Amjyot Singh Gill joined All For Sport by Decathlon for a candid conversation about basketball, 3x3 basketball, his beginnings, his mentors, playing in the NBA G-League, and much more. Here’s the transcript, edited and condensed for clarity. Watch the full video here.
Siddarth- Thank you so much for taking the time to join us Amjyot. We’ve got a lot of fun stories to talk about from your long and amazing career! You made your Indian team debut in 2011, and have grown into one of the greatest players India has ever had. Our Sultan of Swat, Flying Jatt, Sikh Freak, the nicknames go on. What’s it like looking back on your journey?
Amjyot- A lot of players and coaches have helped me a lot in this journey, especially coach Scott Flemming, Dr. Subramanian, Amarjeet Sir, Kenny Natt, and more. They have all helped me achieve my goals. I've been given a lot of nicknames in all these years, and I've been privileged enough to carry them for a long time. I hope I can keep doing good in the future to keep adding to them.
Siddarth: Tell us about one of your earliest career highlights, winning the National Basketball Championship with Punjab in 2011 and playing alongside your mentor in Jagdeep Bains.
Amjyot: I watched the nationals the year before we won it. Punjab lost by one point then. I pledged that together we’ll achieve a goal and win gold for Punjab. I got an opportunity to play for the Punjab team and we were able to win the gold medal. It was a historical moment for me as it was my 2nd senior national and we won gold and I was playing with Jaggi Paji.
It has always been a pleasure to play with him because I have been watching him while I was growing up and I learned a lot of things from him. He was one of my role models when I started playing basketball. I used to look up to him and sharing the court has always been a dream for me. He has always helped me achieve more and more in my life and has been a good mentor to me and helped me with a lot of other things besides basketball.
Siddarth: We talk about LeBron James’ longevity, how he’s been playing in the NBA since 2003, Jagdeep made his debut a couple of years after that and played in his first FIBA Asia Cup in 2007. While LeBron is still going strong at 36, he’s been reported to spend over a million dollars a year to take care of his body, including costs of his gym, chefs, trainers, and more. That’s what it takes to be the best player in the world. Jagdeep had his own long road to represent India again, he had to overcome a serious L4-L5 disc injury in his back to come back and continue to play for India to this day, almost two decades after his debut.
Amjyot: It's not easy to play for that long, through all the injuries he's faced. For four years he was out, for two and half years he was on bed rest. He’s just a legend. Jaggi paaji always works work out a lot in the gym. His work ethic was and is very pure. That’s why he’s still playing. He would never miss gym sessions, we used to see him and Yadu bhai work out in the gym in the Indian camp we used to see them and say that one day we'll also be like them.
I think strength training and basketball go hand in hand. You need to do weight training and work on skills with the same intensity. I have learned this through all the coaches who came to the Indian team, like Zak Penwell was our strength and conditioning coach, the team coaches have also taught us about the importance of strength training.
Siddarth- Here’s another throwback picture, of the other legend who played a big role in your growth. We have here, from the left, you, Jagdeep, Satnam Singh, Amritpal Singh, Yadwinder Singh, and in the center, Dr. Sankaran Subramanian. He’s someone who had our big men play outside the paint even before it became almost necessary in the global game. Tell us about how he helped you grow.
Amjyot- Dr Subramanian played a huge role in my career. When I went to Ludhiana, that was the only time someone asked me to play from the outside. Before that I used to play in the mid-range, after going to the Ludhiana Basketball Academy, I could achieve more. I improved my game a lot.
Apne time se aage the, I think woh kisi time machine se aaye the (He was ahead of his time, I think he came to us from a Time Machine). He used to predict everything, whatever is happening. He used to say that yeh future hai. Tumhe andar koi nahi khelne dega, this will be the future. (This is the future, no one will let you play only inside). When we see it happen we still remember his words.
At that point of time, you would not recognize it, tab kuch logo ko lagta tha ki sir aise hi bole jaa rahe hai aaj tak to kuch hua hi nahi to abhi kaise ekdum se bahar khelne lag jaye? Humari bhi game kharab ho jayegi, yeh ho jayegi. (Some would think that Sir is asking us to play outside as that's the future but till now nothing has happened, what if our game gets spoiled by changing it?) But we had so much trust in him that once we started playing the way he asked, we started enjoying the game more.
