On this night, one small, homemade sign meant more than an entire roaring, partisan crowd.
When the top-seeded Red Scare burst out of the tunnel and onto the UD Arena court Wednesday night for its TBT opener against No. 8 seed India Rising, the sea of mostly red-clad fans gave a hero’s welcome to the team made up mostly of former Dayton Flyers players who once had starred on this very same floor.
The PA system played the familiar “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” entrance song and, after that, the UD pep band picked up the high-decibel embrace. As the players were about to be introduced, the Arena lights flashed on and off for effect and the courtside announcer added extra sauce to his voice when he called each Red Scare player to the court.
But in the stands across the way, a few rows up from the floor, a brown arm rose up holding that sign, which simply said:
“Brown Ballers Exist”
A small group of fans with ties to India — some who came from Pennsylvania, Cleveland and Cincinnati; others from here in the Miami Valley like Sukhwinder Singh who runs the Family Market in Moraine and Lakwinder Singh, who has the Shell gas station there — were at UD Arena not just to cheer their team, but to help echo the India Rising message.
“We wanted to provide a platform that shows everybody, especially our own kids, that South Asian hoopers are here and can compete at a very high level,” said India’s 30-year-old point guard Jaz Bains, a former Queens University and pro player in Germany, Canada and the UK, who’s now an assistant coach at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
“We’re just ballers, just hoopers who can compete like everybody else and want to play at the highest levels and be seen on TV and make people proud.”
The players wore that message on their white warm-ups:
The India Rising motto, which began with “Brown Athletes,” had a line drawn through the word Brown. It was followed by:
“Excellence Knows No Color.”
Most of the Arena fans likely didn’t even see the phrase. They were focused on the Red Scare and figured this would be a warmup to a Friday night matchup with Carmen’s Crew, the Ohio State alumni bunch who knocked them out the semifinals last year in this $1 million, winner-take-all tournament.
The Crew had topped Team Overdrive, 80-68, in Wednesday night’s other first round game and awaited this winner.
India Rising made its TBT debut last year and then, like now, had been dumped into an against-the-odds position of playing the hometown team, a Syracuse alum group called Boeheim’s Army, the eventual TBT champs.
While his team was routed last year 80-62, in a game played in Syracuse, India Rising general manager and co-founder Gautam Kapur was determined not to let history repeat.
Like the name says, this is India Rising.
A Stanford University masters student and Tufts grad who spent six years working in the NBA, Kapur said they scoured the globe for talent from the India subcontinent — where 10 million people play the game — and its diaspora.
“We went all around the world this year — to places like India, Canada, the U.S., Australia, Finland, Hungary and Taiwan — and we were lucky,” he said. “We found some really good basketball players.
“This is all based on a dream we have — that the perception and brand of a brown athlete can be so much better: So let’s come here and prove it and let the story tell itself.”
And what a story India Rising told Wednesday night.
The team outshot, outrebounded and just plain outplayed the Red Scare in a 77-67 victory.
When 6-foot-6 Tajinder “T.J.” Lall — a former Brock University and Carleton University player, who is currently a pro headed from Japan to the UK — hit the Elam Ending game-winner to cap off his 26-point night, the India Rising team poured onto the floor and embraced one another in a glorious scrum that made its way across the court and soon was joined by others.
“To be able to get a win in an environment like this and to be seeded eighth and be disrespected like we were, it was really important,” said India Rising guard Suhkpreet Singh, who came from a hard-working family — his dad drives a taxi, his mom works in a factory — played at Queens College and professionally in India before becoming a software salesman in Toronto.
“This is more than a tournament for us. This is the bonding of a whole county.”
Credit: David Jablonski
Credit: David Jablonski
‘Superheroes’ to younger generation
“I spent most of my life praying, waiting, hoping, dreaming to see people who look like me on the sports channels and it’s like I’m kind of done waiting,” Kapur told Sandreep Chandok of Bally Sports last year when he co-founded the team with Roy Rana, the respected Canadian coach of Indian descent who was a Sacramento Kings assistant and now coaches a Japanese pro team and the Egyptian national team.
“We have these heroes, but nobody knows they exist,” Kapur continued. “I get it. They’re not in the NBA. They don’t average 20 and 10. But that doesn’t mean we need to feel like we’re erased from sports history. What we wanted to do was show the world that brown people can play basketball at a very high level.”
Their non-profit organization is aimed at shattering stereotypes and developing younger players, while giving them exposure and helping them attain college scholarships.,
The TBT team is a real vehicle to help accomplish that, especially after Wednesday night.
“We want the younger generation to look at this group as their superheroes,” said India Rising assistant coach Amit Tailor, who worked with Red Scare assistant Jeremiah Bonsu on the Houston Rockets staff last year.
While Lall was a superhero Wednesday night, his 6-foot-8 teammate Venkatesha “Venky” Jois from Australia has been one for a while for followers in Indian basketball. The piano-playing big man starred at Eastern Washington University, where he won multiple Big Sky Conference honors and has played professionally in Estonia, Croatia, Japan, Serbia, Germany, Slovenia, Australia, New Zealand and the NBA’s G League.
He had a game-high 12 rebounds Wednesday night and added nine points.
The India Rising roster included 6-foot-10 Sukhmail Mathon, who scored 1,073 points at Boston University and was named the Patriot Conference Player of the Year. He had nine points and nine rebounds against the Red Scare.
Kiran Shastri, who is the sixth-leading scorer all time at Chaminade University in Hawaii (1,513 points), hit four three pointers, as did Loll.
India Rising shot 44.8 percent (13 of 29) from long range.
‘They’re talented players’
Lall was impressed by UD Arena and the fans:
“The atmosphere was awesome. The band, the players’ intros, the way the crowd got into it, it was great. And the fact that we still played our game made it even better.”
Afterward Red Scare players like Scoochie Smith and Jordan Sibert tipped their caps to the India Rising team.
“Give them credit, they played hard and made some shots,” Sibert said.
Smith especially singled out Lall and Jois: “Those guys are hoopers. They’re talented players.”
As head coach Madhav Trivedi — who’s also the head coach of the University of Toronto and his masters in sports science and coaching education at Ohio University — explained it:
“There’s a ton of young Indian kids who are hooping and coming up. For them to see how we’re winning, to see what we’re doing now is really for their generation. This shows that our community, our culture can hoop.”
Kapur agreed: “This is about creating athletic role models so that your inner voice as a brown athlete is always positive.”
And everything on this night was positive for India Rising … except for one thing.
“We have players who we scouted in India who are here with us in Dayton,” Kapur said. “There are guys who booked round trips that leave tomorrow.
“Now we’re going to have to get to work on extending their flights.”
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