Prayers answered!

Satnam Singh Bhamara of India takes a shot against Kazakhstan during the Asian basketball championship in Manila.-AFP

The 19-year-old became the first Indian player to enter the cash-rich, international league. By Uthra Ganesan.

At 6.37 a.m. Indian Standard Time on June 26, Satnam Singh Bhamara’s name was called out as the 52nd pick during the second round of the 2015 NBA draft at the Barclays Center, New York. And with that, the 19-year-old became the first Indian player to enter the cash-rich, international league.

His formal demeanour dissolving into a familiar, friendly mien the moment he was asked to switch to his mother tongue during an interaction soon after, Satnam, aware of the magnitude of his achievement in being picked by Dallas Mavericks — one of the seven teams he appeared for pre-draft try-outs — knows what it might trigger back home.

“Ek rasta khul gaya hai. Maine Ludhiana se Florida tak aane me aur yahan aake apni puri mehnat ki aur ye prove kiya hai ki agar chahen aur mehnat karen to aur bahut sare Indians yahan aa sakte hain (A door has opened. I did my best from Ludhiana to Florida and have proven that, with desire and hard work, many more Indian players can reach here),” he says.

Satnam admits he did not get any special vibes from Dallas before the draft. “They asked me about my background and why I wanted to be in the NBA. I told them, to popularise the sport in India and start a trend for other Indian players. I only wanted to be picked by someone, even though I wasn’t nervous about it,” he says, adding he prayed to all the Gurus before going for the draft.

And he prayed to the two most important influences in his life — S. Subramanian, the diminutive coach at the Ludhiana Basketball Academy, and Harish Sharma, the former secretary general of the Basketball Federation of India. Both are no longer alive.

“Sharma sir was instrumental in my going for the trials and being picked by the IMG Academy. But I miss Dr. Subramanian sir the most today. He was the one who found me when my father took me to the academy for the first time. He taught me everything that I know today. It was his dream to see an Indian in the NBA and today I have fulfilled his dream. I wish he was with me at this moment but I know I have achieved everything with his blessings only,” Satnam says.

It won’t be a fairytale just yet, though. Up next for Satnam is a stint with the Texan Wizards in the Development League, with an actual NBA debut, and a contract with Dallas at least two years away — if it does happen. For now, he is happy putting basketball on the front pages of the national media.

DID YOU KNOW? 1. He's big. Literally.

At 19, Satnam is 7 feet 2 inches tall, weighs 132 kg and wears size-22 shoes. In his hand, the basketball looks tiny. And it's all in his genes. His father Balbir Singh is just an inch shorter than his now-famous son and was once advised to take up the game himself but was not allowed to by the family. His grandmother is 6'9".

2. Crossing the threshold.

Satnam was one of eight Indian kids selected for a scholarship programme and training at the IMG Academy in Florida in 2010, after trials in New Delhi, and has been with them since then, training under Daniel Barto. Not considered good enough to receive academic scholarship, he continued to stay at the Academy, honing his skills.

3. In august company.

Satnam is represented by agents Happy Walters and Dan Fegan, who also handle his possible future team-mate Chandler Parsons, and DeAndre Jordan, one of the most sought after free agents in NBA today.

4. Considered an "international man of mystery" by NBA officials.

Austin Ainge, director of personnel at Boston Celtics, one of the seven NBA teams Satnam tried out before the draft, admits the teams hardly know anything about him. "There's not really much tape on him. He's the first player since the NBA put age restrictions in place in 2005 to enter the league without first playing in college, a professional foreign league or the DLeague," Ainge said.

5. Bryant to Bachchan, he loves them all.

In the NBA, his favourite player is Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, a multiple MVP winner and NBA champion. Back home, his favourites from the film world include Abhishek Bachchan. His idol, though, remains his first coach, late Dr. S. Subramanian, a 5'3" man who was legendary for his discipline and fundamentals.

6. He is still raw and an unfinished product.

If you thought that a 7' 2" bloke from the backyards of Punjab would be all muscle and little skills, you could be wrong. The general consensus about Satnam is that though he still needs to work really hard on his game, speed and reaction time, he can shoot like a sniper. He can hit the pull-up, pick-and-pop shots, he is big and strong, has watertight work ethics and surprisingly soft shooting touch from the 3-point perimetre, besides being ambidextrous in shooting.

Uthra Ganesan