September 23, 2013

Made in India: On a global basketball journey, Eban Hyams wants to be a role model for Indian players


Eban Hyams uses his body as a canvas, as a blank slate completely open to modification, improvement, and to serve as a platform for artistic expression. For a man who is so many things from so many places, each piece of art etched on to his skin serve as a memento of his identity. He's a basketball player and a true multicultural child of the rapidly globalizing world.

And, as the most poignant tattoo on his skin represents, he is - very proudly - an Indian.

Hyams sports a map of India on his left forearm, a reminder of the nation that he proclaims gave him his DNA, and stayed with him through his upbringing and life through Australia, Israel, Singapore, back in India, and now, in the USA. A star of David - signifying his Jewish heritage - has been etched slightly south-west of middle of the tattoo, right at the spot where the city of Pune would be on the Indian geography. 'Made in India', says the label on the tattoo, and the 32-year-old explosive guard proclaims that his truest desire is to help make basketball bigger in the nation that made him.

"When my family migrated to Australia, we had to give up our Indian citizenship," Hyams says, "However it don't change you and where you come from as that's a part of you, your heritage and your DNA. I am very proud to say I am Indian when anyone ask's me and my up bringing in India has made me the person I am today."

If you had been following the story, you would've seen Hyams in practices with the Indian national basketball squad, striving to fit in and help the team succeed, while at the same time, fighting to regain his Indian citizenship and the right to wear the name 'India' on the jersey across his chest. You would've found him touring the country alongside NBA India's Troy Justice, spreading the gospel of hoops to every nook and cranny from Mumbai to Mussooorie, entertaining onlookers with his athleticism and educating young players with his knowledge of the game. And most recently, you would've heard of him getting a run amongst other talented players at the NBDL national invitational tryouts in New York, attempting to make a strong push to become the first Indian to get a shot at an NBA Development League team - with dreams of the NBA itself of course not too far away.

But Hyams story goes deeper and further beyond all that. It's the story of identity, opportunity, some ill-fortune, and some strong comebacks. There are a lot of non-resident Indian basketball players practicing their trade across the globe, wishing for a chance to represent their motherland but never making the necessary sacrifices to fulfill that wish. Hyams was one that came closest to that sacrifice, and now hopes to carry the hopes of a hoops nation even further.

Hyams was born in Pune, Maharashtra to Jewish-Indian parents. Growing up in India, his athletic interests lay elsewhere, in Cricket (like practically every Indian kid) or in Football. But when his mother moved to Sydney, Australia when Hyams was 14, he belatedly found Basketball. "[Basketball] was a sport that most of the multicultural kids played at my school so that was group I fitted in with," Hyams said, "However, I never got picked up on a team as I was not very good at all. I used to spend my time on the sidelines watching. The closest I used to get to the game was collecting basketball cards - I still have my collection in storage!"

But Hyams remained determined to succeed, and began to spend a lot of time at local courts in Sydney improving his game and working on moves that he watched on 'NBA Action'. The hard work paid off and he was picked for his school's second division team. He also took part in a local competition with some friends, and a 45 point-7 assist performance to help his squad win the medal helped him win the attention of a regional team.

"At this time I was very committed to basketball," said Hyams, "For my 17th Birthday I got tickets to a professional basketball game in the NBL (Australian professional league) to watch the Sydney Kings. I remember like it was yesterday. I had goosebumps watching the game and I remember telling myself: I'm going to become a professional basketball player one day."

Hyams starred for the Australian second-division team Penrith Panthers in Sydney of the Australian Basketball Association (ABA) from 1999-2002, but decided that the next step in the journey would be to head West - or East from Australia - and find a college in the USA to play for. After one and a half unsuccessful years of watching and waiting, he finally heard back from Coastal Georgia Community College, who offered him a basketball scholarship. After two years of junior college and playing NJCAA in the states, he returned to Australia, and finally got his big break. Hyams was invited to take part in the 'And 1 Mixtape' tour in Australia against some of the best streetball players in the world. It was here that Eban Hyams uncovered his alter-ego - "Do It All".

After dominating the And 1 circuit, Hyams also returned to the ABA to play for the Hornsby Spider, Sydney Comets, and Bankstown Bruins, and even spent a season in Singapore playing with the Singapore Slingers of the Singaporean NBL. His last season with the Bruins won the attention of Israeli powerhouse club Galil Elyon Goba. A year later, he remained in Israel to play with Binyamenia.

But in 2008, Hyams career took an unwelcome halt. He broke his hand, and due to a misdiagnosis, remained out of the game for eight months. While he returned briefly to play in the ABA in Australia and even represent the Australian contingent at the Goodwill Games in Philippines, he turned his attention back East. Back to his motherland.

