Five years ago, Princepal Singh wasn’t even aware of a sport called basketball, let alone play it. Hailing from Dera Baba Nanak village in Gurdaspur district, volleyball was the only sport he had grown familiar with.

Harbouring hopes of making it big in the sport, he travelled with his father to Ludhiana’s Guru Nanak Stadium complex in 2014 to appear for trials and enroll in their volleyball academy. Life, however, had different plans in store for him as he chose basketball.

Mujhe shauk tha ki main koi bhi game khel loon [I was fond of playing every other sport]. I came to Ludhiana to stand for trials in volleyball but on the other side of the arena, trials were on for basketball too. A coach from Punjab Basketball [Association] spotted me and selected me for the basketball trials,” said the 6-feet-10-inch hoopster.

“That’s when I got to know about basketball and started developing an interest in the sport. It felt good,” he mentioned.

The Ludhiana Basketball Academy has produced the hottest basketball prospects in India such as Satnam Singh Bhamara, Palpreet Singh Brar, Jagdeep Singh Bains and many others. Princepal, who is tipped as the next big thing in Indian basketball, credits his growth to coach Jaipal Singh, who taught him the basics of the sport.

“I had the belief that I could do well as basketball player,” Princepal said. He added, “Since I did not know about the game, I started out learning the basics. Coach Jaipal Singh used to make me ready and was always there for me, even during training sessions in the afternoons when I was alone. He gave me the confidence that I could do well. He told me I was learning very fast so I was just enjoying it.”

Not only was Princepal maturing but the transition while switching from volleyball to basketball was smooth. “I did not face any problems when I switched to basketball and coming from a volleyball background helped me a lot. Things like jumping and running – it is used in volleyball as much as it is in basketball. Those skills were useful to me.”

Princepal’s career graph only peaked from there. He was drafted in the NBA India Academy in New Delhi, where he excelled at multiple camps.

In 2017, Princepal was called to the Indian junior team for the Fiba Asia Under-18 Championship and made his mark there. In three matches (which all ended in defeats), he averaged 22.7 points and 13 rebounds per game. A year later, he earned a call-up to the senior national team for the Super Kung Sheung Cup International Championship.

The teenager currently plies his trade at the NBA Global Academy in Canberra, Australia, which he has been a part of since 2018. Princepal is among the 12 elite student athletes from across the world who will undergo training from coaches for the next two years. For someone who models his game on Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis, Princepal is aspiring to have a shot at the NBA someday.

“It feels great that I am the only one here from India. I feel proud and this a big opportunity for me,” he said.