The plan was simple — school, college and then the NBA. Satnam Singh Bhamara, however, is considering a leap from the formative first level to the final third. The 19-year-old, who has spent four years at the IMG Academy in Florida, is close to putting forward his name for the upcoming NBA draft — which will make him the first Indian to do so.
Compulsion, though, is the main reason behind the decision. The towering 7”1’ centre’s skills on the basketball court has commanded the attention of colleges around the United States, with the likes of Purdue, University of Southern California, University of South Florida, Pittsburgh and University of Massachusetts keeping track of his endeavours. But his poor grades in school are stopping him from getting admission in college and far from securing a scholarship.
Given the position he is in — out of school for a year with chances of a scholarship looking bleak — the teenager has nothing to lose from applying for the draft.
Senior director of NBA India Carlos Barroca thinks it would be brave for Bhamara to make that call. “If he does get picked, then that’s the dream. If not, he has so many options available to him. He can travel and play somewhere else, perhaps Europe, for a while before applying for the draft next year,” asserts Barroca.
Common among tall players
A decision to skip college and go straight for the top league isn’t an uncommon one. In fact, as Barroca puts it, skipping college is almost a trend among seven-footers. “With their height, they have a lot of stress on the thighs, ankles and knees. So their playing career is less than that of shorter players. Which is why they try and get to the NBA at an early stage so they can add a few more years to the career by starting early,” he explains.
Of course, not all manage to make it big in the NBA and Bhamara’s decision is a gamble itself. What he will be missing out on is experiencing the quality of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) level basketball, which is more competitive than school level play.
With athletes’ bodies properly developed by the time they go to college, coaches go for tougher and effective fitness drills and coupled with the exposure to professional plays and formations, players mature in their understanding and application of the game.
In turn, scholarships serve as a big asset. “Your tuition, food, accommodation and training are taken care of and you don’t need to worry about fees anymore,” says Barroca.
“For sports scholarships, your athletic prowess plays a big role, but at the same time you need to have a particular grade in your academic work as well,” he adds. Despite losing out on the opportunity of progressing through college basketball, Bhamara does have the benefit of able advisors around him, starting with his coach in school, Kenny Natt, who once served as coach of the Indian national team and interim coach of the Sacramento Kings.
“The coach knows what calibre of player makes it to the NBA and he’s been training Satnam accordingly. The entire coaching staff believe in his quality and wouldn’t tell him to try for the NBA if they didn’t think he could make it there,” Barroca mentions. His playing style, in the meantime, has given him the reputation of being an ‘intimidator.’ With his height and 132 kg frame, the centre is considered a muscular and powerful athlete, with the blessing of tireless running. His reading of the game and 7”3’ wingspan itself makes him an effective presence both in defence and offence.
April 26 is the deadline for candidates wishing to be a part of June’s NBA draft. For long, Bhamara has been piped to become the first Indian to make it to the NBA. Sim Bhullar’s recent outing for the Kings have been an inspiration to the teenager from Punjab. All that is awaited now is for Bhamara to make that call.