By Siddarth Sharma, UBA Columnist
The UBA Season 4 was not kind or deferential to records, treating them like The Great Glass Elevator treated ceilings in Roald Dahl's masterpiece: shattering record, then topping it again, and again and again. A player rarely had a moment to bask in the glow of breaking a record that it was annihilated the very next game. Night after night the fans were treated to fierce battles, heroic masterpieces and the very best of what basketball as a sport is all about came to the surface.
With the regular season of the Season 4 having drawn to a close and the semifinals about to commence, it's time to look at the regular season' Most Valuable Players. This season, there will be two MVPs, Indian and International. The choice of the Most Valuable Player is contingent on individual and team success. One definition of the award which general populace nods at is that it's given to the player who elevates their team the most and the removal of that player from the team would have them fall far below their regular season record. The team must have a respectable standing as well.
The Indian MVP award honors went to Vishesh Bhriguvanshi of Bengaluru Beast and the International MVP was awarded to Dermaine Crockrell of the Punjab Steelers, both newcomers to UBA. The Indian MVP would be awarded a Bajaj Pulsar RS 200 and the International MVP would be honored with $2500 as the prize for their outstanding contributions.
The ball was going to Vishesh. We all knew it after witnessing the first couple of possessions in the fourth quarter. The players on the court and on the bench knew it. The coaches knew, as did the fans in the stands. The cat lazily scratching his back against the wall of the building knew it as well. The ball was going to Vishesh, and Vishesh was going right to the rim come hell, high water or the damned apocalypse.
"They know you're coming."- Viggo.
"Of course. But it won't matter."- John Wick.
(John Wick, 2014)
Facing Hyderabad Sky in the South Division play-in game, Vishesh almost single-handedly led his team in the fourth quarter to a hard-fought 116-113 win as he put up 57 points and 11 assists. He had 20 points in the fourth quarter alone. As the clock ran down, Hyderabad were determined to contain Vishesh and he answered by finding his teammates for key buckets as he 3 assists in the last 71 seconds of the game to help lead his team to the semifinals.
Indian MVP Vishesh led Bengaluru Beast to a 3-3 record in the regular season, averaging 28.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 10 assists (tied for 2nd). Bengaluru had started the season losing their first three games, albeit with two losses coming by a combined 6 points. Vishesh powered them to win their next four matches with sheer force of will. His balanced attack of 32 points and 11 assists helped Bengaluru get their first win of the season against Hyderabad Sky (104-94). Their next opponent, division leading Pune Peshwas, demanded something special and Vishesh delivered the first triple-double of the UBA with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists for a 93-91 win. They faced Chennai Slam next who were determined to contain Vishesh so he set up his teammates with 16 assists while scoring 24 points for a 100-86 win. He put up his best performance in the South Division play-in game against Hyderabad Sky, as mentioned above.
Stay down, Crockrell. Punjab were facing a Mumbai Challengers team which had averaged over 120 points per game prior to their encounter. Which team would want a piece of former NBA player Alex Scales, Canadian College player of the year Inderbir Gill, USA college standout talent Jimmy Scroggins or India's very own warrior with the heart of a lion, Jagdeep Bains? Mumbai were decimating the opposition in UBA Season 4 and even when their wins were a tad too close for comfort, their offense would generate buckets with seemingly effortless ease and demoralize their opponents. Coming up against the Punjab Steelers, Mumbai raced out to a 15 point lead and looked comfortable.
Except a 6"2 guard from USA seemed to channel the Punjabi Sikh Warriors' fighting spirit as Crockrell kept driving into the lane while trimming the deficit. Heedless of the score or the bumps and bruises from bouncing off the floor, Crockrell kept his team in the game with his spirited play on both ends, getting to the line 11 times and making all his attempts from the stripe. He was shoulder checked by Alex Scales on one possession at full speed and his head bounced off the floor with no foul call. Stay down, Crockrell. After a moment, he picked himself up, dusted himself off and ran back to the next play exemplifying his character. He would finish the night with 51 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and a block. Two of those points and one steal came in the last two possessions of the game and decided the outcome. With the score tied, Crockrell ran the clock down, drove in, crossed over, stepped back and calmly drained a long two. On the ensuing possession, he knocked the ball loose from Alex Scales' hands, chased it down in Mumbai's backcourt and slid on the floor to dive on it as the clock ran out for the most emotional game of the season. Crockrell refused to stay down, regardless of the circumstances or the odds stacked against him. After the game, Crockrell broke down in a tearful post game interview and dedicated the win to his brother who had tragically passed away on May 25th.
Punjab was the only team to hand the Mumbai Steelers a loss. Punjab's only other win of the regular season came against Haryana Gold (77-71) as Dermaine put up 45 points and 11 rebounds to help Punjab qualify for the play-in game. In the North Division play-in game against Delhi Capitals, Dermaine put up 50 points and 8 rebounds to lead his team to a 102-92 win and book a place in the semifinals.
It is not difficult to see why these two won the MVP awards. Honorable mention would go out to Amritpal Singh for the Indian MVP (25.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists, 2.2 blocks in 37.9 minutes per game) as he led Pune Peshwas to a 4-2 record by dominating on both ends and Alex Scales for the International MVP (40.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4 assists in 38.5 minutes per game) as he led Mumbai Challengers to a 5-1 record with his commanding play and presence.
The semifinals on 10th March will feature Mumbai Challengers facing Punjab Steelers in the North Division at 4:30 PM and the Pune Peshwas going up against Bengaluru Beast in the South Division at 7:00 PM. The semifinals and finals would be played in a best of three format at the Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Indoor Stadium, Goa.