This post was originally published on March 24, 2014 in Tadpoles magazine and can be accessed here

Amjyot Singh Pic 3. Photo credit Fiba Asia

All images are courtesy FIBA Asia

It can be quite disconcerting when a 6ft 9 inch behemoth says “thanks choo much” when you tag him in a picture on Facebook. But that’s Amjyot Singh Gill for you. The 22-year-old starting power forward on the Indian national men’s team is your classic “gentle giant” who is feared on the court by his opposition but loved off it.

Hailing from Chandigarh, in many ways, Amjyot was destined to become one of the leading lights of modern Indian basketball. “My entire family is into sports. My mother, who is 6ft tall, was an athlete and my father at 6ft 5’’, was a national level basketball player.

Despite being a ‘big man’, Amjyot stands out for his surprisingly good ball handling skills, footwork and jumpshooting. “In my younger days, I used to play a lot of football which explains my footwork. I also used to be a fast bowler in cricket.” Then what prompted the shift to basketball? “I got injured once while playing cricket and my father advised me to take up basketball instead.

Amjyot Singh Pic 2. Photo credit Fiba Asia

His big break came during the 2010 Junior National Basketball Championship, when he captained Punjab to a gold medal. International assignments soon followed. “My first tour abroad was with the youth India (u-16) team that participated in the Children of Asia Games at Yakutia, Russia.”

Subsequently, Amjyot represented India at the u-18 and senior levels where his talent was immediately recognised. During last year’s FIBA Asia Championships, he made the highlight reels with a huge chase down block against Japan earning him the moniker “Sultan of Swat”. Alongside young 7ft centre Amrit Mann, Amjyot packs an intimidating 1-2 frontline punch for India. “I have been playing with Amrit Mann for a long time from our days at the Ludhiana Basketball Academy. We share excellent on-court chemistry.”

Earlier this year, in the finals of the Lusofonia International Games against Angola, Amjyot hit a couple of momentum changing threes in tense situations to aide in India’s historic gold medal winning performance. “Our India coaches, Scott Flemming and earlier Kenny Natt, encourage me to learn new moves and experiment on the court. Coach Scott especially, gives us continuous support on and off the court and doesn’t pressurize us even if we make mistakes.”

Amjyot Singh Pic 1. Photo credit Fiba Asia

Unfortunately, during this tournament, Amjyot suffered five fractures to his nose and is currently recuperating, because of which he missed out on this year’s 64th Senior National Basketball Championship, where his team Tamil Nadu (Indian Overseas Bank) successfully reclaimed the title.

Looking ahead, he hopes to continue playing for India and keep improving his game. “My favourite NBA player is Kevin Durant, who like me is 6ft 9 inches. I especially love the way he can shoot the ball from long distance.”

Amjyot is confident that India will soon beat Asian powerhouses like Iran and China. “We are getting closer day by day. We manage to stay neck and neck for three quarters of the match, but in the last quarter their greater experience pulls them ahead. We just need more international exposure.”

Gopalakrishnan R
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