- The 20-year-old NBA Academy India alumnus was part of the Kings' squad that went on to win the 2021 NBA Summer League, defeating the Boston Celtics, 100-67.
Princepal Singh of Sacramento Kings made history last week by becoming the first Indian to be part of a championship roster at any level of the National Basketball League (NBA). The 6-foot-9 forward NBA Academy India alumnus was part of the Kings’ squad that went on to win the 2021 NBA Summer League, defeating the Boston Celtics, 100-67.
Singh, 20, originally from Punjab, played the final 4:08 mins of the game, and finished with two points, “scoring the Kings final bucket which took them to 100, while also pulling down the one rebound,” per news reports.
According to the NBA, Singh’s “appearance in the championship game comes exactly a week after he made his brief yet landmark debut at the Summer League, where he checked in for the final 1:22 mins of a Kings’ blowout victory over the Washington Wizards.”
Earlier this year, Singh became the first NBA Academy graduate to sign with the NBA G League and the first NBA Academy India graduate to sign a professional contract. Singh also represented India in international competitions as part of the Indian men’s senior national team. The NBA G League gives top young prospects a chance to begin their professional careers while receiving mentorship and life-skills training. Singh also represented India in international competitions as part of the Indian men’s senior national team.
In a profile on Singh, Sports Illustrated says Singh, who was “initially sought to improve his volleyball skills,” got introduced to basketball by accident. A coach at the Ludhiana Basketball Academy asked him if he had ever tried basketball. Despite knowing nothing of the sport, Singh enrolled at the LBA, “where coaches woke him up at 5:30 a.m. to begin the day and where he took part in two daily workouts.” In May 2017, Singh, then 16, became part of the inaugural class of 24 top male and female prospects in NBA Academy India.
The youngest of three children, Singh’s mother, Hardeep Kaur, is a homemaker while his father, Gurmej Singh, worked as an electrician for the state’s government. “I still sometimes pinch myself that I’ve made it this far,” Singh told Sports Illustrated. “But I still have a long way to go.” While “most of the players who have made it this far from our country have only made it to the G League,” Singh told Sports Illustrated that he “wants to go beyond that and show everyone in India that we are not just meant for the G League but also meant for the NBA.”
Apart from Singh, there are a few players of Indian origin who are making a mark, the most well-known among them being Sim Bhullar, who was part of 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 Development 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.
Last December, Indian American Suyash Mehta became the first Indian American to officiate as a referee in the NBA league. Mehta, who has been working with the NBA for the past five years, was named in the officiating staff for the 2020-21 season. The most well-known Indian American face in the NBA circuit is Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé and Sonia Raman, assistant coach of the Memphis Grizzlies.