A 212cm farm boy who spent most of his childhood ploughing rice fields has become the first Indian-born player signed by an NBL team today, with the Sydney Kings offering him a one-year deal.
It’s been an incredible journey for the young Sikh, who hails from a village of just over 2000 people in the state of Punjab in Northern India. Incredibly, he first picked up a basketball at the age of 19.
Born in the village of Fattuwal, about 30-35 kilometres from Amritsar in Punjab, Amritpal came from a family of farmers who grew rice, peas, potatoes and other vegetables. He attended a small village school and although he spent time playing the popular Indian sport Kabbadi, a game similar to rugby but without a ball, there was never an indication he would become a professional athlete.
“In the beginning, I had no clue how to play the game, I didn’t know how to dribble the basketball and I couldn’t shoot it at all. But slowly, as I got better, I started to enjoy it and soon got an opportunity to play professionally” Singh told Indian media.
Indians have slowly been attempting to make their mark on the NBL over recent years. The Adelaide 36ers signed Singh’s teammate Vishesh Bhriguvanshi to a one-year training deal in July and Eban Hyams, who was born in India to Indian and Isreali parents played 9 NBL games for the Singapore Slingers but was able to hone his skills growing up in Sydney.
Neither was able to make the impact that Singh is expected to make this season and Singh’s ability to make the main roster of an NBL team after developing his basketball game in India make’s his journey extremely unique.
Not only will Singh’s now face some of the best players in Australasia on a weekly basis, which will surely see him develop his basketball talents but he will also get the chance to face the best players in the world when the Kings take on the Utah Jazz in a preseason game October 3rd.
Singh will no doubt have his work cut out for him, no doubt having to guard arguably the greatest centre in basketball today, Rudy Gobert who led the league in blocks last year and was named the leagues All-NBA and All-Defensive teams.
The NBL sees both India as one of its biggest untapped markets, with a rising middle class who have always supported cricket and soccer are now becoming huge basketball fans, something the NBL want to capitalise on.
Sydney Kings Managing Director Jeff Van Groningen said it was a significant signing for the club and Australian basketball.
“We welcome Amritpal to our organisation. We take our responsibility as a member of the global basketball community very seriously and endorse the NBL’s focus on ‘bridge-building’ with those that share an interest and passion for our great game both in India and within the Indian community here in Australia.
We are excited at what Amritpal can contribute to the Kings as a strong, rebounding big man and we look forward to contributing to his rising career”, he said.
Singh is the current captain of the Indian national basketball team and recently starred for the club in the FIBA Asia Cup. The 26-year-old averaged 17 points and 9 rebounds per game in a tournament where the Indian team out performed what many thought they were capable of.
Amritpal first gained the attention of Kings coach Andrew Gaze at the NBL Draft Combine held in Melbourne. This was enough to earn him a spot on the Sydney Kings Invitational Team which competed in the recent Atlas Challenge tournament in China. Singh was a key component of the winning squad, dropping 17 points and 16 rebounds in the Kings victory over Lithuania.
“Amritpal was a very strong contributor to the Kings offseason program, particularly during our invitational tour to China. His rebounding was a major factor that allowed us to win the Suzhou event”, Gaze said.
Singh’s hopes to use the NBL as a stepping stone to the NBA and follow in the footsteps of Indian national teammate Satnam Singh, who was recently drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 2015.
Singh completes the Sydney Kings roster confirming the team will play with only two import players this season. Since the league moved to allowing three import signings per team no NBL club has played an entire season with only two imports. Being able to find a talent like Singh who qualifies as a local player due to Australia now playing in FIBA’s Asia zone gives them that luxury.
The Kings finalised roster includes Singh, Tom Garlepp, Perry Ellis, Dane Pineau, Brad Newley, Jason Cadee, Kevin Lisch, Travis Leslie, Todd Blanchfield, Adam Thoseby and Isaac Humphries.
The Sydney Kings begin their National Basketball League 2017/2018 season with a game on Saturday, October 7 against the Adelaide 36ers at Qudos Bank Arena.