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Gokul Natesan: Managing The Double Life With Success

Gokul Natesan: Managing The Double Life With Success Local Heroes

The Indian-American hopes to turn a historic college basketball career into pro success

In one sense, basketball and computer programming couldn’t be more different. One of them is a meticulous hunt for perfection, a dream for lovers of mathematics and statistics, a vocation best pursued in solitude with clear rights and wrongs, 0s and 1s. The other is fluid, the athletic answer to jazz, where one structure flows into another without rigidity, where each individual is a fit within a complicated team framework, and data is parsed in waves instead of particles.

But Gokul Natesan – who helped the Colorado School of Mines to their historically most-successful season in NCAA Division II while pursuing a Computer Science Degree – strolled his way to success in this strange duality.

“Computer science and basketball are polar opposites,” says Natesan. “In computer science things are set in black and white. There are definite right and wrong answers. In basketball, often times, it’s said there’s nothing absolutely right or wrong. You think of decisions that seemed wrong in the first half that make a right impact later in the game.

“I have been able to separate the two,” he adds. “Basketball happens in real time, with both internal and external pressures. Your thought process is different.”

WATCH: Gokul Natesan stars in the top play of week 16 of 2016-17 RMAC

It has been both his thought process and his elite athleticism that helped Natesan, a senior, enjoy a memorable college career in Colorado. After finishing as the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) Defensive Player of the Year in 2015-16, Natesan finished 2016-17 in the All RMAC First Team and as the RMAC Academic Player of the Year. He led his team in minutes, scoring (18.5 ppg), and assists (4.1 apg). He helped the Mines – a college historically known more for its engineers than its elbow-jumpers – to an RMAC title and a best-ever regular season finish. The Mines reached uncharted territory this season, playing in the Elite 8 stage of the NCAA Division II National Tournament for the first time. By the end of his four years, he had totaled over 2,000 points.

“He is one of the best players to ever play for the Mines,” says Pryor Orser, head coach of the Mines. “He should’ve been the player of the year in the conference.”

Natesan gives credit for the inception of his basketball journey to his family, particularly his father who he says is a basketball fanatic. Natesan’s parents immigrated from Tamil Nadu’s cities Chennai and Salem to the United States in the late ’80s, first to Michigan, and later, settled down in the Bay Area.

“It all started with my Dad,” Natesan says. “He watched basketball all the time. My family has been incredibly supportive and encouraging through this whole journey for me as a basketball player. I wouldn’t be who I am without them.”

WATCH: Natesan’s post-game interview after winning the 2017 RMAC Regular Season Title

Natesan has stayed close to his Indian roots, and with his success on court, is looking forward to challenging stereotypes of Indians. In California specifically, he has been involved with the Tamil community and spoken in the past about the opportunities and challenges of being a college athlete of Indian descent.

“It’s super important for me to represent my culture,” says Natesan. “In previous experiences, people had looked at me in a weird way as an Indian basketball player. They often don’t expect us to be there. It’s important to break that stereotype and show people that we can push our limits and boundaries in everything in life. It’s bigger than basketball.”

“Even when he was getting recruited, he was knocked-on for being Indian,” says Akshay Mani, Natesan’s trainer and coach with the Oakland Soldiers, an elite youth basketball programme in the Bay Area. “But he ignored the negativity and took the game seriously.”

Basketball was the second thing where Natesan’s father was an influence; the first, was his choice of major. When he wasn’t shepherding his team on both ends of the floor, Natesan followed in the footsteps of his father, a computer programmer, in the classroom. Now, as Natesan graduates from college, he faces a daunting dilemma: stay in school for a Master’s degree or make the most of his basketball career with professional opportunities.

The historic season ended with an RMAC championship for the Mines and a loss at the Elite Eight stage. A few weeks later, Natesan says that he is now evaluating his options and talking to his head coach for the best options in the future, including declaring for the 2017 NBA Draft.

No matter what decision he makes, Natesan has already demonstrated his mastery of the duality, baller and programmer, guard and forward, offense and defense, scorer and distributer. With the first chapter of college basketball over, he will look to double up with professional success.

 The feature image used in this piece is courtesy Gokul Natesan

You can follow the writer KARAN MADHOK on Twitter @Hoopistani.

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