When we say that we "live for something", or that we "dedicate our life" towards something, what do we even mean? Do we mean that we aspire day and night to keep that something safe and make that something better? Does it mean we spend a year, 10 years, 20 years, or a whole lifetime guarding and obsessing over that thing? Does we mean that the something for us really is everything?
A lot of us claim that basketball is our something, the one thing that we obsess with day or night, our everything. But only a few truly give the game the dedication that it deserves.
Dr. Sankaran Subramanian - who spent 43 long years as a basketball coach in India, honing and shaping some of our country's best players and helping the game take great strides over the past four decades - is one of the few. Subramanian truly dedicated his life to basketball. Subramanian passed away at 75 years of age in Patiala (Punjab) on the early hours of May 22nd, 2013, but even in absence, his presence will continue to be felt in the legacy that he leaves behind.
Subrananian will go down in history as one of the greatest-ever basketball coaches in India. From 1968 onwards, he had been thoroughly involved in coaching and developing players in Punjab and for the Indian national team. Subramanian was the coach of the Punjab state team, the director and chief of the Ludhiana Basketball Academy (LBA) in Punjab and also the director of the National Institute of Sports in Patiala. He was the man behind half of India's Men's Basketball squad that represented the country in the last FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan (China) in 2011. He was the man who first honed the skills of Satnam Singh Bhamara, India's 17-year-old 7-footed phenom who is garnering hype to become the future face of Indian basketball. Over the past years, he trained hordes of athletes (at the Senior as well as Junior level) who went on to represent India in FIBA Asia Championships, in Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, and even the Olympics.
Subramanian played basketball for his school and college teams and later joined Indian Air Force in the year 1958. He played in Air Force and Inter-Services Championships and also participated in the National Basketball Championships for three consecutive years from 1964-1967. He took to coaching after that in 1968, working with the Air Force team and with Services and leading them to wins in several national level tournaments. He also briefly coached the Mysore Girls team in the early 70s. He joined NIS in Patiala in 1973 from where he worked to hone several junior and senior players and host national coaching camps at NIS.
Subramanian had been the head coach of the Punjab State teams from 2000-2013, and led them to an era of great dominance in this period, collecting 14 Gold, 13 Silver and 9 Bronze Medals in Sub-Junior, Youth, Junior and Senior National Championships. Under his tutelage, Punjab's Senior Men's team won the National Championship in 2012 and finished as runners-up this year.
He was also a FIBA certified International Referee in basketball and had officiated in many international Tournaments/Championship in India and abroad.
The number of talented stars who had blossomed under his tutelage during this period is too vast to be mentioned here, but some of them include Arjuna Award winner Manmohan Singh, Paramjit Singh, who represented Indian in the 1980 Olympic Basketball team, and Tarlok Singh Sandhu. In India's most recent Men's squad, a record number of six players were developed under Subramanian in his Ludhiana Academy: TJ Sahi, Yadwinder Singh, Jagdeep Singh Bains, Amjyot Singh, Amrit Pal Singh, and of course, Satnam Singh Bhamara. He also trained women's international Kiranjit Kaur, who won gold for India in the 2012 Asian Beach Games.
Anyone who ever delved into the world of Indian hoops came out with a special appreciation for Subramanian's passion for the game and his dedication over four long decades to young players. He was known to be a very disciplined coach but one who also found ways to change this tactics and take risks to get the best out of his players. His ability to find and develop new talent in India is virtually unmatched.
Many have spoken of their appreciation of Subramanian since the news of his demise. India's current basketball head coach Scott Flemming wrote: "So glad I was able to spend time with him this past January in Ludhiana. I was so impressed not only with his coaching background but his passion for helping young athletes." NBA India's Senior Director of Basketball Operations Troy Justice wrote: "He was a father to many of us who knew him. He earned our love and respect through his hard work and passion. He was always there to teach, coach, lead, serve, or whatever it took to to enrich someone else's life. I will always carry the great memories we shared together. There is a special bond when you are together on a basketball court that can never be broken."
The true effect of a coach's brilliance can't be gleaned from the coach himself, but from the players he coaches. For every great player, you know that there is one even greater coach making them who they are. In that spirit, even in Subramanian's absence, we will remain blessed with his greatness going into the future. In players like Sahi, Yadwinder, and Jagdeep, who continue to be the foundation of India's basketball. In young bucks like Satnam, Amjyot, and Amrit Pal, who will carry Subramanian's spirit with them into the bold new future. And in those countless other young players that he has worked with, from superstar internationals to amateurs who found love in basketball.
Basketball in India doesn't bring in much fame, and it surely doesn't bring in that much money. Those who stick with it do it because of the true, uncorrupted love for the game. Subramaniam loved basketball till the very end; and in demise he coaches us all one more time, teaching us how to truly dedicate our lives to that something we love, to the very end.