Hoop’s newest ‘it’ guy

By The Associated Press
Updated: January 3, 2011

NEW DELHI — He is just 15 years old and already 7-foot-2. His ambition, however, is even higher.

Satnam Singh Bhamar hopes he can one day do for basketball in India what Houston Rockets star Yao Ming has done in China.

“It feels good to be compared to Yao Ming,” Bhamar says.

Yao’s move from Shanghai to the NBA made him an icon in China. Bhamar, a shy youngster from rural India, realizes he has a long way to go before he can be talked about in such terms.

He was among eight players — four boys and four girls — chosen to attend an IMG basketball academy in Florida. The Basketball Federation of India recently joined the sports management company IMG-Reliance as part of a 30-year plan to promote the sport.

Bhamar’s height alone has ensured that he is someone to watch at the one-year training program.

“I have to work very hard on my speed, power and agility to do well at the top level,” Bhamar says while watching the national championships in New Delhi.

“The training methods are very different (in Florida) and I was initially worried whether I would be able to cope with the strenuous sessions.”

Bhamar started playing basketball six years ago. He says there is a huge talent gap between players in India and those in the U.S.

“I think players here need to forget their style of play,” he said. “I was unable to match top (Indian) seniors before I left for my training, but I can already feel the difference when I play with them now in practice.”

Bhamar’s father is Balbir Singh Bhamar, a 7-footer who was unable to pursue a basketball career because of few opportunities.

“I am really lucky to have got the chance and I want to make my family, coaches and country proud by doing well,” the younger Bhamar says.

“The NBA officials I have met have also praised me and see a great prospect in me,” he added. “I am going to give it everything.”

Coach Teja Singh Dhaliwal, who runs an academy at Ludhiana City in the northern state of Punjab, remembers the day Bhamar walked in with his father wanting to play basketball.

“He was 5 feet and 9 inches tall when he came to our facility five or six years ago. We had invited players for trials, and his height being exceptional for his age we decided to train him,” Dhaliwal said.

Harish Sharma, secretary of India’s basketball federation and a former India player, is encouraged about Bhamar’s chances.

“We are hoping he will be for India what Yao Ming was for China,” he said.

“Though we have quite a few players who we hope will help improve the image of the game in the country, he has an iconic status already.”

“He is focused, hardworking and has tremendous potential. One star player like this in NBA could mean a big boost for the game in India.”