India, a country of a billion people, had failed to produce any NBA players, until 2015.
Satnam Singh was born in Ballo Ke, a small village in Punjab, India. Ballo Ke has a population of fewer than 7,000 people. Nobody had expected a villager’s son to do what nobody in a billion could not.
Singh, in his early years, helped his father with farming. In a country like India, sports does not play much of a role in a person’s success. Cricket may be an exception, but the truth is that most parents have such high expectations of their children academically that the importance of sporting talent gets buried under these expectations. Singh was blessed with height. He was affected by a disease that was quite common in Ballo Ke, which resulted in giant body structure. Fortunately for Satnam, he had very supportive parents that encouraged his interest in basketball. Balbir Singh, Satnam’s father, realised that the education system is too weak in a village like theirs, and most students end up going back to their rural farming life. He understood that having high academic expectations was pointless, as Satnam could not flourish academically even if he wanted to, due to the failed educational system.
Balbir Singh contacted the Ludhiana Basketball Academy (LBA), which succeeded in recognizing the potential professional basketball player in him. Satnam, at age 13, recorded a height of 2.11 meters. This is when he started training at the LBA.
Luckily for Satnam, LBA was a branch of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), and in 2010, when IMG partnered with the BFI in search of hidden talent, it was no surprise that they wanted to offer Satnam a scholarship to play basketball for them. IMG is perhaps one of the most successful sports schools in the USA and have produced many professional athletes.
Satnam at this stage was about to travel to the USA and did not speak English. This became a big challenge for him and the IMG coaches, as he could not comprehend any of the plays and instructions. In truth, the only reason Satnam was in the IMG Academy was his height. His basketball skills were below average, and it took him difficulty to make a simple lay-up shot. IMG, however, did not give up on him. They made his educational focus primarily on his English language development, which helped him keep up with the coach’s instructions. They also made him participate in their intense weight training programs to firstly get him in shape to play basketball. Later, his skills were worked on. Satnam had to stay away from his family for about 3 years, which posed a challenge on his personal life.
Through years of hard work and determination, Satnam played High School Basketball for the IMG Academy team. These were the stages where Satnam showed significant improvement and affirmed the coaches that he was worth their faith in him. Through ups and downs, the Dallas Mavericks ended picking him up during the 52nd pick of the round 2 for the NBA 2015 Draft.
Satnam Singh has done the impossible. He belongs to a country of over a billion people, that had yet to produce a single NBA player. The fact that he comes from a very small village and a very poor family only add on his legacy. For more information on Satnam Singh, you can watch the Netflix Original “One in a Billion” which is a documentary on his legacy, and what the future holds for him.