A year ago, India's basketball team shocked China on their home soil at the FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan. The chief architects of India's victory - and their entire successful campaign in Wuhan - were the two indomitable big men in the middle from Punjab: Amrit Pal Singh and Amjyot Singh. Amrit Pal and Amjyot - both 23 - have been India's breakout stars in recent years and are the two pillars around whom rest the future hopes of Indian basketball.
But despite developing into two of the top young players in all of Asia, the two Singhs have remained semi-professionals because India still doesn't have a professional basketball league. Instead, like the rest of India's national team players, they play in invitational and federation-organized tournaments all year and spend the rest of their time working in other day jobs. No Indian male players have yet featured in prominent professional leagues abroad; India's veteran women talents Geethu Anna Jose and Anitha Paul Durai have enjoyed professional stints in Australia and Thailand before.
If Amrit Pal and Amjyot return to India in September, they will make it back in time to prepare with India for the FIBA Asia Championship in China (if India are cleared to play, of course), which begins on September 23.
I have long believed that Amrit Pal Singh and Amjyot Singh have the talent and potential to play in the top leagues in Asia, and this is a huge opportunity for the two Indian stars to prove that they can be valuable at that level. Unfortunately, however, most top leagues around the world (excluding notably the NBA) have a cap to the number of foreign players they allow per team. This is why most teams choose to fill in the foreign player quota with an exceptional North American or European player and give the rest of the roster spaces to their homegrown talents. Even if Amrit Pal and Amjyot prove to be better than some of the homegrown talents in Japan, it will be tough for the team to choose them over their other foreign imports.
"The idea is to get Indian basketball some notoriety with these two guys, who we know can succeed over there, build trust with Japanese basketball system that India has talent then start pushing other players over there to play professionally," said Himanshu Dabir, who helped out the players secure these contracts in Japan.
Amrit Pal and Amjyot Singh are also the same Sikh players who were at the center of FIBA's "No Headgear" policy controversy at the FIBA Asia Cup last year, when they were asked to remove their turbans before taking part in FIBA-organized basketball games.
Meanwhile, in another part of the world, another Indian Punjabi is hoping to become a professional in a better-known basketball league. India's giant Satnam Singh Bhamara has been working out with various NBA teams in recent weeks and has declared himself for the 2015 NBA Draft which will take place at the end of June. Bhamara hopes to become the first Indian national in the NBA. Hopefully, all three talented bigs will be playing professional basketball internationally by the end of this year and providing some healthy competition for the big man spots for the Indian national squad for years to come.
Note to event organizers in India: the homegrown talent is looking better than ever. It's about time to start our own professional league to harness these talents, keep them home, give them the opportunity and money they deserve, and help the growth and popularity of basketball in India.