He achieved a lot in his life. He was the director of NIS, he used to study the game a lot and implement it. We used to practice three times a day, in the middle session he used to implement all the skills which he would see from all the other areas like from series and stuff and he used to tell us what we need to do and stuff.
“When we finally won the gold at the nationals, I laid it at the feet of Coach Subramanian, saying ‘Sir ji this is for you. I had to win it once for you.”- Jagdeep Bains
Siddarth: Along with playing for the Punjab team, you also serve with the Punjab police, even patrolling during COVID. Talk to us about the role they play in helping basketball grow in Punjab.
Amjyot: In Punjab, the Punjab police department is the only department that gives jobs to sportsmen. If there's a player in Punjab, they are usually playing with Punjab police. I've now been playing for Punjab police for four years.
There was a time in 2011 or 12, every good team in India had two or three players from Punjab who were very good. Like IOB had me, ONGC had Amritpal, Railways had Yadu bhai, in the Army and Air Force also there are a lot of young players who were trained by Dr. Subramanian, Manpreet was another. My batch from the Ludhiana Basketball Academy, everyone got jobs. Because they were so good, and because of Dr. Subramanian sir we could showcase our talent at such a big stage. And all the players who have been to the NBA or different leagues, have all come from the academy.
The Punjab government and Punjab police have helped us get jobs. We are giving back by telling the community about what it takes to be disciplined as a sportsman and as a citizen. As a sportsman, we can tell a lot of things which a normal person can't tell. Punjab government gave us this opportunity and we are taking full advantage.
Siddarth: You’ve had veterans to guide you, and now you’re playing that role for our younger players. Sahaij Sekhon spoke about how your encouragement helped him. Can you tell us what it’s like to guide someone whom you’ve seen since he was a kid?
Amjyot: From when he was young, he used to play in my ground only. I always used to motivate him. When he played in the Indian team, at first he was not playing what his true game is. Because I have seen him play in Chandigarh, I used to always tell him 'Play as you are playing in Chandigarh and think that all the players whosoever you are playing against on the court are the players of Chandigarh. Don't think of them as they are from Lebanon or Jordan, play like you normally play.’
His first points came from a dunk. Vishesh bhai gave an assist to him, it was very special to me, him coming from Chandigarh from my home ground, from the same coach and doing big things in FIBA. In the future he could also say ki, I could learn something from Amjyot.
Siddarth: You’ve played professionally in Japan and in the USA with the NBA G-League. How’s the game different in the places you’ve played in? Like when it comes to scouting, the NBA would have detailed reports about which player likes to go where on the court and how effective they are going in different directions. Besides the preparation, even the best players in the world on Team USA have had to adjust when playing in the Olympics under FIBA rules, even they stumbled out of the gate a bit.
Amjyot: From a scouting point of view, it was much easier in the G-League as we had good coaches assigned to us. Playing was more difficult as all the rules were different. I feel like I've played three different games, the FIBA 5x5 is different, 3x3 is different, NBA is different. The rules are different too, like defensive 3 seconds, the court is bigger, the 3-point line is wider, there's more time with 12-minute quarters, there is a delay of game warnings, it's a different game.
Siddarth: When you play for India, you are asked to carry a heavy load on both ends of the court. How was the transition for you to play in the G-League where you had to be more of a role player?
Amjyot: In the G-League, all 12 players have different roles. Everyone has their advantage like I was a big man who can shoot, someone is a good passer, someone is a good dunker. There were a lot of people who could help each other with a lot of things. In the practices, we used to help each other by sharing what we can do to improve our game. The coaches were very nice, I still remember in OKC Blue, the coaches used to give us detailed lectures and show us videos of whatever we had to do and not to do in the upcoming practice. After every practice, we used to have a scouting report where they would tell us what we have done wrong and what we've done right.
Siddarth: Having played in Milwaukee, having that connection with the Wisconsin Herd, although it was for a lesser duration than your time with OKC Blue, what was it like to see their championship run?
Amjyot: I was super excited to follow the Milwaukee Bucks' run through the playoffs. Before the finals, I was rooting for the Brooklyn nets because Kevin Durant is my favourite player. But with Kyrie Irving and James Harden not being in action that much, I was also rooting for the Bucks because I played for them and I had a reason to root for them. They won also, it was a very exciting run. Before I thought that they'll lose because they were down 2-0. Everyone on the team played really well, everyone played their role. PJ Tucker, Giannis, Middleton, everyone was playing so well. In every game, someone or the other clicked.
