October 22, 2016

Let Her Play

In light of recent men’s team success, India needs to beware not to let women’s basketball trail behind.

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas.com on October 11, 2016. Click here to read my original version.

Photo credit: Ekalavyas.com

In the course of one historic week, India’s Men’s basketball team defeated the Philippines, China, and Chinese Taipei at the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge, the first time that they upset three higher-ranked teams in the same tournament. For good measure, they added a victory over Kazakhstan, too, and when the dust settled, India had completed their finest international basketball performance in twenty-seven years with a seventh-place finish.

The squad received well-deserved adulation and praise back home, and the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) decided the reward the team for its achievement with a Rs. 5 lakh bonus. The result was the latest bit of positive news from the Indian basketball circuit, a miracle achieved despite some of the backroom troubles that plagued the BFI’s executive committee last year.

In recent years, India’s Men’s teams have performed wonders, beating China at the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup, making it to the Quarter-Finals of the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship for the first time in twelve years, seeing one star drafted into the NBA (Satnam Singh), another win a D-League contract (Palpreet Singh), and two more play professionally in Japan (Amrit Pal Singh and Amjyot Singh). Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Rikin Pethani took their pro talents to the Maldives, and back home, the UBA Basketball League provided opportunities to several athletes to play in short pro leagues.

Youth prospects are getting their chance to develop their game abroad, too, including Harshwardhan Tomar, who has signed a contract in Italy, and Prince Pal Singh, who got a scholarship to study and play in Ohio, USA. Last week, the NBA announced global academies to develop youth talent around the world, including in India. And of course, our national team returned with laurels and success from the FIBA Asia Challenge.

All of these achievements and interest towards Indians in basketball have been a positive consequence of improving grassroots development, coaching, and investment towards basketball in India. Alas, all of these achievements also only involve men.

While India’s Women may still rank much higher on the FIBA rankings (40) than the Men (53), the numbers don’t tell the full story. At the domestic level, India’s women have always lagged behind the men in terms of job placement opportunities at units around the country. Now, suffering from a lack of attention at the grassroots and fewer opportunities to play against top teams abroad, the international performances have suffered, too.

Back in 2013, the picture was much different, and women’s basketball proudly stood toe to toe with the men in India. India’s Women’s team had completed history, under the tutelage of Coach Francisco Garcia, who helped them finish at their best-ever 5th place finish at the FIBA Asia Championship in Bangkok and win their first-ever game in Level 1, against Kazakhstan. Around the same time, the duo of Geethu Anna Jose and Anitha Paul Durai had gotten an opportunity to play professionally in Thailand. At the international 3x3 stage, India’s women truly made their mark, winning gold medals at the Asian Beach Games, the 3x3 FIBA Asia Championship, and performing well in several other tournaments.

But a couple of years after the historic FIBA ABC in Thailand, Jose – an Indian basketball legend and Arjuna Award winner – stepped away from the game, leaving a huge void in the center position with no clear successor. Meanwhile, the BFI tensions led to the end of Garcia’s tenure in 2015, and even though he returned for one more FIBA ABC at the end of last year, the team had lost their positive momentum.

By the 2015 FIBA ABC, India had lost their magic touch. The squad went winless at the tournament in China and were relegated down to Level 2. The pain of defeat stung a little extra when Garcia left the team for good right after.

And ever since then, for over a year, India’s Senior Women’s team has not played in a single competitive match. Even in a year without the FIBA ABC, the Men’s squad still got a chance to play in the South Asia Qualifiers for the FIBA Asia Challenge, the William Jones Cup, and then the FIBA Asia Challenge itself. There was no equivalent tournament to the FIBA Asia Challenge for Women and, surprisingly, India didn’t send a Women’s team to Chinese Taipei for the Jones Cup.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment, however, were the South Asian Games in February this year. The event was organised by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) who have been in conflict with the current committee of the BFI. The IOA selected teams to represent India for the basketball tournament at the South Asian Games without the BFI’s approval; FIBA – the international basketball federation who have recognised this executive committee of the BFI – reacted by cancelling the basketball tournament at the Games altogether. The victims of all this drama were India’s international players. After spending time in camp in preparation for the Games and then flown to Guwahati to take part, India’s teams had to settle for friendly exhibition matches that weren’t officially recognised by FIBA.

