The National Basketball Association announced the official opening of NBA Academy India, an elite basketball training center on Tuesday in the National Capital Region for the top male and female prospects from throughout India.

Twenty-one male basketball players in the age ranges of 13 to 17 were selected following the NBA-ACG Jump, a talent hunt conducted at six centres throughout India. These players will be fully funded for the duration of the stay at the academy, during which time they will be trained by coaches from the NBA.

NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum also announced that the strength of the initial batch would be 24 and that a search was on for three female candidates to join the existing 21 members of the academy.

Four coaches for the academy

The 21 players take to the court at the Academy. (Image credit: Arka Bhattacharya)
The 21 players take to the court at the Academy. (Image credit: Arka Bhattacharya)

The academy will start off with four coaches, three for the general program and one former WNBA player exclusively for a proposed elite girls’ program.

The technical director of the academy will be Ray Farrell, who will oversee all aspects of oncourt and offcourt development. Farrell has served as a personal trainer and coach for the Dallas Mavericks and has close to 36 years of experience in conducting basketball camps globally.

Jacques Vandescure, who will serve as the Player Development Coach was seen taking drills with the 21 kids during the launch. Vandescure, a former professional player in Belgium has also served as the African Basketball Scout for the San Antonio Spurs.

Todd Gates, the Strength and Conditioning coach, has coached at the NCAA level (American collegiate basketball) for 10 years. Jennifer Azzi, who will be based in the US, will serve as the Girls’ programme technical director is a former WNBA player having been with three franchises Detroit Shock, Utah Starzz and San Antonio Silver Stars from 1999 to 2004 and is also a former Olympic gold medallist in 1996.

‘We were asked not to go for the selection’

The first batch of the academy has a curious mix of characters with only four of the 21 candidates coming from the major metros (Delhi/NCR, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune). The entrants are in the age range 13 to 17 with varied heights starting from Rishab Jaiswal and Shaurya Kohli, five feet eight inches to the 14-year old Amaan Sandhu, who stands at six feet nine inches.

Interestingly, four of these players were from the famed Ludhiana Basketball Academy which has produced talents such as Satnam Singh Bhamara and Palpreet Singh Brar. A conversation with the kids revealed that they were not permitted by the coaches to apply for the ACG-NBA Jump programme.

One of the prospects, who did not want to be named mentioned that initially he and five of his friends from Ludhiana wanted to apply but they had been denied permission to travel to Delhi for the selection process. “Two of them then pulled out but all four of us who got on a train were selected.”

Can the NBA Academy make the difference?

He also spoke about the conditions of the Ludhiana Academy. Also featured in the film One in a Billion, the story of Satnam Singh Bhamara who made it to the D-League, the lack of professionalism in running the Ludhiana outfit became evident through the conversations.

“The food that we got wasn’t up to the mark. Those who couldn’t afford to stay outside suffered a lot as the living conditions including the beds weren’t proper,” said one of the ex-Ludhiana Academy players.

Although the tale isn’t exactly a novelty in the Indian sporting ecosystem, it gives a clear indication on the standard of basketball facilities in the country and the priority of administrators, determined to hold onto the best talent but unwilling to provide them with the best of infrastructure.

With the NBA finally stepping in with its first academy in the country after launching three in China, it will be interesting to see where these 21 prospects end up. Some of them will graduate in two years’ time, while the others will spend time at the Academy till they are deemed old enough to play collegiate basketball or qualify for a recognised basketball league.

It remains to be seen if the NBA’s intervention can provide the spark that the sport in the country so desperately seeks.