Sandhu is the third NBA Academy India overall player to earn a Division I basketball scholarship, joining Sanjana Ramesh, who is in northern Arizona and Harsimran Kaur, who is in San Diego on the women’s side. .
Sandhu now joins Monmouth Hawks in the center position, standing at 7’0″. He will play D-1 NCAA basketball for Monmouth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC).
Before moving to the United States, he represented the Indian senior men’s national team at the South Asian Games, where the team won a gold medal. He was also a member of the 2020 Indian National Team in the FIBA Asia Qualifiers.
He joined the NBA Academy India as part of the inaugural prospect in May 2017 and was enrolled in the Academy until he joined First Love Christian Academy in the fall of 2020.
In an exclusive conversation with
from the United States, the basketball player from Punjab spoke candidly about his background, the contribution of the NBA India Academy in his career and his future plans.
Here are the excerpts:
MyKhel: You are the very first man born in India to be awarded a Division 1 men’s basketball scholarship, what does it mean to you and how will it help you become a professional player?
I will say that I am lucky to have this opportunity. Like being the first player born in India and the first NBA India prospect to get a D1 scholarship. It will definitely help me a lot. It will help me for a lot of things because I can graduate in four years. Being in a university in the United States means that you are already doing a lot like a professional basketball player. They don’t pay college money, but all the other stuff you do is like a professional basketball player. This will help me a lot for the future.
MK: How different did you find the structure of colleges in the United States from that in India?
In the United States, we attend college regularly, do our workouts, and are expected to take care of our bodies, (we develop) good eating practices. There (in India), the schools say, “Focus on your sport, we’ll take care of the studies and everything”, but in the United States, it’s as if you should do just as well in your class. Here you will also have to take care of your studies. The coach won’t let you play until you improve your grades. That’s the biggest difference. You have to maintain a certain GPA, and if I score less than 70%, then I won’t be allowed to walk on the basketball court.
Also, in India, we take notes on everything (what is taught in class). But here was a totally different experience for me when I joined. Here everything is done on laptops, everything happens online. You get your books online and do the homework too. In India we don’t have enough homework but in USA they give you homework and homework every day and you have to complete it on time to get the credits. This credit is going to be with you and that’s the main thing; if you don’t complete your homework on time, you will fail.
MK: How do you find a balance between your studies and your athletic part?
When I was admitted to high school here in the United States, I was struggling with studies and stuff because you have to get everything done on time. It was tough (for me) in my first year, but now I’m in my third year and I’ve gotten used to it and I’m fine. Also, when you don’t have your family around you, you start taking responsibility and that’s what happened to me too. My father and my mother are in India while my sister is in Canada. But my high school coaches and my NBA Academy India coach make sure I feel at home. I am in good hands here.
MK: How did you manage your diet because eating habits in India and the USA are very different?
So the most important thing that the NBA Academy taught me was to control my body and my diet. And that being said for a year and a half I haven’t eaten Indian food. All I had was protein-rich fiber for dinner for a whole year, like grilled chicken salad. So all healthy food I had and didn’t touch punjabi food at first. But I have Indian friends here now and they sometimes bring me Indian food. So, I don’t miss Indian food anymore.
MK: When did you decide to pursue a career in basketball because the scope of the sport is not that big in India?
I took basketball seriously when I was selected to the NBA Academy and in 2017 through the ACG-NBA Jump program. Before that, basketball was just a fun game for me, it was like a hobby. When I was selected, everything started to change. One day, as I was sitting with a few of my teammates in the cafeteria at the NBA academy, I realized this was it, this is what I wanted to do. There were 21 lucky players out of millions to be selected by the academy when the program launched in 2017. At that point, I decided I wanted to pursue my career in basketball.
MK: Any particular struggle or sacrifices your family had to make for you and your sister in order for you to pursue your dream?
I will say that the biggest sacrifice my parents made was to send me here and my sister to Canada. And I’m going to make sure they don’t regret this decision. Like because my mom always wanted us (me and my sister) to be with her every time. So, I think that was like the biggest sacrifice my family had to make. They let their children pursue their dreams. People like to do what they like. Since my parents were both basketball players, they understand very well what it takes to be an athlete and the sacrifices it takes to achieve something big in life.
MK: Do you have any dreams of playing in the NBA in the future? How do you see your NCAA Div I selection on your journey to that?
My main goal is to play in the NBA. Being selected for a university in the United States was huge for me. When I came here for my high school, that’s when I learned there was no one from India in the top division here. It motivated me to do well. I found Monmouth University (in West Long Beach, New Jersey) a good place. Everything was fine. The staff are very helpful. Even my coach King Rice, who is the head coach of the men’s basketball team, is so nice. Everyone cares about players and wants them to succeed in life and succeed in basketball. (In the end) I can’t ask for anything better right now.
MK: How did you find the scouting process — the ACG-NBA Jump program? What type of exposure and coaching techniques were provided to you during your time at NBA Academy India?
So when I heard that the NBA was starting an academy and stuff in India, and there was the ACG NBA jump program to help spot young talent by trying out in different cities in India, I participated in one of them and got selected for the NBA Indian Academy. The coaching and everything at NBA Academy India was so enjoyable and there I was taught how basketball works outside of India. How is it played in the United States. The main thing I learned there was how to take care of my body and they taught me the right way to play basketball. Exposure trips to the United States and Europe also helped me hone my skills and learn from the best in the world. I am definitely blessed with all the opportunities I have. So I think the NBA Academy has played a huge role in my life.
MK: What do you think of Indian basketball? Is there a future for them?
I would say NBA India is doing a good job in helping the sport grow in the country. I would say basketball in India is still growing because everyone is still new to basketball there. To be honest, we have a lot of work to do. So our goal should be to become the best Asian team in the next five to ten years. When it comes to talent, I think there is no shortage of it in India, but youngsters need good guidance early on and NBA India is committed to that.
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