Siddarth: You didn’t just play in Wisconsin, you were also involved in the community outreach programs. There were a lot of Indians up there too.
Amjyot: There were a lot of Indians out there. Wisconsin was I think 30 km from Milwaukee. It was a small town, but I met more Indians there than I did in my time with the OKC Blue. They were very helpful, they used to treat me to Indian food.
Siddarth: That’s something you’ve done in India as well, working with young kids as part of community outreach programs with your team and league with the 3BL.
In the future, we'll be doing a lot more of these activities. We've been planning a lot of things, we'll be helping younger kids in academies. Last to last year we did some stuff, where went to inspire a lot of young kids in Gurgaon. We worked with young kids to train them and tell them what it's like to be a professional.
Siddarth: When the NBA India Games happened in 2019, you were almost a part of the Sacramento Kings squad that took to the floor in Mumbai.
Amjyot: That was a heart-breaking moment for me. Because I didn't know my VISA got canceled, I was in the Philippines, I had to fly to the USA for the Summer League in Vegas. I could not go, otherwise, I would have played in the NBA India Games and it would have been a game-changer for me and Indian basketball.
Siddarth: The atmosphere there was so electric. The first game wasn’t open to the public, it was only for the kids. Imagine if koi bachpan me hi dekhe, NBA players aankho ke saamne khel rahe hai, usi time ek light jalti hai ki ‘Yeh ho sakta hai, yeh saamne hai, this can happen.' (if kids see NBA players playing in front of their eyes, a light bulb goes off - this is in front of me, this can happen!)
Amjyot: If we had this opportunity...At that point of time there was not that much of social media also. But now everyone can follow everyone's training and life, at that time we only had some videos from YouTube, we could only see a little bit of the top players and how they work.
Siddarth: Outside of social media, you also got to meet with Russel Westbrook. How did that happen, and what did you talk about?
Amjyot: My teammate was a two-way player, he used to play in the NBA and the G League. We were having dinner outside, Westbrook showed up to get takeaway. I asked my teammate to introduce me to him, we talked for some time. I asked him if he would be interested to come to India, he was like "Of course! Of Course!" He was very happy to see me coming from India and playing in the G-League.
Siddarth: Have you seen any players in India with potential who could make it to the NBA?
Amjyot: Yeah, there are. Princepal (Singh) is one, Amaan (Sandhu) is another, there are a lot of players who have been doing good because of the NBA India Academy, I think that's a huge step for Indian basketball. There are a lot of players in it from a young age. I started playing around 16 or 17 but these kids, there is one player Daga he started playing when he was 15. All the experience they are getting at such a young age, it'll definitely help him.
Siddarth: You took up basketball when you were 16 years old, Tim Duncan took it up as a 14-year old, even so, players have excelled having taken the game up later in life. But the later you take it up, the more doors can shut for you in terms of opportunities too.
Amjyot: In abroad, it is a bit easier even if they start playing late. But in India, because we didn't have that many opportunities at that time. But now with the NBA academy and 3BL the opportunities people are getting in colleges and stuff, there was nothing like that when we started playing.
Siddarth: One of the opportunities India has now is a professional league in 3BL. Your 3x3 journey started with a bang, with you leading Team Hamamatsu to the finals of the 2016 3x3 FIBA World Tour. Tell us about your introduction to 3x3 basketball.
Amjyot: 3x3 has given me a lot of opportunities. Thanks to Rohit (Bakshi) sir. Playing in the 2016 World Tour was a very good experience. The thing is, we had a lot of experience going to that tournament as we played in the Utsomnia World Tour before that, and we had also played the whole season in Japan before that. It was a very tough competition as a lot of other foreign players are playing in that league.
Siddarth: How different is it for you to shoot or dribble with a 3x3 basketball?
Amjyot: The 3x3 ball is quite different because it's size 6 but the weight is of size 7. When you start playing with it, it's quite different. but when you keep playing with it, you start to get the feel of it.
Siddarth: How long did it take for you to feel that you were as comfortable on the 3x3 stage as you are in the 5x5 format?
