February 15, 2011
Yadwinder Singh: Indian Basketball's Energy Bar
As the opposing team's best player dribbles towards his basket, Yadwinder Singh claps his hands together, almost violently, psyching himself up on defense. With an agile and quick 6 foot 6 inch frame, he is capable of guarding almost anyone, from speedy point guards to powerful, back to the basket post players. Yadwinder stays in front of the attacking player, blocking his vision at the basket. As the player drives in, he is forced to change his shot, which clanks off the side of the rim.
Yadwinder grunts loudly as he grabs the rebounds - it's his and his alone. He passes the ball to one of the guards on hid team and races ahead, beating everyone else on court to get to the opposition's basket. Before anyone else can react, he is in perfect position to receive the ball under the basket and lay it up. A few milliseconds later, he's back at the defensive end, turning passes into turnovers, and defense into offense, as he shows his range by nailing a smooth outside jumper.
There are few players in Indian basketball like Yadwinder Singh, or ‘Yadu', as we know him. A monster at both ends of the floor, Yadu seems to be on a constant energy rush, as if Red Bull has given him the wings to fly and keep flying. Defense to offense to defense and back and over and over again… There seems to be no full stops to his energy, just commas. Even when the game pauses for a free throw, Yadu will be talking, joking, shouting, instructing. Even when he is substituted out of the game, he doesn't stop, keeping his body warm and ready to go back in, jogging, doing push-ups… Constant movement.
I have seen enough NBA basketball to know of one (and only one) NBA comparison that comes to mind as I see Yadu, a Power Forward/Center, run the floor like a guard, defend and score like a big man, and motivate his teammates with an unbelievable rush of electricity and tenacity: Kevin Garnett.
His own motivations on the basketball court match Garnett's too: "I feel like basketball is a game all about the defensive effort," Yadu says, "For all the effort one puts in offense, you have to do double of that on the defensive end."
Yadu's defensive instincts, coupled with his fast-paced style of play, perfectly complement how his teams play. Whether he is representing Punjab, Railways, or India, Yadu believes that the secret to basketball success lies in his pace. "Basketball is one of the fastest games in the world," he says, "And if you aren't going to keep running, then why play it? If my team plays a perfect fast-paced game, we can be unstoppable."
Easily one of the most exciting players to watch in India, Yadu has become an important piece to the Senior National side, as was a starter for the country at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou (China). Compared to many other early starters, Yadu had a late introduction to basketball, a fact that perhaps makes his quick ascension up the game's ranks that much more remarkable.
Yadu, the son of a farmer, hails from a small Punjabi village called Rasulpur Khurd. He was athletically-aligned from a very young age, but there was another sport that he focused on: Discus.
"I used to be a very serious discus thrower in school," he said, "And I took part in several major athletic competitions on Punjab from my school." He was also part of his school's hockey team.
In 2002, not until he was 16 years old, and at that point, stood at 6 foot 3 inches, did he take admission in a school in Amritsar where his coach encouraged him to try basketball. From that point on, Yadu's career took a dramatic upwards swing: he went from the Amritsar team to the Ludhiana Academy and then to the Punjab U17 team, all within a matter of one and a half years. By late 2003, he had his first senior national experience in Cuttack, had played U20 international for India in Kuwait, and participated in the Champions Cup in Malaysia.
The basketball world in India can be thankful that he abandoned his Discus throwing days behind to start throwing the basketball, but it's evident from some of his full-court bullet heaves that the throwing arm still has a lot of juice left in it. "When I look back now, even when I was younger, I used to watch a lot of basketball on TV," he said, "My Dad encouraged me to stay with athletics and discus, but once I crossed over to basketball, it completely consumed me and I didn't have the time to practice any other sport anymore."
Yadu added: "I started to enjoy basketball game a lot. It was a team sport where there was so much interaction with other people. And everything kept coming naturally to me - I kept on getting what I wanted. It was a great feeling to first play for Punjab, and then it became even more amazing to wear an ‘India' jersey for the first time!"
Yadu credits his early coaches for making him work extremely hard, whether it was his Amritsar coach Fateh Chand or Ludhiana's famed basketball trainer, Dr. Subramanyam. "I wanted to learn everything about basketball," and adding a smile, he added, "I stopped paying attention to everything else - including my studies!"
Constantly upbeat, energetic, and light-hearted, Yadu becomes the heart of the any team he joins. His Railways and India teammate Arjun Singh says, "He has incredible energy - and the best thing about his game is that he doesn't back down to anyone, no matter who the opponent is."
Yadu and the rest of the Indian squad faced the toughest of opponents at the Asian Games in November, and although they returned with an unflattering 1-5 record, Yadu took home a lot of positives: in the coaching and in India's potential in Asia. "We had a really good coach in Bill Harris for this tournament," he says, "With a coach like that, if we keep working hard, we can become top four in Asia."
"The future is good," Yadu says, "My dream is to take India to a medal one of the big championships - the Asian Games or the Asian Basketball Championships." The 26th edition of the FIBA Asia Basketball Championship, or the ‘ABC', are set to be held in Wuhan (China) in September this year.
Yadu's optimism off the court, on the future of the game, is as contagious as his optimism on it, where he focuses hard on each defensive assignment, each offensive rebound, and each jump-shot. And if this contagious optimism continues to grow in the hearts of Indian basketball player, we may very well see the day when the Young Cagers make a name for themselves in Asian basketball's biggest stages.