By Justin Cutler.
Santam Singh: The First Indian-Born Player To Be Drafted in the NBA Hopes To Open Doors For Basketball In His Homeland And Help His Family.
Most NBA fans are unfamiliar with the name Satnam Singh. As the 52nd overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, Singh’s potential is still unknown. However, regardless of what his future in basketball holds, the 21-year-old descendant of India has already made history.
Growing up, basketball was much more than a game to Singh. His father, who is almost as tall as Singh, is the head of the village and his biggest supporter. He made Satnam see basketball as a way out of this home village of Ballo Ke, which is a rural area populated by about 700 people.
The village is filled with homes that lack basic amenities such as protective windows and heating. Singh comes from a family of wheat farmers who put their work before everything, including school.
Yet, as a 6’6” ten-year-old, Singh’s father told him to only focus on three things: “basketball, study and go sleep.” His father built him a hoop and traveled miles throughout their region to rally players to create a competitive league for Singh to develop his game.
As part of the NBA’s initiative to grow the game internationally, Troy Justice, who was the director of NBA operations in India at the time, discovered Singh through the Ludhiana Basketball Academy. The academy hosts the most talented players in India, despite its lack of funding for amenities such as heating, air conditioning and a full roof.
Because a physical specimen like Singh is so rare, Indian basketball culture could not keep up with his growth. “First time I saw him play,” said Justice, “he was wearing shoes that were falling apart. The seams had split, and he was coming right out of them. That’s all he had. He was growing so fast.”
At 14-years-old, Singh was 6’11” and needed to go to America in order to continue developing into an NBA prospect. Justice helped him get a scholarship to IMG academy in Bradenton, Florida. IMG is one of the top prep schools in the world and has produced NBA stars such as Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter.
Although IMG provided Singh with all of the resources he needed to succeed, he still had a lot of work to do. Despite his size, Singh was not as up to speed as the other athletes at IMG and missed his family. He did not grow up with the resources that his teammates did and simply didn’t know any English, which made learning in the classroom and on the court very difficult.
Singh was an outcast in America. At just 14 years old, he lived on his own in a country where he could not communicate with anyone. He was expected to quickly adapt to a lifestyle that he was extremely unfamiliar with. Yet, he had his strong work ethic, which transferred into any culture.
Singh averaged less than 5 points per game during his freshman and sophomore seasons. After adjusting to life in America, Singh’s English and basketball skills increased dramatically. He started understanding his coaches and could have normal conversations with his teammates.
As a senior, Singh averaged around 9 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game. Although top college basketball programs showed interest in Singh, his grades prevented him from being eligible for a college scholarship. So after signing with an agent and testing the NBA Draft waters, Singh decided that going to the NBA would be best for his development.
Many look at the impact that Hall of Famer Yao Ming has had on basketball in China and hope that Singh can one day have the same impact. Although he is still in the beginning stages of his career, his impact on the game of basketball is already a tremendous.
One might see Satnam Singh and assume that his success in basketball is predetermined. However, Singh’s discipline and work ethic have been just as imperial as his size, in his basketball achievements. With the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders, Singh continues to improve his game and represent his country with pride.
Satnam overcame so much to get to where he is today. Growing up in poverty, making it out of his village was deemed nearly impossible. Once he was introduced to basketball, new hurtles arrived. Singh had to learn a game that he had never seen being played and he had to do so without the proper equipment or resources. Still, because of his size, his friends and family expected him to be the one to reach those unprecedented heights.
After making his way to America, more barriers appeared. Satnam had to leave his family for the first time and blend into a place with a foreign language and culture. Still, he was expected to make new friends and improve his basketball abilities drastically. On top of that, he had to flourish in a formal school setting for the first time in his life.
After being drafted by the Dallas Mavericks, Satnam Singh became the first Indian-born player to be drafted in the NBA. He is currently playing for the Texas Legends, the Developmental League affiliate of the Mavericks. Singh’s success is already a given. Even if he never officially suits up for an NBA team, he has already opened the door for basketball in India.
Netflix released a documentary, titled “One In A Billion” that chronicles Singh’s miraculous journey and what this all means for his family. Satnam has been conquering impossible scenarios for his whole life. For a boy from a rural Indian village with an entire nation on his back, any success should be celebrated. At the end of the day, Singh became exactly what his father wanted him to be: himself.