For multiple athletes across disciplines, the nationwide lockdown due to coronavirus meant little to no access to facilities or equipment to keep in touch with their craft.
Basketball player Harsh Dagar, who returned to his home in Gurgaon after his term at the NBA Academy was cut short due to the lockdown, had his own difficulties with no hoop to practice his game.
Marc Pulles, who heads basketball Operations at NBA India, says, "To workout in basketball, it’s important to have a hoop [for young cadets]. But having said that, there are a lot of drills and aspects a player must work on outside of a court, like fitness, nutrition and of course, dribbling, passing and many more."
The NBA Academy coaches have been in constant touch with the players through video conferences each week to keep track of their progress at home. But the urge to dribble the ball and leap to make the dunk over a hoop was missing for point-guard Harsh, who was frustrated about being holed up in his room through the summer. The 15-year-old decided to take matters into his own hands and roped in his brother, Apurv.
The brothers used waste materials – four poles, one cardboard, iron rim, t-shirt – to erect a pole with a backboard and hoop in the car parking space of their compound
“I made the hoop 3-4 weeks ago. I couldn’t get real ball practice earlier,” says Harsh. “I used to do physical work only. I was frustrated not having a hoop to play with. Then my brother and I made this so we can play 1v1 at home. We took some waste materials from our and neighbour’s home, did some jugaad and then we erected the post and hoop.”
Harsh’s dedication for the game caught the attention of the technical director of NBA India, Scott Flemming, who shared a video of the youngster training with the newly-built basket. Pulles, too, was impressed by his cadet, adding, “It is very innovative, and it was his own idea to build it up himself. He did inform the coaches and the team that he was working on this.”
Harsh, whose father passed away 10 years ago due to illness, has found great support in his brother. Apurv is a state-level basketball player and is also a coach at his college.
“He only inspired me to play the game when I was 11,” he says. “I used to play football earlier, and one of my coaches took a chance on me for a basketball match, because he saw me as this hard-working kid. We lost that game by one point. That defeat stung me and I wasn’t even into basketball then. From then on, I have focussed on basketball and my brother has been pushing and motivating me. I didn’t know or follow basketball, my brother was my influence. He told me what were the rules.”
His local coach Vikram alerted Harsh of the ACG NBA Jump program in 2018, which helped him earn a scholarship at the NBA Academy India.
He has since the academy at the European Youth Basketball League and NBA Academy Youth Games in 2018 and 2019. He was also part of the Indian National squad that won the gold at the South Asian Games 2019 in Nepal.
Of his stint at the academy, he says, “The facilities are great, and the exposure with our tournaments abroad is great. We get a good education system over there. I have been to the US, Europe and Australia. It was really tough to get into the team because every player can’t go. Whoever works hard can showcase themselves on that stage.”
Although the pandemic put an abrupt end to his term at the academy this year, the teenager hopes he will continue to remain on track and achieve his dream of playing in the NBA. “I want to get a D1 scholarship [sports scholarship] at a college in the US and after that, if I work hard, I will make the NBA,” he says.
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