When the name ‘Palpreet Singh Brar’ came up on the computer screen, his younger brother Moninder froze. It was way past midnight and he had to keep an eye on the screen and inform the rest of the family when the 22-year-old was picked up in the players’ draft for an NBA Development-League franchise. If it did show up, that is.
Eventually, it did. The Long Island Nets chose the Indian cager as their fourth pick, 77th overall. Like Moninder, his parents and grandmother too were silent in disbelief. About 40 minutes later, though, the phone rang. It was Palpreet himself, calling from the United States. “He was shouting, ‘Jo bole so nihaal, sat sri akal,’” recalls father Farjinder Singh Brar. “That’s when we started celebrating as well.”
Palpreet is now on the cusp of becoming only the second Indian basketballer to play in the D-League, the minor division of the elite NBA. He will, however, have to impress the coaches of the newly formed Long Island Nets – an affiliate team of NBA outfit Brooklyn Nets – in the week-long camp to find a spot in the team’s roster for the upcoming season.
Last year, Satnam Singh Bhamara became the first Indian in the D-League when he featured for the Texas Legends.
Satnam’s inclusion, however, was based on his selection during the senior 2015 NBA Draft, when the Dallas Mavericks picked him, as opposed to Palpreet’s selection through the lower-division D-League Draft.
The towering 6-foot-9 power forward’s journey towards the draft began in February, when he won an NBA-officiated talent hunt.
Subsequently, he was subject to a series of training programmes designed to upgrade his skill and fitness levels ahead of the Sunday-night draft – his fitness index improving from 5.5 on a scale to 10 to 8.6.
Armed with a skill set that was finely tuned, coupled with a sturdy body, he made the cut among 111 players that were selected in the draft that had 182 eligible candidates.
His celebratory mood came as no surprise to his father. “Hamesha se dramebaaz raha hai,” he laughs. The youngster has always had a reputation for mischief back home. He would spend days running around his parents’ 20-acre farm in Doda village, Surgapuri in Sri Muktsar Sahib district of Punjab.
“He’d climb trees and pluck fruit despite us telling him not to,” Phirjinder says. His favourite activity was pulling out unwanted weeds using his bare hands.
“Initially it was quite nice for us that he’d clear the bad weeds. But once it was all done, he’d get bored and pull out the good plants too,” he adds. A product of legendary coach late S Subramaniam, the cager was only 16 – then 6-foot-2 – when he was first admitted to the Ludhiana Basketball Academy. He came to prominence two years later at the U-18 FIBA Asia Championship in Mongolia, where he raked up an average of 21 points per game to become the third highest scorer in the tournament.
His national teammates and stalwarts of the Indian side Amjyot Singh Gill (24) and Amritpal Singh (25) were a part of the probables at the draft, but did not get picked. The pair spent the 2015-16 season playing for Tokyo Excellence in Japan, leading the team to the National Basketball Development League (NBDL) Championship title.
Though the D-League dream may not be in order for the duo, who have arguably been among the greatest the country has produced, there are plans being drawn for their future. “For now, we’re sure we don’t want them to go back to Japan since they got as much as they could from there,” explains their manager Vishnu Ravi Shankar.
At the same time, there are hopes that they will find clubs in Europe, South America or Australia.
“The Australian league starts in March, so we’re hoping to get them trials by December or January,” Ravi Shankar states. “There’s a senior national camp late in November. Hopefully, we can get an Australian coach or scout to come and have a look at them as well,” he adds.