Photo Courtesy: De-suung

National basketball players say Bhutan can do wonders with better support

Bhutan made history by winning its first international basketball tournament, the Five-Nation Basketball Championship held in the Maldives in June. The win also provided a time for introspection on how to better support the national team by providing regular members, regular pay, and improved facilities.

The National Senior Men’s Basketball Team consists of full-time workers, students and part-time athletes. They are only paid stipends during the training period with no proper facilities, like a gym. They also lack a nutritionist and a team doctor. On top of that, the members are not a fixed regular national team, as whenever the basketball season starts off, members are picked from a tryout.

They have two players who are still working, one who recently graduated, two from the RBA, one doctor working in JDWNRH, one working in Druk Gyalpo’s Institute Pangbisa, three working in their own businesses, one in BIL, and the team captain, Rinchen Dorji, works in the Electricity Regulatory Authority, MoENR.

Rinchen Dorji said, “I think the federation will still look out for talents for future tournaments. There will/should always be tryouts before any upcoming tournaments to prove your worth. But most of the players in the present team will definitely try out as well. We get Nu 7,500 per month for the duration of our practice.”

He added, “In order for any sport to grow, proper financial support is a must. Support in the form of a proper basketball court/gym, physical fitness training (strength and conditioning), a dedicated nutritionist and physiotherapist, acclimatization funds, and resources to provide more international exposure would go a long way in the development of the sport, and also allow basketball or any other sports in general to provide an alternative career choice for many youths.”

He pointed out that there are several areas that could be focused on, such as strength and conditioning workout to improve speed, power, and endurance. Tactical understanding of the game from offense and defensive strategy.

“Analyse and review game footage and identify areas for improvement. Personal training is also important as each player is unique and crucial for their growth and improvement. More exposure to international tournaments are required,” Rinchen Dorji said.

Rabgay is a doctor working in JDWNRH. Aside from being a player, he is a full-time doctor, which is an added bonus to the team, as he looks after simple injuries. However, he is not a sport-certified doctor.

Tashi Tendhar who graduated from Brisbane College in Australia is currently running his family business.

Tashi Tendhar said, “We got the first gold medal in our country. So, I think we surpassed that level. Basketball is a neglected sport and must be given attention and support as many young people in our society show a lot of passion and enthusiasm towards basketball. Making a rock-solid foundation and teach the right concepts of basketball to our youth.”

He added, “To be honest, we lack facilities and funds in basketball. To excel in this sport, we players should be given training and funds throughout the year and promote basketball in such a way that we can pursue basketball as a career, like other sports like football, rather than it being a seasonal sport where we just practice when an invitation has been sent regarding a tournament.”

He further said, “I wish it to be permanent but it depends on the life choices we make for our own living. Basketball can never be a choice to earn one’s bread and butter!”      

Similarly, Sonam Drukpa said, “I think the only support required is financial support because that will ensure that we invest in infrastructure and facilities, Coaches and coaching staff, player salaries, travel and logistics, marketing and promotions, and grassroots development. This will attract a lot more talent and also motivate everyone to perform at their best and work harder. We did well in the Five Nations Championship, but we have a long way to go, and for that, I feel it is only financial support that we lack because as far as talent and training go, we are not short of that.”

The President of the Basketball Federation, Jigme Namgyal, said, “First and foremost, this facility was built for recreation purposes, and it was not meant for the basketball federation. After the creation of the federation, it was handed over to the basketball federation. This is not also a FIFA size court so we can’t force any tournament.  In the next plan, the government, said they are going to demolish and create new facilities, and the planning budget has been passed. In the case of players, we can’t skip the process and these players are not professionals, they put in all their hard work. How to keep developing skills, to maintain it, is in the hand of a federation.”

He added that most thing lacking is the need for a standard salary and proper exposure. “We need to send the players abroad to get exposure, and we have to invest in the grassroots level, during the process. We can see that the Five-Nation Championship players’ result is not the result of the two months of hard work. They have been trained since a young age, and it is the coach Kim who is from Korea who has maximized their talents. This is not the two months of training, it is the build-up of the training that has materialized like a seed.”

He added that the members who went to the Maldives before had to be sent unprepared due to a lack of budget and time. “Time is subject to budget, to be honest, if there is a budget we can train them for 10 months to keep them ready for any tournament.”

“Players get Nu 7,500 during training for three months which we want to prolong the training and maximize, Nu 7,500 is too less for a national player that won the Five-Nation Championship,” Jigme Namgyal said.

There is a South Asian competition planned in March 2024, and if there is enough money then the federation is planning to start selecting the players, and start practice as soon as possible.

He said, “We don’t have a media officer, we don’t have a program officer, we don’t have a doctor. We are glad that we have two coaches that can multi-task.”

Jigme further added after the win, they have received sponsorships from gyms. Similarly, he also added that they are trying to get one international coach to support Coach Kim.

“Bhutanese average height is around 5ft 6 inches, so we are trying to capitalize and play so that others can’t copy. We play a position less play, having taught our players to play the position of a point guard. We, Bhutanese, can only play the position of a point guard, as basketball is a height game. We can’t teach height, that’s the big problem. Our players also lack the exposure, and they lack exposure to play well.”

The federation and its goals could not have been achieved without the farsightedness and support of His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, President of the Bhutan Olympic Committee.

What really made a huge difference in crunch time was, “When it came to the finals, the team was ready for any challenge ahead as they had been bestowed with the blessings of His Majesty The King and the Great Fourth”.  

The blessings from up above and the roars of the people awakened the sleeping dragon

The Kuwaiti Ambassador, BOB, companies like Gyenzang, also supported the team with financial support. After the win there was support from Bhutan Insurance Limited and Rigsar Construction too.

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