Originally published on in.nba.com on Jan 02, 2017
If a tall lad in Punjab feels a tap on his shoulder from a policeman followed by an evaluative look, he need not wonder if he’s being measured for prison overalls. With the Punjab Police basketball team drawing talent from the Ludhiana Basketball Academy (LBA), sometimes the cops can double up as scouts for this academy, which has propelled numerous hoop dreams to the promised land of representing the tricolor.
A kabaddi player, a discus thrower, a couple of cricketers, and a track athlete entered the LBA over the last fifteen years. Fast forward a few years and this disparate, raw bundle of talent walked out tall and proud as half of the Indian basketball team at one point in time. Jagdeep Singh was a track athlete in his youth, Amritpal Singh could be found playing kabaddi, Yadwinder Singh was a discus thrower and Amjyot Singh was a budding young cricketer before their lives changed through the LBA.
When Punjab defeated Tamil Nadu in the National Basketball Championship finals in 2011-12 in Chennai, seven of the 12 players in the Punjab squad were from LBA. When India competed in the Asia Basketball Championship in Wuhan in 2011, six out of the 12 players were products of the LBA. This academy could conceivably field a team of its own graduates and dominate in the Indian subcontinent while putting on a good fight in the Asian competitions.
“Tall players are everywhere in India, but why don’t we have another such academy in Amritsar or Jalandhar or anywhere else? Because there are few people around who can lift the talent up,” said Loveneet Singh Atwal, a standout graduate of the LBA who’s played for India while being 5 ft 11 in. “We play for the love of the game here. Doc sir [Sankaran Subramanian] and Teja sir did a great job of creating an environment here where players can get better,” he added.
It’s ironic that the seeds for the basketball revolution in Punjab were planted by a diminutive man, who was previously dismissed to coach schools in his home state of Tamil Nadu. Much like Michael Jordan being cut from his varsity team fuelled His Airness’ ambitions, the late Dr. Sankaran Subramanian used that slight as motivation to create a stupendous talent line in the LBA, which continues to proliferate today. Statistically, Indian basketball players seemingly have the best chance of making it big on the global stage if they are from the Ludhiana Basketball Academy (LBA). It is this academy that produced Satnam Singh, the first Indian player to be drafted into the NBA and three other players in Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh and Palpreet Singh Brar, who could be future international talents.
When Satnam was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks with the 52nd pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the first person he thanked was Dr. Subramanian. It was Subramanian, who had taken the 9-year-old Satnam under his wing and instilled the fundamental skills, which helped him make it big. Fundamentals are a byword at the LBA, take a closer look and you’ll see all the big men from this academy displaying a silky shooting stroke in addition to demonstrating their skilled footwork on both ends. This is a result of careful planning and preparation done on this fertile ground from which talented players seemingly sprout out tall and talented.
While Punjab has featured numerous prolific basketball players in the past, it was in 2002 that the groundwork for the future was laid with the foundation of the LBA by R.S. Gill, Teja Singh Dhaliwal, and Dr. Subramanian. Initially, N.R.I. businessmen Harjinder Singh Dhanoa and Jagjit Singh Noni sponsored the academy before the Punjab Basketball Association took charge. The LBA scouts for “tall and talented” youngsters and is the best at shaping them into agile cagers.
Like Tim Duncan and David Robinson setting the tone for the San Antonio Spurs, the first batch of the LBA featured twin towers in the shape of Yadwinder Singh and Jagdeep Singh, who blazed a trail for future generations to follow under Subramanian’s tight tutelage. Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich credited Duncan for allowing him to coach harshly on occasion in order to get the team in line. If you’ve seen the fiery Jagdeep in action, you’d rather poke a sleeping lion in the snoot than try something on him. But he and Yadwinder caught on to the brilliance of their coach and willingly followed him. More talented players followed suit and the academy eventually also produced star women’s players including Harjeet Kaur and Kirandeep Kaur.
If younger players displayed signs of struggle, the coaches would appoint experienced players to mentor them. Satnam counts Jagdeep among his mentors even today. Excellence begets excellence, and the academy has been riding the wave of its successes. Teams like ONGC, Railways and IOB hire many graduates of this academy, and while the accommodation facilities here could use a facelift, there’s no shortage of aspiring applicants. “All we need are an indoor stadium, ball and the kit we wear. The living conditions don’t matter. The hostel is right beside the stadium anyway,” said Loveneet, echoing the thoughts of the academy’s students. Dr. Subramanian himself lived in a room above the stadium, one of the many testaments to his dedication to the academy. It is not an uncommon sight to see the academy’s graduates chip in to help the younger generation here, as this place forges a bond of a lifetime.
The stadium’s maple wood floor lies under the observant portraits of Dr. Subramanian and BFI’s former CEO, the late Harish Sharma, which are framed on beams. They appear to be blessing the players from the heavens above. If you look closer at those pictures, you can almost see the pride in their eyes as they witness the future of basketball in the country take shape below them.