Amjyot: I think the first tournament which we played in Japan, that was the toughest one because I didn't play 3x3 before that. When we were in the finals, I hit the buzzer-beater to make the score to 21. That was a very good moment for me because I hadn't played this game before and being so exhausted and still being able to make that buzzer-beater. I tend to know the game more and more as I felt excited. We had DJs adding to a very exciting atmosphere, the game was in a mall. All the shoppers were seeing us, it was very exciting.
Siddarth: That’s one of the best parts about 3BL, it’s happened in so many shopping malls in India (list some). That brings it closer to the public who might not be aware of how much fun, exciting and fast-paced basketball is. Like what T20 did for cricket, maybe 3x3 can do for basketball.
Amjyot: Rohit sir made this happen. We played the Road to Mexico in Gurgaon. That was my first tournament in a mall in India. It was crazy, the atmosphere was very nice. In India, people don't know much about basketball but a lot of people were watching it because of the atmosphere there. It can create a lot of buzz in the upcoming tournaments.
Siddarth: Sometimes we see people are out shopping, and all of a sudden someone throws down a dunk and everyone just stops and they all stop what they’re doing and start watching!
Amjyot: It's more like a club type of a feeling with the energy, the music is playing and you are competing. It's a fun atmosphere, but for the people who are playing, it's exhausting.
Siddarth: That’s one of the deceptive parts of 3x3, if you look at the box score of a FIBA game, it's 40 minutes vs 10 minutes of 3x3. But these 10 minutes are all-out 10 minutes. I’ve seen Inderbir Singh Gill, your teammate, he’s a guard and is one of the fittest players we’ve seen here. He looked totally spent after the finals in 3BL, having given his all each minute. That’s one other aspect of 3x3, it’s not like you win one game and go home, you want to win then you’ve got to keep advancing.
Amjyot: You have to, have to be hungry to play 3x3. You don't stop at one game, you have to play 3 or 4 games in a day. You have to go at full intensity in each game, then rest and after some time do it again. It takes a lot of courage and stamina to play 3x3. Along with the time difference, there are a lot of other rules that are different. After 7 fouls you get two free throws. After 10 fouls you get free throw and possession of the basketball. You have to study the game, it's like studying in school. You have to study every day whatever moves the other team is playing with, what we are doing,
Siddarth: With you playing 3x3, how have you seen your game evolve in the full-court game?
Amjyot: My game has evolved with individual moves and some more. You have to put more brains in when you are playing 3x3 as the coach isn't as involved. If there is a coach, he can't say anything in the game. You have to do everything in the game. It helps you improve as a person and as a basketball player.
Siddarth: As a big man, do you play more like a perimeter player, or is it truly position-less?
Amjyot: You have to play the role of a guard, of a big man, everything. You have to do everything in those 10 minutes. Anyone can be lucky and make the shots in the game so you have to go very hard so that no one clicks that day. If someone clicks and keeps on shooting their 2s, you'll lose that game. So you have to evolve as a player and as a person.
I can guard shorter and taller players. But there are always things we need on teams. You need small guards, as you need that speed. We need a good shooter in a team, a good one-on-one player, someone who can drive in and score. There are a lot of roles. All four players should be at an equal level.
Siddarth: A saying goes, ‘Sports is life with the volume turned up.’ If that’s the case, 3x3 would be that with sub-woofers blasting at full volume. Although it’s just 10 minutes, those are 10 hardcore minutes. How does it feel to play a full game with that intensity?
Amjyot: It has always been a pleasure to play in the 3x3 arena. It's a very intense game. People from the outside may think that it's only half-court and it's not as intense as you don't have to go up and down the court. But you need 40 minutes worth of stamina in 10 minutes because you don't get that many fouls or breaks in between. You have to go up and down for 10 minutes. 3BL has given us the platform in which we can not only showcase our talents, we can also go to the FIBA World Tours and Challengers by winning the matches. Sometimes there is one TV timeout, but we have just one timeout in a 3x3. It's nonstop and it's very tough. There are fewer fouls called compared to five on five.
Siddarth: It’s such a boost to have a league like that. With the introduction of 3x3 in the Olympics in 2020, we’ll have 4 qualifying spots that teams can qualify for by moving up the FIBA 3x3 rankings.