While young male players from the country are starting to garner hype domestically and abroad, there has been little attention to develop individual women’s talent in the same way. During her career, Geethu Anna Jose got to play professionally in Australia, Thailand, and work out with three WNBA teams. But now, with the exception of High Schoolers Pallavi Sharma and Anmolpreet Kaur getting a run in Japan, there has been little other positive news for the top players getting a chance abroad.

For the NBA, it makes commercial sense to promote Satnam Singh, who became the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA, and Palpreet Singh, who won the (men’s only) ACG-NBA Jump programme and has signed on to a NBA D-League contract. But with lesser opportunity and financial backing, Indian women haven’t received the same attention.

Back home, the UBA League, which has completed its third season this year, is still only a men’s competition. Indian women have no other professional option and have to settle for the few jobs – like Railways – available in the basketball quota.

Pratima Singh, one of the star players for Delhi’s state team and the Indian national squad, rued the opportunities missed for India at the international level, including the most recent failed trip to Guwahati for the South Asian Games.

“Indian Women need more exposure to play basketball abroad, and more practice, to rise up to the level of our competitors,” Pratima said, “A great example is Geethu, who became even better when she returned from her pro stint in Australia, her game and fitness improved considerably. We have seen the same improvement in male players like Amjyot Singh and Amrit Pal Singh who have played in Japan. More players need this experience. It is not an impossible task, and with some initiative, we can get there.”

Where the women have a potential advantage over the men is in the relative parity of competition. For years, India’s women’s team has ranked higher in the continent, particularly because of the lack of competition from Middle Eastern teams that India’s men face in Asian tournaments. Furthermore, in larger, global 3x3 meets, India’s women have shown that they can compete with and upset some of the top teams in the world.

Pratima’s older sister Prashanti Singh, a former captain of the national team and one of the most decorated athletes in the country, believes that domestic growth will eventually positively influence international results.

“If the same effort is put in the Women’s game in India as the men, there will be much more success for us, because the competition is lesser worldwide,” said Prashanti, “In India, there are about twenty employers for men’s basketball and just two for women. If we add more domestic teams, we can definitely get a podium finish at FIBA ABCs. If there is a domestic league and more tournaments for women, then there will be more participation, and more quality will come forth.”

In 2017, India’s Women will finally get a chance for competitive action again, most notably in the FIBA Asia Championship. The team needs to prepare in advance for this upcoming challenge to ensure that they overturn the disappointments improve on their rankings again.

In the past, the BFI has always maintained the importance of gender neutrality in basketball, providing the same level of foreign coaching, infrastructural access, and competitive experience to both men and women. India’s rise in the men’s version of the game has been a pleasant surprise. But in the light of their recent success, India needs to beware not to tell women’s basketball trail behind.

October 21, 2016

SLAM Top 50: Karl-Anthony Towns, No. 20

The reigning ROY is the prototype NBA big man.

This article first published as part of SLAM Magazine's #SLAMTop50 on SLAMOnline.com on October 10, 2016. Here is the original version of the piece.

Kinesiology, as per Wikipedia, is “a scientific study of human or non-human body movement. Kinesiology addresses physiological, biomechanical, and psychological mechanisms of movement.” It’s an important medical science, applicable in biomechanics and orthopedics. In the sports world, it can be applied to the rehab of athletes from injury, strength and conditioning, occupational therapy, and even sport psychology.

Kinesiology was also the subject that a certain college freshman majored in a couple of years ago at the University of Kentucky. That freshman was distracted by other things—chief among them was the fact that he was the best young basketball player in the nation. The “distraction” (my word, not his) was the reason he was at Kentucky. The “distraction” had made him one of the top-recruited players of his class and eventually made him the No. 1 overall draft pick in the loaded 2015 NBA Draft. That “distraction” became his profession.

