You may know about the first Indian-origin player to play in the NBA – Sim Bhullar. You may have also read about the first Indian player aspiring to play in the NBA – Satnam Singh Bhamara. But did you know that there are other Indian and Indian-origin players who have or are currently playing in professional basketball leagues in other countries?
Robbie Sihota is an Indo-Canadian basketball player who has just finished his season with Fribourg Olympic Basket, a club in Switzerland’s top basketball league, Ligue Nationale de Basket A. Basketball is a popular sport in Switzerland having a competitive professional league and also housing the head office of FIBA. Sihota, 27, played his college ball at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Canada from 2006-10. After going undrafted by the NBA, he pursued opportunities in Europe where he’s been playing professional basketball for the past 5 years, including a stint in the Dutch Basketball League.
Sihota, standing at 6 feet 7 inches tall, is probably one of the most successful Indian-origin professional basketball players yet with his team reaching the Switzerland LNA Finals this past season where they fell to Geneva. Sihota, who is a stretch-four, had a strong season averaging 12.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. We spoke to him recently about his early basketball journey, what its like to play in Europe, his inspirations, style of play and a lot more. Read the full text of the Q&A below.
1. Tell us about your early basketball playing days in school. When did you first pick up the game and what drew you to it?
I would say I first really picked up the game seriously when I was about 10 years old. A lot of my friends growing up in school would play and basketball quickly became one of my favorite hobbies. Watching the NBA and watching players like Michael Jordan really made me want to go outside to the playground with friends and mimic the moves of the players I would watch. As I started getting older I would play for my school teams.
2. Why did you decide to play your college basketball at the University of Calgary? How did the basketball program there shape you for your professional career?
I chose to play at the University of Calgary mainly because it was a great opportunity to stay in my hometown and have my family and friends close. It was truly a blessing to be able to have my family and friends watch and support me while playing in Calgary. I learned a lot in my five years at the University of Calgary both on and off the court that I was able to carry with me to the professional level. The coaches and teammates that I had at the University really helped me become the player I am today.
3. How did you first get the opportunity to play for a professional club in Europe?
My first opportunity to play professional basketball came after I had finished my final season at the University of Calgary. After the season I had spoken to an agent about playing at the next level in Europe and my first team was in Rotterdam, Netherlands. As a kid growing up its always a dream to be able to play the sport you love as a job and I am very grateful that I have had the opportunity to do so for the past five years.
4. Out of all the professional clubs you’ve played at, which has been your favourite stint and why?
I have had a great experience at every professional club I have played with so far. I’ve learned a lot of different things from every club that I’ve played for. Playing for different coaches and with different teammates at each club has also allowed me to grow as a player tremendously. Through the good and bad experiences that I have had as a professional player I believe taking each experience as a learning experience which in turn helps me grow as a player each season.
5. Tell us a bit about your style of play – who are your influences?
I consider my style of play a very physical style. I pride myself in my ability to rebound the ball at a high level. I can also stretch the floor with my ability to shoot the ball from long range which makes players have to come out and guard me all the way out to the three point line. My style of play is an inside out type of game and it really depends on my matchup during a game. Against bigger players I really like to bring them out and stretch the floor. When I’m playing against smaller and quicker players I try to attack them more inside the paint. My biggest influences on the court growing up came from watching players in the NBA. I was a big Michael Jordan fan not only because of his talent but because of his attitude and work ethic both on and off the court. Off the court my biggest influence is definitely my mother. My Mother’s support growing up playing basketball has been instrumental in my career. She had always given me every opportunity that I needed to be successful at basketball whether it was taking me to my games or taking me to participate in all kinds of basketball camps growing up.
6. How much of your success do you attribute to the Canadian basketball system?
I attribute a lot of my basketball success to the Canadian basketball system. I think the basketball system in Canada has come a long way since I was a kid growing up in Calgary. Canada has always been known as a hockey country but basketball has really been growing and gaining popularity in several Canadian cities. There have been many different Canadian players getting drafted into the NBA and also playing at high level overseas. The coaching in Canada has been becoming better over the years as well as the resources, opportunities and facilities. I believe the Canadian university system does a great job of keeping their student athletes accountable not only to basketball but also to their studies which in turn really teaches the value of being a successful student athlete.
7. Would you be interested in playing in a professional league in India, whenever it starts?
I think playing in a professional league in India would be a great opportunity. I believe the game of basketball has a lot of potential in India but it’s all about growing the game from a grassroots level. I would definitely be interested in playing basketball in India if they were to have a professional league start up some day.
8. Do you have family back home in India? How connected are you to your roots?
Most of my family has moved away from India now but I still have some family that I visit in India. When I was younger I had lived in Panipat, India from age 6 to 9. I’m still very connected to my roots in India and would like to make more visits. My parents are both from Jalandhar, Punjab and I enjoy going back to keep in touch with my roots.
9. You’re currently playing at Fribourg Olympic Basket in Switzerland. How has your experience been and how long do you plan to continue to play in Switzerland?
I have just finished my season here in Fribourg, Switzerland. We lost in the semi finals against a tough Geneva team who eventually won the championship. My experience in Switzerland has been a very positive experience. I definitely learned a lot this season and living in Switzerland has also been a wonderful opportunity. As of right now I don’t know how long I will be playing in Switzerland. My contract has finished for this season and I will take some time away to make a decision on where I will be next season.