Even though India has a population of more than 1.3 billion people, few players in NBA history have ever been of Indian descent. In fact, the first in this lineage was Sim Bhullar in 2015 and since then there have been only three to play in NBA Summer League or the NBA G League.
Princepal Singh, a 19-year-old big man who signed a contract to play for the NBA G League Ignite for elite prospects, is the next who hopes to make a splash as a professional basketball player in the United States. His training with the NBA G League Ignite under head coach Brian Shaw recently began in Walnut Creek, California.
But before he arrived, the 6-foot-10 Singh caught up with HoopsHype to tell us about his experience. Right before our conversation, Singh actually had unexpected guests at his home: A local television station showed up to join the excitement and chat with the basketball prospect.
“It’s been really crazy since the news has come in,” Singh recently told HoopsHype, through a translator. “My house is loaded with people. I’ve seen more people in the last two days than I had seen in the previous four months. People are pouring in and my family is just feeding them snacks to celebrate the announcement. I’m just trying to take it all in.”
One of the best moments for the NBA prospect was when the Chief Minister of Punjab tweeted about his achievements. The praise is more than warranted as he is the first alumni of the NBA Academy to sign a contract with the G League.
Since then, several local celebrities have stopped by his house to offer their congratulations as well. Even if it has been a bit of a whirlwind for Singh and his family, he has kept them at the front of his mind as he continues his path to the NBA.
“We’ve struggled in the past,” said Singh. “If I keep working hard and move on to the next level, I want to help my family as much as I can. I don’t want my family to see those days we’ve seen before.”
Singh, who is 6-foot-10, is still expanding his game but has been successful during his time on the court. He averaged 22.7 points, 13.0 rebounds, 1.0 block and 0.7 steals per game for India during the U16 Asia Championship in 2018. When watching film of his game, it is evident that he has a soft touch and a silky-smooth feel to his approach.
He had the second-most rebounds per game in the tournament, trailing only future teammate Kai Sotto, and also recorded the second-most points per game. He was directly involved with 39.8 of the buckets that India scored in their three games as either the scorer or passer, per RealGM, which was actually the highest rate of all participants.
These impressive marks helped him become the youngest player who has ever been selected to play for the Senior Men’s National Team for India.
Singh likes to play on the short corner and finish from the elbow, though coaches who have watched him in practice tell HoopsHype that he is also starting to expand his game into more high pick-and-roll possessions with pick-and-pop opportunities.
While he only took one shot per game from beyond the arc while he was playing in the U16 Asia Championships, he is working on expanding his game to become more of a floor stretcher in the frontcourt. He is also capable of passing well out of the post, finding open teammates cutting to the basket when multiple defenders collapse onto him.
One of his biggest specialties is his spatial awareness and his ability to read the opposing defense. He can slide to the proper position at the proper time, which often manifests itself on easy offensive rebound putbacks and finishing on the wing in transition.
“There is no substitute for hard work. I’ve lost out on some opportunities in the past but I’ve never looked back,” added Singh, who is lauded for his competitiveness. “I’ve always focused on what I wanted to be.”
Troy Justice, head of international basketball development for the NBA, believes that the “growth and development and improvement” that Singh was showing as a player and personally and professionally helped provide him with the resumé to fit the roster of elite talent mentioned above. He called the prospect a “hungry lion” who knows what he wants and will continue to improve.
“He is very resilient,” said Justice. “He is very determined and focused. On a bad day, he remains tough-minded, singularly-focused and very disciplined. He has the ability to continue to pursue his goals and dreams. It’s been great just to watch his development. He has matured greatly in all areas, year-over-year. That’s one of the reasons we are big believers in Princepal. He has a desire deep within him that allows him to continue on and stay focused and to grow.”
Justice is confident that the NBA G League Select Team will give Singh the opportunity to train with and play against some of the best competition in the world while also working with the best coaching available to him.
His consummate team-first mentality and willingness to create for others, like constantly setting screens, will also help bring out the best in his teammates. Singh can constantly flirt with a double-double but does not need the ball in his hands to make an impact.
He told HoopsHype that he is most excited to train with top prospects in the G League like Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Daishen Nix, Kai Sotto and Isaiah Todd.
“If you go down the list of the players that he will be playing with and practicing against, it is going to put him in an incredible situation for him to take a huge step forward,” added Justice. “My prediction is he will meet the challenge. We’ve seen him do it before and he will do it again. He has the physical tools and he has the right mindset. He has a love for the game.”
For him to be included among those names is also a huge milestone for the NBA Academy. Singh was part of the inaugural class of athletes to attend the program in India back in 2017.
“The exposure that I got through the NBA Academy was great,” added Singh. “I learned about the importance of weight training and diet. That really helped turn me into the player that I am today.”
Overall, there are 31 players who have attended the NBA Academies that are either attending or have committed to D-I programs in the NCAA. Top prospects include big Oumar Ballo (Gonzaga), wing Bennedict Mathurin (Arizona) and guard Santiago Vescovi (Tennessee).
Seven graduates of the NBA Academy, including Singh, are either playing or are signed to play professionally. Two of the more notable names include Mojave King (Cairns Taipans) and Josh Giddey (Adelaide 36ers), both of whom will play in the Australian National Basketball League Rising Stars program.
Credit: NBA Global Academy
Singh also participated in the NBA Academies at G League Showcase in both 2018 and 2019. Justice said that prospects either sink or swim when facing elite competition and noted that Singh always stepped up. He recalls initial hesitance evolving into a more confident smile, a transformation highlighted by a little extra bounce in his step.
Justice called the journey for Singh to go from the NBA Academy the NBA G League a “natural pathway” for the 19-year-old prospect. Singh knows that if he eventually makes it to the NBA, it will increase the popularity of the sport for children in India.
“I hope to inspire the youth in India,” added Singh. “Kids come up to me a lot of the time when I come back to India. They ask me about my experiences. But I still want to do more for them because they look up to me. This is just the next step that I’ve taken.”