17-year-old twins Gaurav and Saurabh Patwal are on a spectacular basketball journey stretching from their local school in the foothill of the Himalayas, to joining the famed Ludhiana Basketball Academy where they were mentored by Satnam Singh, and now moving to a high school in Arizona, USA. This is their story.
Gaurav signs off hurriedly at around 10: 00 AM (UTC+05:30) Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi. It’s strict here, it’s 9: 30 and lights out is at 10, he says. As I try to speed things up, he sounds all business. Phoenix is good, but he doesn’t say much about the city. Instead, he’s full of praise for those around him (and his twin), who have helped them get to where they are today.
How they got started
The Patwal twins (Gaurav and Saurabh) were born in Roorkee in Uttarakand, a chilly idyllic town in North India which quite prominently features an IIT within its borders. They started playing basketball in the 7th standard and were encouraged to do so by their classmate Vikrant Kaushik, and Atul Rawat, their cousin, who always picked them up between workouts, reminding them that “they had to be great players”. Scholars Academy, which was the school they attended, was also very supportive of them. The Principal of the school, Mr. S. S. Nagyan and their sports teacher Mr. Deepak Kumar, were specifically mentioned by Gaurav, as being important to the twins. Like many young kids picking up a new skill, they turned to the internet, and YouTube specifically, to start working out, without any structure to follow. Soon though, this structure would present itself when they joined a prominent state basketball team.
Moving to Punjab
After trying out in 2014 for the Punjab State team, they eventually got selected and played for almost 2 years with the team. Under the mentorship of Mr. Teja Singh Dhaliwal (Senior Vice- President, BFI) they prospered, participating and winning a slew of championships. Among them were: India Camp for the 4th FIBA Asia U-16 tournament in Jakarta (2015), 3rd position in the U-16 National Championship held in Gujarat (2015), 1st position in U-16 3×3 State Championship in Ludhiana, and 2nd position in the U-16 and U-19 State Championships.
Another very influential figure for them was Satnam Singh, now a household name in India, and the first Indian to be drafted by an NBA team (52nd pick in the 2nd round, by the Dallas Mavericks in 2015). They met Singh at the Ludhiana Basketball Academy (LBA), which has quite the track record when it comes to influencing Indian players to make it big on the world stage (read on for the story of Anmolpreet Kaur Pannu and her association with LBA). As luck would have it, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. He turned out to be just the senior player that they needed to take the next big step in their journey.
Gaurav sounded extremely grateful for Satnam’s influence in the lives of him and his brother and spoke at length about the workouts that they had together, how Singh told them to do everything they could to play in the United States of America and to always remember their roots and have allegiance to Team India, above all.
Meet the Platinum Warriors
They applied to, and were accepted by many schools and academies, but finally they decided to go with Faith Christian, Phoenix, Arizona. Faith Christian did not help with the process of immigration and also did not offer them a scholarship. Their expenses, have been borne by them (their parents are government officials) and their story is really part luck and part perseverance, and still in its nascent stages. Despite these hurdles, according to Gaurav, this was the school that “felt the best to them”. The Patwal Twins play 1 and 2 guard for their team, the Platinum Warriors, who are a local club, and feel that they can do anything, if and when the time comes and their coach asks it of them. They have implicit trust in their ability to both drive and dish, and to shoot the ball. He also stressed that they can take hits on offense and seemed to take pride in their defensive abilities, which might set them apart from the run-and-gun guards.
Though they joined late last season and have played only one game, the twins both start for their team. Matches and tournaments in Las Vegas and California, apart from Phoenix and an international tournament in Canada, are on the books for the twins as they train for the coming season. Their off-season workouts at their high school are supplemented by visits to local gyms under different coaches and trainers. We could not speak to his high school coach since much of the upcoming season is uncertain for the Falcons, in terms of coaching staff.
Gaurav Patwal is decidedly muted about life in the USA when I asked him about how he was coping with the changes his familial and social surroundings. To this, he said “To become something anywhere . . . you have to work hard to be the best”.
The path taken by the Patwal twins has not been tried and tested, with the exceptions of Prudhvi Reddy, Kavita Akula, Prab Shah, Rohtash Mattu and a few others. According to Gaurav, schools do not have incentive to offer scholarships or any help to Indian players, since there’s enough talent locally. Highly ranked high schools are anyway sought after by the best players and there is little wiggle room for players who have not started their journey at a very early stage in their lives. Indian kids will continue to find it tough to get scholarships in the US until our coaches equip them with skills comparable with that of American kids of the same age group.
Though they would like to play in the NBA eventually, right now Gaurav sounds like there’s only one thing he wants to do, and that is to keep playing basketball. It doesn’t really matter where. The feeling of homesickness is not lost on them, as Gaurav expresses how much he and his brother miss their sister Shaifali’s food. It is perhaps because of how close they are to their father, Bhartendra Singh Patwal and their mother, Umawati Patwal, who have supported them throughout, from Punjab to Phoenix, that they find it tough to ignore the call of home and hearth. Mr. Patwal is a lecturer at the Government Intern College Gujrada, Dehradun and Mrs. Patwal is the principal of the Government Primary School, Landhoura South. One thing that Satnam Singh told them that seems to have made quite an impact is how important representing the country should be to them. They seem really excited about the prospect of playing for Team India, when the call comes. Here’s hoping we do make that call.