NOW WHEN Amjyot Singh Gill thinks about it, it was probably always meant to be the Oklahoma City Thunder. Last year, the 25-year-old cager had entered the draft for the NBA G-League, the developmental division, only to be overlooked by the 22 franchises.
But he did earn a short training stint with the Blue after the draft. “I trained with the team for a few days and the coach told me to work hard and try again in the draft next year,” Amjyot recalls. “I didn’t think about it much, but now it all makes sense.”
On Saturday, the 6-foot-8 power forward entered his name in the draft yet again. This time, the Blue — who is the affiliate team for NBA outfit Oklahoma City Thunder — chose him for the 103rd draft pick. The achievement made Amjyot only the third Indian to have broken ground in the United States, and only the second player to be drafted by a G League club after Palpreet Singh Brar.
But though the likes of Satnam Singh Bhamara (NBA team Dallas Mavericks, 2015) and Palpreet (G-League side Long Island Nets, 2016) have made the news, courtesy their forays into the NBA, Amjyot has been the one long considered as the country’s brightest spark and the most naturally talented cager to step on court for the national team.
So much so that the youngster was handed captaincy of the national team at the Asia Cup back in August. And he lived up to the hype, as his 39 points over the three group games made him the country’s highest scorer at the tournament. Yet more importantly, the performance impressed then national coach Phil Weber – a veteran who has worked as assistant coach for the Phoenix Suns for nine years along with a recent spell at the New Orleans Pelicans.
And it was Weber’s involvement that helped build awareness of the Chandigarh-lad’s capabilities. “The difference between last year and now is that teams now knew who Amjyot was and what he can do on court,” says Vishnu Ravi Shankar, the cager’s manager. “Weber has connections with many NBA teams so he did his bit to spread awareness about him.”
Considered one of the most talented players India has produced, Amjyot is a product of the Ludhiana Basketball Academy where he was groomed by legendary coach Dr S Subramanian. An explosive forward with the ability to shoot from distance as well as drive into the three-point circle, Amjyot first got his India call-up as an 18-year-old back in 2010, but shot to prominence at the Asia Cup in 2014.
He starred in India’s historic win when they beat hosts China 65-58 at the event. Amjyot top scored with 13 points in that match, but is most remembered for the Alley-Oop slam dunk he pulled off.
He reached the United States over a fortnight ago and had been training at the Aaron Johnson Academy in New Jersey, till he was invited for a two-day workout by the Delaware 87ers, the affiliate team of NBA franchise Philadelphia 76ers. “I thought they would pick me since they had called me for the workout,” Amjyot says. “I even stayed back in Philadelphia for the draft.”
On Saturday, as the draft was scheduled to begin at NBA’s headquarters in New York at 1:00 P.M Eastern Time, Amjyot made his way to a Gurudwara. “I had my langar, prayed, and stayed there for a few hours,” he says. “I didn’t know what was happening at the draft. When I got up to leave, my coach called me and told me that I had been selected.”
As part of G-League requirements, selected players need to report to their respective team’s training camps within 48 hours and participate in 10-day tryouts to determine the roster. Last year when Palpreet made the draft, he failed to find a spot in the Long Island Nets roster.
Satnam too — who made only eight substitute appearances last season with the Mavericks’ affiliate team Texas Legends — has returned to India now that his contract with the Mavericks has expired. But while the Palpreet and Satnam’s achievements are no small feats, they are still players considered works-in-progress. Amjyot though, is the real deal.