LAST YEAR, Amjyot Singh played a stellar role in India’s shock win over China in the finals of FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan. As a junior, he scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds to complete a 65-58 win over the Asian giants. Beating China was no mean feat, and it was surely a moment to be savoured. However, the young cager conceded it would take some time for the triumph to sink in. Almost 15 months later, Amjyot finds himself in a similar position and up against the similar opponent.
High on confidence after his exploits against China, the introverted lad has transformed into a scoring machine.
Currently in Changsha-Hunan, China, for the FIBA Asia Championships, Amjyot has single-handedly led India to the quarters, scoring at 23 points per game — the highest in the tournament. His prolific form meant India would make its first quarter-final appearance in 12 years.
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Despite his enviable consistency, it is surprising to note that cricket, and not basketball, which was his first choice. The Chandigarh native had dreams of becoming a tearaway fast bowler. But a back injury cut short his cricketing aspirations. Standing at 6-foot-8 and blessed with a long reach, Amjyot made the switch to basketball after words of encouragement from coach and his father.
Since the start of the tournament in Changsha-Hunan, the power forward scored the game-best of 24 points and has grabbed 10 rebounds in India’s 102-73 win over Malaysia in the Group A opener.
He then followed it up with 26 points and nine rebounds in India’s loss to Iran. In India’s 73-70 win against Palestine, he scored 36 points, which is still the tournament’s highest in a single game.
Riding on this performance, he carried India to their second win in as many matches when they beat Hong Kong to keep the quarters hope alive. India lost their last group game to Philippines but managed to qualify for the quarters.
The reason for his consistency, he reckons, is his stint with the Hyogo Impulse in Japan’s National Basketball League earlier this year. “The turnaround in my game came from the exposure I got in Japan. It was a great experience,” he says.
Much has changed for him since the China win in 2014. During the Asia Cup last year, FIBA officials imposed the ‘no headgear rule’, which meant he had to give up his turban if he wanted to continue as a cager. The 23-year-old, however, took it in his stride. Right now, he is focused on the duel in the quarters. “We knew we had little chance at the start of the tournament. 12 years is a long gap but this game is important for the future of the game in the country,” he says.
But it won’t be easy. China have been unbeaten in the Championships and with the likes of 7-foot-1 Zhou Qi and another 7-footer Jianlian Yi, India surely have their task cut out. Aware of what lies ahead, Amyjot is hoping for the best. “We can hope for the best. They are the hosts and pressure will be on them. We have nothing to lose. They are tough but we beat them last year so keeping our fingers crossed,” he says, adding that India’s bench strength will be tested against China. “We have played this tournament better than previous times. Every player knows what role he has to play in the team and that helps in dividing the pressure.”
On a personal level, the 23-year-old will look to emulate his stupendous performance from Wuhan. Leading the points and steals table, Amyjot is also seventh in rebounds per game and fifth in blocks per game.
Ask him if he is aware of the milestones, the tournament leader in double-double gives a straight no in answer. “I don’t know about points. I came here to play and that is it. Like in Japan, I play for the team and not for points. I just play and forget everything. Basketball is everything for me,” he adds.