But his interest in kinesiology never wavered. The freshman maintained a 4.0 GPA in his only year at Kentucky, continued taking online classes in kinesiology, and maintained that, after a casual couple of decades of dominance in the world’s most competitive basketball league, he is hoping to start a second career as a doctor.

Meet Karl-Anthony Towns, aspiring doctor, specialist in human movement, the current face of not one but two special SLAM Magazine covers, and one of the best damn young players that the basketball world has seen in a long, long time.

If you follow SLAM, you know the story already. In his recent cover feature on Towns, Adam Figman told us about the lanky, awkward kid who went from being picked last in the playground to first in the draft. He told us about a 20-year-old (!!!) Dominican who presented an almost unreal combination of physical greatness and social congeniality. He quoted this 7-footed beast, the future of the NBA, leaving with the words: “I’ve always said that I want to leave the game on my own terms, finish as the best player that’s ever lived, and do it my own way—never a version two of someone else, but the first version of myself, and I strive every day and continue to work on my game so I can be the best player possible, so I can leave my legacy as that. I’m not gonna stop until I’ve accomplished that goal, until I have absolutely nothing to give to the game of basketball.”

The NBA changes every few years. Rules change, styles change, tactics change. Dominant big men make way for do-it-all swingman make way for all-three-point-shooting-everything. The constant imagining and reimaging of what ‘works’ in a winning system gives the league its competitive edge but also keeps talented players in a turnstile. Only a chosen few, those who adapt, can survive and thrive long-term. The rest get ushered out in a hurry.

Towns, undoubtedly a once-in-a-generation talent, will adapt, and he’ll dominant. I’m not talking later, I’m talking now. I’m talking following up on a historic rookie season where he played and started in all 82 games for the Timberwolves, averaging 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game now. I’m talking a youngster with defensive intelligence way beyond his years now. I’m talking of the first big to win the NBA Skills Challenge now. I’m talking top 20 in the SLAM rankings at age 20 now.

Let’s stay with the “distraction” for now. The medical career can wait.

Kinesiology roots from the Greek word kinesis. Movement. The study of movement. While the rest of the league rests, or swirls around that turnstile. Towns is here to study that movement and then break through. Move on further, higher, faster. He’s here to stay. Here’s here to adapt. Here’s here to dominate.

Hoopdarshan Episode 38: A Diwali NBA Season Preview with Samir Kumar

Diwali is the greatest fireworks show in the world... Well, that, and on the basketball court! This year, the 'Festival of Light' couldn't come at a better time, as it coincides with the beginning of the 2016-17 NBA Season. To tackle all the most pressing questions and excitement of the coming year, Hoopdarshan hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok call to NBA superfan Samir Kumar for help. Check out this special NBA preview episode, where we wonder if anyone can stop a Warriors-Cavaliers rematch, discuss the players and teams who will most intrigue us this season, and allow Samir to give us an important Ray Allen tribute.

Some of the questions we debate include 1. Who'll win the wide-open MVP race? 2. Is there anyone capable of stopping LeBron in the East? Will Russell Westbrook unleash the wrath? Will Kristaps Porzingis become a god now or later? And much more! Episode 38 also features Indian basketball news, including Amjyot Singh and Palpreet Singh heading to the NBA D-League draft.

Hoopdarshan is the truest voice of Indian basketball, and since we're such hopeless fans of the game, it will become the voice of everything basketball related we love, from the NBA to international hoops, too. On every episode of Hoopdarshan, we will be inviting a special guest to interview or chat to about a variety of topics. With expert insight from some of the brightest and most-involved people in the world of Indian basketball, we hope to bring this conversation to a many more interested fans, players, and followers of the game.

Make sure to follow Hoopdarshan on Soundcloud or search for 'Hoopdarshan' on the iTunes Store! Auto-sync Hoopdarshan to your preferred podcast app NOW!

Hoopdarshan can be found on...

