Satnam Singh Bhamara, a 7’1” 290-pound Indian basketball prodigy, is exploring the possibility of declaring for the NBA Draft and will become a professional. Singh has little chance of being drafted this year, but plans to embark on his professional career after not being able to qualify for a college scholarship.
Singh's announcement will resonate more in India than in the United States. The 19-year-old hails from a small wheat farm in Punjab and is considered India's best chance for producing its first NBA player. He’s already a staple on the Indian national basketball team and has been cast as a potentially transformative figure for popularizing basketball in India.
“I am doing great, workout out a lot,” Singh said. “I’m excited for a possible future in the NBA, and I know it would be good for India.”
Singh is currently in Florida at IMG Academy, where he played for the post graduate team and averaged 9.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in less than 20 minutes per game for the No. 2 team in the country. He drew recruiting interest from Purdue, Pittsburgh, USC, USF and UMass.
His potential professional upside is evolving into a big NBA body off the bench similar to journeyman center Aaron Gray. Singh will be represented by both Relativity Sports and WME/IMG, and his team of advisors felt like the best course would be finding a professional path to develop and refine his skills instead of going to junior college. Those around Singh are tempering immediate expectations, but there’s still a belief he could someday end up in the NBA.
“I do think he’ll end up in the NBA because I’ve seen his progress over the last four years,” said IMG Director of Basketball Kenny Natt, the former interim coach of the Sacramento Kings. “I’ve been in the league and know how guys like Satnam are looked upon. He has size, strength and touch. He has good hands and can run the floor. Those are the types of things that NBA teams value.”
The NBA has been tracking Singh’s development. The league considers India one of the great untapped basketball markets in the world. Only about five million of the country’s 1.2 billion people play basketball, as the sport has struggled with resonance in a country where soccer, cricket and field hockey are the dominant sports. Sim Bhullar, a 7’5” center from Canada, became the first player of Indian descent to appear in an NBA game earlier this month for the Sacramento Kings.
Singh’s game is considered to have a bigger upside than Bhullar's, and his presence in the NBA would likely reverberate more in India because he was born there. Singh hails from Ballo Ke, a village of about 800 in the Indian state of Punjab. His father, Balbir, farms wheat at a house that is four miles from the nearest paved road. Singh came to the United States in September 2010 as part of a scholarship program between IMG and Reliance, one of the dominant companies in India. He’s gone from speaking no English to becoming comfortable in conversation.
He’s also evolved as a player, overcoming knee, elbow and nose injuries his first four seasons to finally having a long stretch of play without significant injury this year. Singh can shoot with both hands, is a reliable free throw shooter and a massive defensive presence. His weaknesses are his agility and lateral movement, things that he can focus on as a professional for the next few years.
“This is the best route for him to begin peaking at 22 or 23 years old,” said Dan Barto, IMG Academy’s head skills trainer who will be working Singh out. “He can now focus 24 hours a day and seven days a week on competing with players his size along with expert coaching daily.”
The deadline to enter the NBA Draft is April 26. Singh could end up declaring and then pulling out if there’s little interest.
Regardless of the rate of his progression the next few years, there will be a lot of eyes on Singh’s progress. “The whole country of India is counting on him,” Natt said. “He knows this is his opportunity and he’s handling it. He knows that it’s show time.”