Meet Stanford Cardinal Shooting Guard Ryan Agarwal, the Great ‘Brown’ Hope of Basketball
- He could be the torchbearer of Indian and Indian American hoop dreams after Sim Bhullar, the only player of Indian descent to play in an NBA game, for three minutes.
With the College Basketball season drawing to a close, it may be time to take stock of Ryan Agarwal, the great “brown” hope of millions of Indian and Indian American hoops fans. The Stanford Cardinal shooting guard, who was born and raised in Texas, may not know a word of Hindi, but he’d be proud to be the second Indian drafted into the NBA.
The 6-foot-6 Ryan’s dream of putting India on the basketball map began when 7-foot-2 Satnam Singh became the first Indian-born player selected in an N.B.A. draft. Ryan was then in 6th grade. Two years later, when he went with his father to see his hero play at a G League game, his sports career trajectory was set, much to the surprise of his immigrant parents, neither of whom were athletic.
“I just have to keep in mind the fact that I help represent such a big community, and only so little people have the ability to do what I’m trying to do,” Ryan told the New York Times recently.
Does Ryan have the talent and potential to shoulder that burden of a community’s expectations?
In the beginning was a lot of skepticism, particularly because of his ethnicity. The scouts were reportedly not enthused. The San Francisco Chronicle said, “Early in his recruiting process, Agarwal heard from an adviser that some high-major coaches were reluctant to offer him a scholarship because of his Indian descent.” The adviser reportedly conveyed to Agarwal that one coach asked him, “When have you ever seen an Indian succeed at the NCAA level?”
But Ryan defied the stereotypes with his talent and grit. In 2021, Brandon Jenkins, a Recruiting Analyst, wrote “Agarwal is a deadeye shooter off the catch. He excels at spotting up in transition, coming off screens, and finding openings based on penetration reads. One part of his game that usually goes unnoticed is his basketball IQ.”
IQ indeed is one of the weapons in his armor. “I’m not going to ever be the strongest or fastest player on any court I step on. But using my IQ in coming off-ball screens, making the right reads, making the right passes and shooting the right shots is what I need to continue doing,” Ryan told The Stanford Daily.
Although Rivals.com once ranked Agarwal as a top-20 shooting guard, Stanford Coach Jerod Haase, according to The New York Times, considered Agarwal a more complete player because of his size at 6-foot-6 and his passing ability.
Jenkins also says, “He is tougher than most give him credit for.”
The toughness quite likely accrued as he navigated his early life being the kid who was “different.” “Being one of the only Indian-American players on travel ball circuits growing up, Agarwal understands how rare it is to see Indian basketball players playing at the Division I level,” said a report in The Stanford Daily.
“We didn’t really have a lot of players that were Indian-American playing [Division I] basketball that we could all look up to,” Ryan told the Daily. It’s not surprising that the title of his Stanford commitment video is “Different.”
But it should be noted Ryan is not the only Indian with hoop dreams, even if he is the best hope. There is Monmouth freshman center Amaan Sandhu, who like Ryan is also on scholarship with a D-I program.“The first male NBA Academy India graduate to earn a D-I scholarship, Sandhu has averaged just 2.4 points and 3.2 rebounds in nine games for the 1-8 Hawks, which helps explain why an August profile in the Athletic called him “more trailblazer than savior” for Indian basketball, the San Francisco Chronicle said in a report. Penn State walk-on player Ishaan Jagiasi is the third player of Indian descent who played Division I men’s basketball.
The question is will Ryan be the savior? After all, there were others who didn’t live up to the expectations. — Amjyot Singh, Palpreet Singh and Princepal Singh — who faltered in the G League and moved on to lesser leagues.
The Chronicle, however, reports, there might be one notable example — “James Blackmon Jr., a former McDonald’s All-American who scored 1,235 points over three seasons at Indiana before going unselected in the 2017 NBA Draft and carving out a successful career overseas.” Blackmon, the report says, “is half Indian on his mother’s side; given that he doesn’t have an Indian last name, many Indians aren’t even aware of his Indian heritage.”
For now, Ryan seems to be the best bet to go beyond Sim Bhullar, the only player of Indian descent to play in an NBA game, but who “logged just three minutes” with the Sacramento Kings in 2015. As Sports Business Journal puts it, “an Indian American from north Texas could be the closest it has to a torchbearer … what Yao Ming was to China.”