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Exclusive Interview: Amaan Sandhu aspires to be first India-born basketball player to play for an NBA team

New Delhi, Sep 16: NBA Academy India alumnus Amaan Sandhu created history when he became the first men's NBA Academy India graduate to commit to an NCAA Division 1 school. The native of Mohali is currently pursuing his studies at Monmouth University in West Long Beach, New Jersey.

Sandhu is the third player overall from NBA Academy India to earn a Division I basketball scholarship, joining Sanjana Ramesh, who is at Northern Arizona and Harsimran Kaur, who is at San Diego on the women's side.

Sandhu now joins Monmouth Hawks at center position, standing at 7'0". He will play D-1 NCAA basketball for Monmouth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC).

Before moving to the USA, he represented the Indian Men's Senior National Team at the South Asian Games, where the team won a gold medal. He was also a member of the 2020 Indian National Team at the FIBA Asia qualifiers.

He joined NBA Academy India as part of the inaugural prospects in May 2017 and was enrolled at the Academy until he joined First Love Christian Academy in the fall of 2020.

In an exclusive conversation with MyKhel from the USA, the basketball player from Punjab spoke candidly about his journey, the contribution of the NBA India Academy in his career and his future plans.

Here are the excerpts:

MyKhel: You are the first-ever male born in India to ever to earn a Division One Men's Basketball Scholarship, how does that feel and how is it going to help you become a professional player?

Amaan Sandhu: I will say that I'm blessed with the opportunity. Like being the first India-born player and the first NBA India prospect to earn a D1 scholarship. It is definitely going to help me a lot. It will help me with a lot of my stuff because I can have a degree in like four years. Being in a college in the United States means you already do a lot like a professional basketball player. They don't pay money in college but all the other stuff that you do is like a professional basketball player. So it will help me a great deal going forward.

MK: How different did you find the college structure in the US from that of India?

AS: In the US we attend college regularly, do our workouts, and are supposed to take care of our body, (we develop) good eating practices. There (in India) the schools say, 'focus on your sport, we'll take care of the studies and stuff' but in the United States, it's like you have to do equally well in your class. Here you'll have to take care of your academics as well. The coach is not going to let you play until you get your grades up. That is the biggest difference. You've got to maintain a certain GPA, and if I score under like 70%, then I won't be allowed to step on the basketball court.

Also, in India, we take notes of everything (that is being taught in class). But over here, it was a totally different experience for me when I joined. Here everything is done on the laptops, everything is online. You get your books online and do the assignments too. Back in India, we don't get enough homework but in the States, they give you assignments and home works every day and you'll have to complete them in time to get the credits. That credit is going to be with you and that's the main thing; if you don't complete your assignments on time, you'll fail.

MK: How are you striking a balance between your academics as well as your athletic part?

AS: When I got admission to high school here in the US, I was struggling with studies and stuff because you've got to do everything on time. It was tough (for me) in my first year, but now I am in the third year and I am used to it and doing well. Also, when you don't have your family around you, you start taking the responsibility for yourself and that's what happened to me as well. My father and mother are in India while my sister is in Canada. But my coaches from high school and coach from NBA Academy India make sure that I feel at home. I'm in good hands here.

MK: How did you manage your food because eating habits in India and the USA are very different?

AS: So the biggest thing NBA Academy taught me was controlling my body and my diet. And with that being said for a whole year in a half, I've had no Indian food. All I was having was high protein fibres as my dinner for a whole year, like grilled chicken salad. So all the healthy food I had and didn't touch the Punjabi food at the start. But I have some Indian friends here now and they bring Indian food sometimes for me. So, I don't miss Indian food anymore.

MK: When did you decide to pursue a career in basketball because the scope for the sport is not that great in India?

AS: I took basketball seriously when I got selected to the NBA Academy and in 2017 through the ACG-NBA Jump programme. Before that, basketball was just a fun game for me, it was just like a time pass. When I got selected, everything started changing. One day when I was sitting down with a couple of my teammates at the NBA academy cafeteria, it dawned upon me that this is it, this is what I want to do. There were lucky 21 players amongst millions to be picked up by the academy when the programme was launched in 2017. At that moment, I decided that I want to pursue my career in basketball.

MK: Any particular struggle or sacrifices that you think your family had to make for you and your sister so that you can pursue your dream?

AS: I will say that the biggest sacrifice my parents made was like sending me here and my sister to Canada. And I'm going to make sure that they don't regret that decision. Like because my mom always wanted us (me and my sister) to be with her every time. So that I think was like the biggest sacrifice my family had to make. They're letting their kids go pursue their dreams. People like to do what they love. As my parents were both basketball players, they understand very well what it takes to be an athlete and the sacrifices one has to make to achieve something big in life.

MK: Do you harbour dreams of playing in the NBA in future? How do you see your selection in NCAA Div I in your journey towards that?

AS: My main goal is to play NBA. Getting selected into a college in the USA was huge for me. When I came here for my high school, it was then when I learnt there was nobody from India in Division One here. That motivated me to do well. I found Monmouth University (in West Long Beach, New Jersey) a good place. Everything was nice. The staff is so helpful. Even my coach King Rice, who is the head coach of the men's basketball team, is so nice. Everybody takes care of the players and wants them to be successful in life and successful in basketball. (At the end of the day) I can't ask for anything better right now.

MK: How did you find the scouting process -- the ACG-NBA Jump programme? What kind of exposure and coaching techniques were provided to you during your stay at the NBA Academy India?

AS: So when I got to know that NBA is launching an academy and stuff in India, and there was the ACG NBA jump programme to help scout young talents by doing trials in different cities in India, I participated in one of them and got selected to the NBA India Academy. The coaching and everything there at NBA Academy India was so nice and there I was taught how basketball works outside India. How is it being played in the USA. The main thing I learnt there was how to take care of my body and they taught me the right way of playing basketball. The exposure trips to the USA and Europe also helped me hone my skills and learn from the best in the world. I'm definitely blessed with all the opportunities I have. So I think NBA Academy just played a huge part in my life.

MK: What do you feel about Indian basketball? Is there a future for them?

AS: I would say that NBA India is doing a good job by helping the sport grow in the country. I would say that basketball in India still growing because everybody is still new to basketball there. To be honest, we've got a lot of work to do. So, our target should be to become the top Asian team in like next five to ten years. Talent wise I think there's no shortage of it in India but the youngsters need the right guidance from an early stage and NBA India is committed to doing that.

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Story first published: Friday, September 16, 2022, 11:26 [IST]
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