This feature was first published on Court Side News on February 2, 2013.
You may have heard of Satnam Singh Bhamara already. You may have already heard about the 7-foot (215 cm) teenager from a remote North Indian village. You may have heard about the giant 10-year-old boy who couldn’t even spell ‘Basketball’ that was found on his father’s farm in Punjab. You may have heard how this boy was taught Basketball and within four years, become the brightest young player in his country. You may have read about how this young man was recruited amongst a chosen few Indian youngsters to get a scholarship from the renowned IMG Basketball Academy in Bradenton, USA. How this boy continued to improve and began to dominate Junior and Youth championships in against strong Asian competition.
If you’ve been following Bhamara’s story, then here’s the next chapter. Here’s where the 11th grader stands now, and where he’s looking ahead. Now, hear it directly from him.
“I’ve been working hard for the past year,” said Bhamara – speaking in rustic Punjabi – over a phone interview from Florida, “I think that I have made many improvements in my game. I had trouble keeping pace with the American game in the beginning, but now, I can run up and down the court quite comfortably. This has helped me be more aggressive in-game situations. My coaches and I have also been working to help my post-game: hook shots, jumps shots from close the basket, and finishing strong around the basket.”
Bhamara represents IMG’s Senior School team and says that the squad is halfway through their season. But he is no ordinary High-School student; in his vacations, he travels back to India for more Basketball, to represent state and nation in various important tournaments.
“I think I played really well at the Senior Nationals,” says Bhamara, “I was able to make my stamp on each game on both ends of the floor. I knew it was an important tournament, and despite some niggling injuries to my wrist and my elbow, I played hard and gave it my all. The best game was probably against Delhi where I scored 31 points.”
Bhamara was strong on the other end of the floor too: more than one respected big man in India struggled to score on Punjab whenever Bhamara manned the paint. From barely getting action in Senior tournaments a year ago, he graduated to becoming the focal point on his star-studded team.
But the next step for the youngster will be to dominate for India – at the Senior level – like he has been for his state. Bhamara’s biggest international breakthrough performance came two years ago when he was Asia’s leading at the U16 FIBA Asia Championship in Vietnam. This year, he will be setting his sights on returning to play for the Senior squad which – led by newly appointed American Head Coach Scott Flemming – will be playing in the 27th FIBA Asia Championship in Philippines.
During his short trip back to India, Bhamara was also able to pay a brief visit to his village Ballo Ke in Punjab, where he is hoping to be a role model for more youngsters to pick up basketball. He held a meeting with many in the village and has even sought the help of high ranking administrators in Punjab to build a full-length court in the village.
Like any intriguing High School talent in the US, Bhamara is already hearing offers from colleges hoping to recruit him. So far, he says that he has heard from D1 schools like Oregon State and Stanford. “But I’m still only in my Junior year,” he says, “I have a lot more time before I even think about college. I have to focus on my studies in school right now – I still struggle with the English language, and I have to get better to improve my overall academic performance.”
With each passing year, Bhamara is moving one step closer to becoming a top Asian talent. He is moving one step closer to his dream of being the first Indian to play NCAA D1 hoops, and of course, to fulfilling the dream of every young basketball player to play in the NBA. There is still a long way to go before Bhamara – still a raw talent – can be determined to be good enough for the world’s top leagues. But most importantly to the youngster, he is one step closer to becoming the kind of player that India’s basketball future can be built around.
“I have to improve as much as I possibly can,” he says, “So I can keep coming back and playing for India!”