As Satnam Singh Bhamara made his way to meet basketball trainees at a city school on Tuesday, the 21-year-old was reminded by the principal about his first visit to the school academy in 2005, with his father. Satnam had opted to train at Ludhiana at that time under coach S Subramanian and the following years would see him being selected for a training stint at the IMG Academy in the United States. Two years after becoming the first Indian-born player to be picked by an NBA franchise in the draft, Satnam is at a crucial point in his career. With his contract with the Dallas Mavericks ending this year, he is back in India and the lad from Ballo Ke village talks about his experience with the Mavericks in the Summer League and their affiliate team Texas Legends in the G League, training methods, importance of 3X3 FIBA events in the coming years, donning Indian colours and the road ahead. Excerpts:
You played eight games out of 42 in the G League for Texas Legends, apart from playing against Phoenix Suns for the Mavericks in the Summer League. How tough has it been for you sitting on the sidelines and waiting for your turn to play?
There was a lot of stress. Dimaag par pressure rehta tha hamesha ki main khel kyun nahi raha (There was pressure that why am I not playing). I would spend more time in the gym and on cycling to counter the stress. We would also visit some academies and orphanages with the team and it would help me. Bob (MacKinnon) is one of the best coaches in the G League and many NBA main teams want him as coach. But he said that he wants to work with development league players so that they are ready for the main teams. I would ask what more should I do and he would tell me that I am young and there are players with a lot more experience who are sitting on the bench. He told me that my time will come and the more I practice, the more it would help me. He made me understand that I can play till the age of 35. And I have to play in different countries like India, Australia and Europe. As of now, my contract has ended but the Mavericks can approach me again and I have my options open.
The last year also saw you losing more than 40 pounds while training. As a player concentrating on the centre position, how important was it?
It was tough for me to lose close to 45 pounds. But Bob and other coaches told me that I had to shed some weight. They did not want me to lose my strength and I also took some boxing lessons. Their main emphasis was on practice and they said it will help me in my footwork and controlling the ball. I understand that my main position has been the center and for that, I have to shoot more and increase my speed as well as try shots like the hook. It is hard for me as my body has more muscle and less fat. And I have to block as per my speed and skills. If a opposition player gets 13-14 feet high, it gets difficult but I have to try for a fall or keep the ball low. Practising helped my speed and it helped me focus.
You played for the Indian team in the FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut along with Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi. How would you rate that experience?
We played well in Beirut and matched some of the teams. We gave Syria a tough fight in the last game but lost the momentum in the last quarter. We want to do well in the coming year and have to train together to achieve that. We have to understand that we also need to focus on playing in leagues as well as playing for India. It is a team game so one needs to understand each other’s game. FIBA has expanded the qualifying format for next year’s World Cup and our aim would be the Asian qualifiers. I played with Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and had some discussions. Amritpal and Vishesh also told me about their plans for playing in the NBL in Australia and it is good that they have got such an opportunity. If I get a chance, I will also aim for it and am ready to give it a try.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will also see the introduction of 3X3 basketball, which will feature 8 teams. The India U-18 team won a silver medal at last year’s FIBA Asia Championships and Amjyot’s 3X3 club team Hamamatsu reached the finals of 3X3 World Tour finals in UAE last year, where he was adjudged the top-ranked player in the Rest of the World category. How do you see this format and having played in it, how is it different from the regular one?
I played along with Amjyot Singh for the Ludhiana Basketball Academy team in the 3X3 Road to Mexico event in Gurgaon last week when we lost to Japanese team Yokohama in the semifinals. But of course, we can do better in this format of the game. Amjyot has played in the format before in the FIBA 3X3 World Tour and we have players like Amritpal, Palpreet and Yadvinder Singh who can take part in this format. 3X3 is a lot faster than the normal game and there is a 12-second shot clock. One has to aim and try to shoot while standing close to the center and defending is very hard in this format. The opposition will aim to shoot 2-pointers or 3-pointers and the center position is very important. My focus in the last six months has been on rebounding and blocking and these things will help me in this format.
Last three years have also seen the launch of leagues like UBA Pro league in India and next year, the first professional 3X3 FIBA basketball League will be played here. How do you see these leagues and how will they benefit Indian basketball?
Competitions like the UBA Pro League will help youngsters. When we trained under Subramanian sir in Ludhiana, there were more than 50 youngsters who were talented enough to play at the second league level in many countries. The UBA Pro League has bridged the gap and there will be the first Professional 3X3 basketball league under FIBA in India next year. The showcase event was the same when I played in Gurgaon and if it gives a chance to compete against players from Japan, Malaysia and Maldives, it will benefit the youngsters, who only have junior nationals and senior nationals to play in a year. And this will benefit players like me also. I always idolised Jagdeep Singh Bains, who was at the Ludhiana academy from 2002 and is now a UBA team coach. When we faced teams like Iran or even Syria, some of the players would ask ‘your number 15 (Jagdeep) is playing or not?’ And if he had got the opportunity, he would also have played in leagues across the world and achieved much more.