October 16, 2016

China Kashgar win 2016 FIBA Asia Champions Cup; India's ONGC return winless

Asia's premier international club basketball tournament - the 2016 FIBA Asia Champions Cup - concluded in Chenzhou, China, on Sunday October 16 with the host country's representative China Kashgar winning the finale. This was Kashgar's (otherwise known as the Xinjiang Flying Tigers) first victory at the FIBA Asia CC, and they defeated Lebanese champions Al Riyadi in an entertaining final at Chenzhou's Olympic Sports Centre Gymnasium.

India were represented at this tournament by Dehradun's ONGC, who, despite featuring some top Indian talent, were ousted from the Preliminary Round stage without a win and finished tied for 9/10th place in the ten-team fray.

Kashgar's squad were led by naturalized Philippines player and former NBA player Andray Blatche. Blatche was the star man in the final, scoring 22 points with 8 rebounds for China, while his teammates Darius Adams and Abudushalamu Abudurexiti added 19 each in the victory. China led most of the way, and survived a furious comeback by Al Riyadi in the final quarter to notch the 96-88 win. Fadi El Khatib (23) and Dewarick Spencer (19) were the leading scorers for the Lebanese squad.

Spencer was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the tournament.

Also on the final day, Iran's Petrochimi confirmed a third-place finish for the bronze medal by defeating the UAE's high-risers Al Ahli, 100-74. Al Ahli's Samuel Young was a one-man wrecking machine, notching 43 points and 10 rebounds, but he got little help from his teammates. Petrochimi relied on a more balanced offense, backing up on the efforts of James White (22 points, 19 rebounds), Behnam Yackchali (22), and Gerald Robinson Jr. (21) for their blowout victory.

A day earlier, China survived a mammoth clash against Petrochimi 90-86 in the semi-finals to secure their spot in the finale. The game featured numerous twists and turns, and China had to bounce back from an eight-point halftime deficit to take the advantage at the end of the tense game. Blatche was again the hero, leading with 26 points and 10 rebounds, while Darius Adams added 20. Petrochimi were held at bay despite 26 point efforts by both Behnam Yackchali and James White. In the second semi-final, Al Riyadi had no problem blowing past Al Ahli, 107-79. Dewarick Spencer scored 26 for the winning side, while Fadi El Khatib (20) and Alade Aminu chipped in crucial points, too. Al Ahli's lone warrior was Samuel Young, who had 32 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.

The FIBA Asia CC tipped off on October 8th with ten teams, and India's ONGC - who had qualified for the tournament with their Federation Cup victory - were placed in Preliminary Round Group A with four touch matchups. They were led by head coach Dinesh Kumar and India international talents like Amrit Pal Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, and Yadwinder Singh.

From the opener against Iran's Petrochimi onwards, it became clear that ONGC were going to be fighting an uphill battle in this tournament. Petrochimi used a balanced effort to take an early double-digit lead over ONGC and played hawking defense to cruise to an easy 95-51 win.

ONGC's second match was more of the same, this time against Iraq's Al Rayyan. Another poor offensive effort had ONGC playing catchup from the get go. Preston Knowles of Al Rayyan turned out to be sublime in this game, putting up 39 points and 14 rebounds in the 95-53 win. Al Rayyan's captain Mohamed Mohamed added 17 in the win. The lone bright spark for ONGC was India's star guard Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, who notched 20 points and 8 rebounds in the loss.

Another tough loss followed the next day for ONGC, this time against eventual finalists Al Riyadi of Lebanon. For ONGC, the duo of Amrit Pal Singh (21 points, 11 rebounds) and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (18 points, 11 rebounds) played their best, but they got little help from the rest of the squad. Al Riyadi were led by Wael Arakji (21), Karim Zeinoun (20), and Dewarick Spencer (17) in the 91-65 win.

ONGC's campaign got an early end with a fourth-straight loss in their final Preliminary Round game to Chinese Taipei's Pauian. ONGC played their best game of the tournament for about three quarters, staying within sight of the Taiwanese competition as they trailed 73-62. But it was all Pauian in the final period, who blew open the gates to cruise eventually to a 101-71 win. Chin-Pang Lin scored 19 for Pauian, overcoming strong performances by Amrit Pal Singh (19 points, 13 rebounds) and Riyazuddin (18 points) of ONGC.

