For Bill Harris, who trained the men's basketball team for the Guangzhou Asian Games, India was not so much a culture shock as "a basketball shock". The American, appointed by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in September, said, "It comes as a surprise to see the small things we take for granted in the United States do not even exist here."
India finished at the bottom of their group in the preliminary round of the Asian Games, having been pooled with Iran, Japan, Qatar, Chinese Taipei and the Philippines in Group F. Earlier, India had beaten Afghanistan in qualifying.
"That was something positive I took away from the Games. The boys had never beaten Afghanistan before. After that, we lost to Iran (a basketball superpower) but gave them a good fight in the second half and closed the gap to 11 points," said Harris.
It is clear why India lag behind at the world stage --- lack of infrastructure and funds being the main factors. The squad trains in Chennai on a court not up to international standards.
"Most of the boys had never played in an air-conditioned arena or been to matches with a sell-out crowd," said Harris. "They practice in 100 per cent humidity and high temperatures, which aren't conducive for development. It was very frustrating."
The team will be playing a tournament in Hong Kong from Dec 14, though it will be a different squad, as most players are paid to play in local leagues. Harris said the team needed to stay together through the year to ensure good performances. "That's the only way they can improve and challenge at the highest level," he explained.
Language was another issue Harris had to contend with. "Many of the players didn't understand English. Some spoke in Hindi and Tamil, which the other guys could not follow. So it was a problem getting my point across," he said.
Without the services of a dietician, the team can get nonchalant about routines. "At the athletes' Village in Guangzhou, some of the younger players would eat burgers from McDonald's before a match, which isn't the right thing. Some of them do not even train everyday or go to the gym," said the coach.
Harris, who is an inspirational leader, believes a coach needs to be a great motivator. "Players need to believe in him. It's not about strategy and notes all the times," he said.
Harris will leave for the US on Tuesday morning, where he intends to enjoy some time off before taking up professional commitments again.
In the meantime, the Indian team will be without guidance. "It is up to the federation (Basketball Federation of India) to find a suitable candidate now," he said.