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Tuesday, March 02, 2021

A playlist full of Punjabi tunes, a solid work ethic, and bags of ambition, Princepal is ready for the G-League

The 20-year-old from Qadian Gujjran village, in Gurdaspur, Punjab became just the fourth Indian after Satnam Singh Bhamra, Palpreet Singh Brar and Amjyot Singh Gill to make it to a G-League outfit.

Written by Nitin Sharma |
Updated: February 3, 2021 10:22:46 am
Princepal SinghPrincepal Singh/Getty

As they packed their bags to leave their base in Walnut Creek, California, each of the 13 players that make NBA G-League outfit Ignite had one thing extra they had to carry along. And so it happened that as the squad made their way to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, for the upcoming season that starts on February 10, the towering youngsters carried with them their hopes and dreams of making it big in the NBA. And each had a playlist of their favourite music. That was a requirement.

“We came up with the idea of practicing while listening to music and (experience) what noise would be like if there are crowds allowed at some point in the season,” explained head coach and five-time NBA champion Brian Shaw.

“Each day a different player put on his playlist. Whenever it was Princepal’s turn, we’d have hip hop and rap with an Indian flavour to it.”

Speakers in the training court would sound Punjabi numbers by the likes of Babbu Mann, Karan Aujla and AP Dhillon. And if it hadn’t happened before, with his star teammates like Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Isiah Todd, Daishan Nix, or the 7-foot-3 Kai Sotto (all favoured prospects for the 2021 NBA Draft), Princepal had certainly broken the ice.

“It helped the other players connect and bond with him, with something apart from basketball. Which is what the adjustment has been about for Princepal,” Shaw adds.

The 20-year-old from Qadian Gujjran village, in Gurdaspur, Punjab became just the fourth Indian after Satnam Singh Bhamra, Palpreet Singh Brar and Amjyot Singh Gill to make it to a G-League outfit. Though the team had assembled and trained in the bio-secure bubble in Walnut Creek in August, travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant the Indian cager could only join in October.

Naturally, he had some catching up to do.

“I hadn’t managed to do much strength training in India because of the lockdown. So that was the first thing my coaches got me to do,” Princepal says. “I had to work on other things as well like ball-handling, shooting from distance. And before I came here, Palpreet paji told me to work on my rebounding and defensive techniques as well.”

The language barrier

Just like the three Indians who breached the US barrier before him, Princepal too struggled with understanding the coaches and teammates on and off-court. He was quickly assigned English lessons, apart from the usual mental training and sleep pattern sessions.

But Shaw had a simple trick for the youngster: Signs.

Princepal Singh Princepal Singh of Team Ignite arrives on the G League Campus on January 31, 2021 at the hotel in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images)

“The basic terminology of basketball remains the same, but the problems with players like Princepal is when an opponent makes a screen, he takes some time to find the word in English to tell his teammates,” Shaw says.

“What we did was give him the example of the old Chicago Bulls player Bill Cartright, whose voice was affected after a throat injury. So whenever an opponent would screen, he would clap and his teammates would realise it and adjust”

Then came the task of fine-tuning the 6-foot-10 Indian’s game to suit the big league.

“When he came here, he was more of a back to the basket 12-15 feet shooter. Now we have been able to extend his range to the three-point line (22 feet). A lot of thought went into making him understand what he’s supposed to do on the floor, handling the ball and shooting from distance a lot more,” the coach shares.

Switching roles

A trip to Bahrain in November to play for the national team at the FIBA Asia Qualifiers meant that Princepal had to go through strict quarantine when he got back to the US. It led to him missing a few scrimmage games and invaluable practice time.

But switching jerseys between club and country also meant a change in on-court responsibility. For the national team, he’s the centre. But at Ignite, he’s being trained to play in all positions.

“Switching off and adjusting the mind has been the biggest learning thing for me here,” the youngster says. “The extra sessions with the coaches have helped. There’s also the fact that here I have teammates like Jalen, which reduces the pressure on me as compared to on the national team.”

Princepal’s presence and work-ethic though has been well appreciated by his teammate.

“Biggest thing with Princepal is he works hard,” Green had said to the NBA website last week. “He can do it all. He’s just got to do it with more confidence, and I think he can be a really good player representing India.”

NBA, Princepal Singh Brian Shaw of Team Ignite smiles and laughs during an NBA G League Practice and Scrimmage on November 21, 2020 at Ultimate Fieldhouse in Walnut Creek, California. (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

Upcoming season

Ignite will play 15 matches in February, starting with the opener against Santa Cruz Warriors on the 10th.

The most important thing for Shaw is to get as many players racking up as many minutes on court as possible (“There is a lot of opportunities for everybody,” he adds).

It’s not certain how much time Princepal, still a shy boy adjusting to the physicality of basketball in America, will get on court.

But what he’s banking on is just, quite simply, being there.

“To have come so far is a big thing for me and whenever I get a chance to play,” he says, “my aim will be to play well and to have a good memory for myself and my parents back home in Punjab.”

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