ONGC finished 0-4 in the tournament. Amrit Pal Singh ended with averages of 17 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, leading ONGC in both categories. Vishesh Bhriguvanshi chipped in with 16.5 ppg in the course of the tournament, too.

This was obviously not the improvement that ONGC were looking for, as basketball club representatives of India, after a similar finish at the last FIBA Asia CC back in 2013. ONGC simply did not have the depth and firepower to match the loaded squads that they faced, many of whom featured naturalized foreign players and other foreign recruits to add to their strenghts. The club tournaments will remain a weak point for Indian basketball internationally until India can begin their own proper basketball league and bring together more talents to play for Indian clubs.

October 14, 2016

SLAM Top 50: Andrew Wiggins, No. 31

The fast-improving 21-year-old is beginning to realize the depths of his talents.

This article first published as part of SLAM Magazine's #SLAMTop50 on SLAMOnline.com on September 30, 2016. Here is the original version of the piece.

(We forgot about Andrew Wiggins)

The Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Karl-Anthony Towns number one in the draft last year. Towns went on to shatter his own high expectations and posted one of the finest rookie seasons in recent history. He was the unanimous rookie of the year, shot his way to early comparisons to Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, and even earned two solo SLAM covers.

The Timberwolves hired Tom Thibodeau as Head Coach and president of basketball operations in April, immediately setting off the promise of stability, defensive intensity, and long essays about Thibs’s “tireless work ethic”.

(We forgot about Andrew Wiggins)

The Timberwolves, usually an ignored, small market in the NBA, were the centrepiece of sports-talk in reminiscence after the retirement of Kevin Garnett, the greatest player in their franchise by a country mile. KG was the franchise leader in games played, minutes, points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, rookies barked at, opponents intimidated, Honey Nut Cheerios referenced, and, of course, the love of the Timberwolves’ faithful.

(We forgot about Andrew Wiggins)

The Timberwolves suffered tragedy this time last year when coach Flip Saunders passed away, and his death cast a shadow over the franchise he was closely connected to for the rest of the season.

Ricky Rubio got injured, came back, struggled to shoot, played well, played badly, and was in trade discussions every waking moment.

Zach LaVine won the Slam Dunk contest, and then battled Aaron Gordon in a historic battle to win it again.

Minnesota drafted Kris Dunn, who quickly earned the high honor of being named Rookie Most Likely to win the Rookie of the Year award by his peers. The rising Timberwolves already had a new potential idol.

(But we forgot about Andrew Wiggins)

Two years ago, Minnesota traded their second-greatest player, Kevin Love, to join LeBron James in return for an unproven rookie out of Kansas. Love had his ups and downs in Cleveland, didn’t fit in, got hurt, returned, then did fit in (sort of), defended Steph Curry in the final possession of Game 7, and won a title. Championships redeem everything, but Love’s uncertain place in the team hierarchy have hover over him the last two years, and may continue to hover around for as long as he remains in Cleveland. Minnesota, of course, remain happy with their returns.

(Yes, but, we forgot about Andrew Wiggins)

With all the changes, diversions, press releases, dunk contests, ankle surgeries, and the waves of optimism, it seems that somewhere, one of the most crucial members of that rising wave – Andrew Wiggins – seems to have been lost in the shuffle. Now entering his third season, the fast-improving 21-year-old is poised to have a season that you won’t forget.

Wiggins reacted to an early career snub by the Cavaliers by thriving in Minnesota and winning the rookie of the year award, playing all 82 games in his rookie season and averaging 16.9 points on 43.7 percent shooting to with 4.6 rebounds in the process. Unlike most rookies, Wiggins’ biggest strength turned out to be his motor: he played over 36 minutes per game for the young Timberwolves while doing heavy lifting on both ends of the floor. His offense earned him the highlights, he defence earned him the burn. The Timberwolves won 16 games, but even in their horrific record, they looked fun.

Then, even as Towns came to town and stole the show to his own ROY season, Wiggins, quietly, didn’t go away. In his second season, the Canadian upped his averages to 20.7 ppg while improving his shooting percentage to nearly 46 percent from the floor. The Timberwolves won 29 games, but even in their poor record, they looked tantalizing.

