Basketball: After not being able to participate in their first international tournament at the 12th South Asian Games (SAG) last month, the Bhutanese national women’s basketball team is gearing up for its first SABA championship in Kathmandu, Nepal.

This will be the team’s first official international competition. The team was formed earlier this year to represent the country at the 12th SAG. The tournament, however, was cancelled following FIBA’s (Federation International Basketball Association) complaint of interference from the government and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).

Nevertheless, the team managed to organize a few friendlies with some of the local teams at Guwahati last month.

Comprising of some of the best talents in women basketball in the country, the team has been undergoing vigorous training ever since SAG. Four new players have joined the team after the departure of some old players on personal grounds.

The leadership of the team has also changed following the former women’s head coach, Michael Andrew Behnke (Coach Mike), completing his tenure with the federation. The team will be led by Sonam Tashi as the head coach.

“The team was disappointed when the SAG tournament was cancelled. But the girls have got back together, stronger and better this time,” said Sonam Tashi. “We’re all excited for the tournament and are fully prepared for it.”

Sonam Tashi is hopeful that his team this time will win a game or two at the competition. With word doing the rounds that basketball-giants like India, Pakistan and Afghanistan might not be talking part in the competition, the chances for the Bhutanese team looks bright.

Sonam Tashi, however, isn’t taking any teams lightly. “We’ve seen some of the team’s games online and they are very good,” he said. With more international game exposure, the host team of Nepal is considered the favourites at the competition. The Bhutanese team lost against Nepal in a friendly game last month in Guawhati.

Coach Mike who will be accompanying the team as an assistant coach said that the priority of the team is still to win an international game. “We’ve a good team here and the new players are also fitting in well,” he said. “It’s encouraging to see many women come forward to be apart of the team. Women are taking basketball seriously now.”

The team will leave for Nepal next week. The five-day tournament will begin on March 29 at Katmandu.

Younten Tshedup