Originally published in 2016 on NBA India.
A number of oppressors and invaders charging into India have had to beat a hasty retreat, with their tails between their legs, by the ever-reliable defense of the brave Sikh warriors. Even when being outnumbered, these bravehearts made a mockery of the odds and prevailed because of their tenacity and courage.
Speaking of warriors, thirty kilometres from Amritsar lies the small village of Rasulpur Khurd, the birthplace of a hardwood warrior named Yadwinder Singh.
There are players in basketball towards whom our eyes instinctively gravitate. These athletes have a commanding presence on the floor, with a palpable aura which infuses their teammates with strength and drains their opponents’ will. They make a name for themselves by doing the grind work: hustling, setting screens, boxing out, playing help defense, and doing all those little things which make a difference to the final outcome.
Anyone watching the Indian national basketball team in action for about two minutes will observe a force of nature in play which is not captured within the confines of the box score. If you see an opponent of the Indian team looking harried, dishevelled and disgruntled beyond measure, chances are he’s made the on-court acquaintance of Yadwinder Singh.
“For me, representing India is a matter of huge pride for me. All I want to do through my presence on the court is to help India win and climb the rankings. That is all that matters to me,” said Yadwinder.
Yadwinder, or Yadu as he’s affectionately known, played basketball for the first time at the age of 16. Thanks to a dedicated coach in Fateh Chand, who’d even pick him up and drop him home from practice, Yadu matured on the court at a quick pace and got through the Ludhiana Basketball Academy (LBA).
The LBA has served as a fountain of talent for Indian basketball by producing a number of stalwarts, with over forty players having gone on to represent India at various levels including Jagdeep Singh, Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh, Satnam Singh, and Palpreet Singh Brar to name a few. In the beginning, Yadwinder and Jagdeep formed the first batch of the academy which started it all.
“Jagdeep and I came up together under Dr. Subramanian. We were like his sons. Under his guidance, we made it to the Indian team. He was strict, but he loved us a lot. Whatever I’ve learned, I’ve learned from him,” said Yadu.
Yadwinder is one of those players whom you’d give an arm and a leg to have on your team. You’d also give all your limbs to not play against him since Yadwinder imposes his will on the court against opponents of all shapes, sizes and wingspans. A consummate teammate, who burns the candle at both ends of the floor with equal hunger, Yadu has been an integral part of the Indian national team for over a decade since his debut in 2003.
Standing at 6ft 6in, Yadu is currently the most experienced player in the Indian team, having representing India for over 13 years, with a brief hiatus in 2008. As Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Julius Erving, Vince Carter and many others have shown, being 6″6 allows you to be devastatingly athletic and versatile across the floor.
Yadu took that athletic frame, ripped it whipcord-taut and made hustle play his calling card. “Playing good defense wins championships,” said Yadu, echoing many great coaches. “The Indian team has a lot of able scorers in Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amjyot, Amritpal, Palpreet and many others. I feel that the best way I can contribute is through my defense on the court.”
Yadu considers his signature move to be “Doosri team ki naak me dum karna (Being a pain in the neck for the opponent).” He observed and idolized Kevin Garnett, Ben Wallace and Dennis Rodman, and their influence is clear to see. The hallmark of his brilliance lies in his consistency. Shooters get cold spells, play makers can be contained, scorers have off nights, but the glue guys who do the unglamorous work, make their influence felt every single game.
Yadu moves across the floor with the effortless grace of a predatory eagle gliding down on its prey with a singular goal: to harry and feast on his opponents. He attacks the opposition in unrelenting waves on both ends, each time leaving them a little more battered than last and you can see them visibly discombobulate over time.
Over time, he’s transitioned from being the young Turk to a veteran leader of the team on and off the court. “We can’t, nor should we, play forever. Once age catches up, we should make the way for the next generation. I look to help and mentor the younger players as much as I can so they can continue our work. If we see a promising young kid playing in schools or playgrounds who doesn’t have a kit, we take it upon ourselves to get them shoes and gear. We can afford it now and these kids will be the future for the country after we are gone,” said Yadu.
After retirement, Yadu hopes to contribute to the game by coaching if an opportunity arises. When asked if there’s anything he’d want people to know, he laughs and says, “Sab jaante hai (everyone knows). The people who understand and follow Indian basketball, know all there’s to know.” And those who are catching up could do well to start here.