Bengaluru: Despite missing several key players, India appear certain to win the three-day South Asia Basketball Association (SABA) qualifying competition beginning here on Friday and make it to the Asian Championship to be held in China in September.
Apart from America's National Basketball Association (NBA) draft player Satnam Singh Bhamara, India, led by Tamil Nadu's Rikin Pethani, will be without Amritpal Singh and Amjyot Singh Gill -- both of whom are currently playing in the BJ Challenger Summer League in Japan.
"Of course, we will be missing them, but then, many of the boys have had exposure at this level. We have a fairly balanced team which is quite confident of qualifying for the Asian Championship," said national selector and former international R. Rajan at a media briefing here on Thursday.
By any yardstick, the field is very weak with Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh completing the grid with India, who had won the SABA tournament twice before in 2002 and 2014, well entrenched in pole position.
Rajan admitted that from India's perspective, Sri Lanka would be the team to watch. "However, we cannot take any team lightly and that will be our approach," said Rajan.
The six teams in the fray will play a league at the end of which the top team will book a slot in the Asian Championship.
India, who scored one of their biggest victories in recent times by defeating China 65-58 in the Asia Cup last year, appear primed for success although head coach Scott Flemming who scripted the historic win, has since left the team, making way for G.L.R. Prasad.
Basketball Federation of India president K Govindaraj said: "We have appointed Spaniard Francisco Javier Garcia Alvarez as the coach of our girls under-16 team that will be taking part in the Asian championship in Indonesia later this month."
"Alvarez will subsequently assist the senior men's team if they qualify for the Asian Championship in China this September."
The SABA tournament will be played at the Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium where a brand new Taraflex court is being laid.
"All the teams have arrived and we have ensured good hospitality and arrangements,a said Govindaraj.
Bangladesh play Maldives in the opening fixture at 8 am after which India taken on Nepal and Sri Lanka face Bhutan. The home team will kick-off the evening session at 5 pm when the tournament will be formally inaugurated while Bhutan clash with Nepal in the day's last match starting at 6.30 pm.
The Indian team is: Rikin Pethani (Tamil Nadu, captain), Joginder Singh Samran (Service), Narender K Grewal (Services), Pari Akhilan (Tamil Nadu), Vikash Kumar (Haryana), Pratham Singh (Tamil Nadu), Arvind A (Karnataka), Vinay Kaushik (Gujarat), Akashdeep Hazra (Railways), Gurvinder Singh Gill (Punjab), A Aravind (Tamil Nadu) and Prasanna Venkatesh S (Tamil Nadu).