At The Basketball Tournament, India Rose
4:54 PM EDT on July 27, 2023
The Basketball Tournament is many things: a 64-team, single-elimination bracket with a winner-take-all $1 million prize; an annual rite of deep-dive collegiate Guy-Remembering; a sponge to soak up dead-of-summer ESPN screentime; a showcase for the Elam Ending, which disincentivizes late-game hacking and stalling; an occasion for our Dave McKenna to evoke the lurid horrors of Lubbock, Texas. The tournament was not, until very recently, something that interested me for more than a few minutes of channel-surfing. Everything changed when I saw Wednesday's big upset out in the Dayton region: India Rising defeated Red Scare, 77-67, the top seed losing to a bottom seed. I will not be offended if you jump to conclusions about my interest in this result! Go ahead—make that same leap of faith as the white pal who sheepishly texted it to me. See how I am now rewarding his courage.
The majority of teams in The Basketball Tournament are cobbled from the alumni network of a D-I team; this is why it's such a cornucopia of Guys. That is the premise of Red Scare, which draws on the last decade of University of Dayton rosters. At this year's tournament they were led by Scoochie Smith, a wonderfully named 28-year-old point guard who has popped up in the G League and on pro teams in Australia, Greece, Serbia, and Poland. One day in February 2019, the team's 26-year-old shooting guard Jordan Sibert appeared in four minutes of action for the Atlanta Hawks, scoring three points. The 26-year-old wing Ryan Mikesell was most recently a sharpshooter over in Wemby's old league in France. Red Scare is one of The Basketball Tournament's stronger teams, having made the semifinals in 2022 and 2020.
The India Rising team, which debuted in last year's tournament, is built on a different premise than college affiliation: "For the first time in history, the world’s best ballers from both the Indian subcontinent and its diaspora have assembled on the same team," reads its team statement, which ends on this weirdly poignant and stilted note: "India Rising was created to showcase to the world that brown ballers exist." Existence is a reasonable goal; winning a more noble one still. Last year, in their first game as a team, India Rising got whooped 90-62 by the grotesquely named Boeheim's Army. This year India Rising faced the regional favorite Red Scare, which was playing on its home floor, and left with its first-ever win, buoyed by their excellent three-point shooting (13-for-29 from the arc, compared to Red Scare's 9-for-33) and rebounding (40 to their 24).
India Rising led by as many as 15 points, though a Red Scare resurgence cut the lead to four in the fourth quarter. The tournament's signature Elam Ending kicks in on the first dead ball within the last four minutes of regulation. The game clock turns off, they add eight points to the leading team's score, and that then becomes the target score for both teams—in this instance, 76 points. On the final play, India Rising cleared out the left wing for game-high scorer Tajinder Lall. The 6-foot-6 wing bumped his way into the midrange and his jumper rattled in.
Lall, a 26-year-old who has played professionally in Japan and Canada, had 26 points (on 9-of-19 shooting), five rebounds, and five assists. I do not think I am veering too far into wild-eyed, post-Summer League derangement when I say that this highlight reel is electric, but you can decide for yourself:
If there's meaningful depth on the India Rising roster, they have yet to tap into it. The team leaned hard on its starting five, and Lall played all 36 minutes. Enforcer duties were taken up by a pair of bigs: 6-foot-8 Venky Jois, an Eastern Washington alum now playing pro in Australia; and 6-foot-10 Sukhmail Mathon, who was Patriot League Player of the Year in his final season at Boston University and most recently played in the Czech Republic. They compiled 21 rebounds and five blocks collectively. Keen historians of brown balling might have found an Easter egg on the India Rising roster: former Maryland reserve Varun Ram, who is best (and perhaps only) known for heroically poking away a potential game-tying three-pointer in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Consistent with that reputation, Ram played three minutes in this game and committed one foul. On Friday, India Rising plays its next game against No. 4 seed Carmen's Crew, the Ohio State alumni team. One thing that cannot be denied: This team surely exists. A new fan exists, too.