On the journey from Punjab to Dallas

On the journey from Punjab to Dallas

Basketball diaries

At  seven feet and two inches, it seems Satnam Singh Bhamara was destined to be a basketball player. But, the 19-year-old boy from a nondescript village in Punjab, Ballo Ke, making it to the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the USA is one story which has those ingredients of sweat, grit, moments of doubt, exhaustion, fear of failure and overcoming them to attain recognition at a global stage.

In the capital recently to launch a talent search program, Singh shared his early memories of getting hooked to the game and making a journey from his village to Ludhiana and then Florida upon receiving a scholarship.

“It was 10 years back when I watched an NBA game for the first time on television. I distinctly remember it was Miami (Heat) vs (LA) Lakers game. I saw Kobe Bryant play and from that moment he became my favourite, and my idol. I left my home at the age of eight to play basketball in Ludhiana. After getting trained under coaches like RS Gill, I represented Punjab in 2008 and later went on to play for India.

Then came a big turn in my life when my coaches realised that I can be a good basketball prospect and I received the scholarship to train at the IMG Academy in Florida,” Singh tells Metrolife.

Singh has been training in the US for the past five years and attributes it as one of the best decisions of his life. “There has been a lot of improvement in me as a player. When I came to US, I was playing at only a quarter of my potential. Now I am at 75 per cent after these many years of training in the US. I still have another 25 per cent to fulfill,” he says.
His growth as a cager was recently rewarded when in June, Dallas Mavericks picked him, making him the first India born player to be picked in the NBA draft.

Singh though believes that in small villages and towns across India, there are many hidden talents that await an opportunity.

“I didn’t go to college. From high school, I was straight away picked in the draft. It all comes down to talent meeting opportunities,” muses Singh.

The teenager adds that basketball in India needs a grassroots development program. Also, infrastructure and personnel in academies and coaches, fitness trainers, dieticians are a must,” adds Singh.

“There should be a proper academy with good coaches. Players should be provided with lodging facilities, so that they can concentrate on their game. They shouldn’t exhaust themselves in finding a way to reach their coaching centres.”

“I got injuries on my knee and nose during 2013-14. I was exhausted and bruised. Sadly, there wasn’t proper guidance here and when I went back to US, I was advised complete rest. I was out of the game for eight months, all because my injuries were aggravated
during my stint here,” shares Singh.

As Singh made his way to the court with youngsters in awe of his height and frame, he shares a mantra with them. “Keep working hard. There is no substitute to that. Learn the game, play with and for the team. I stress on the fact that there is no alternate to hard work.” The gulf between the basketball here and in the US could not be starker, and Singh is an archetypal bridge that can facilitate or provide a fillip to the aspirants to make that jump from amateur to professional level.

“If my entry into the NBA can grow interest among children back home and get more of them to play basketball, then anything is possible. India can create 1,000 more Satnams if the right kind of coaching is given to them. There are strong players in our villages and towns, but they can only be discovered and nurtured by the right kind of coaching,” says Singh.

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