Basketball: The Bhutan national basketball team will be looking for their first international win when they take part in the fourth South Asian basketball association (SABA) zone championship at Bangalore from July 3 to 5.

After months of speculation over the venue for the tournament, FIBA finally allowed the Basketball Federation of India to host the fourth SABA games, a qualification round of the zone for the 28th FIBA Asia championship for men in China, which will begin from September 23 to October 3.

The Bhutanese national team has been preparing for the tournament for the last couple of months with regular practices at the swimming pool complex in Thimphu.

The national basketball coach, Tenxin Jamtsho, is assisted by three experienced coaches.  Kiyong Kim, the former national basketball coach, has returned to train the players for the big tournament.  The Korean coach is looking after the defensive approach of the team, with the help of coach Sonam Tashi from BBF.

Michael Andrew Behnke, popularly known as Coach Mike, has been working on the offensive approach of the players.  With over 19 years of experience in the game, the American coach has developed an offensive playbook for the team, with new offensive moves to help the players be at par with their international counterparts.

Coach Mike said that the team was coping up well with the new techniques and always open to new ideas. “We’re not the tallest players in the world, so we’ve focused on other positive points that is speed and ball-handling ability,” he said. “The boys have worked really hard for the tournament. They listen to new ideas and are open to suggestions, they are coachable.”

He also said that this was the best-prepared team that the federation and the country had at the moment. “We’re looking for our first international win this time and I believe we’ve a reasonable chance to do so,” he said.

Yarab Singye, who is taking part in the competition for the first time, said that the team has practised enough to achieve the first international victory. “We’ve a good team here. This is our stepping-stone towards the development of the game in the country,” he said “Basketball has come a long way in Bhutan, but we still have a long way to go.”

Tashi Tendhar, 18, is the newest and the youngest player on the team.  Tashi said that he was honoured to be a part of the team and get the opportunity to represent the country at an early age. “I’m confident about the tournament, I’ve trained well under the guidance of many experienced seniors and coaches,” he said.

The national team left for an acclimatisation session for 10 days in April this year.  The team is currently practising four hours daily with the new offensive and defensives moves.

Twelve players along with four officials will leave for the tournament on July 2.  The team will be led by the two skippers, Chimmi Wangchuck and Rinchen Dorji.

Younten Tshedup