And here we stand now. Wiggins, before season number 3, armed with the perfect atmosphere for stability and success. He will get to play off an elite big man in Towns and thrive as the two try to emulate a modern remix of post-and-perimeter domination. He will be flanked by the ever-improving Zach LaVine by his side, and two point guards – Rubio and Dunn – who will both bring unique strengths to run the offense by his side. He will be coached by a defensive mastermind in Thibodeau, who will surely maximize his potential to greater individual and team success.

Wiggins doesn’t say much: his Twitter feed is mostly a mention of his national or sponsor obligations and his on-court demeanour could fool you into occasionally even forgetting he’s out there.

But, he has flashes of brilliance that destroy his silences with primal screams. Like the time he attempted a 720 dunk and broke the NBA internet. Like the time he owned the overtime period to hand the Warriors only their ninth loss of the regular season. Like how he feels like a future basketball Jedi, only now realizing the far reaches of his limitless powers.

(Don’t forget about Andrew Wiggins)

October 13, 2016

Australia's Basketball League NBL is being broadcast on Veqta in India

For an Indian basketball fan, there exists a common duality: focus on the game at home, and keep a curious eye on the game at its highest level, the NBA. Our fandom exists both towards Amjyot Singh and Kevin Durant, we will check on the results of the Indian national team as well as the Cleveland Cavaliers. We turn to whatever means we have - internet websites, TV, social media - to get the results and news we want and be fully updated. This duality often extends to FIBA international basketball, the Olympics, action from the Euroleague, or the growing CBA in China.

Now, for even the more passionate fans among us, there is yet another option, very easily available for Indian audiences. Veqta, a newly launched OTT platform for digital sports broadcasting, has signed a deal to broadcast Australia's National Basketball League (NBL) exclusively in India starting this season up to 2020-21. Veqta's various digital platforms could potentially help the NBL gain new fans in India who want to think beyond the NBA for foreign leagues.

The NBL is Australia's top basketball league. It was founded in 1979 and currently features eight teams - seven from Australia and one from New Zealand. The Perth Wildcats - the winningest franchise in NBL history - have started the 2016-17 season as reigning champions. Australian NBA players like Luc Longley and Patty Mills have played in the NBL in the past, as has 'Captain Jack' Stephen Jackson himself. The legendary Australian Andrew Gaze won seven NBL MVP awards.

Australia is fast-becoming a hub of international basketball talent. Their national squad 'The Boomers' - led by Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova - recently finished fourth in the Rio Olympics. A number of other intriguing talents like 76ers' number one pick Ben Simmons and Utah's Dante Exum have further shone the light on Aussie basketball. The NBL is ambitious to propel their international success to bring positive changes to the league back home as well. The new season of the NBL tipped off on October 6.

"We are delighted to have signed this partnership with VEQTA," said Jeremy Loeliger, General Manager of the NBL. "They are a young ambitious digital company that is taking an innovative approach to digital sports broadcasting. Just like Australia, India is a sports mad country and by partnering with VEQTA we have a fantastic opportunity to take the NBL to yet another one of the biggest sports markets in the world. There are currently in excess of 300 million smartphone users in India and by 2020 this figure is set to grow a staggering 260% to 800 million users. The opportunity to engage with India’s large, knowledgeable sports loving public is something the NBL is very excited about."

"Basketball is the number one school sport in tier 1 & 2 cities in India and has a very strong following in the young urban audience," said Veqta's co-foudner and director Gaurav Gill. "Indian sports fans have a growing apetite for high quality global sports content and VEQTA is committed to bringing them the best content from around the world. Through this long term digital rights agreement we believe that the viewership of NBL games will increase substantially in the country."

The Veqta mobile app focuses on a unique selection of sports for the Indian audience, including Cricket, Football, MMA, Wrestling, Basketball, Motorsports, Tennis, Badminton, Olympic Sports etc.

October 12, 2016

Amjyot Singh eligible for NBA D-League draft: "Aim is to be first Indian in the NBA."

