(August 23, 2021) The court was full, the excitement was palpable. And why not? It was the final match of the NBA’s Summer League. Sacramento Kings were up against Boston Celtics. All eyes were on the coveted trophy. Each player was doing his best to make every minute count. With only four minutes and eight seconds left in the game, Princepal Singh, standing tall at 6 feet 9 inches, from Sacramento Kings entered the court. With razor sharp focus and the swiftness of an eagle, the 20-year-old scored the King’s final bucket by scoring two points. The entire court erupted in applause but it was Singh who was the most happy because he knew that he had scripted history by becoming the first ever Indian to lay his hands on the NBA trophy.
For Singh it was dream come true moment – to make it to NBA Summer League and to lift the trophy. While the world is raving about this Punjabi boy, he has had to face his fair share of struggles to reach the top. Here’s the story of the Global Indian who quit volleyball to pick up basketball.
How a volleyball player fell in love with basketball
Born in Gurdaspur to an electrician father and a homemaker mother, Singh was raised in the small town of Punjab. At an early age, he fell in love with sports but it was volleyball that he had his eyes on. He went to Ludhiana at the age of 13 with his father Gurmaje Singh hoping to make a career in volleyball. But it was here that the then 6 feet 6 inch Singh caught the eye of Jaipal Singh, a coach at the Ludhiana Basketball Academy. Impressed with Singh’s height, he convinced him to join the basketball academy. It was his coach who gave him the wings to fly high with his dunks and fadeaways.
Within a year of his training, Singh realized the dream that any aspiring basketball player would harbor – to play in the US. It was at the open selection trial at the SAI Training Centre at Rajnandgaon that Singh got selected for a three-year scholarship in America. But luck wasn’t on his side as his visa application was rejected twice, and he had to give up on the program.
However, destiny had a different plan for him. Talent scouts spotted him training at Ludhiana Academy and asked him to join the NBA Academy India, an elite basketball training centre in Noida. It was here that Singh trained for 18 months to up his game and within a year, he transitioned to the NBA Global Academy, the league’s hub for top prospects from outside the US, in Australia on a two-year contract.
In a conversation with The Week, Singh said,
“The Global Academy gave me exposure to the standard of basketball outside India. I learnt how to play with the international players. The time I spent in Las Vegas, training with NBA Academy, I worked on my strength and speed.”
The breakthrough moment
It was in 2019 that Singh’s breakthrough moment came when he led Punjab to the title win at the Indian Junior National Championship with his 40 points score against Rajasthan in the final. This incredible feat earned him the title of Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the tournament. The very next year, he helped Punjab secure a gold medal in the under-21 category of the Khelo India Youth Games.
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July 2020 brought with it a new chapter in Singh’s career as he signed a one-year contract with the NBA G League Ignite, making him the first NBA Academy graduate from India to sign a professional contract. Such was his performance that he averaged 2.3 points in four games in his first season. It was his world-class act that made him earn a place in the Sacramento Kings.
How he created history
Just a week after donning the stripes of Sacramento Kings, Singh did the unimaginable when he became the first Indian to be a part of a championship roster at any level of NBA after his team defeated Boston Celtics 100-67 to bag the Summer League in Las Vegas. With just four minutes left in the crucial game, Singh made his way to the court and with much ease scored King’s final bucket by scoring two points and getting the perfect 100 for his team.
“That was the best part. I wanted to play and score desperately. Bohot badiya tha woh [It was very good]. Every member of our team had scored. So scoring the 100th point was really special,” he told Olympics.com.
His exemplary work at the Summer League finale was a follow up to his debut performance where he checked-in for the final 1 minute and 22 seconds of an 89-75 Kings’ victory over the Washington Wizards in Las Vegas. “I had never thought I would make it this far. It feels like a dream at times – I played in the G-League, now the Summer League and my next target us to play in the NBA. My aim is to have a long career in the NBA. And I’m working hard towards making that dream come true,” he told NBA.com.
After lifting the Summer League trophy, Singh now has set his eyes on playing for the NBA. The win has given him enough confidence and he is keen to play with the big guns now as he is set to enroll himself for the draft.
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Singh, who is making India proud on the global stage, wants to represent the country at Olympics someday. “While I was watching the Olympics, I felt if India could play here, it will be great. We will play someday for sure. India should focus on playing abroad. They need exposure trips to play against the best. Right now, the players play only in India. We should try going to China or Australia to play against their national teams so that we get to improve. The current coach is doing great in training and we are improving. He almost trains the way we train in India,” he added.
Coming from a small place in Punjab, Singh has become an inspiration for millions of Indians at 20. His story of rising above the struggles and making it big in the international sporting event is one to lead by.