The captain of the Indian National Team, Amritpal Singh, could potentially be the first Indian-born player to play in the NBL since Eban Hyams in 2006-07.
Singh, a 6-foot-9 centre with a large frame and giant wing-span, was one of the standout performers at last week’s NBL Combine in Melbourne, capturing the attention of a number of coaches in attendance.
And with each NBL team able to sign one player from a FIBA Asia country on a non-restricted basis, Singh has a legitimate chance of securing a contract.
“I really enjoyed the Combine, it was a big opportunity for me,” Singh, 26, told NBL Media “If I get signed, I will work hard to play well. It would be a dream come true so I’m very excited about the possibility.”
Amritpal is a big unit – an old-school centre who operates in the low block and protects the rim. Think former Cairns Taipans back-up Matt Smith. Maybe a little Matt Hodgson too.
Rohan Short, a former NBL assistant with Townsville and Melbourne, worked closely with Singh throughout the two days of the Combine.
“I was super impressed, it’s clear he can play,” Short said.
“Once given the opportunity to learn off a big man’s coach here in Australia and adapt to the speed of the Australian game, I think he would do quite well.
“I don’t think he is necessarily a starting five guy from the outset, but off the bench for some team… I mean we just don’t have much of that kind of size in our league.”
— Amritpal Singh (@amritpalog) April 21, 2017
Singh’s skills on the block are good, he gets up and down the floor well for a man his size and, along with Knox Raiders import Christopher Kaba, he led the Combine in blocked shots.
So should NBL teams be seriously considering him?
“You would be silly not to,” Short said.
“You look at his deficiencies that he might present with – he’s maybe not as agile or mobile as what we’re used to – but he certainly has got some rim protection qualities.
“If you need someone to be a presence in and around the rim and you want to anchor your defense around the basket, you would certainly take a look at him, for sure.”
Of course, there’s the obvious caveat.
“You’re going to have to have the right blend of talent that can cover his deficiencies from a mobility perspective,” Short adds.
“The question is not ‘can he play in the NBL?’ The answer to that question is ‘yes he can.’ The question needs to be ‘where and with what?’
“You will need to have those other pieces in your scheme and if you do then he’s a good investment. If you don’t, well, he’s not the kind of guy who is necessarily going to be versatile and adaptable for your system.”
Originally from a rural village in northern India, Amritpal was working as a farmer when he first picked up a basketball at the age of 18.
From there it was a steep rise; debuting with the National Team the following year before playing professionally in Japan in 2015-16.
“Once he was spotted, it was a very quick learning process for him,” Singh’s manager, Vishnu Ravi Shankar, told NBL Media.
“Amritpal’s a quick learner, so he impressed a lot of people with his ability to pick up the footwork in the post and his general feel for the game.”
Last September, he averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds per game at the FIBA Asia Challenge in Iran, putting up 23 points and 14 boards in a memorable win over China.
Former head coach of the Sydney Kings, Damian Cotter, spent some time last year working with the Indian team in conjunction with Sydney’s No. 1 Draft Pick Academy.
“Indian basketball is at an exciting time, anybody who’s got a billion plus people is going to have some talent,” Cotter said.
“In regards to Amritpal, I loved his work ethic, desire to learn and his coachability. He runs the floor really well and he’s a good passer and those traits alone for a big guy are going to be attractive to an NBL team.
“Depending on the system, I think he has the ability to contribute. His work ethic, his passion for the game and his desire to improve make him a worthwhile investment.”
After his time on the subcontinent, Cotter brought word back to Australia.
“I told SEABL clubs this would be better than an American,” he said.
“I really hope he’s successful because there’s good players everywhere in the world.”
What’s intriguing about Singh is the potential for further growth. Having come to the game as a late teen, he received expert coaching right from the outset, most notably from the former coach of the Indian National Team, American Scott Fleming.
As a result, Singh’s improvement has been rapid. The question is, what’s the ceiling?
“Amritpal’s always looking to learn more and improve to become a better player,” Shankar said.
“He is trying to improve the range of his jumper and also get more moves down low on offence in the post.”
One thing’s for sure, his addition to an NBL roster would fit nicely alongside the league’s plans to spread its wings throughout Asia.
“It would be a big deal,” Shankar said.
“When the Indian players went to the Combine the press were following them very closely here in India. All the national papers covered them so if one of them lands a contract – especially Amritpal – it’s going to be big news back home.”
The ripple effect could be significant.
“It would be a great story for young Indian players,” Cotter said.
“Who knows where things could go if this happens? I’m really excited and happy for the young man.”
Since the Combine, Amritpal’s been spending time with family in Perth, hopeful of receiving a call-up.
“I really want to get signed by an NBL team but if it doesn’t work out, I will go back to India, work on my game and try again next year,” Singh said.
“Otherwise I will look to play in the NBA D-League.”
From the fields of Punjab to the bright lights of the NBL, Amritpal Singh is ready.
Ready to take that call.
Written for NBL.com.au by Liam Santamaria