The comparisons were inevitable. An Indian teenager over seven feet tall who wants to play in the NBA was always going to be dubbed the “Indian Yao Ming.”
Just months after worries in the United States that the popularity of the basketball league would fall in China after the original retired from the court, there’s a new hope in Asia.
Satnam Singh Bhamara welcomes, or seems to at least, the comparisons with the Chinese legend – and his coach believes that he has what it takes.
“It’s definitely a possibility for Satnam to be the first Indian player to play in the NBA. He currently has NBA size. That’s definitely going to be one of the first things that teams look at in the future,” NDTV reported coach Nate Vander Sluis as saying.
“If he continues to work hard and continues to grow and continues to become a better athlete, continues to become a better basketball player, there’s no doubt he’ll be one of the first Indian players ever to play in the NBA.”
Satnam, whose father was seven foot and his mother not far short of that height, is currently in Florida on a four-year scholarship, where he’s getting the training he needs to see if he can succeed where no other Indian has.
The sport’s following is small in the world’s second most populous country. Cricket is still the number one game, with football starting to take off among India’s rapidly growing middle class.
Sanmat, could help change all that, according to Harish Sharma, secretary of India's basketball federation.
“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’s focused, hardworking and has tremendous potential. One star player like this in NBA could mean a big boost for the game in India.”
He would also be a huge boost for the NBA in the United States. A star such as Sanmat in action for a pro team would mean millions of extra viewers.
At the start of this year, Sanmat claimed that the time he has spent in the United States had already had a considerable impact on his play.
“I have to work very hard on my speed, power and agility to do well at the top level,” he told the Associated Press. “The training methods are very different (in Florida) and I was initially worried whether I would be able to cope with the strenuous sessions.”
“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.”
“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.”