Going by his game, he could be from the Himalayas. There’s icewater in his veins. The occasion was the 5th FIBA Asia Cup. The venue was Wuhan Sports Centre. The opponents were the mighty Chinese. 61st ranked India had never beaten 12th ranked China in any part of the world, let alone in its very own backyard. Starting Guard Pratham Singh had had a torrid first half, failing to score even once. But like all the great clutch performers this game has seen, Pratham was biding his time to score when it matters the most: at the end of the game, when winning and losing comes down to a single basket made, a shot blocked or a crucial steal. One of NBA’s greatest closers Robert Horry had once insightfully remarked “Pressure can burst a pipe or pressure can make a diamond.” By this yardstick — after his sensational fourth quarter performance against China where he knocked down some momentum changing threes— Pratham Singh is a priceless jewel on the Indian national team. Know your star, Pratham Singh.
***[This writer’s following profile was first published on tadpoles.in on 28th March 2014 titled as I am Ready for More]
You know he is an Indian men’s basketball player when every time you speak to him over phone all you hear is “I’m on my way to the gym.”; “I’m in the gym” or “I’m returning from the gym.”
23-year-old Pratham Singh is a promising shooting guard whose mature performances, all round skillset and robust athleticism has made him one of the darlings of Indian men’s basketball. The six footer has been blessed with the influences of two of India’s best basketball nursing grounds: Punjab and Chhattisgarh. Players from Punjab are known for their natural talent and athleticism, while Chhattisgarh’s basketball programme is renowned for its grassroots training. “I’m actually Punjabi, but my parents, who are into the transport business, shifted to Bhilai Steel Plant, Chhattisgarh and that’s where I played basketball for the first time at the age of 11.”
Pratham initially took to the sport only for fun during summer camps held in the vacations. “We started seeing the names of our friends appear in the newspaper as top scorers. So I started feeling the competitive drive and wanted similar recognition.”
At Bhilai Steel Plant Academy, Pratham Singh found an able teacher in Rajvender Singh Gaur who taught him the fundamentals of dribbling, passing, fitness and shooting. Soon, Pratham skyrocketed onto the international stage. “In 2004, I was named to the u-16 Indian team that toured Russia. Later I played in China, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Iran, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Qatar!”
Transitioning effortlessly from the junior to senior ranks, Pratham was recruited by Indian Overseas Bank (IOB) on sports quota as a Manager in 2009 at the tender age of 18. “Our bank gives us full support. During the playing season, we have to work only for three hours from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and after that we are free to train.”
The last four years has seen him grow tremendously as a player, especially with his attention grabbing performances in the ‘clutch’ i.e. high pressure situations near the end of the game when the scores are neck and neck.
His standout ‘clutch’ performance came during the dying moments of the finals of the inaugural 3 on 3 Senior National Basketball Championship in 2013. Playing for Tamil Nadu against a seasoned Indian Railway side, the match was tied and had gone into overtime when Pratham calmly knocked down his freethrows to take his team to a historic win. “Since I have played internationally against stronger nations, my confidence is high and I’m able to execute easily against domestic opposition.”
Undoubtedly, his tireless work ethic has played a key part in his on-court domination. “If you don’t work out then where will you get the energy to play a high intensity contact sport like basketball? Gymming is critical as it reduces your injuries and improves performance. It is a complete myth when some players say that ‘gymming is bad as it messes up your shooting action’. This is just a mental block.”
The young Pratham and the Indian men’s team, ranked 61st in the world, have a long way to go, but Pratham is confident. “We are a young team and there’s a lot of camaraderie with no infighting. Even when I’m away from home for two to three months as a stretch, being with my teammates feels just like family.”
Pratham’s fan following among youngsters, both male and female, continues to grow steadily. “My only advice to them is to be serious in whatever activity they pursue. I can understand when parents push their children towards academics, but today, sportspersons in India also get good jobs. There needs to be a balance between academics and sports.”