Phirjinder Singh Brar remembers watching nervously as son Palpreet lined up on the basketball court at the Ludhiana Basketball Academy five years ago. The nervous father was further zapped when after two sprints and a few jumps, the then 16-year-old was called forward by India’s legendary basketball coach the Late Dr S Subramaniam and the master merely bent over and felt Palpreet’s calf muscles. “It was a bit strange, but after that he came up to us and said that Palpreet will become a big star one day,” Phirjinder recalls. Now 21, the towering 6-foot-9 Centre will travel to the John Lucas Academy in Houston, Texas to train ahead of the NBA Development-League tryouts in August. Should he make the cut, he’ll follow in the footsteps of his former roommate Satnam Singh Bhamara, who became the first Indian to be drafted by an NBA Team, Dallas Mavericks, and currently plays for D-League outfit Texas Legends.
The opportunity of the trials came after Palpreet won an NBA-organised talent hunt. He recently underwent a 45-day physical conditioning camp in Kochi. “Most of it was on fitness,” Palpreet explains. His initial physical assessment rated him 5.5 out of 10, which went up to a commendable 8.6. The calves now had stronger glutes and abs to complete the package.
Growing up in Doda village in the Sri Muktsar Sahib district of Punjab, Palpreet loved working the land in the family’s 20 acre farm of wheat and rice fields. “Since he was six, he’d sow seeds, cut the grass, but pulling out unwanted weeds was his favourite. He’d do it with his bare hands, not a sickle. It gave him more strength,” Phirjinder says.
The middle child out of three who showed remarkable stubbornness in de-weeding, had done a runner before though. Immediately after Subramaniam’s assessment, Palpreet was admitted to the academy. “I was learning the game, but I missed home. In two months, I left and went home. But about six months later, I returned,” explains the Northern Railways Ticket Collector.
Circle kabaddi was the main sport in the village, but at 6-2, Palpreet was far too tall. Meanwhile a family friend had stumbled upon a newspaper advertisement announcing trials in Ludhiana – 150 km away. Just over a year after the youngster re-joined the academy, he debuted for the India juniors at the U18 FIBA Asia Championship in 2012, recording an impressive 21 points per game a record for an Indian player at the event. “After that, I could tell the coaches were keeping a special eye out for my development,” Palpreet recalls. There was this one time he ran away again – at Kochi but to return well fed and hearty. “He used to complain about the rotis. So I told him to get permission and go to a Gurudwara for langar.” But Phirjinder knew Palpreet was ready for the big leap soon after. “A few weeks after the program started, he told me he was avoiding fatty foods, and sugary items. This was new for us to see in him,” the elder Brar adds.