added.
Hafeez, on his part, said the team was a good mix of youth and experience and had the ability to go the distance. The Tamil Nadu team players had a two-week camp prior to the championship. The TN women’s team, which is yet to win the national title, can do well, felt coach Delhi Raj. The home side, is in Group A along with Railways, Delhi and Maharashtra, has the depth to deliver, the coach added.
“We have been training for months. We are motivated to deliver our best. Winning or losing a match is secondary,” the women’s team captain A Ashmitha said. Tamil Nadu Basketball Association president Aadhav Arjuna spoke about the initiatives taken by the state association to promote the game.