In a Historic First, Indian American Sonia Raman Appointed Assistant Coach of NBA Team
- The MIT women’s basketball coach joins five other assistant coaches for the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Memphis Grizzlies have appointed Sonia Raman as assistant coach, the team announced on Sept. 11. Raman, who spent the past 12 seasons as head coach of the women’s basketball team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, becomes the first Indian American woman to be appointed assistant coach of a NBA team. She replaces Niele Ivey, who was hired by Notre Dame in April. Raman will start her new job on Nov. 1, and will join five other assistant coaches for the Memphis Grizzlies — Brad Jones, Neven Spahija, Vitaly Potapenko, David McClure and Scoonie Penn.
“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of the Memphis Grizzlies coaching staff,” Raman said in a statement. “I can’t wait to get to Memphis and get started with Taylor (Taylor Jenkins, head coach for the Memphis Grizzlies), his staff, and the team’s emerging young core,” she said. “I must also give a truly special thank you to MIT and the women I’ve had the honor of coaching for the past 12 years. I wish the program continued success.”
With the hire, Raman becomes the 10th female assistant coach currently in the NBA. “She has a high basketball IQ and a tremendous ability to teach the game, as well as a strong passion for the game,” Jenkins said in a press release.
During Raman’s 12 seasons at MIT, the Engineers enjoyed unprecedented success, winning the program’s first two New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) championships (2018, 2019) and reaching the championship game in 2020, according to the MIT website. Raman earned NEWMAC Coach of the Year honors in 2016 and 2017. Eight of Raman’s student-athletes earned NEWMAC All-Conference accolades, including a pair of conference Rookie of the Year awards, the website noted, adding that Raman had “three seniors selected to participate in the New England Women’s Basketball Association Senior Classic.”
Off court, she served a two-year term on the Coaches Council for the Alliance of Women Coaches beginning in September 2017. In a press release, Grizzlies said, “Raman and the Alliance of Women Coaches is dedicated to leading the field of women coaches, at all levels, by providing support, resources, events and programs which address the needs and interests of its women.”
The Memphis Grizzlies, who play in the Western Conference, concluded their 2019-2020 season with 34 wins and 39 losses. They fell short of advancing to the opening round of the National Basketball Association‘s (NBA) restarted playoffs in Orlando, Florida by losing to the Portland Trailblazers in a one-game playoff.
According to John Hollinger, former vice president of Basketball Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies, Raman’s new gig is not without challenges. “In addition to being one of the small-but-growing number of female assistant coaches in the league, Raman also becomes one of the league’s few Indian-American staffers,” Hollinger wrote for The Athletic, where he is the senior NBA columnist.
“While Raman brings a dozen years of head-coaching experience, this is by far the highest level she’s coached,” he continued. “MIT is a Division III school that competes with other Northeast private schools in the NEWMAC and doesn’t offer scholarships. She got results lifting a cellar-dwelling program among Div. III’s best but now will need to prove herself with pros.”
Raman joins two other Indian American assistant coaches in the NBA: Roy Rana of the Sacramento Kings and Vin Bhavnani of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Prior to joining MIT, Raman was the top assistant coach at Wellesley College. During her six-year tenure, she scouted opponents, assisted with practice and game planning, managed individual player skill and leadership development, and served as the Blue’s primary recruiter.
Raman began her intercollegiate coaching career with a two-year stint as an assistant coach at her alma mater, Tufts University. A four-year player and a captain for the Jumbos, she graduated in 1996 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations. Raman went on to receive a Juris Doctor from Boston College Law School in 2001. She is also a 2015 graduate of the NCAA Women’s Coaches Academy.
In her spare time, Raman is a volunteer coach with the Newton Special Olympics tennis team, her bio data on the MIT website says. “She also serves on the advisory board for Find the Courage, a nonprofit organization that inspires, educates and empowers young people to be positive leaders promoting kindness, inclusion, encouragement, compassion, respect and resiliency in their communities,” according to her bio data.
Although basketball seems to be a popular sport among Indian Americans, there are very few who have made it to the top echelons. The most well known Indian American face in the NBA circuit is Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé.
On the court, a few players of Indian origin are making a mark, and have been rostered by an NBA team or it’s G-League affiliate. Most well known among them is Sim Bhullar, who played for the Sacramento Kings in 2015. The following season he played for the Toronto Raptors G-League affiliate, the Raptors 905. He currently plays for Guangxi Weizhuang in the National Basketball League (NBL).
Like Bhullar, Satnam Singh also made history in the NBA, becoming the first Indian player to be selected in the NBA Draft in 2015 for the Dallas Mavericks. Although he was waived by the Mavericks following the 2015 Summer League, he was picked up by their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends. He currently plays for the St. John’s Edge in the NBL of Canada.
Amjyot Singh , who went undrafted in 2014, played two seasons overseas before joining the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate, for the 2017-18 season. He played in 30 games last season, averaging 2.7 points per game. The Blue waived Singh at the end of the season, but reassigned him five days later. He is on the Blue’s roster for the upcoming G-League season. While Palpreet Singh has yet to play in an NBA or G-League game, he was drafted to the Long Island Nets in the fourth round of the 2016 NBA Developmenta League Draft.
Among the women, 23-year-old Kavita Akula successfully became the first Indian baller to graduate from an NCAA Division 1 (D1) college earlier this year. The Bhilai native, who last represented India at the 2017 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup, had made history in 2017, when she transferred to the Grand Canyon University (GCU), Phoenix after completing her two years at the Garden City Community College, Kansas. Following Akula’s footsteps, three other Indian girls — Sanjana Ramesh, Khushi Dongre and Asmat Kaur — moved from India to colleges and schools across the U.S., in pursuit of a dream to reach the WNBA. Ramesh, 17, of Bangalore, is a freshman at Northern Arizona University; Dongre, 18 of Ahmedabad has signed to play for the ASA College-Miami in the NJCAA (junior NCAA) Division 1; and Kaur, 16, of Indore, plays for the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey.
Bhargavi immigrated to the U.S. in 1997 and has worked with Indian American media since then in various capacities. She has a degree in English literature and French. Through an opportunity from Alliance Française de New York, Bhargavi taught French at Baruch college for over a year. After taking a break and two kids later, she went back to work in the Desi media. An adventure sport enthusiast, in her free time, she likes to cook, bake or go for hikes, biking and long walks.