Feature | Basketball

Princepal Singh ignites dream to break into NBA’s big league

Having made it to the NBA G-League Select Team ‘Ignite’, Indian basketball prodigy Princepal Singh has his task cut out among the big boys.

By Naveen Peter ·

He’s shy and a man of a few words but ask him about the NBA and the upcoming G-League season, Princepal Singh lights up.

The 19-year-old Singh recently became only the fourth Indian to be selected for the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) minor league, or the G-League.

He follows the legacy of fellow Indian basketball players like Satnam Singh, Palpreet Singh Brar and Amjyot Singh Gill. While Satnam and Amjyot went on to feature for their respective G-League teams, Palpreet fell behind. 

But none of that weighs on the young Princepal Singh’s shoulders. “I am very excited. Just can’t wait to hit the court,” the Indian told Olympic Channel

“I have heard a lot about the G-League and it’s a big deal for me. We have had two guys play in it before me but I want to go a step beyond them and make it to the NBA roster.”

Unlike Satnam, who became the first Indian basketball player to be drafted into the NBA in 2015, and Amjyot, Princepal has taken a different route to the G-League.

The six-foot-10-inch power forward, who enjoys a 7’2” wingspan will be a part of the NBA G-League Select Team featuring elite prospects like Kai Sotto and Jalen Green among others from around the world.

Considered to be a stepping stone towards a regular career in the G-League, the team called Ignite will play a select few matches against G-League outfits apart from facing a number of international and academy teams during the season.

While this will help the players avoid the exertion and fatigue that’s common with G-League travels, Princepal Singh believes that the opportunity brings with it its own set of challenges.

“It’ll be a great experience, the level of basketball and kind of development I’ll have with those players. It'll be great,” he said.

“Even though we are not playing a regular G-League season, I think our matches will be closely monitored. I see it as an opportunity to make an impression.”

‘Basketball, what’s that?’

Growing up in Dera Baba Nanak, a township in Gurdaspur, Punjab, a young Princepal Singh had never heard about basketball.

“In my village, we used to play a lot of volleyball. I remember, every evening we would have a go about. But basketball? No one had even heard about it. For us it was volleyball. Basketball, Oo ki honda? (Basketball, what’s that?),” he said recollecting his early memories of the game.

And it was not until 2014 that the towering lad was introduced to the hoops, which kickstarted his professional career.

“I remember, we had gone down to the Guru Nanak Stadium in Ludhiana for a volleyball trial. But there, I met Teja Singh Dhaliwal, the secretary of the Ludhiana Basketball Academy,” he remembered.

Seeing his tall frame, Dhaliwal was convinced that Princepal Singh would play basketball well. And the man who had seen several top talents in the country, including Satnam and Amjyot, grow into quality players, wasn’t wrong.

“All he asked me was to give basketball a shot for two weeks. If I didn’t like it, I could go back to volleyball,” Princepal Singh said about their first meeting.  

“I was a bit sceptical, but then I gave it a go. And we clicked. I started enjoying the game much more than volleyball. I started picking up the sport pretty well.”

A divine plan for Princepal Singh

The coming months saw Princepal Singh learn the basics of basketball at the Ludhiana centre before beating around 400 aspirants for a three-year scholarship to the Spire Institute in Ohio, USA. But this time, a visa issue meant the Punjab boy had to give up on his dream. 

“It had been six months that I was training at the Ludhiana academy when guys from Spire came down for a trial,” Princepal Singh recalled. 

“I had a really good opportunity (to train at the Spire Institute). I was excited to play at their academy too. But the visa thing was the hurdle then. But later, the NBA Academy happened. I think God had his plans.”

It was in 2017, that Princepal Singh joined the NBA Academy India in New Delhi, an elite training centre for the top basketball talents from the country.

A year and a half later, the Indian was moved to the NBA Global Academy in Canberra, Australia, the league’s development hub outside the USA.

The youngster spent the following two years at the Global academy before graduating early this year. Princepal Singh believes that Canberra experience helped shape him into the professional he is today.

“In Canberra, I had mates from across the world. The best from around the world were brought down to Australia to become the best. And I was lucky to be one among them,” he said. 

“That period was an insight into how a professional player's life is. It's not just about training and what you do on the court, but also how you carry yourself outside the court. How you always make it a point to be there for your mates. That's something that I learnt there. 

“Yes, the game also improved, but above that, it was about living the life of a professional athlete, that's something that I took away from my Australian experience.”

One of the standout prospects from the Global Academy, Princepal Singh is the only graduate to make it to the Ignite roster for the season. While some would say the opportunity brings with it a sense of pressure, the Indian hoopster thinks otherwise.

“No, there's no such pressure because I’ve played for the NBA Academy in the USA. So there’s no pressure as such,” said Princepal, a fan of Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I don't take any kind of pressure. I give my hundred per cent and play my game and practice. I want to enjoy the experience and have fun. That’s what I am looking forward to.”