Nothing is a tall order for this hoopster from Punjab

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Pratibha Choudhari :-

Pune: On or off the court Punjab hoopster Princepal Singh is someone who cannot be missed. It is no different at the Khelo India Youth Games, where he has been an integral part of the Punjab Boys Under-21 basketball team.

At 17 years, his towering self at 6 feet 10 inches is an identity he gladly submits to by saying, “My achievements by far is and has been due to this advantage that I possess.”

Princepal’s rapid rise over the past three years has earned him a two-year contract with the NBA Global Academy, located in the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), Canberra alongside 12 others handpicked by experts from across the globe. To many pundits of the game, Princepal is touted as the one to look out for.

However, the Gurdaspur-born keeps it simple, “I am working on what I am asked to do… stick to a programme the coaches have outlined.”

Choosing words as he speaks, Princepal, a member of his State Under-21 team at the KIYG 2019, modestly admits, “Competing in any competition remains an integral part for any player. Competitions create platforms for us players to bloom.”

Princepal’s presence in Pune is by chance. Having made his debut for India at the Super Kung Sheung Cup International Championship in Hong Kong last month also meant homecoming for Princepal which in turn led to extending stay.

In Pune, so far, the Dera Baba Nanak village resident has had a dominating run top-scoring in all matches using height to his advantage. “I am proud to be tall,” he lights up and, in a flash, reminds, “I don’t face any disadvantage.”

Prodded further, he smiles and opens to a few ‘life with a difference’ insights. Sharing some, he begins with the custom-made seven and a half feet bed he has at home. Jovially he adds, “but then I’ve spent less time at home. The last that I did was when I was 6 feet six inches tall.” Similarly, when with the Indian team for tournaments, he adds, “Kisi bhi tarah chala leta hu. Thode dino ke baat hoti hai (I manage to adjust. It’s for just a few days).”

His limited presence at home has been so ever since he was absorbed by the famed Ludhiana Basketball Academy and stayed at the hostel. Interestingly, it was volleyball he played before the visit to the Academy as a 14-year-old changed it all. “I stayed at the hostel. The bed at home was not used much. Just occasionally.” he quips.

Since then, Princepal has taken off; first, as part of NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Asia Camp, which had 65 players from 16 countries, and then as one of three Indians at NBA’s global camp in Treviso, Italy.

In school, he remembers being referred to as “the tall guy,” by his teachers. “No one made fun… school days were days well spent,” he adds.

Moving on to greener pastures, his Australian sojourn has been no less interesting. Often running into resident Punjabis on the streets, he adds, “My height attracts and often selfies remain the order of many.”

Princepal inherits height from his family’s maternal side. His uncle being the tallest at 6’2” whereas his dad Gurmej is a six-footer and mother Hardeep two inches short. “Sport is non-existent in our family, but they are encouraging,” he goes on.

For the youngster, coaches Jaypal Singh and Devendra Singh are top of the list. “I owe all that I am in basketball today to them.  I confess and believe me when I began, I knew nothing about basketball.” he explains.

Idolising New Orleans Pelican’s power forward and centre Anthony Davis for his game and Palpreet Singh, who also guided him at times, and the fact that both players have the same body frame and helght, Princepal submits, “I seem blessed with so many elpful and good people around me.”

Forthright to admit that still is a lot to be learnt, Princepal is fighting to overcome a personal hurdle of learning English. He feels it is a “necessity,” owing to the kind of exposure he is subject to apart from living Down Under. “I working hard on something I never felt was necessary,” he explains.

Similarly, he wonders, if not for basketball he would probably have ended up in the army or police. “I am guessing this possibility.” Why? And probably the answer lies in the childhood days he spent in his village which is located few kilometres from the Indo-Pak border.

While Princepal still has time to peak to his fullest, his sights for now is trained on the National Basketball Association (NBA) League. He would be the fourth to make it after Satnam Singh Bhamara, Palpreet Singh and Amjyot Singh. Realistically, for now, he feels, playing for the country regularly would be the first big goal to achieve.