Meet the hoopsters who helped Indian basketball rise and shine

From Khushi Ram in the 1960s to Amjyot Singh Gill, Indian basketball has seen a steady rise. The NBA has only helped its growth.  
By Naveen Peter

Though the past decade has seen basketball spread its wings in India, largely thanks to the NBA’s plans of expanding its market in the country, the interest in the sport has been limited.

With the Indian basketball team struggling to make an impact on the international stage, the exposure and the limelight has been limited too. But the handful of opportunities have seen talented hoopsters raise the bar for Indian basketball.

Here’s a look at some of the best Indian basketball players.

Khushi Ram

Dubbed as the ‘scoring machine of Asia’ Khushi Ram was one of the most sought after players in his heydays.

Born in Jhamri, a village in Haryana, Khushi Ram began competing at the domestic level in 1952, turning up for the Indian Armed Forces at various national-level competitions. 

Riding on his shooting skills, Khushi Ram led the Armed Forces to 10 consecutive national titles and won many ‘best player’ awards at the meets.

He soon made his way into the Indian basketball team and was an integral part of the set-up from 1964-72, a period that saw it achieve numerous firsts. 

Khushi Ram was the captain of the Indian team that debuted at the 1965 Asian Basketball Championships (now known as the FIBA Asia Cup). 

The power forward wrapped up the competition as the highest scorer -- still the only Indian to do so -- with India achieving the seventh spot at the continental showpiece event.

The following two editions of the Asian championships in 1965 and 1969 saw Khushi Ram finish the competition as the second and the third-highest scorer, respectively. 

At an invitational meet in 1970 in the Philippines, Khushi Ram once again finished as the top scorer and was declared the Most Valuable Player.

Kushi Ram was honoured with the Arjuna Award in 1967 and after his death, got a statue dedicated to him in his village in Haryana.

Ajmer Singh

Taking forward Khushi Ram’s legacy during what can be termed as Indian basketball’s golden period was Ajmer Singh.

The Haryana-born swingman moved to Kota during his early days to hone his basketball skills. Ajmer Singh played for Rajasthan University and was soon picked up by Indian Railways. 

Ajmer Singh competed in 22 national championships at a stretch with Haryana, Indian Railways and Rajasthan and won eight gold medals. He later joined Railways as their employee post-retirement from the sport.

The imposing 6'5” Ajmer Singh was also a part of the national team that competed at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, India’s only appearance at the quadrennial event.

Though the team ended up losing all their seven group games, Ajmer Singh, along with Hanuman Singh and Radhey Shyam put up a creditable show.

Ajmer Singh averaged a team-high of 21.3 points and also managed an average of 5.4 rebounds per game. 

The Indian hoopster was once again in the thick of the action at the 1982 Asian Games as he top-scored to lead his side to an eighth-place finish. 

The Indian government bestowed the Arjuna Award on Ajmer Singh in 1982. 

Amjyot Singh Gill

For the current generation, he is the most recognisable face of basketball in India. 

Having made his international debut as an 18-year-old in 2011, Amjyot Singh Gill has carved a place for himself in the upper echelons of Indian basketball.

In 2014, the Chandigarh-born played a crucial role for Team India at the FIBA Asia Cup which saw them beat hosts China for the first time in their history and since has been one of the consistent players at various continental and world competitions. 

However, beyond the national team, Amjyot Singh Gill is also credited for helping Indian hoopsters dream of making the professional-grade in the game. 

Amjyot Singh Gill, along with his national team-mate Amritpal Singh are the first one’s to step out of the country in search of professional game time.

In the summer of 2015, Amjyot Singh Gill was busy plying his trade in Japan’s BJ Summer League that saw him crack a deal with the Japanese D-League team Tokyo Excellence.

A few years later, the Indian hoopster was on his way to the USA where he got drafted into the NBA D-League in 2017.

A season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the minor league affiliate of the Oklahoma City Thunder was followed by a year with the Wisconsin Herd, the minor league team for *Milwaukee Bucks. *

Amjyot Singh Gill has also ventured into 3x3 basketball with the Japanese side Hamamatsu.

Satnam Singh 

Probably the biggest name to come out of Indian basketball in recent years, Satnam Singh’s rise to fame has seen him become a national star. He even has a Netflix documentary, One In A Billion in his name. It charts Satnam’s rise from a small village -- Ballo Ke -- in Punjab to the glitz and the glamour of the cash-rich NBA

Having won a scholarship at the IMG Academy in Florida in 2010, Satnam Singh made the most of the opportunity to grow as a player under the watchful eyes of the coaches there. 

Satnam was one of the standout players at the youth level both home and abroad and it didn’t come as a surprise when he listed himself for the 2015 NBA Draft. 

Satnam Singh was picked by the Dallas Mavericks, making him the first and to date the only Indian player to be drafted into the NBA.

Though the Indian centre never made it to Dallas’ roster, he spent two seasons with the team’s NBA G League affiliate, Texas Legends. However, limited game time saw him move on from the G-League to St. John’s Edge of the National Basketball League (NBL) in Canada.

Anitha Pauldurai

One of the constants in the Indian women’s basketball team over the past decade, Anitha Pauldurai has been a source of inspiration.

Ever since making his senior team debut in 2001, the Tamil Nadu player has been an integral part of the Indian women’s team that has shown steady improvement over the years.

Though the team still has a long way to go, the likes of Anitha Pauldurai, Geethu Anna Jose and PS Jeena, along with the Singh sisters -- Prashanti, Divya, Akanksha and Priyanka -- have helped Indian women dream big.  

A shooting guard, Anitha Pauldurai, also has the accolade of being the youngest captain of the Indian women’s basketball team when she, at 19, led the Indian cagers at the FIBA Asia Championship in China.

Anitha Pauldurai captained India for eight years, a period that saw the team become a constant fixture at the FIBA Asia Cup apart from competing at multi-disciplinary events like the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games

Though the Chennai hoopster took a maternity break in 2015, Anitha Pauldurai made a swift comeback in 2017 before calling it quits. 

The Indian player continues her relationship with the sport as a coach and was seen taking the bench at the 2016 FIBA Under-16 Women's Asian Championship as the Indian team’s assistant coach.