Picture by Sacramento Kings twitter

Princepal Singh ready to wait to realise long-standing NBA dream

The hoopster has abstained from participating in the NBA draft to gain more experience before entering the big boy's league
By Soham Mukherjee

Princepal Singh is living his dream. An Indian winning an NBA trophy might seem to be a fairy tale but, the Punjab-born hoopster has made that dream a reality.

Not only did he win the NBA Summer League title with Sacramento Kings on Tuesday evening, Singh in his four-minute cameo appearance scored the final points with a memorable pick & roll shot which took the team's tally to 100.

"That was the best part. I wanted to play and score desperately. Bohot badiya tha woh. Every member of our team had scored. So scoring the 100th point was really special," he said to Olympics.com during an exclusive chat.

However, it was only in 2014, that he was introduced to basketball at the Guru Nanak Stadium in Ludhiana. And from day one he wanted to be the best.

"I was a fast learner and learnt pretty early some of the skills like dribbling and left shots. I used to always train extra with my coach. In the afternoon, when the other guys would be sleeping I would slog on the court with him. That time I did not like it, because I also wanted to sleep. In the afternoon, I used to do skill work and I always wanted to be the best."

After the initial training in Ludhiana, Singh's aspirations received a boost as he joined the NBA Academy in New Delhi. He trained there for 18 months before travelling to NBA Global Academy, in Canberra Australia to further hone his skills. He continued on the upward graph and in July 2020 he signed a one-year contract with Ignite, a developmental team affiliated with the NBA G League. Under Brian Shaw, he further developed his game and focused on scoring more points.

"Before joining Ignite, I would not try to score much. Before that, in Australia, the focus was more on learning skills. In USA, I started scoring points and that helped me get in the good books of Brian Shaw. I started practicing one-v-one to score and that helped."

He also got the opportunity to rub shoulders with emerging talents like Jalen Green, Kai Sotto and others. Yet, instead of getting intimidated he wanted to prove his mettle and 'be the best'.

"When I met them for the first time I only had one thing in mind, I need to compete with them and play in the best way possible. They are very skilled and I have learnt a lot like how to pass accurately, defending the ball while going forward and many such things."

Shaw acknowledged his efforts and termed him the 'most improved player'. Against Salt Lake City Stars he scored his first G-League points with a dunk and followed it up with a three-pointer.

"I was pretty confident when I was picked by Sacramento as I had a good training stint in LA. I had learnt a lot in Ignite. I used to do 45 minutes of skill training before the practice sessions. That helped me improve. Also, training with former NBA player Amir Johnson was enlightening."

Yet Singh feels that he is not ready to take the jump in the big boy's league and has opted out from the NBA draft.

"I had a chat with my agent before deciding not to enter the NBA draft. I need more experience and playing minutes before making the jump. Moreover, I was a bit unfit before. Now I am back to prime fitness and I am improving a lot. So I want to play in G-League and summer league then next year I will enroll myself for the draft. I want to prove myself first in these leagues and then go for NBA.

"I am working on my body and skills. I would like to gain a few more kilos. I am 108kg now but another five-six kilos will be great. I have gained weight gradually. When I was with Ignite I was around 102 and in Australia, I was around 96-98kg. So I am on the right track," he explained.

Olympic Dreams

Apart from featuring in the NBA, Princepal also wants to wear the Indian jersey and participate in the Olympics. Under coach Veselin Matic the Indian team is taking steps in the right direction but the 20-year-old feels that the squad should undertake more exposure trips to improve the standards.

"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 suggested.

It is important to take little steps. And who else knows better than Princepal, who has chosen to be patient rather than jumping on the express wagon at the first opportunity. Within two weeks he will return to LA and start training to be in perfect shape for G-League. The wait continues, but he believes the results will be worth it.