Hyams wished to play for India, and was welcomed into the national camps by the then national coach Kenny Natt. Unfortunately, his citizenship status meant that he would have to give in his Australian passport before he became eligible for Indian nationality. A bureaucratic slow drama - of the famously slow pace and frustration that only Indians best understand - was set out in motion.

"As a professional athlete, there is no better honour than to put on a jersey with your country's name and your name on the back," he said, "The pride factor really comes to play when you get the opportunity to do this and you put everything on the line when you are represent your country and your people. I was welcomed with open arms by the coaches and players of the National team and I really felt their hospitality."

A point guard with the ability to score and create for his teammates, Hyams could've been the definite missing piece to India's basketball structure, which has never found a floor general to orchestrate them offensively. He is also a strong defensive player and has the athleticism that could set him miles apart from most Asian challengers. While he was new to the Indian system at first, he showed his potential at practices with the team and gave a hint of what the future could hold if he was able to play alongside the likes of Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Yadwinder Singh, Amrit Pal Singh, Satnam Singh Bhamara, and the rest.

Unfortunately, ill-fortune struck him again, this time in the form of a pesky, infected mosquito. Three weeks before the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, Hyams contracted the Dengue Fever in India which hospitalized him and kept him out of action for several months. He left Kenny Natt's camp with his mission uncompleted but with positive memories.

"Kenny Natt is one of the best coaches I have ever played and worked with and I'm so glad I had the opportunity to learn from him in the time I spent with the team," he said, "Every player on the team was very talented and gifted. We were brothers off the court and warriors while competing on the court each day working to get better. My time training with the team is definitely something I will never forget."

Luckily, his efforts weren't completely unrecognized. The NBA had been in India for several years, touring around the nation spreading the good gospel of basketball. The man in the middle of his mission - the untiring Troy Justice - inspired young hoops enthusiasts everywhere he went, and it was the same man who recruited Hyams who assist in the mission alongside him. Hyams was hired by the NBA to manage their basketball operations in India to support and promote the game.

"Working with the NBA was an unforgettable experience," Hyams said, "It never felt like a job as I was doing what I loved and enjoyed, and it was similar to playing basketball professionally. Also getting the chance to work with Troy Justice on a daily bases was a blessing and it was great to be under his mentorship. We had the opportunity to travel around India education coaches, kids and parents about the life benefits from the game of basketball."

Hyams stepped away from administrative and training work for the NBA in India to try out his fortunes as an athlete again. This is the chapter in his life where he now finds himself. He impressed in the NBDL national tryouts in New York, and is now working on his game and his fitness in Los Angeles. He awaits the start of the NBA season, after which the roster spots for the D-League will be determined, and Hyams hopes to find himself in the thick of the action.

"I want to still be playing basketball, whether it is professionally or socially," he says, "I hope to be an ambassador for basketball in India and be able to make an impact in the lives of aspiring young Indian players. Basketball changed my life and opened doors for me so I would like to do the same for young Indian kids who were just like me one day."

"Considering there is no professional league in India yet to inspire kids to play, and there is a shortage in quality infrastructure in the country, the game has still progressed quite well," continues Hyams, "The passion in the players, coaches and fans involved in the game of basketball is amazing. There is so much untapped talent and once the government and other private entities starts to invest more in the game and the athletics we are gonna see a dramatic change in the level of basketball played in the country. We Indians have the DNA to be amazing athletes and great sportsmen. We have so many talented boys and girls who are hungry to get better and have the ability to do it. It's very exciting to see where the sport in the country is going and I'm glad to be a part of it."

Hyams says that he has hopes of getting a chance to play in the USA, or continuing his career in Israel or even China. But his long-term desire - like the desires of so many other basketball fanatics in India - lies in the creation of India's first professional basketball league. The whispers of the league have been getting louder in recent years, but with each two steps that we take towards it, the reality of the league seems to be pushing a further two steps away.

"100 percent - the Indian pro league would be the ideal situation," says Hyams, "It would be fabolous to be a part of it. The future for Basketball in India is very bright and there are going to be so many young talented stars coming from our country.We have to build together and work hard if we want to achieve greatness on the basketball court."

As Hyams' hoops journey continues, we hope that he will get a chance one day to finally hold on to that dream by representing India and bringing his pro dreams - from Australia and Israel via Singapore and the USA - back to India. After all, he already has the country scripted on his skin and the love for basketball built along with the Indianness in his DNA.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting article, but from what I know NRI's like Eban wont be eligible to play for India because they are not citizens of india, so how can one claim him as a Indian? And say "Made in India". Good information however. Wish him the best.

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