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‘Focused On The NBA Way’: Brooks Meek On NBA Academy India Launch

‘Focused On The NBA Way’: Brooks Meek On NBA Academy India Launch News

With the announcement of the NBA Academy India on Tuesday, the NBA made its biggest commitment yet to grow the game of basketball in India. NBA Academy India, which is scheduled to open in April 2017 in the Delhi National Capital Region (NCR), will develop 24 elite prospects chosen from the length and breadth of the country, with the larger objective of unearthing future NBA talent.

The decision to launch the elite training center is a logical progression to the NBA’s significant investment in India over the last decade. These efforts have also been complemented by Sim Bhullar becoming the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA in 2015 and Satnam Singh Bhamara becoming the first Indian to be drafted into the league in 2015 by the Dallas Mavericks. And the NBA wants to do more as evidenced by the announcement of NBA Academy India. “We believe on the basketball side, one of the quickest ways to grow the game of basketball is increase the number of elite players that can take India to the next step,” said NBA Vice President, International Basketball Operations Brooks Meek. “We’ve seen that they’ve improved but that’s without us doing anything. So now we want to actively do.”

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 17: Sim Bhullar of the Sacramento Kings looks on during the India Day Parade on August 17, 2014 in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Michael LeBrecht/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael LeBrecht/NBAE via Getty Images) Sim Bhullar was the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA in 2015.

 

The academy will be the NBA’s fifth such academy globally. For the over 3.5 million youth in India touched by the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program, NBA Academy India will provide top-notch NBA level training to the selected elite prospects. In that sense, the academy is the next big learning opportunity for the many thousands of youth keen on playing in the NBA from India. “I think what we are focused on is the NBA curriculum, the NBA way to develop an elite player,” Meek commented.  “We’re tapping into all of this knowledge and expertise that we have at the NBA and I think that’s something that is different than just letting someone else develop the player.”

This year the NBA’s India engagement added another new chapter with young talent and Indian national Palpreet Singh going for the NBA D-League tryouts. Palpreet himself was discovered after winning the ACG NBA Jump programme, a first of its kind talent search initiative to find the most promising elite young Indian basketball player.   While the opportunity to tryout for the D-League was a big one for  Palpreet, the cultural barriers facing a young Indian travelling overseas, trying to make his mark in the best basketball league in the world, can be daunting. Meek says that NBA Academy India will help on that front, too. “As a young athlete, it’s difficult enough to become an elite player through the training and the stress of managing basketball and education,” Meek remarked.  “When you throw into that, the mix of travelling to a foreign country and the language issues, the food and cultural issues, that can offset the progression. So our philosophy was having an NBA Academy India where we can prepare them in that 360-degree way that when they do make that transition, they’ll be more prepared for success.”

Equally, the academy will place a significant emphasis on life skills and character development. The approach is towards a more holistic curriculum that can prepare a young basketball player to deal with success and help turn him/her into a thorough professional down the line. “All these skills that they are going to be learning at the academy in addition to how to shoot and dribble are skills that they are going to take with them when they are done playing basketball and they are interviewing for a job or they are starting their career after basketball.”

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Satnam Singh Bhamara was the first Indian-born player to be drafted in the NBA in 2016.

 

And the NBA has plans to open more such academies in India providing the game continues to grow in popularity. This isn’t without precedent since China has three such academies – in Hangzhou, Jinan and Urumqi. With Yao Ming coming into the NBA in 2002, the league’s popularity surged rocket-like in China. And hence the investment. Meek confirmed this when he said, “China has a history of basketball. They had Yao Ming and basketball is the number one sport in China. So there’s just a lot more players in the system there that needs more academies. As we grow in India, we want basketball at least to be the number two sport. We want to overtake soccer. As we grow that, there definitely will, just because of the size and scope of this country, be need for more expansion and more academies.

So will it be an endless wait for the next Indian player to take the NBA by storm? Meek doesn’t think so.  “I can’t sit here and say expect this. But if you look at the progression of other players, whether it’s Satnam Singh or Palpreet, or some guys that didn’t get this type of training, then you are looking at a five to seven-year window with a player that comes through this academy.”