When Talwinderjit Singh left Indian shores three years ago,he went by the nickname Pipli. A stint with USA Division II team San Jose City a few rungs below NBA and playing for another US-based side,Babbar Sher California (BSC),and the playmaker from Ludhiana has picked a thick accent,some solid bulk and monikers like TJ Sahi. He even fancies being called Air India a name he says was fashioned upon him by the spectators in the west coast state,for his habitual acrobatic diving and sliding ways on the court.
Now 23,and back in India to tend to his ailing mother who suffered a second heart-attack recently,Pipli says basketball wasnt exactly on his mind when he returned. But back in the Punjab squad for the senior nationals in Surat,he knows his team will rely heavily on him if they have to push past Uttarakhand in the quarter-finals on Monday.
After my fathers passed away and my elder brother moved to the US,I couldnt stay on in the States leaving my mother in Ludhiana,considering her health condition. I wasnt thinking of basketball when I came back,but since I wasnt doing anything,and the nationals were around,I decided to play.
Picked by NCAA scouts when he played for India at the Asian Basketball Championships in 2005 as a point guard of promise,Pipli was picked by Canadian and American scouts and granted a full scholarship in California. But on touching down there,he was informed that the scholarship was down to 50 per cent and that the university would turn out to be rather expensive,so he shifted allegiance to the two clubs San Jose City and BSC. Hes the only Indian showcasing his flashy skills at that level,and maintains that NBA is the ultimate dream. I dont know if Ill ever reach there. But every player aspires for that,and Ill try hard to get there, he says.
Sure to catch the eye with his energetic hustle on the court,Pipli seemed like an India certainty before his move to the US. But playing in America has changed the Punjab players game considerably. Besides him acquiring some muscle,his playing zone has undergone a complete transformation.
Its not a very physical game here in India. But there,rules allow for even holding onto the jersey in defence. Here,Ive gone out on five-fouls in all my games, he says. That has hurt defending champions Punjab as theyve also run into miserable luck in the outside shooting department. Weve not clicked. The three-point shooting has gone awry too, Pipli concedes.
The far more aggressive style of play in America means Pipli now finds his own outside game restricted. Over there outside shots arent a big hit because the percentage of success would be around 30,while if you play inside,the chances of winning points increases to 70-80 per cent. Its something Ive had to re-adjust to, he admits.
Accustomed to courts dried up every few minutes,and a bigger Size 9 ball,Pipli has also slipped here frequently,though he maintains that he will take these on as challenges,not as moans. The ambition now is to come back into the Indian squad. Im back here,and Ill do my best to entertain, he says.