Amjyot: Also another point, if a lot of players are playing 3x3 in India, we gain points by that. We'll have more opportunities for other players to come up in the FIBA rankings. My rankings went down when I went to the G-League and didn't play 3x3 for a while. For the rankings to go up, you have to continue playing in the 3x3 arena. I didn't play for two years so my ranking went down. That's the beauty of the game. If you keep on playing, your ranking will go up and up. 3BL is giving the platform to go to the World Tours. We are preparing to go to the Olympics, that's the ultimate goal which we have to achieve as a community and a team.
Siddarth: Here’s one winning moment, how does the bond of being friends translate to playing better on the court.
Amjyot: That's the ultimate goal to play 3x3. If you are good with your team outside the court, then only you can play well inside the court. If you have differences outside the court you can't play as a team, because the sense of selfishness can come in if you are not good with each other outside the court. If you stay as a family, you help each other in their ups and downs, I think that helps you build up a good team.
Siddarth: We have the National Championships, the Federation Cup, and local tournaments. But sometimes the player pool can be the same. In the leagues, we have foreign players. How does it change the game when you get to play with new professional basketball players from outside India?
Amjyot: We always play with the people with whom we are habitually playing, I always play with Vishesh bhai, Amritpal, Muin and all the other guys. We know each other very well because we've been playing for 10 years or so. Now when the foreign players come and we have to adapt and see what they are doing, it will help us improve our game, bring something new to the game and improve their game. Having pro leagues is a good thing because people are seeing something new, or it can be the same teams coming into the finals playing with the same intensity and structure. But with the league, new things will come in and will still come in.
Siddarth: Playing in the UBA Season 4 at Satyabhama University in Chennai, we had a lot of college kids in the crowd. The stadium was rocking! How did it feel to play there?
Amjyot: It was the first time I saw so many people in the crowd in India after Lusofonia Games. This was the 2nd time I saw so much crowd, in a league which was helping a lot of young players so that we can improve our game. I think both of the leagues had a huge impact on Indian basketball because they are giving a pathway to the young players, especially 3BL. All the players who can't make it in 5 on 5, can always try for 3x3 league. Because sometimes you may not be that good in a full-court game but you maybe you can play individually really well. 3BL has given a platform to showcase that talent.
Siddarth: Another aspect about the G-League, the training is very intense, like recovery bas yeh hi nahi ki barf laga lo kaam khatam.
Amjyot: There are a lot of other things like massage and Cryotherapy, icing and stuff. It was a completely game-changing atmosphere for me, I never saw things like that before. Now there are a lot of things in India also which are helping players go to the next level.
Siddarth: There’s so much work going on behind the scenes. It’s not just lifting, running and shooting. You have to focus on recovery and do so many little things to get better.
Amjyot: People who aren’t familiar with sports may not understand that, they may think that the life of a player is very easy, you just have to work out. You have to see a lot of other things also. Take care of your family, take care of yourself, your health, go through all the things which you have to go through.
We were at the FIBA Asia Cup and we used to have COVID tests on alternate days, before the game also and after the game also. Even though my nose is broken, you have to go through a lot of things just to play and represent your country.
Siddarth: That was one of the wins in 2020 for basketball as a whole, the fact that we were able to have the FIBA Asia Cup and other professional contests in the times of COVID. But for the players, support staff, and organizers, that meant working in a bubble and getting frequently tested.
Amjyot: We were living alone, the whole room was to ourselves. We can't even go to our teammate’s rooms. You have to maintain your distance. You can't play if your test comes positive.
Siddarth: Congratulations on winning the FIBA Asia Cup’s Fan Favourite Dunk Contest! (this was an online contest voted on by fans on FIBA Asia Cup’s Instagram page. The only time I've campaigned for votes.)
Amjyot: I have a lot of hardcore fans who always root for me, they love me so much. I am privileged to have such fans. I love to give back to them, in the coming future I'm trying to find ways to help them achieve more.
Amjyot: This is historical, coach Scott made this move Z3 for me. This is the baseline move. Joginder bhai gave a screen to two players (laughs). The pass from Vishesh bhai, Amritpal is screening his own man, no one knows who's getting the ball! That's the beauty of Coach Scott, he used to make such courageous moves.
Siddarth: Thank you once again for your time, lot of fun getting to kick back and talk hoops with you. Good luck with the road ahead! Thanks to all the fans for joining us too!
Amjyot: Thank you everyone, my pleasure to be here and share my story.