The Singh Factor in the NBA D-League has doubled its chances of doubling this season.

Chandigarh's Amjyot Singh Gill, probably the finest basketball player from India right now, will finally get his best shot at high-level glory soon. The six-foot-nine, 24 year old forward has signed a contract with the NBA D-League and he will now be eligible for the D-League's draft on October 30th.

The D-League already features India's first NBA draftee Satnam Singh, who is signed for the Texas Legends. A few weeks ago, it was announced that the ACG-NBA Jump winner Palpreet Singh signed a D-League contract for draft eligibility. Amjyot's signing will mean that now, there will be two Indians hoping for a roster spot on Draft Day. If all goes well, there could be three giant Singhs hooping, and hopefully, dominating the NBA's Development League very soon!

OVer the last few years, Amjyot has truly made a mark on basketball in India and further around the Asian continent. With his performances for the national team, he has emerged as the best All-Round talent and one of the top superstars of the Indian national team. Abroad, he has excelled for the Tokyo Excellence in the Japanese D-League and made waves in the FIBA 3x3 tour in Tokyo. Most recently, he helped India to their best international basketball performance in 27 years with a 7th place finish at the FIBA Asia Challenge in Iran.

The six-round NBA D-League draft is set to feature more than 200 draft-eligible players, and out of these, Amjyot will be fighting to be among the top 130 odd players who usually get drafted. If Amjyot gets drafted he will have to report to the team within a day or two for an 8-10 day training camp. All players, including Amjyot will be assessed on various physical (such as strength and conditioning) and game parameters (individual and team based basketball skills such as shooting, defence, rebounding, special awareness, passing etc.). If Amjyot suitably impresses then he has a chance to become an official D-League player in any of the 22 D-League teams currently affiliated to their parent franchise in the NBA.

D-League teams often work as development schools or 'feeders' to their parent NBA franchises. Over the last three seasons around 15% of NBA D-League athletes (or an average of 39 players per season) have been called up to the NBA. In a phone interview from Chandigarh, Amjyot expressed that his goal was to keep rising all the way up.

"I'm feeling really good about this news, but I'm also a little nervous. This is once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Amjyot told me. "My personal aim is to become the first Indian to play in the NBA."

Amjyot's former Punjab and India teammate Satnam Singh was drafted in the NBA and has played in the D-League for one season, but hasn't yet received an NBA call-up. Last summer, Indo-Canadian Sim Bhullar became the first player of Indian-origin to play in the NBA.

While Palpreet worked his way on to the D-League's radar by winning the ACG-NBA Jump - a talent scouting programme in India - earlier this year, Amjyot's success came from the work he has put in over the past few years in competitive games in India and abroad. Scouts from around the world have noted his talent, and he told me that the news of the D-League contract was broken to him during the FIBA Asia Challenge last month by NBA India's Carlos Barroca. His management team - Pursuit - were one of the major forces in helping him realize this dream.

"This is a big step forward for both Amjyot as well as Indian basketball," said Vishnu Ravi Shankar, Amjyot's manager and the business head of Pursuit. "He has earned the right to be in the D-League draft based purely on his performances with the Indian national team and professionally in Japan. If called up, we have no doubt he can make a splash in the D-League, which would in turn open a world of opportunity for him."

In his most recent international outing - the FIBA Asia Challenge - Amjyot helped India to a 4-4 final record, averaging 12.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He was one of the stars of the Japan's D-League last season alongside his India teammate Amrit Pal Singh. He helped the Tokyo Excellence win the D-League title on the back of 13.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game over 35 games, playing 21 minutes per game.

Before the draft, Amjyot will first head to Dubai for the FIBA 3x3 World Championships with the Team Hamamatsu, comprising of all Indian-origin player. After that, he will await word from the D-League about his future status.

"From my side, I'm working on improving my individual skills and strength in preparation for the D-League," Amjyot said. "I will especially focus on improving my stamina."

The NBA D-League's 16th season begins on Nov. 11 with a record 22 teams. Following the draft, teams will hold training camps beginning on Oct. 31, and will trim their rosters to 10 players on Nov. 10, before the start of the season.